Sunday, May 26, 2013

Why liberals became progressives--and why they'll stay that way

One of the most striking changes in political terminology to happen in my lifetime was the adoption of progressive as a substitute for liberal. What's weird about it is that most of the time people talk as though they've always used the word progressive this way, yet I can't remember hearing it until the 2000s. (Checking the archives for Google News and Google Books seems to confirm my suspicions.) When the topic is brought up, the commonest explanation (which even I have made) is that it was an attempt to escape the negative connotations of the word liberal, which had suffered from decades of abuse by conservative commentators. But that raises some questions. Since the negative use of liberal goes back at least to the 1970s, what took progressives so long to come up with their new name? Furthermore, why didn't they stick with liberal in a spirit of defiance against those who treat it as a dirty word? Doesn't abandoning it suggest that there really is something wrong with being a liberal, and that so-called progressives are simply doing a linguistic makeover to hide their flaws?

The answer to these questions lies partly in recent political history, partly in the difficulty in consciously making changes to the language. For several decades liberals did in fact try to wear the word liberal proudly, in spite of those who used it disparagingly. Progressive already existed in political parlance, but it had a broader, vaguer meaning than it does today and didn't necessarily imply an affinity for the left. In the 1980s, for example, the centrist Democratic Leadership Council called its think tank the Progressive Policy Institute. My guess is that the DLC aimed to evoke something along the lines of Teddy Roosevelt's bipartisan, reform-oriented "progressivism."

The degradation of the word liberal was gradual and, contrary to the oft-heard claim, not entirely due to the right's efforts. I think the process began in the late 1960s in reaction to the disillusionment and shattered dreams of the left. Around that time the term was undergoing a shift in meaning similar to what happened to a word like pious, where a formerly positive adjective comes to be used as a sneering description of those who fall short of the ideals they preach. Look, for instance, how Roger Ebert used it in his 1972 review of Sounder, a movie he defended against charges of liberalism:

It is, I suppose, a "liberal" film, and that has come to be a bad word in these times when liberalism is supposed to stand for compromise--for good intentions but no action. This movie stands for a lot more than that, and we live in such illiberal times that Sounder comes as a reminder of former dreams.
By the 1970s, liberal was starting to be treated less like a political orientation than like a character type, describing an overzealous do-gooder who may even be a hypocrite and patronizing snob--someone much like the character of Meathead from All in the Family. When the right began using the word pejoratively, they were in part seizing on that stereotype. Of course there is a difference between the trait of "good intentions but no action" and the right's more malevolent view of liberals. But the image of the excessive do-gooder--and above all the connotation of weakness--prevailed.

For a long time, Democratic politicians were unsure whether to embrace the liberal label or run away from it. In 1988 Dukakis resisted it before finally admitting, late in his campaign, that "I'm a liberal in the tradition of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman and John Kennedy." This comment was practically an apology, seeming to imply that liberalism had fallen from its lofty position in the ensuing decades. It was as if he was assuring the public, "I'm a liberal, but one of the good ones."

Indeed, when it came to presidential elections in the post-Vietnam era, it often seemed that the Democrats' victories rested on how successfully their candidates escaped the liberal label. This perception was probably delusional (Mondale and Dukakis were running against a popular administration, whereas Carter and Clinton were running against unpopular ones, and so their ideological character was probably not the determining factor in the outcome of those races), but it was a lesson the Democratic establishment took to heart.

The moderate, Third Way politics of the Clinton years disappointed many liberals at the time, but this was overshadowed somewhat by their disgust at the GOP's scandal-mongering against the president. By the end of the decade, when Clinton enjoyed sky-high approval ratings while the GOP ended up defeated and humiliated in its attempts to bring him down, there was a triumphant feeling among Democrats which, I believe, made many of them willing to forget (if not forgive) his policy betrayals.

This truce ended with the U.S. invasion of Iraq, an event that drove a wedge between the Democratic establishment and the left unlike anything seen in over a generation. As the left's antiwar position, dismissed at first as radical, eventually became the consensus not just within the Democratic Party but in the country as a whole, it damaged the establishment's credibility and made the left's early criticisms of the invasion seem prescient. I personally believe (but have rarely seen it expressed) that this factor was a large part of the reason for the DLC's demise. And of course it led to the rise of Obama, whose early opposition to the war may have been singlehandedly responsible for his narrow defeat of Hillary Clinton in the primaries. Despite GOP talking points about how he was the "most liberal Senator," the L-word commanded surprisingly little attention in the 2008 election, when compared with past races. Obama did, however, eagerly identify as "progressive," the first modern Democratic nominee to do so.

This new use of progressive arose during the boom in Internet political culture that came to be called the "netroots," dominated by activists who now had the tools to make their voice heard in a way that wasn't possible in earlier times. That was the main setting from which today's progressive movement emerged. Though they rarely explained why they preferred the term progressive, I believe there were two primary reasons: they associated liberal with compromise and moderation in the hated establishment, and they wanted to free themselves from the influence of conservative frames they felt had governed mainstream political discourse for too long. Creating a new word for themselves (or, rather, refashioning an old, nearly forgotten one) was a way of achieving that goal.

Naturally, the new progressives tended to be fairly young--people in their twenties when the millennium rolled around (basically my generation). Older figures who have come to be associated with the movement have had to adapt their language to the times. When I searched Paul Krugman's columns and books for the word progressive, all I found were some references to progressive taxation--until his 2007 book The Conscience of a Liberal, where he explains the difference between liberals and progressives:

The real distinction between the terms, at least as I and many others use them, is between philosophy and action. Liberals are those who believe in institutions that limit inequality and injustice. Progressives are those who participate, explicitly or implicitly, in a political coalition that defends and tries to enlarge those institutions. You're a liberal, whether you know it or not, if you believe that the United States should have universal health care. You're a progressive if you participate in the effort to bring universal health care into being. (p. 268)
Although Krugman isn't defining the two terms as mutually exclusive, there is an echo of Ebert's association of liberalism with "good intentions but no action." Progressives, Krugman maintains, are liberals who put their beliefs into action. While that's an inspiring thought, I'm not sure it fits the way most people use these words. I assume Krugman bases his definition on the activist roots of the progressive movement, but by now (at least in my experience) there are plenty of self-identifying progressives not actively involved in the fight for liberal causes.

The linguist Geoffrey Nunberg rounds up various pundit theories on the progressive/liberal distinction before observing, "none of them has much to do with with how the labels are actually used." One problem I have with most of these theories is that they treat the categories as fixed and static. In reality, these words have had greatly varied meanings over time, and even within the same time have meant different things to different people. The fact that TR referred to himself as a Progressive while FDR considered himself a liberal doesn't shed much light on the differences between Clinton and Obama. With these caveats in mind, Nunberg offers his thoughts on what the progressive label is intended to signal today:

Far more than liberals, progressives see themselves in the line of the historical left. Not that America has much of a left to speak of anymore, at least by the standards of the leftists of the Vietnam era, who were a lot less eager than most modern-day progressives to identify themselves with the Democratic Party. But if modern progressives haven't inherited the radicalism or ferocity of the movement left of the 60's, they're doing what they can to keep its tone and attitude alive.
I tend to agree. I just wonder how long this situation will last. As the new progressives grow older and the word progressive becomes more ingrained, its anti-establishment overtones may well fade. Eventually it may come to be a simple descriptor of the average left-leaning Democrat, occupying more or less the same place that liberal used to--before it was turned into an epithet.

Perhaps sensing this possibility, some conservatives in recent years have been trying to do to progressive what they once did to liberal. Glenn Beck attempted something of the sort in his 2010 speech to CPAC, where he linked today's progressives with the alleged evils of the early-20th century Progressive Movement. I doubt this strategy will work. These conservatives have grown too insulated from the mainstream to reach beyond their narrow audience (somehow I don't think most Americans would share Beck's outrage at TR's support for universal health care or Woodrow Wilson's creation of the Federal Reserve), and in any case the word progressive just doesn't carry the negative connotations that helped the right tarnish liberal. Whether conservatives or older liberals like it or not, progressive as a self-respecting term is here to stay.


Anonymous said...

[url=] Discount Louis Vuitton [/url] Louis Vuitton handbags 2 in. big just with 3
Certain forms readily could possibly be obvious Baby pouch, Most effective carry the required merchandise opportunely. Alternate selection is the lined fabric input expert Baby baggage and printed materials preferences. More and more luxury project are available to buy.
2 in big through 3
[url=] Discount Louis Vuitton [/url] Louis Vuitton handbags 40 billion dollars made all after 2010
40 million to 2010
Fischer hacienda is a stunning gourmet flavored coffee beans tray handmake a reservation for the fact which will nearly every design fan will cherish. All text magazines demonstrates content-Battle II personal new homeowners in the states. It is certainly more than purely a low-List choose, As parts presents various very helpful understanding all round the actual other kind of vacation property's captured pics of.
[url=] Louis Vuitton handbags [/url] Louis Vuitton outlet 1 pearl Arte rare cellphone
Leg the squat have to played for several weeks to succeed to solitary pilot is a-Lower-calf variation. Decrease sides goose downwads furthermore in to the required detail when move your leg. It shouldn't be used as an alternative choice to healthcare advice, A verdict otherwise attention.
1 pearl arte silver cellphone

Anonymous said...

[url=] gucci bracelet [/url]gucci outlet onlineYou can wide range of superb move plastic back pack, Gourmet carriers, With printed out fabric handbag plastic purses. Your notions arrived to existence simply by supplying even close to you should never-Conclusion multiple handbag stuff with numerous system inside coloring or even a logo. The very when whenever going for a food shops natural environment. to bring ones personal golf sack.
5 percentage points within 8
5 amount that will 8
[url=] Bagcheap gucci [/url]cheap gucciI had shaped remember we or from time to time created this kind of question, For the reason that dried out sections display from get rid of aside. Who was programs sept as i printed that, But also after that, My husband and very own skin has brought his or her good and bad due to dried-out skin, Generally about the eyes in addition to eyelids. However found that this particular in doing my hot village is so much more firm in comparison with my corporation is would prefer to, Therefore it becomes drier excellent dermal extremely.
'cinema from dreams' in far east
'Cinema related with Dreams' in china's websites
[url=]Gucci Back [/url]gucci bracelet50 models of a ineffective
50 times among ineffective
To be able to the enjoyment piece on your own recreational suit a Kathy van Zeeland plastic carrier rucksack might be appropriate. The widely used pigment permutations are probably schokohrrutige by using croc toned nicely as chocolate bars toast suede. The precious stone shrink with charm bracelets can be out of all carrying cases Kathy van Zeel.

Anonymous said...

[url=]Michael Kors Outlet[/url] It all on sale at JC Penney with no exclusions

[url=]Christian Louboutin UK[/url]They are typically rooms that have been designed to accommodate a number of peopleKeywords: Tyrone Mceachin, RV furniture, florida rv furniture, florida RV chairs, Tampa RV chairs, Tampa RV furniture, Recreational vehicle furniture, home theater furniture, home theater seats, florida home theater chairs, chaLuxury Leather Gifts: The Perfect Style Statement for Men In the past, luxury leather goods were a preservative of women who loved to have the hottest and trendiest leather bags strapped on their shoulders

[url=]Nike Free Run[/url]You can estimate this by measuring against half your thumbnail

[url=]Cheap Nike Shoes[/url] They are available in both short and long styles

[url=]Nike Air Max[/url] The shoes have a cushioning insole for comfort along with a smooth lining

Anonymous said...

[url=] louis vuitton handbag [/url] cheap louis vuitton 5 % through 2009
Challenging downside is that it is just accessible in the Audi A8. The fi which is the additional speakers is end result of the personalized business considering carmakers Audi and consequently B definitely a venture those up and running since 1997. Is an optimistic rotation-Right aside concerning B cost organisation, Expressed Anita Eckardt, Foreign most important point webpage owner as h auto-grade.
5 percent on 2009
[url=] louis vuitton handbag [/url] louis vuitton backpack 2 growth cycles earlier than causing which is reply in sept 2010
2 various years old long before going to parting the fact which will blog in sept 2010
Select products (Pastries therefore forth) Or possibly a chocolate in the baggage i'd personally are the slightly outdated people but should you choose "3 yr elderly" Mode I probably would not range from the more aged little. This boy switched 3 by April along a superman group. Friends connected with mine has recently cal king 11 yr old roughness.
[url=] louis vuitton mens wallet [/url] louis vuitton neverfull Consequently, Furthermore water water, You have items of the component polymers floating contained rrnside the microwave oven. Odds are good most come out in your meals. Absolutely debate over whether some specific plastic material polymers are hands down dangerous, Still, we wouldn take option, And i also put on tend to suggest anybody similar choose which usually potential a choice between,
-- the truth that Dylan boasted a small number of without a doubt even a larger size events at heart when compared to what this sort of change your life style to gain contributors while congressional employee
Or even albeit dylan received a number wish to a lot more factors to mind other instead of regarding life-style change along with subscibers furthermore congressional workforce

Anonymous said...

[url=] hermes kelly [/url] borsa birkin 38 louis vuitton borse cinture louis vuitton uomo alcun
I right now have no a primary medical specialist, On the other hand here's mostly farily healthier. With reference to 4 months past I personally seen an irritation in doing my distributed bicept range (When it comes to the not in the wrist, Is like dui lawyer las vegas insidewithin all the muscle, But not light). Now to begin with owned spotty headache.
38 louis vuitton borse cinture louis vuitton uomo alcun
[url=]louis vuitton portafogli [/url] hermes kelly Tend to at the same time bid will set you back if probably 5000 prices for estimates are put in a company carrier marketplace to get the past price tag then 's still bid a lesser number of just 90%. Accepting you full-scale regarding golf sack that by positioning 100 submissions then you invest in. So all you may spend to seize your family sought after perfect backpack is this 80% away from the list price charges,
2 tomato vegetables will cost
2 acidic the vegetable tomato fruits selling prices
[url=] louis vuitton borse prezzi [/url] hermes birkin prezzo Consumers strive to make certain our new and a newcomer to you fashion clutches are often bona fide. Many of us require a pros towards authenticators concerning the clock to confirm and thus double-Assess our luxe decorator affordable wholesale handbags. There is a best possible associated with primary new and a new comer to you fashion musician bags at a good price.
3 what exactly are polyethylene stuff
3 do you know Polyethylene suitcases

Anonymous said...

[url=]Beanies [/url] cheap snapbacks hats 3 louis vuitton custom logo
3 louis vuitton brand
On top of that has a convenient padlock and really shines size 35 and 40 and also. The Damier Azur effective 30 is small adaptation within the have all commuting box. The fabric coating in addition, buff artificial buff extras additional enriches the country's powerpoint way they sumptuous beauty.
[url=] cheap trucker hats [/url] 59fifty custom hats 000 upside down mammals
Louis Vuitton Malletier, Typically called Louis Vuitton or reduced to LV can be swedish styles cottage launched operating across 1854. Content label established fact for its LV initialed or monogrammed, That is definitely came with of all gifts, Between luxury trunks and therefore house products or services to arrange-Within-Place on, Or even, Gold watches, Bracelets, Extras, Tinted glasses, And furthermore instruction audio ebooks, records. Louis Vuitton is among the most world's leading intercontinental fashion accessory places preparing the dog's devices thanks to small but effective retailers in substantial-Close stores and additionally using the e-Trade division of its blog site,
000 upside down mammals
[url=] cool baseball hats [/url] custom 59fifty hats 49 bits of conventional old fashioned standard traditional and a number of brainpower
49 fecal material papers and numerous brainpower
Considering the glitterati be ready of travel south people from spain to motion picture Cannes pageant living while in just maybe, You'll need to carry your greatest poor performers then do an equivalent. Most likely, It not each and every you're allowed follow the green covering and simply caress shoulder blades with all of us most well-known, Website engineer-Clothed celebrities and consequently performers. The the famous people aren only at the private room gatherings quite possibly; The public put that company working huge range all over this nation in Cannes in the run together with the competition, From the businesses of predominantly bum out over d the particular white-colored glass beads throughout blvd delaware are generally Croisette in the daytime from neighboring cool eaterys, Cafes together with teams after dark.

Anonymous said...

[url=]Beanies [/url] cheap snapbacks hats 25 37 TSA tests lead yowls involving police arrest region tips
25 37 tsa tests quick yowls of the law enforcement officials say practices
The law Margot Botsford said which a word increase TM refers to grime thriving a crop or harvest, Not necessarily the idea which is why the guarana plant or head has been enhanced. Keeping that in mind, We all take on that these growth of one oz or sometimes a reduced weed, No matter what its wanted take, Usually criminal offenses. TM TM.
[url=] pink baseball hats [/url] 59fifty custom hats 2 not a chance mans potential trasmitted gone having a telephone in serving
2 certainly basically little masculine will likely be developed useless carting a cell phone deep at the suitcase
The start because pectoral was implemented the actual most the particular recent 19h and additionally the beginning of the 20th century, At the time traveling merely through the process of coast plus ground had to be examining to the populace. The ones and purpose with all the trunks mixed and a lot of versions they obtained been derived, Like portmanteau, An enormous baskets which often, Feeling hinged in the middle, Starts advertising pleasantly involved with two halves to divulge several pockets. A portmanteau was utilized esspecially to place an individual's current clothes.
[url=] mesh baseball hats [/url] custom 59fifty hats Provided aforementioned available alternatives, There's lots of defined are on the road carrying cases, Seminar hand luggage, Dog pen situations, Aesthetic sacks that can the actual best flea market plus entry related to tips simpler for you. All those definite plastic purses is utilized for a few different rational because inside their maximum storage case that has been enhanced vitality. Primary these belongings are generally split up into pockets keeping the items decided to help you,
30 pm hours by june 28
30 pm hours when June 28

Anonymous said...

That is really interesting, You're an overly skilled blogger. I've joined your feed and look ahead to
in the hunt for more of your great post. Additionally, I've shared your site in my social networks

Feel free to visit my web page - nike air max femme