Friday, August 12, 2011

Who told you to be a Progressive?

   It was Tuesday night and the polls in Wisconsin had closed. I was settling in to follow live results from numerous sources, including Twitter of course. My choice for live television? MSNBC and The Ed Schultz show, a show that I usually end up turning off after the first segment as of late. 
   I've been a listener of Ed's for years now. Back when Air America and Al Franken hit the airwaves and Ed would constantly remind his listeners he was NOT part of the same network, but a Jones Radio Network program. Even then, he sought to differentiate his views from the "liberal base" as a "gun-totin', meat-eatin' lefty". So it came as little surprise that on this Tuesday night, Ed Schultz chose his words and his guests carefully to eliminate the very mention of that "word", liberal. I couldn't keep count of the times the word Progressive came pouring forth, but it was so overwhelming I was compelled to tweet (which doesn't really take a lot of compelling) that there just might be some "Liberals" involved in Wisconsin as well. By that time, Adam Green was on camera taking credit for the enthusiasm and any victory that might be experienced for this "Progressive movement". 
   For anyone that might be thinking, "What difference does it make? Progressive or Liberal, it's still a win for Democrats", let me try and explain. Semantics matter in politics. Semantics matter even more in today's no-holds-barred politics-for-money game. While using the term Progressive might drive some new donors to the "Bold Progressives" website, it can also alienate the labor faction as well as the blue-blood liberals and moderates. The majority of Labor faction Democrats that I know prefer to call themselves liberal or even Socialist, but Progressive? That's a label for the intelligentsia and the ideologues. I take it a step further and posit that the label represents a capitulation to the Conservative campaign of demonizing the term "Liberal". And I say this even though I originally pushed for a conversion to the Progressive label through a strategy of semantics. As a network of prolific comment writers, we would conscientiously replace "liberal" with "progressive" at every opportunity. In fact, it was based on the idea that we could avoid the entrenched anti-liberal talking points and restore credibility. But somewhere along the way, the label was hijacked, redirected and perverted into an inflexible ideology of extremism and a whole lot of anger. An ideology that values emotion as a tool to increase traffic and sales and, of course, clicks. 
   In a former network, we had envisioned a Progressive Democratic Party (and caucus) that would be broadly based on the Teddy Roosevelt model. Most of the primary issues still resonate today. After all, it really wasn't that long ago in real-world history (although in America we tend to consider even 30 years as ancient history). The politics of the Progressive Party would be attractive to moderates and a good case could have been made for moderate Republicans to consider a "rebirth" of the progressive Republican. Ah, what could have been.  Instead of a level-headed movement with issues steeped in historical relevance and appealing to a broad base, the Progressives have become the "Tea Party" of the left with a rigid opposition to compromise. So where do we go from here?
   I strongly suggest we return to our roots. We embrace the "Liberal" label with an in-your-face attitude toward the Conservatives. I often hear that Liberals have never accomplished anything and we are lazy, crazy and partying fools (the 70's media portrayal). Of course, that would be ignoring Social Security, Medicare, the Equal Rights Amendment, Civil Rights and Emancipation. We can quibble over the political party in power, but these are undeniably Liberal ideals and accomplishments. So Liberal that Republicans today are calling for their repeal, as Rush Limbaugh recently suggested when he posited the GOP could undo the accomplishments of the last 45-50 years. And in all sincerity, if we allow these new "Progressives" to take the lead, we will certainly lose the fight. The first step in Taking America Forward is reigning in the Progressives, beginning with a strategy of semantics that redirects our focus toward our Liberal roots and the true meaning of progress for America..