No wonder some big-government progressives are willing to say nice things about classical liberal Alexis de Tocqueville. They think Toqueville praised the same era of American history that interests them so much: the New Deal era of rampant government growth. (Insert sarcastic smirk here.)

Sure, the statement T. Becket Adams highlights for the Washington Examiner was a flub.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered up a minor gaffe at an event Wednesday evening, incorrectly claiming that the French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville first visited the U.S. in the 1930s.

Alexis de Tocqueville died in 1859. He did, however, travel throughout America in the 1830s, which is likely what the former first lady and possible 2016 presidential candidate meant.

“There’s a wonderful phrase that was first used by Alexis de Tocqueville, who came to the United States in the very early 1930s and traveled around our country,” Clinton said at an event hosted by the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. “And he was so amazed at how Americans organized themselves — you know, coming from aristocratic Europe, which was totally top-down and hierarchical — he couldn’t believe how many of us were joiners.”

“But it was not only because individually going that far back we saw that as something we wanted to do for ourselves, but because we knew together we could do so much more. …”

I don’t think Hillary Clinton believes Tocqueville traveled through the United States a century later than he actually did.

But compare “together we could do so much more” in an 1830s context to a 1930s context. In the 1830s, working together typically involved families, neighborhoods, communities, small associations, and local governments. In other words, the concept was based on real people working together, face to face, in a local context. By the 1930s, working together had taken on a different connotation for those of a statist mind-set: Giving a large central government more power to meet a government-dictated collective goal. The “working together” argument became metaphorical.

If progressives actually believed that Tocqueville championed the New Deal, that would help explain why his classical liberal ideas still tend to elicit support from such a wide range of political observers.