Playing With Politics

A Blog on Law, Politics, Planning, Development, and Other Vices

Progressives, Liberals, Moderates, Oh My!

Posted by Roobs on July 13, 2010

There are a lot of labels that associate with political parties.  On the Democrat side, we have “Progressives”, “Liberals” and “Moderates”.  The Republican side as “Conservatives”, “Neo-Cons” and now awkwardly introducing “Tea Partiers”.  However, a recent Gallup poll shows that the majority of Americans don’t know what the term “Progressive” means.

Gallup polling reveals widespread public uncertainty about the “progressive” political label — a label recently embraced by no less than Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. While Kagan described her political views as “generally progressive” during her Senate confirmation hearings, fewer than half of Americans can say whether “progressive” does (12%) or does not (31%) describe their own views. The majority (54%) are unsure.

This doesn’t surprise me.  I honestly don’t even know what a “Progressive” truly is.  Personally, I don’t identify myself as a “Progressive”.  I identify as a “left-leaning moderate Democrat” which, for the sake of this conversation, is more like a “Liberal”.  But what the hell is “Progressive”?

Well, let me first look at what is “Liberal” to me.  To me, a Liberal is someone who believes that it is the responsibility of government to take care of those who are too weak to care for themselves; to care for the general welfare of the people.  They believe in regulation and social programs to achieve this goal, which is why Liberals were deamonized by the right so much in the 80’s and 90’s because they seem to encourage what the Right calls a “welfare state”.  A Liberal also tend to believe in the freedom and liberty of the individual.  This is where support of things like abortion, gay marriage even curbing climate change come into play.  It comes from the believe that I am free to do what I want.  If I am a woman, I am free to have an abortion because it is my body.  If I am gay, I am free to get married because it is my life.  These things do not affect other people’s lives so I should be free to do them.  With climate change, it takes on the belief that the environment is a resource we all should have access to.  Therefore, the fact that it is being harmed by our actions means that we should do something to correct it so we may all continue to have an equal access to a clean environment.   A Liberal does not always subscribe to market-based solutions and believes that the market cannot affectionately handle the issues in society, etc. etc.  It’s a rather broad  definition that is maybe only slightly less difficult to define (unless you’re a right-wing conservative.  Then we’re all just Socialists).

But to a self-described “Progressive”, this may seem both similar and false.  A Progressive, as I have come to understand, represents a new form of Liberalism (though not to be confused with “Neo-Liberalism”).  It is a label that has been taken with enthusiasm by the far-left of the Liberal wing.  They too, describe themselves as a movement that “rejects market-based solutions, rejects neoliberalism, embraces concepts of public good”, as one person described it to me.  But how is that different from “Liberal”?

The problem I think the Left has always had with defining ourselves is that we can’t seem to find the difference between our policy views and just an overall philosophy.  Ask anyone to define what either a “Liberal” or “Progressive” is and their first reaction will probably be to list off a bunch of policy examples.  Hell, look at my definition of a Liberal above.  That is largely how we come to define ourselves; a list of how we would vote in the hopes that the aggregation of all these views will somehow coalesce into a singular and cohesive philosophy.  And all I have to say is… why not?

Take myself as the example.  I am a self-described “Moderate” or “Liberal” for this discussion.  I believe in certain social programs, such as Social Security, Welfare, Universal Health Care.  These are programs that are designed to help the least fortunate of all of us and I think we all have a responsibility as citizens to help them out.  I also believe in a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion and my right to get married to another man largely because it doesn’t affect the lives of other people.  Do you not believe in abortions?  Great! Don’t get one.  Do you not believe in gay marriages?  Cool!  Don’t get one!  Etc.  All these are hallmarks of any good Liberal and one’s I support.

On the progressive side, I believe in large public works projects to stimulate the economy.  I believe that the government is the only entity large enough to stimulate the economy when the private sector is tapped out due to their reliance on market fluctuations.  But that’s about it.

My moderate side tends to come out as a qualifier. Do I think using market based economics is intrinsically bad?  No.  I do believe in the role of the business and the private sector.  I do not think government should be involved everywhere and that the public and private sector are not mutually exclusive.  I am not as enthusiastic about tax increases as Progressives are (not to say Progressives actively seek out new taxes for everyone).  Under normal circumstances, im decently fiscally conservative.  However, I do believe that our current economic state is not “normal circumstances” so my views adapt to how believe we can best address the problems.  And etc. etc.

Sound confusing?  It should.  I’m confused and I wrote this.

So what is a Liberal and what is a Progressive?  Honestly, I think they are a little of the same.  They believe in the a lot of the same things, if not at varying degrees.  A Liberal probably thinks that Progressives are a little crazy and go too far sometimes.  Progressives probably think that Liberal’s are too conservative or are part of the “status quo” (a term I have come to be annoyed with).  Liberals will often speak of the Progressives by saying “they just don’t understand what you have to do…” and Progressives will say “they just don’t know”.

This is largely our own fault.  The inability of the left to identify ourselves is a reflection of our grand tent of a political party and varying ideas on how to address the same issues.  It’s like two brothers spending the entire afternoon arguing over facts – when something actually is or is not one way or the other.  Until we are able to finally come together and say: “This is who we are!”, we still are subject to the definitions given to us by others.


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