It’s Time to Talk about Neo-Progressivism

Don’t Call ‘Me’ A Progressive If …

clownBy now many of you know where ‘I’ stand when it comes to titles, labels, and categories that are broadly and many times ignorantly painted all over people or viewpoints. I’ve been over this before; how I’ve been labeled and attacked as Anti-Semite and Anti-Muslim, Sexist and Feminist, Democrat and Republican …one time or another, sometimes even simultaneously. What is it with all these confusing labels floating around and being used right and left? Seriously?! Neocon. Neoliberal. Repug. Bleeding-Heart Liberal. You name it!

Anyhow, today I am going to talk about another very confusing label-adjective that is being used too often, and most often too broadly, confusedly and inaccurately. The fashionable adjective is ‘progressive;’ being progressive. What does it really mean to be progressive? Once upon a time I was sure I knew what it meant. Then came a time when I was not sure what it was. And now, I don’t have a clue what it means to be a progressive. I’ll go even further and say, if it means what many people claim it does, and use it as, then, I consider it an adjective far from flattery.

Sure. You can look it up in any dictionary and give progressive a common definition. Progressive: Favoring or advocating change, improvement, or reform; employing or advocating more enlightened ideas… Or find the popular definition of progressivism as a political attitude favoring or advocating changes or reform through governmental action. If you were to stop here, stay within this once-upon-a-time definition and usage frame, and then call me a progressive, I’d nod and say ‘thank you.’ However life is never that simple. And in this case the overly popular progressive does not mean what it used to mean, and is not used as it once was.

Allow me to put it in perspective. I am going to use real-life context and experiences; the real life being my life, and the experiences coming directly from me and my surroundings:

A few months ago I was having lunch with a good friend whom I’ve known for over 20 years. He has university degrees and a high-level position in an IT related company. I was telling him how happy I’d been without a TV and garbage propaganda sold as news for over the past six years. He agreed and said: “I try to limit myself and only watch progressive news delivered by real progressive reporters. Most of the time I tune in to the Daily Show- Jon Stewart.” I asked: “you mean for fun and satire?’ He said: ‘Not really. For a progressive take on major news.’

My friend used the word ‘progressive’ three times in describing himself and his choice for ‘news.’ I have heard Jon Stewart being described as a real progressive reporter, and a solid source for real news for some progressives more than a few times. Let’s move to another experience-context:

One of the mothers in my daughter’s play group is a teacher who considers herself politically savvy and an activist; that is, in a progressive way. A few weeks ago we were casually chatting about activism and alternative news sites for activism. She said: ‘I don’t like the mainstream. I go to a few progressive sites to get my real news and real take on political issues.’ I asked, ‘Which progressive site tops your list?’ And she replied: ‘Of course Huffington Post!’

To make a long story short on that particular experience: my daughter’s friend’s progressive mother considers Madame Huffington the mother of all progressives. And next:

A few days ago a former colleague stopped by for a cup of coffee. We started talking about the awfulness of our plentiful wars. I took the opportunity and asked him whether he regretted his Obama vote. He responded: ‘Of course not. That was a progressive thing to do. Even with all these wars and stuff we are better off. We proved to the world that yes we can elect a black man as our president, and that is a sign of a progressive nation. Electing Obama as a president is a win for all of us progressives; no matter what…

Suffice it to say, my progressive friend is determined to vote progressive again in order to make a progressive statement to the rest of the world. He will vote a progressive vote; he will vote Obama.

I know more than a few activists who consider themselves progressive, and define their progressive activism as actively chatting at DailyKos on a daily basis. I also know progressive antiwar activists who consider our war in Libya a progressive intervention, not war. I know a few progressives who consider raising the debt ceiling while increasing government expenditures as we increase all taxes real progress

[By the way if you are worried about my personal neighbors, friends and former colleagues who were exhibited in the examples above (albeit without their personal information) getting ticked off by what I am saying here, please don’t. They consider this site far from being progressive, thus never visit here.]

If Jon Stewart is a real progressive reporter delivering progressive news; if Arianna Huffington and her AOL-owned site is the mother of all progressive websites; if Obama is a progressive president and electing him a progressive thing to do; if our new wars can be written off as progressive interventions …Then, if you call me a progressive I’ll consider it a cuss word; a real insult!

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  1. I always considered the term “Progressive” to mean someone in the mold of Teddy Roosevelt, whose REAL progressive “Square Deal” policies countered the excesses of Robber Baron Capitalism just as Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal policies countered the excesses of 1920’s era Capitalism. Now I’VE always considered myself a Democratic Socialist/Civil Libertarian. That said, What I see today are the two parties of the duopoly arguing over how to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic when I see stories like THIS ONE:

    shouting, “ICEBERG, DEAD AHEAD!”

  2. j kanarcho says:

    Its a joy to have friends and family from all points along the political spectrum. The only problem I have is wanting to bash my head against a wall after discussing some of the issues listed here.

    I generally chide them about the sensible position of having government as close to home as possible – its more responsive, responsible, and accountable. I don’t even try the angle of elimination of so much unnecessary government – That is too far of a leap. The saliency of self determination confuses many of them as if I am speaking Klingon.

    *My forehead is bruised*

  3. I think there might be a market for headbands with extra padding in the front. Could be a good way to fund BFP.

  4. @Sibel: I’m curious about what label(s) these friends and neighbors would give to this site.

  5. Eric Saunders says:

    Sibel, your ‘progressive’ friends are just dupes. Today, there is no progressive mainstream media because they are all corporate. Even the ‘alternative’ media (like the supposedly progressive The Nation) is dependent upon grants from big capitalist foundations. That is why there are so many stories that the supposed left won’t touch – like your story or the writing of Peter Dale Scott, etc.

    The original Progressive Era came about to deal with the social problems created by the power of the capitalist robber barons of the Gilded Age. Among the greatest innovations of the era was progressive taxation, whereby excessive income is deemed ‘rent’ and therefore gets taxed at a much higher rate. This encouraged reinvestment and also slightly curtailed the ability of the power elite to control society and politics through their ridiculous ill-gotten fortunes. The success of the ideas of the progressive era reached its height during the New Deal or Great Society programs, after which the Right Wing launched a successful counter offensive and are now rolling back all of these reforms and ushering in the new financialized Gilded Age that we are living in.

    Peter Dale Scott writes about this distinction a lot, and I think that you should keep it in mind: We have government or the “public state” which does many things to make society better and improve people’s lives (public schools, infrastructure, parks, safety inspections, labor laws, social security, medicare, etc.). But we also have, especially since the end of World War 2, the “Deep State” or the “national security state” which does not operate according to the prevailable public opinion or for the public good. Instead it serves a very narrow constituency of political/economic/military elites while operating in a top-down fashion, in secrecy, and with very limited accountability.

    Your progressive friends just cannot grasp how much the national security state and its corporate beneficiaries have corrupted all the institutions that are supposed to defend the public interest. They don’t get just how controlled their precious comedy central satirists are. They don’t realize that the HuffPost and Daily Kos (aka Daily CIA) serve to control and manage dissent. And they don’t get that the Democratic Party is now another Republican Party, serving money first and foremost. No FDR or JFK could ever rise in today’s Democratic Party. Your pals are propagandized hapless dupes, but there’s a powerful system that makes them that way.

  6. @Zica: maybe ‘radical’ or ‘conspiracy’ or …

  7. Sibel Edmonds Said:

    “@Zica: maybe ‘radical’ or ‘conspiracy’ or …”

    or how about ‘Independent’ or ‘questioning’ or ‘unlabeled’…

  8. Nice – time for a leather jacket and a mohawk.

    As for another real progressive, here’s a link to a debate series hosted by Nader called Debating Taboos:

    They’re being played on c-span; tomorrow is the next one at 6pm on taxing securities transactions. The one they played today was on mandatory voting. I’m just watching now at:

    I consider you to be in Ralph’s vein of Progressive, even if you may disagree with him on some things. Let’s take the label back.

  9. I agree with eric and dennis. I would add authoritarian followers as a term to describe them. it’s all about who says its progressive, for them.

  10. (them = Sibel’s ‘progressive’ friends in my last comment, not Eric and Dennis) 🙂

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