Thursday, September 15, 2011

The nomenclature problem: Time to rehabilitate the word "progressive"?

In 2008, I declared myself a liberal as a way of distinguishing myself from the progressives who hailed Obama as they new Messiah. (I derisively called them "progs" when not slamming them as Obots.) My definition of "liberal" was and is pretty simple -- it encompasses everyone who thinks that FDR was a pretty cool guy. You're a liberal if you think that what we need today is a new New Deal. 

Alas, "liberal" can be a confusing word, especially to young people trying to dope out what's what in the world of politics. "Liberal" sounds a lot like "libertarian," even though those two terms have very different meanings. "Liberal" is also very close to "neo-liberal," even though neo-liberalism and libertarianism are cognate ideologies which stand united in their distaste for FDR-style liberalism.

Adding to the confusion, some libertarians -- primarily Milton Friedman -- have embraced the term "liberal." Essentially, Friedman simply took the concept of neo-liberalism and chopped off the "neo" prefix. When Pinochet fell from power in Chile, Friedman declared it a dark day for liberalism.

Similarly, F.W. Hayek once told a Chilean interviewer that "My personal preference leans toward a liberal dictatorship rather than toward a democratic government devoid of liberalism." This definition of "liberalism" differs from mine.

(Hayek is best-known for writing The Road to Serfdom. There is great irony here. Serfdom, slavery and peonage appear only in countries which veer toward libertarianism, not in the mixed economies of western Europe, Canada and Australia.)

Young people consider Thomas Friedman -- yes, the guy who wrote The World is Flat, the guy who cheered the Iraq invasion -- a liberal. I'm not kidding

This confusion serves no good purpose. Is it time to admit that "progressive" -- a term I really, really dislike -- might be preferable?

One reason I dislike that label may stem from my puckish self-identification as an "Eisenhower Republican." What I really mean by that phrase is a preference for the bipartisan economic consensus that held sway in America between FDR and Reagan. Since Reagan's inauguration, we've been lurching toward purer and purer forms of libertarianism -- and the result has been national ruin. We don't make anything anymore. People are talking about secession, sustained joblessness, and the end of the national experiment.

Can a person who advocates a "back to the future" policy call himself a "progressive"? Or do we need still another term?
Sorry my comment is too long. Please edit it down or disregard it entirely.

I would suggest "conservative" if it wasnt already taken. I am only half joking. The enemies I see, are from theocrats who believe they can reduce the scope of democracy. Resisting this pernicious innovation would be conservation. Similarly I am against rent seeking and extension, economic looting, and the transfer of public property to private. This is all about conservation. Conserving the capital stock and the means of production. Conserving the natural resources of the land. Conserving social order and the social integrity of the country. Keeping the United States as one country.

So since conservative is not gonna fly, how about "One Nation Liberal"? Orthodox? Americanist?

Liberal implies freedom, but these assholes only want freedom to screw others.

I'm're a Republican?? Old-school Republican, but....Republican?

I understand Puck was a sprite and I admire a sprite spirit....I myself would wear fur coats to protests...and then go in to the bar to share Manhattans (dry, with a twist) with those we were protesting and pester them some more...but...Republican?

If so, why Eisenhower? Why not go back to Teddy and the Bull Moose and the National Parks?

Back to the question at hand. I'm stubbornly sticking with the term Dem. I tell people I'm a Yellow Dog Dem, in the original sense. They don't know the full quote, which is: the coiner of the term said he'd vote for an old yeller dog if it ran as a Dem....but *LOWER than that he would not go.*

I keep waiting for someone to call me racist for that, but unless you connect the dots for them, the collitch-edjucatit Obots miss the opportunity.
While I understand your issues with the 'progressive' label, I think it's very useful in terms of messaging - one of the Democratic Party's biggest weaknesses. The historical confusion of the term 'liberal' and 'liberalism' is so pervasive that it seems poised to be re-appropriated in the same way that socialist/leftist political philosophy gets conflated with fascism.

You may not like (what you perceive as) it's connotations, but you should also ask yourself what the average voter thinks of when they hear the word. 'Liberal' can be twisted into, and associated with, many undesirable things or ideas - spending liberally, liberal arts, bleeding-heart liberals, etc. In contrast, 'conservative' works better as a value-loaded word: fiscally conservative, conserve energy... and as a political identifier it implies moderation ('conservative' policies by definition shouldn't be radical - and yes, I am surpressing laughter as I write these phrases in this context). It's similar to the right/left labels, which in an of themselves are value-weighted towards 'right'.

And in the long run, your opposition to the 'Progressive' label will amount to nothing. It's in wide usage and isn't going away - you fought a principled fight, the cause is lost, time to move on. What's more important is 'Progressives' refusing to distance themselves from the word 'Liberal' - if someone self-identifies as a Progressive but NOT a Liberal, I'd love to hear how they draw the distinction.
I like the term "populist" - it's what we need right now - someone to speakon behalf of "the people" rather than "the corporations", "the oligarchy", "the plutocrats", the theocrats, or any "Them".
Populist? No way. That is a term made evil by those who have worn it. See: Tom Watson. See: Bo Gritz. See: Every reactionary conspiracy-monger who couldn't reconcile himself to any sector of the GOP.
Oh dear! there I go showing my ignorance again - didn't recognise those names but looked 'em up in Wiki.

I was thinking more Eugene Debs, who'd be my own hero or Paul Wellstone.

Democratic Socialist?
What I really want to see is simply someone who refuses to shy away from the implications of any label thrown at them. Socialist? Maybe a little, but so is the entire industrialized world. Liberal? Certainly! LBJ ushered in civil rights legislation and Great Society initiatives which greatly reduced poverty and inequality. Progressive? Per Wikipedia, a "broadly based reform movement that reached its height early in the 20th century and is generally considered to be middle class and reformist in nature." Who wouldn't want to be associated with that?

We, and our representatives, should own the labels rather than run from them. They're compliments disguised as insults.
I hate the term progressive. The label was coined because the REPUKES turned the word Liberal into a dirty word, via Rush during the reign of King Ronald the I.

I refuse to allow a bunch of thick-neck, union busting, middle-class loathing, poor hating. choice rejecting, homophobic, social compact enemies, money worshipping scrooges, define me. Hell, they can't even define themselves. Who are they anyway? ARE THEY Teapartiers, Religious Neo-Conservative Zealnuts, Neo-Conservatives, Fiscal Neo-Cons, GOP'ers or Republicans?

Let's stick with Liberal, if it was good enough for FDR, it's good enough for me.
Egalitarian? Modernist? Modernistas?
ANon: That is my first instinct. But as I've said, I'm starting to look at this from the viewpoint of a young person just learning politics. Most young people aren't all that bright, and they usually are badly educated. How can we ask them to distinguish between "liberal" and "neoliberal" and "libertarian"?

You have to admit, it is a conundrum.
I was PUMA within minutes of the term being coined over The Confluence. When people ask me what I am I say, "Puma." When they ask "What's that?" I say "A pissed off Liberal with multiple firearms," followed by "Look it up.
I strongly recommend you read "the curse of tina" on Adam Curtis' BBC blog.

I agree Joseph, it's a problem. But don't you think young adults will work their way through the differences in much the same way you and I did? Of course that was simpler time, we didn't have all the distractions of cellphones, txt messaging, PC's, 750 Cable TV Channels, Twitter, Video gaming, mixed with the 24/7 bombardment of political messaging that comes from places like FOX News and MSNBC. Come to think of it, that's quite a swamp of information and misinformation, I'm not sure I could navigate through that swamp if I was a young adult.

While we're on the subject of political nomenclature, what political brand would you use to describe the Tea Party? And how about Ron Paul, what in the world is he? He calls himself a libertarian, but his positions on choice and gay rights don't exactly fit the mold. The only word I know that fits his strange mixture of political positions is Crackpot?
New name for the democratic party.

People's Party. give fox news something different to zero in on.
I call myself an FDR Democrat. Says it all.

Obama and his ilk are best described as Reagan-Democrats or as I call them Obama-crats. Enema-crats has a certain appeal.

Perhaps we should start calling ourselves Real Democrats.
The problem with progressive is that it explicitly implies linear time. We are no longer in linear time,historical time. We are in real time a misnomer if there ever was one. War, Evil and the End of Hisotry by Bernard-Henri Levy explains it well. Baudrillard explains it better.

Why the Wall St Demo will lay into their hands. See my blog on it.
No labels please.
I use the terms "progressive," "prog," and "liberal" interchangeably.

But it does hurt that, thanks to the O-Holes, progressives are now thought of as the little pr*cks who call everyone and his brother a racist. More damage to the left by Obama and Company.
I rather liked Howard Dean's line, that he was from the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. A clear statement of position, even though he was not particularly liberal.

I've never found progressive a bad label. It represented a time and a movement when REPUBLICAN presidents (several in a row) did a lot of reining in business interests, on behalf of the people.

I think that was why Glenn Beck spent so many hundreds of hours trying to turn the term into a curse word, and the fount of all current evils.

I take that as a sign of its feared power as a labeled movement, plus the next step after the right had demonized liberalism.

But apart from the dyed in the wool right who has been eating up the attack on progressives or progressivism, this attack has not yet turned the COUNTRY against it, as these attacks are too new and too specifically targeted to have reached the broader masses.

So, I'd advocate for picking up the term, dusting it off, refusing to back away from it because of specious attacks, and throw in the other Beck bete noir, social justice, as a kicker.

Seymour: I hope never to become so advanced a thinker that I give up on the concept of linear time.

Then again -- if you're saying that you've found a way for me to be thirty again -- and this time, unattached....
I'm a Liberal and proud of it. Always have been, always will be. The word only got demonized because we let it happen.

If I'd had enough coffee to wake me up, I'd try to find Wes Clark's brilliant definition and defense of the word from 2003 or 2004 on Bill Maher's show.

F**K Progs and their infernal arrogance and stupidity. You call me a Progressive, I'm gonna hit you.
Liberals got women the right to vote. Liberals got African-Americans the right to vote. Liberals created Social Security and lifted millions of elderly people out of poverty. Liberals ended segregation. Liberals passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act. Liberals created Medicare. Liberals passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act. What did conservatives do? They opposed them on every one of those things ­ every one. So when you try to hurl that label at my feet, 'Liberal,' as if it were something to be ashamed of, something dirty, something to run away from, it won't work, Senator. Because I will pick up that label and I will wear it as a badge of honor."
matt santos, west wing
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