What people need to understand about progressivism, is that it isn’t socialism. Sure, they are both about big centralized government, but progressivism isn’t completely about government. And doesn’t think individualism and individual initiative is necessarily a bad thing. Or that freedom isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Progressives, unlike Socialists in many cases, believe in all of those things. A true Progressive, doesn’t believe that government can and should do practically everything if not everything for the people. Socialists, don’t seem to have a problem that a new tax increase and government program can’t solve and do something new for the people.
Progressivism, was basically born in the late 1890s and early 1900s, under people like Teddy Roosevelt and later Woodrow Wilson and many others, as part of the so-called Progressive Era. These people who might have seem radical then, but today they would be mainstream Center-Left Progressive Democrats. And thanks to the Great Depression and with Franklin Roosevelt coming to power as President in 1933 with an overwhelming Democratic Congress in both the House and Senate, the New Deal was born. The American safety net and social insurance system. To help people in need help themselves and get themselves back on their feet.
The originally Welfare system was badly designed. Because it didn’t require people on Welfare to finish their education and even look for work. Unlike Unemployment Insurance where people have to look for work and even get help from the program looking for work. But the basic idea of progressivism is that government can help people when they are down get on their feet. And protect the innocent from predators. Either in the economy with the regulatory state. And put criminals way when they hurt the innocent physically and otherwise with the law enforcement state. And protect the country from foreign invaders with the national security state.
If you look at the economic options of the 1930s, the progressive economic approach was actually the middle ground. Which might sound strange even for that period. But think about it, you had Conservatives and Libertarians on the Right, saying that government shouldn’t do anything to help people who are down and stay out of the economy all together. To Democratic Socialists and Communists on the Far-Left, saying that private enterprise and capitalism is the problem. And that government should take over a lot of these sectors in the economy to serve the people. Progressivism, is not socialism, but a very mainstream American ideology.