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Has Progressivism Become Too Narrow?

I used to be a liberal—before that label became a synonym for moderate—and then I called myself a progressive. I might change back to calling myself a liberal. I’m for universal health care paid for by the government out of people’s taxes, but I assume that,  just like in every other Western developed country that has universal health care, there will be a private insurance option alongside of it. I’m for free public college and university, but I would accept having it only extend to those with low and middle-class income. I want a smaller defense budget and a smaller armed forces, as well as a continually shrinking nuclear arsenal. I want to regulate banks so their own greed doesn’t lead to another economic crisis. I want to heavily regulate industry to protect the environment, curb C02 and methane emissions and rejoin the Paris Agreement and extend it further. And I want a more even-handed approach to the Middle East, including reducing arms sales to Saudi Arabia, perhaps even sanctioning them for killing a reporter and wanton killing of civilians in Yemen. I want a friendlier outreach to Iran and a resumption of the nuclear deal and also more pressure put on Israel to actively pursue a two-state solution with the Palestinians and reducing Israeli settlement development and some of their policies restricting imports and rights for Palestinians. I want some workable solution to the difficulties faced by African-Americans in terms of how they are treated by the criminal justice system, addressing factors that result in de-facto segregation in housing  and schools, and improving their health outcomes, and I want to find a way to improve their economic outcomes. I want a revision of our election campaign financing and our lobbying procedures so that legislative actions and policy decisions reflect the will of the people, not the wishes of the corporations and the wealthy.  I want our tax system to stop favoring the wealthy and corporations, and I see all of us paying more taxes as the way to raise money to increase our social safety net programs. I want women to have the same pay and the same opportunities as men in our economic system. I want asylum seekers on our borders to be treated humanely and undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. long enough to establish stable lives to have a way to become citizens. I’d like to see more immigration, not less, into the U.S. with as much attention to those in distress and fleeing danger, poverty or famine, as those who bring money, education and job skills.

I consider all of the above points to be mainstream liberal ones, since my views about them have changed little over  the last twenty years or more. I’m not sure if I’m a progressive, in the modern use of the term, because I’m unsure about the wisdom and motives of BDS, I can't understand why Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren insist on Medicare-for-All plans that eliminate private insurance. I think America needs more immigrants because of our aging population, which is not replacing itself, and I don’t think asylum seekers should be treated as criminals, but I don’t want to decriminalize all border crossings.  I want right-wing extremists to be treated as domestic terrorists if they threaten or carry-out terror attacks, but I want even White Nationalists and Neo-Nazis to have the right to speak and march. I want all points of view to have the opportunity to speak on our college campuses, not just those that favor the sentiments of the faculty and students.

I suspect a lot of Democrats and Independents, maybe even a few Republicans, want most of what I want. The problem is that the most vocal and progressive wing of the Democratic Party is viewed as only supporting the most narrow versions of these positions: This view says, private insurance must be illegal because it is predatory. Speaking out against BDS is disloyal to Palestinians. Treating any border crossers as criminals is inhumane. The only taxes that can be raised are those of the rich. Programs such as free college tuition must have no means testing or financial strings attached. Those who espouse malignant views must not be allowed to speak.

I’m not really sure if there is a large enough core of the kind of true extreme progressives that I describe to really control Democratic primaries. The goal of most Democrats is to beat Donald Trump, not be purists. It’s unclear if Joe Biden’s middle-of-the-road policies and positions will address the issues I’m concerned about. Sanders, Warren, Harris, maybe even Booker and Buttigieg, want most of what I want, but the insistence of some of them  on adhering to the nuances demanded by extremists will probably alienate more voters than it attracts. Maybe they need to reframe progressivism so that it pleases old-time liberals,  like myself, who, after all, are the heart of the Democratic Party.

Reader Comments (7)

I am inclined to agree with the views expressed by the Author of the Article. This is true with any of the countries.

August 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPVV Satyanarayana

The problem here is "you with us or you are against us." A very narrow and narrow-minded approach. When any discourse turns into a shouting match and we bang our fists or jump on a table to agitate the crowd. When anti-fascists act like a mob and it is not longer clear whom they are after and whom they are protecting. When we offer so-called policies that make us feel good about ourselves and have no other value. When one lie is becoming piled on another and we no longer know who is lying and who is simply ignorant.
Should we turn away from the news? from the TV? Should we allow the demagogues to win and then say, oops, I thought...
Progressive, liberal, conservative, etc. should be replaced by deliberation, thought, and knowledge, Knowledge of not a simply partisan-based propaganda.
Sorry to use the word "should."

August 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterIlana

Excellent statement of your beliefs, Casey. I’m going to memorize that opening paragraph as a response when anyone asks what defines me politically. I think you should send it to the DNC and they can use it for their 2020 platform. It will save them loads of time!

I think the term “extremist” for the new Progressives should be changed. How about something like Dynamic Progressive, Dogmatic Progressive, Active Progressive, or Modern Progressive? I can’t find the exact adjective that would fit.

Because the term “liberal”, to me, has always been equated with “open-minded,” I like the term Liberal Progressive i.e., a Progressive who is open to accommodating the viewpoints of the others--in other words a non-dogmatic approach to change. I think that is representative of your declaration of political beliefs in the first part of this essay.

How about differentiating those in the Movement as Modern Progressives versus Liberal or Traditional Progressives? Maybe Radical Progressive as opposed to Moderate Progressive would work.

Isn’t this all reminiscent of any important movement? There are always the young and impatient who are willing to bulldoze ahead as opposed to calmly walking the line. I’m thinking of Martin Luther King’s Movement philosophy compared to Malcolm X’s approach. As for modern times, if we’re talking environment, however, I’m thinking we don’t have time to walk over the bridge to Selma; we might just have to “Malcolm X our way through” in regard to this objective on the Democratic platform before the whole damn platform collapses. There's no time to go "slow turkey" as the recent commercial suggests. We have to go "cold turkey", and be as dogmatic, as dynamic, as radical, and as modern of a Progressive we can be on that particular topic, I think.

August 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBillie Kelpin

When choosing political labels it might also be important to consider the failure of liberalism over the last decades.
Pelosi, Boxer, Biden, H. Clinton, Obama and B. Clinton are/were all labeled liberal Democrats. Collectively they oversaw the gutting of American manufacturing, mass incarceration, erradication of the social safety-net, (B, Clinton), the transfer of one-third of the total wealth of the nation to the highest tiers of the 1%, (Obama) and a garguantian increase in war spending even after the end of the cold war.(All)
Even when doing the "right thing" (KXL, Paris accord, NSA privacy violations, even ObamaCare) they have lacked leadership of the people that could make their resolve permanent. Rememder that the Obama liberal left machine was dissolved and never street mobilized to win victories for a liberal agenda just for election candidates.
Most controversies we live with have been with us for the history of the republic...inequality, racism, never ending war, violence. It may well be we should question not just the values and solutions of the liberal and conservative labels as part of the system of dominance but also their role in perpetuating these problems and in the fundamental failure of our republic to address more than the needs of a few people of obscene wealth and privilege as empirical evidence indicates.
Possibly our problem has always been Tories and Whigs...and a real lack of true democracy.

August 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDariel Garner

Hi Casey,
Great first paragraph - It basically sums up what I believe.
Second paragraph - I don't know what BDS is?
Third paragraph - Probably the best candidate now is one who is getting little notice.
Namely Washington's governor - Jay Inslee

August 20, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterNancy Roeder

Your views are commendable in their introspection. The trouble I see in Progressive liberalism as you describe it, is that it requires a top down implementation, that the government exercises its power to execute the desired reforms. But the problem is it needs a kind of ‘quasi dictatorial’ authority to make it work. This is in opposition to a ‘bottom up’ form of government, the kind we have in a democratic Republic, where constitutional rule of law directs its governance, moderated by the will of the people. Within that structure, one that is market exchange oriented, where industry and management in pursuits aimed at ‘value added’ (profit and capital) economic development, is to build a sustainable economy within structure of a just rule of law. This is opposed to a ‘distributive’ economy where wealth is returned to the people for their social welfare. However, a history showed over again, this redistribution leads to eventual general impoverishment, the kind see in socialist states with ‘planned’ economies, from the former Soviet Union to Cuba to North Korea. So the system consumes its capital and ultimately fails, extreme cases being Venezuela and Zimbabwe. Nevertheless, as a socio-economic safety net is a desired policy in all progressive modern societies, we are left with a conundrum of how to redistribute wealth for the common good without sacrificing our constitutional rights and depleting our economic value added gains. (This is becoming an increasing issue with AI and modernization taking jobs.) There is always a desire to find agreement in our social contracts to benefit the largest returns for most people, but not at the price of hamstringing economic activity which depletes our capital, leaving us all poor. Furthermore, we cannot use draconian punitive policy without turning to the dogmas of a ‘progressive’ policy that lead to general discontent, and possibly social instability. Allowing uncontrolled immigration without measured steps to assimilate migrants leads to further social discontent and unrest, including gang crimes, human trafficking, grooming young girls into sex slavery, degraded inner cities, educational failures, etc. So you bring up valid points, that we do need a better system to benefit larger segments of the population, including a health welfare net, but it must be implemented within a framework of a constitutional rule of law acceptable to a democratic society, or we are left with a heavy top down bureaucratic quasi-theocracy dictating from the top how society is governed. And we know from history this does not work. Has any other progressive developed society, one composed as ours of peoples from all walks of life and many ethnic and racial backgrounds surpassed our American experience? Judging how they flock to our shores, and Europe’s shores, I would think not.

August 24, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterIvan Alexander

Some of your points are reasonable. Two obvious false concerns; African-Americans are treated unfairly by the criminal justice system only in that their communities are under-policed and the criminals are under-incarcerated. To improve all areas of concern for black people, we need to get black fathers to marry black mothers and stop substituting the federal government for the vital role that dads plays in the home.

The second, and most ridiculously persistent fallacy proffered by the left is the concept of the “Gender Wage Gap.” It doesn’t exist and hasn’t for at least a generation or two. Thomas Sowell pretty well debunked this myth in the 1970’s. There is a “Gender EARNINGS Gap” that is very real and is primarily explained by biological determinism. Men are more attracted to working with things and women are more drawn to working with people. Thing/idea oriented jobs typically pay much better than social services/ care related jobs. And many women leave the work force to have children which of course affects their earnings. But women have been getting equal wages (or better) for equal work when compared to men for decades.

August 29, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMark Wheeler

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