To be honest, I didn’t know that I wasn’t one until DLC President, Bruce Reed, outed me as a liberal, and in Slate to boot (emphasis is mine).
Conservative blogger Michael Medved of Townhall offers a long list of reasons why Craig doesn't need to go as urgently as Spitzer did. He finds Craig less hypocritical ("trolling for sex in a men's room, doesn't logically require that you support gay marriage"), much easier to pity, and "pathetic and vulnerable" in a way Spitzer is not. Liberal blogger Anonymous Is a Woman counters that while Craig and Louisiana Sen. David Vitter remain in office, at least Spitzer resigned.At the same time, a commenter left a question on one of my posts: “What is the difference between a liberal and a progressive?
I suspect the commenter was being snarky because he or she believes that liberals use the term progressive as a cover because liberalism is a discredited brand.
Indeed, even some liberals think that. For example, in Pop Matters’ coverage of last June’s “Campaign for America’s Future” conference, in Washington, DC, here’s what the author and some prominent participants said.
Time was when liberals stood proudly behind Franklin Roosevelt’s social-welfare liberalism, John F. Kennedy’s muscular Cold War foreign-policy liberalism and Lyndon B. Johnson’s civil-rights liberalism.The problem is I think they’re wrong. The two terms – “progressive” and “liberal” – are not exactly synonymous. Both progressives and liberals are on the left of the political spectrum and are natural allies. But there are subtle differences between the two.
“Conservatives waged a huge assault to discredit the word liberal and liberalism,” Borosage explained. ..
…“I don’t think (progressive) gets you anywhere that liberal doesn’t,” said Massey, a Princeton University professor who wrote “Return of the `L’ Word: A Liberal Vision for the New Century,” available at the conference. “I don’t think you’re fooling anybody. The only way to deal with it is to come up with a strong counter-narrative and say, `Damn right, I’m a liberal, and here’s why and here’s why you should be, too.’ Dodging it just makes you look guilty. Like you’ve got something to hide.”
… Take Steve Robinson, a burly lawyer from Lawrence, Kan., who took a break from the exhibit table for AlGore.org—a movement to draft Gore for president—to smoke a few Marlboros, and who looked fully capable of giving a serious whupping to anyone who’d dare mock the word “liberal” to his face.
“I consciously use the word `liberal’ because I’m so offended by the demonization of the word,” Robinson said. “What we need is a liberal show on CNN or MSNBC where someone uses the word liberal every day in a good way.”
David Sirota caused a stir last year when he wrote this essay on Huffington Post to define the two (emphasis mine).
The answer, in my opinion, is no - there is a fundamental difference when it comes to core economic issues. It seems to me that traditional "liberals" in our current parlance are those who focus on using taxpayer money to help better society. A "progressive" are those who focus on using government power to make large institutions play by a set of rules.Here’s another example he gives.
To put it in more concrete terms - a liberal solution to some of our current problems with high energy costs would be to increase funding for programs like the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). A more "progressive" solution would be to increase LIHEAP but also crack down on price gouging and pass laws better-regulating the oil industry's profiteering and market manipulation tactics. A liberal policy towards prescription drugs is one that would throw a lot of taxpayer cash at the pharmaceutical industry to get them to provide medicine to the poor; A progressive prescription drug policy would be one that centered around price regulations and bulk purchasing in order to force down the actual cost of medicine in America (much of which was originally developed with taxpayer R&D money).
Let's be clear - most progressives are also liberals, and liberal goals in better funding America's social safety net are noble and critical. It's the other direction that's the problem. Many of today's liberals are not fully comfortable with progressivism as defined in these terms. Many of today's Democratic politicians, for instance, are simply not comfortable taking a more confrontational posture towards large economic institutions (many of whom fund their campaigns) - institutions that regularly take a confrontational posture towards America's middle-class.By Sirota's definition and his examples, Obama is a liberal rather than a progressive and what makes him so is that he would persuade corporations to do the right thing by using financial incentives rather than by using the raw power of the state to force the change. And Sirota is not happy about it. He calls it a "bribe to economic bullies." I would disagree about that.
We can see a good example of this hesitation from Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) in his "health care to hybrids" proposal. As the Detroit News reports, Obama is calling "for using government money to relieve Detroit automakers of some of their staggering health care obligations if they commit to improving fuel economy by 3 percent a year for 15 years."
Here's the thing - we all want to see autoworkers' health care preserved, and we all want to see better fuel efficiency standards for cars. But is this really the road we want to go down as a society? I'd say no. The fact is, the auto industry should be forced to produce more fuel efficient cars through higher government fuel efficiency mandates, without taxpayers having to bail out the industry. It's not like those mandates would be asking the industry to do something that doesn't make good business sense - demand for higher fuel-efficiency cars is skyrocketing
Paying off corporations to do what they already should be doing sets a dangerous precedent - it sends a message to Big Business that they can leverage their irresponsible behavior into government handouts. In this case, the auto industry would be leveraging its refusal to produce more fuel efficient cars and preserve its workers' health care into a giant taxpayer-funded subsidy.
Sirota is right, though, that liberals and progressives want the same outcome, a cleaner environment and the continuation of health insurance coverage for autoworkers, but they differ on the method they would use to achieve that outcome. And contrary to popular thought, the liberals are the centrists who would use a financial incentive to persuade rather than the raw power of the government to coerce change.
If you apply this to health care reform, the same principle could be seen at play. Progressives would favor a single payer system set up and funded directly by the government. Neither progressives nor liberals want socialized medicine, which would be government run clinics. But a liberal would want to use taxes to subsidize the public’s choices so that they could purchase their own health insurance on the free market, while progressives would take the money and put it directly into funding health care.
Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama favor the more moderate approach. And Hillary, ironically, is the more progressive – or more leftist. She would mandate that everybody purchase health insurance, a use of the government power to coerce the public. Obama would favor financial incentives to persuade the public to buy insurance by making it more affordable.
I don’t want to overstate my case by making this delineation too sharp. Neither liberals nor progressives share the blind faith of the libertarians and conservatives that the market can solve all social, economic and political problems. Progressives and liberals do, after all, believe there is a role for an activist government to improve the lives of its citizens.
They realize that the government has a role to play in solving health care problems, stopping global warming and promoting economic justice. Both liberals and progressives are pro-union, favor a minimum wage, desire limits to outsourcing, and favor health and safety regulations for workers and consumers. Liberals and progressives share core values but differ over how to achieve them. The difference between them lies in whether they favor direct government action or financial incentive to get there.
In this fight, the liberals are the more moderate. And it was not conservatives who destroyed their brand, though they certainly jumped on that bandwagon and helped. It was actually the progressives and those even further on the left, the radicals of the sixties, who really trashed the brand. As Geoffrey Nunberg points out in Progress to a Fault.
At the heart of that attitude was a sense of superiority to all those middle-class liberals whose wan political commitments were tempered by self-interest. You think of Phil Ochs' 1965 song, "Love Me, I'm a Liberal," a sarcastic catalogue of the hypocrisies of middle-class liberals:In his monologue introducing the song, Ochs would define liberals as “ten degrees to the left of center in good times, ten degrees to the right of center when it affects them personally.”
I go to all the Pete Seeger concerts
He sure gets me singing those songs,
I'll send all the money you ask for,
But don't ask me to come on along.
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal.
It was that suspicion, on the left, that liberals were wishy-washy that destroyed the brand.
That and the fact that wishy-washy liberals then proved the point by running from the label in droves. They called themselves, moderates, progressives, and centrists, whatever they could get away with. But all those labels mean difference things.
I think it’s time to stop running and start telling the truth. I personally do not believe in using the levers of power to coerce people into doing the right thing. I believe, instead, in using a combination of taxes, tax breaks, and other incentives to persuade them to do it. But I also believe there is a role for an activist government in addressing social and economic injustice because there is a populist streak to my liberalism. That, however, is a topic for another day.
Meanwhile, it turns out that Bruce Reed is mostly right. I am a liberal. And I am not timid about it.