Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Why "progressive" has become meaningless

Watching the Clinton camp fight over the idea that she's progressive, I realized the word has lost its meaning. My impression, which I have not bothered to research, is that as conservatives made "liberal" and "leftist" into bad words several decades ago, Democrats switched over to being "progressives".

But because the rebranding was vague, progressives never bothered to define what they were progressing toward. They left that for the voters. Are you a Blue Dog Democrat who wants progress toward the center-right? You're a progressive! Are you a democratic socialist who wants progress toward an economically egalitarian society? You're a progressive!

The word is less meaningful than liberal, neoliberal, or socialist because it's been claimed by people in each of those camps. It's less meaningful than leftist because it includes neoliberals who are only leftists if viewed from the furthest right. It's as meaningless as "cool"—it's something many people want to be perceived as because it's believed to be a desirable trait, but if you try to grasp what's there, you're left holding air.

I've stopped using it. I'm a democratic socialist. One of the things I love about Sanders is he's made it easy for most people to understand what that means: I want to progress toward socialism using the democratic process at every step. Capitalists think socialism is not progressive. Why should I waste time arguing with them? There are words I will fight for, but "progressive" is not one. Everyone wants to progress toward something. If you don't ask about the destination, you will be led to a place you'ill regret.

ETA: An interesting attempt to define "progressive": Yet Another Political Compass | Where Worlds Collide