Friday, June 22, 2007

The Progressive Point of View

The comments in a diary Bob wrote over at BlueMassGroup inspired me to do something dangerous - it begins with an M and ends with an A. It doesn't quite rhyme with Beta, but by its spelling some people would probably think it does. You guessed it, let's talk some meta!

Every once in a while, I like to write either a blog or a comment about the differences between liberalism and progressivism, in the American sense. Many people just don't seem to get it - or disagree. They say there's no difference between a liberal and a progressive, except that liberal has become a "dirty" word and liberals are trying to latch onto the term progressive. Progressive obviously can mean many things, but today's progressive movement is something altogether unique and a rising force in American politics.

So, what does progressivism mean? For starters, there are people who have been scared away from the term liberal and want to be called progressive, but that doesn't mean they're a part of the progressive movement. Progressivism, as a movement, had its early rise with the likes of Woodrow Wilson and Theodoore Roosevelt. Some of their ideas were good, like the people of each state should be able to elect their Senators (the 17th Amendment, in 1913). Other initiatives they pushed were actually, oddly enough, initiatives - the entire initiative process. If people want to know my opinion on the initiative process, just ask the residents of California. I'm not going to delve into details, but let's just say I don't view the early progressives as altogether successful. Many of the things they pushed weren't right and some of the good things they wanted, they didn't ultimately achieve. Eventually, they lost steam, power and the entire movement went under - or underground.

It wasn't until recently that progressives, as a whole, began to become loud advocates again. Many had been relatively silent, at least for the past few decades. Never mind being the base of the Democratic Party, a lot of progressives were just so fed up with everything that they didn't even vote. Reaganism seemed to kill American politics and there wasn't a whole lot we could do about it, accept maybe complain on the internet. Complaining on the internet became organizing as blogging and the netroots took over. Organizations like Moveon and politicians themselves have been able to take advantage over all the progressives who were hooked online and a new movement emerged, or so many people think and I would agree.

What is that movement? I'd like to say that this new rise of progressivism could be summed up in one phrase: the reality-based community. To me, the old progressives of the Woodrow Wilson era seemed to be similar to today's right wing in many ways: a lot of what they supported, they supported because it sounded good and logically made sense. However, what sounds good and is seemingly logical isn't always practical. Saying teenagers shouldn't get pregnant, so let's stop abortion to punish them hasn't exactly proven a winning idea. Liberalism, as an ideology, can be guilty of the same thing - except, what sounds good to them has a different tone. You know, they want to help people. So, here's a nifty, dumbed down version of how each ideology thinks. Keep in mind, even I would admit I'm making this overly simplistic.

Interview Time!

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Ryan: Welcome everyone to today's program. We're here, with this very exciting panel, to discuss some of the different points of view various ideologies share in America on certain topics. So, Mr. Conservative, Mr. Liberal and Mr. Progressive, what are your views on Iraq?

Mr. (Neo) Conservative: Errrr, yea. At the time, we all thought Eyeraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction. We had to invade em because we couldn't trust Saddam Hussein. And, ah, look at what happened on 9/11! The world is a scary place and we need to be on our feet. Attack them there so they can't attack us here. Plus, ahhh, Democracy! We can give them Democracy and everything! We'll be greeted with flowers and as heroes. Yah! It'll spread throughout the entire Middle East and we really believe it, because we know our allies in Saudi Arabia are just dying for Democracy.

Ryan: Thanks, Mr. Conservative. Those are some interesting thoughts. What about you, Mr. Liberal?

Mr. Liberal: Why, first let me thank you, Ryan. It's really important to have an open and honest dialogue here, so we can talk about all of the ideas. Ideas are essential and there's nothing more important than talking about them. War is a terrible and tragic thing. We can't have war, unless directly provoked.

Ryan: Interesting commentary. Thanks. And you, Mr. Progressive?

Mr. Progressive: I do agree with my liberal counterpart, war is bad. We should only go to war when we're attacked or when our sovereignty is really threatened - as it was during World War Two, after Japan attacked us and all of our allies were losing the war in Europe. However, it goes beyond "war is bad." There were important facts that this administration ignored going into this war. For starters, we had inspectors in that country with unfettered access, looking for those weapons. We had no evidence to suggest they actually had any. Furthermore, Saddam Hussein was completely contained and no real threat to anyone in the region - and he had nothing to do with 9/11. In fact, al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein were mortal enemies. Even more importantly, while Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator, we didn't mind it when he was fighting a war against Iran. In fact, we helped him. We don't mind that the current President of Pakistan rules with an iron fist and got there through a military coup, he's our ally. We don't mind a lot of very bad regimes across the world, from China to Saudi Arabia. Why aren't the conservatives advocating regime change there?

What's more offensive than anything, however, is this notion that we could bring another country democracy - especially through war. No one in Iraq was asking for Jeffersonian Democracy, no one was pushing for it. A Democracy is the will of the people and it has to come from that very will. No one who studied the history of Iraq would have ever guessed that Iraq was poised for this new Democracy. If we were concerned with the people of Iraq, we would have tried to lessen their poverty - because, if we want a Democracy in Iraq, a starving, war-torn country in turmoil isn't going to produce it.

Ryan: Thanks for those thoughts, Mr. Progressive. What do you all think about illegal immigration? Three minutes guys.

Mr. Conservative: They broke the law! They're out of our country! Shut down the borders and stop the *cough*br*cough*own*cough* people from coming in, thank you very much.

Mr. Liberal: Obviously, the conditions in Mexico and in Latin America aren't very good. We need to let as many of them in as possible. Immigration is what our country was built on, we shouldn't be afraid of it. Diversity! It's America! See, I'm patriotic too!

Mr. Progressive: The simple fact of the matter is that there are about 12 million undocumented Americans in this country and no feasible way to get rid of them all, even if we wanted to. Sure, illegal immigration sounds bad and maybe they deserve to be sent home, but the simple matter is we need to create a policy that actually works. We're not going to be able to do that if we threaten deportation - and keep doing all these raids that are turning into human rights disasters. They'll go under, we'll never find them and meanwhile they're in danger of exploitation. The current situation is a mess and there are clear solutions to fixing it. Let's get to work.

Ryan: One last question, guys. Oranges or Apples? And why?

Mr. Conservative: Aww, what a sweet question. I love my farming. My Grand Pappy on the farm always used to say, "An Apple a Day Keeps the Dentist Away." Of course, he had dentures. Let me just say one more thing. Brush your teeth, kids and stay off drugs. Oh, and God loves America.

Mr. Liberal: Now, Ryan, how am I supposed to pick between those two lovely fruit? I love visiting the orchards in New England and in Florida. I just love them both.

Mr. Progressive: Um, okay. I wasn't exactly prepared for that question. Oranges, because they taste better. I'll eat an apple if it's fresh and in season.

Ryan: Thank you so much for participating today and pointing out some of the many differences in your points of view. It's important that every American have a basic understanding of what it means to be conservative, liberal and progressive in today's America.


Anonymous said...

the worst thing for this country would be for liberals and progressives to distance themselves politically...i respect and agree with a majority of progressive ideals, however i don't think voting in a republican over a "liberal" is better for this nation. in order for our country to shift left, we need to grab the center first. i hope that you can understand where i'm coming from. i'm not saying you are not a bright kid, i'm sure you know that after primaries democrats need to come together, but in case you did not understand that fact......that's my logic.. grabbing the center needs to be a priority, shifting the center left is the next.

p.s. you're doing a great job keep up the good work

Anonymous said...

1913 reall WAS quite a year, wasn't it?

Ryan - you ARE bright, and know how to disagree without being disagreeable. I hope you go back and replicate the Hahavahd Yahd speech patterns of liberals if you're going to make fun of how conservatives allegedly speak.

Ryan Adams said...

Oh, I totally was speaking a la a certain nearby Senator with the liberal one, Anon 2:09.

Anon 1:30,

I completely agree with rallying around the winner of a primary. There's only one dem I didn't support after the primary in my entire life - and the only reason why I did that was because not only did the person offend me deeply, but I also knew that person was a shoo-in (he or she had no Republican opponent). It was just a vote to make a statement.

But I totally get - and dig - the point that we want to shift the country left. In fact, I'd already suggest we've DONE that, it's just getting people to realize it. People want a good environment, they want strong k-college. They want more police officers, a good social security system and Universal Insurance. Heck, even a vast majority of this country supports most gay rights - even a majority supports either civil unions or outright marriage. Issues and positions aren't why Dems have lost more elections than they've won over the past decade. I'd talk about that, but it would become a post of its soon.

Anonymous said...

The L-Word

"L-Word" didn't used to be a euphemism for "Lesbian".

An ideological achievement of the Reagan Revolution was to make Liberalism the pariah ideology. Whereas liberals might have proudly proclaimed themselves such in the early sixties, by 1984, we were witnessing elaborate adventures in political positioning as a means of supporting liberal positions here and there without being tarred as an actual -- shudder! -- liberal. Sen. Kerry got a little too adept at that sorry dance.

Only in the last few years have liberals stopped being so shy and started advocating positions passionately. We still see Democratic leaders trying not to lose elections -- as opposed to trying to win them. Armstrong & Moulitas point to the institutional causes for that. Some of the shyness and prevarication just seems like not having gotten over being bullied.

In a sense, your Progressive is a bold liberal and your Liberal is a bullied liberal who retreats into unactionable generalities to hide from the conservative meanies.

Now that everyone knows -- or should know -- that conservatism is imbecilic that is changing.


Ryan Adams said...

Let's hope so.

However, I still would argue that there were differences between a movement progressive and liberal - some of those differences were exposed during the Vietnam era, when liberals weren't so afraid of being liberal.

Anonymous said...


Actually, I did sort of ignore your more historical point -- perhaps unfairly. I wonder whether there is much historical continuity running from the progressive movement of the early twentieth century to whatever configuration of parties, wings of parties, and movements we have today.

Wasn't the New Deal really different from the progressive movement? Where did all the progressive Republicans go? In the 60s, there was a lot of talk about the New Left. I think that was to contrast with New Deal liberals, but it might have been in contrast with old line communists. One heritage of the sixties, when there were reliable Democratic House majorities, was the multiplication of issue groups -- a kind of fragmenting of the left side of the political spectrum. One thing that has changed a lot is that we're beginning to move away from being a collection of causes and more toward something that shares ideology and shows partisanship. If he ran in Massachusetts, no progressive would have supported Tester, but many of us gave to his Montana Senate race. That represents an enormous change from the prior fragmentation.

Anyway, I didn't engage your historical questions. I have laid out my preconceptions the better to be schooled where I am off!


Ryan Adams said...

See, I still think most liberals are fractured. None of those groups are doing what's necessary to branch out and redefine everyone. Furthermore, Tester's campaign triumphed over the insider's choice - his campaign showed the differences between liberals and the progressive movement quite well. I'd surmise that the people who actually got over the fragmentation from the very beginning were mainly the progressives, until polling showed the Democratic party that Tester could win if given funds. It was at that point that the DCCC and others stepped in.

Ryan Adams said...

I didn't phrase that in the way I had been intended. I'm in a rush LOL. I don't mean that they should redefine everyone, I really meant that none of them were branching out to work together as one greater unit - as an entire progressive cause.

Anonymous said...

Understood what you meant

We might say that, then, that Liberals are the left-of-center guys stuck in some kind of past.

I pointed to the reliable Democratic majorities because back in the 1960s through the 1980s, there was never a question of Republicans seizing the House of Representatives. Consequently, single issue organization and lobbying made a lot of sense.

We lost that majority in 1994. The victory in 2006 does not guarantee 2010 because there are so many structural advantages the Republicans have. One is corporate money. A second is district concentration. Too many Democratic districts are overwhelmingly Democratic; too many Republican districts are just Republican enough to be safely so.

Speaking of fragmentation: I still -- still! -- cannot get over the HRC endorsing D'Amato over Schumer in the NY Senate race in 1998. It is just plainly obvious to me that big Democratic majorities are a necessary (alas, not yet sufficient) prerequisite for advancing GLBT rights. As if to put icing on the cake: If you visit Wikipedia today, you will see a picture of Schumer obviously taken at some sort of Pride event.

GLBT issue fragmentation is one thing. I think the environmental movement, which has tried very hard to practice Neerian pragmaticism all these years is the best example of failure built by not recognizing the need to join the progressive banner -- with trumpets blaring. What movement, after all, is most based on the common good and most allergic to appearing "partisan"?

Anonymous said...

A little off topic, but interesting since it concerns one of the most loudest conservative voices in the local blogosphre. Cynthia Stead/Peter Porcupine, CLT member and proponent of small government is a state employee. So, all her posting in favor of Mitt Romney and voting on gay marriage was paid for by us.

Howie nailed her and a bunch of Republican hacks in Friday's column:

But most of the GOP state committeemen have thus far managed to avoid the Democrats’ ax.

Like Cynthia Stead, from the Cape and Islands. She’s at the Highway Department for $37,266. Used to be an aide for ex-Rep. Tom George, most recently seen trying unsuccessfully to fatten his already bloated state pension.

Anonymous said...

$37,266 is not a high salary.


bostonph said...

It's not the amount, it's the hypocrisy.

Besides, the db lists her title as "Administrative Assistant I." I'm trying to imagine a scenario where a private sector admin would have that much time to post. I know my department's doesn't.

Ryan Adams said...

I've said the same thing to Bob, quoting Jon Keller and using Mr. Keller to push his point of view (PoV). If these are people we don't want to hang around, because they're poison, we shouldn't push their PoVs on the rare instances that they may be right. A clock stopped may be right twice a day, but that doesn't mean we keep it on the kitchen wall to keep track of time.

No, we throw it out.

Just as an aside, isn't it possible Stead was doing her posting, etc. at lunch hours and personal time, on her own computer?

Anonymous said...

In the last two months, she's published over 200 comments on BMG alone, almost all over them during work hours, almost none of them during lunch. Some days she comments every 20 minutes.

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