Challenge of the week: Define progressive

What do we mean when when we discuss progressive issues or progressive candidates? Are there beliefs that are exclusively held by progressives? Are there qualities exclusively found in progressives? How are progressives different from liberals?

We've had a few starts to this conversation, but something Linda said sparked this idea and I thought it would be interesting to build on it.

This isn't intended to pigeon hole anyone. Let's just see from our conversation if there is a consensus on certain issues and qualities. Then we can go from there.

What do you think?


John Hood

thinks "progress" starts with accepting reality. Of course, that would be limited to the particular version of reality generated by his multi-million-dollar opinion manufacturing machine.

The truth is, there is no reality. Not even in the scientific arena, where new discoveries trump old discoveries year-in and year-out. Or perhaps better said, reality exists only insofar as one can get to some critical mass of others to agree about a particular view. Creationists hold reality as the literal story concocted in the Bible. To them, it's very cut and dried. Does that make intelligent design "real?"

I don't think progressive or conservative or whatever has any right to claim reality is on their side. Reality is what we collectively decide. Which means progressive is also what we collectively decide.

Thanks for making this post. It will be an interesting discussion. Or not.


Or not..... heh

We never know where these questions will take us.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

Busy day at work.

I think it will be an interesting discussion, but I won't have time till late tonight.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. --Gandhi
Pointing at Naked Emperors

A progressive idea or politician is one that....

moves or supports efforts to increase equality and fairness to 'all' of the American citizenry. Liberals and conservatives hardly describes anything or anyone the same during the last two hundred years. In the early twentieth century, a conservative would be one who favored balanced budgets and high tariffs to protect 'American' business. Now a conservative is one who favors anything 'big business' wants without any allegiance to the nation.

Sheesh Zabouti

I could have saved myself a whole lot of time if I had just called you. :D

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

I am a progressive that belives in

moving the discussion or the issue forward as opposed to continuing the status quo, or like a conservative, digressing into the middle ages to revisit THAT whole experience for peons and women.

I am a progressive that understands the divide between the "story" and reality. The story is the place that allows conservatives to band together like sheep as they will not back off of the lines they were given to learn by the RNC. Reality is the ability to WANT the story to be true, but to realize when it is a lie and speak out against it, no matter your first inclination. In other words, you have to say that you are capable of making a mistake! Progressive trait, right there.

I am a progressive that listens to others when they speak. Sure, there are times that I immediately want to pounce on them for repeating the "story" (see above), but I have found that if I listen long enough, I might catch a reason that they still WANT to believe the story and that gives me an opportunity to come at the situation from a position of knowledge and defeat the nonsense with reality based information.

I am a progressive because I believe we can better the world together without having to worry about how much we have bettered our personal bank account today.

If you are doing it right, shouldn't you be able to do both?


North Carolina. Turning the South Blue!

North Carolina. Turning the South Blue!

I never viewed progressives

as different from liberals. "Progressive" is what liberals started calling themselves when the hard-right successfully turned "liberal" into a a smear.

Personal I prefer liberal and think we should re-embrace the term.

Liberals are found throughout history as the people advancing human society. Conservatives are found retarding it. That's pretty much it in a nutshell.

There are exceptions, but they are rare.

Liberalism as a badge of honor!
No apologies, no excuses.

Liberalism as a badge of honor!
No apologies, no excuses.

The "L" word.

I've never been afraid of calling myself liberal - I grew up understanding "liberal" to be all the good things that people are ascribing to "progressive".

Be the change you wish to see in the world. --Gandhi
Pointing at Naked Emperors


To me, progressive means someone who is guided by the principles of equality and social justice. This person speaks out for those who are mistreated, and publicly stands beside those who society has ostricized. A progressive does not easily switch his/her opinion just to appease the opposition or to win voters. The most important quality a progressive has is the understanding of the bigger picture, and the knowledge that we can and will progress to a more just society.
Join me on the crew!

Paul Wellstone / Wellstone Action

The team at Wellstone Action (founded by Paul and Sheila Wellstone's surviving sons) has a succinct set of core values that define progressive politics, as listed in their book Politics The Wellstone Way:

  • Equality of opportunity
  • Freedom
  • Prosperity for all citizens
  • Fairness
  • Social and economic justice

George Lakoff describes a similar set of core progressive principles in his book Don't Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate:

  • Equity
  • Equality
  • Democracy
  • Government for a better future
  • Values-based foreign policy

Granted, a list of bullets lacks the elegance of prose, but it does cut to the core pretty effectively.

This gives a great frame for building on

Of that group, the one that holds the most meaning for me is equality of opportunity.

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

Accepting Reality. hmm.

Response to Hood's "progress begins by accepting reality" blurb. On the surface, I actually agree. You can't map a course to progress without understanding where you are at this moment. However ... and it is a BIG however ...

Who gets to define REALITY?

Is reality this: "He who does not work, does not eat."

Or is it this: "He who cannot work and has no family to help does not eat."

Or is it this: "He who works his arse off for crumbs, but was born south of the Rio Grande needs to get his arse back across the G#&D#*$&M#($*#F@^$&*# river."

Progressive: One who wishes to make life better for the next generation ... by any means necessary.

Actually, I like this greek quote I saw somewhere for the definition of progressive, although it is a little vague on the progress part ...

A civilization flourishes when men plant trees under who's shade they will never sit.

"It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit." - Harry Truman

"They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum Then they charged the people a dollar 'n a half just to see 'em. Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

I often sit in the shade of other's efforts

To me, that is very much a part of being a progressive. Forward thinking for the good of all and not profit for the few.

No matter that patriotism is too often the refuge of scoundrels. Dissent, rebellion, and all-around hell-raising remain the true duty of patriots.

Progressive Discussions

Well...the labels are already out there

We don't have to let this divide us. We can use this to find common ground.

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

Part of the human condition isn't it?

to take chaos and make order...we label to know what slot to put it in. I put you in my 'free thinker' slot because you don't want to go with the crowd. I don't judge you as just other.

No matter that patriotism is too often the refuge of scoundrels. Dissent, rebellion, and all-around hell-raising remain the true duty of patriots.

Progressive Discussions

I believe many of us

have arrived at the conclusion that (true) progress cannot happen in a vacuum, and must be brought about by direct action steps. Part of this conclusion (for me) stems from a lack of faith in the evolution of society. Which is not to be confused with the evolution of the species itself, as that is going to continue to march forward. In fact, it's entirely possible (probable?) that the latter will work against the former, especially in light of our realization that we are rapidly using up limited resources, and difficult adaptations are waiting for us right around the corner.

A progressive tends to be more focused on improving the (overall) human condition in ways that will not only withstand future complications, but will provide stimulus for tomorrow's progressive thinkers. There is a danger inherent in this belief set, that being the temptation towards "social engineering". But if you want to believe in such a thing as a "true" progressive, this potential danger should become evident at a certain point, eliciting the need for corrective measures.

For me it is about right and wrong.

Being progressive for me means belief in family, strength of community, smart growth and effective government,equality and justice for all (not just Americans); it means that I care for the earth; it means that I believe in personal responsibility, charity, compassion and service. It means thinking about our role in the world and the impact that our government -and our personal choices- have on people who live next door and in places like Darfur, Sudan, and Iraq and it means working to do something to correct the imbalance. Being progressive means that I believe that our government -and the people we elect- have a responsibility to work hard to make the world we live in a better place for everyone.

Maybe above all it just means doing what is right .

Sometimes I think being progressive means not Republican, and that's fine with me too.

I'm an idealist without illusions. JFK

Labels and Definitions

It's hard, isn't it?
I'm glad Betsy started this discussion, because "progressive" has started to sound like it doesn't mean anything any more.

In general I find sound-bite labels troubling, because:

If progressives are only advancing change - that's not necessarily good. Change can mean a Barack Obama, or a George W. Bush.

If conservatism conserves or preserves natural resources, or civil rights, that's a good thing. Right?

That's why it's important to me to add the values of equality of opportunity, access and availability (regarding resources, rights, and services); fairness and honesty; and justice. (Yeah, I thought justice needed it's own category.)

Be the change you wish to see in the world. --Gandhi
Pointing at Naked Emperors

What is a Progressive to me.

A progressive is a person who believes and works for the welfare and happiness of all human beings.

Progressive principles:

1. Universalism
A progressive outlook is universal, not self centered. It takes into account the needs and requirements of all people regardless of their race, religion, nationality, economic status, geographical location, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

2. Social Justice
Every human being requires the basic necessities of life such as food, clothing , medicine, education and shelter. This should be provided through minimum standards such as a living wage and access to employment. A progressive economy strives to reduce the gap between the wealthiest and poorest members of the community by increasing the numbers of the middle class.

3. Economic Democracy
Economy should be decentralized so that economic decisions that affect people’s lives can be made on a local level rather than in corporate boardrooms. Local economy should be enhanced supporting local agriculture, small businesses, and manufacturing using local resources, both natural and human.

4. Environmentalism
The principle of universalism requires that we broaden our perspective beyond the needs of human beings to that of all living creatures on earth. Progressives should strive to improve the environment of all living creatures while taking into account the impact on human society.

5. Rationality
Progressives should apply rationality in all aspects of life. Rationality means carefully weighing all the positive and negative aspects of any question and subjecting any decision to a test of whether it is beneficial to human welfare.

6. Leadership
It is the duty of progressives to lead society in a progressive direction and work to minimize its regressive tendencies.

7. Morality and Ethics
Progressives should conduct their personal lives in accordance with these principles. Progressives should all be accountable to each other and to society for the highest standards of conduct. To this end progressives should always act in a transparent manner.

I wrote this a while back

Hello - this is my first comment here, though I've been reading for over a year now. It's a great place to get the details on all the state politics. This seemed to be a good opportunity for a first comment because back before the primary, we tried to have a house party for Jim Neal, but between our schedules and our friends' schedules it ended up being a very small party. Nevertheless, we did have a few people over to talk politics. In honor of the occasion (and to help me collect my thoughts), I wrote an essay on progressivism. It's a full page single-spaced, so it may not fit entirely in one comment box - we shall see.


1pro•gres•sive (\prə-gre-siv\)
:of, relating to, or characterized by progress b: making use of or interested in new ideas, findings, or opportunities
:one that is progressive b: one believing in moderate political change and especially social improvement by governmental action

What is Progressive Politics?

If you’ve been paying attention to politics recently, and particularly if you’ve been reading online blogs, you have probably heard the term “progressive”; perhaps you’ve wondered what, exactly, it means. If so, this essay is for you: it is a very short, and probably very biased, introduction to 21st century American political progressivism.
At first glance, the word “progressive” is a drop-in replacement for “liberal”. Liberal, as we all should know, is a code word that activates buried programming in the minds of right-wingers, causing them to erupt in violent raging paroxysms, usually accompanied by much semicoherent babbling about communists, the UN, and how Jesus hates f*gs. While this can be quite entertaining (safety first! – keep your distance), it is not conducive to any sort of dialogue or useful collaboration, thus the need for a replacement word. Progressivism is more complex than renamed liberalism though. The definition from above is clear, though I think incomplete: “one believing in moderate political change and especially social improvement by governmental action” I would add that “Civil liberties and freedom from authoritarianism are core values and must be taken into account when considering any political changes or social improvements”. Progressives may share many of the goals of traditional liberalism, but the progressive will be much more reluctant to use the coercive power of the state (or that of any other group) even in the service of a “good” cause. Lest I be accused of liberal-bashing, let me say that modern conservatives are positively addicted to coercive power in the law enforcement and security arenas, attempt to turn social improvement programs into profit centers for cronies, and lately, have shown nothing but contempt for civil liberties; as such, they are anti-progressive.
Having only anti-authoritarianism as an ideology gives progressives broad scope for contemplating and implementing change. The antidotes for authoritarianism are transparency and accountability; a progressive policy is one that does not allow those in power to hide their actions, and one that provides consequences for those that abuse their power. These principles can be widely applied. Let’s look at our healthcare system as an example. Any move to expand coverage or lower costs to consumers via collective action has conservatives screaming about “socialized medicine”. If there were any actual left-wingers in this country, they would be screaming about “corporate blood money”. Meanwhile, everyone else is just screaming because they can’t get the care they need. To a progressive, neither capitalism nor socialism is an ideology; each is merely a different way of allocating resources, each with its own set of strengths and weaknesses. In pursuit of a goal, a progressive may propose a hybrid system that would satisfy neither of the traditional ideologies: for example a publicly audited single-payer healthcare system combined with with private medical practices. A system such as this captures the economies of scale and documentation simplification of having one (government) insurer, and provides the social good of universal coverage, yet by preserving private practices, it also makes use of the capitalist virtues of competition and avoids the inefficiency of micromanaging resources by central planning. Public auditing of the system limits the scope for fiscal and performance-related monkey business; those that abuse the system are exposed and penalized.
So the essential question is: why should you vote progressive? Our country has a challenging decade (or more) ahead. Some problems we have in common with the rest of the world: climate change, peak oil, human trafficking, and the proliferation of destructive weapons and those who would use them without restraint. Other problems are solely ours: unaccountable executive power (“I am the Decider” = “l’etat c’est moi”), ubiquitous surveillance of civilians, an archipelago of secret torture prisons around the world, a healthcare system on life support, and an economy that rewards those that have far more than those that do. If you’d like your children or grandchildren to have a quality of life as good or better than you have, then these problems are in urgent need of solutions, and the traditional ideologies have at best not delivered, and have indeed created some of the problems. We need a rebalancing of power between citizens, the government, and corporations; ultimately, the government is supposed to be accountable to us, not to big donors or favor-seeking corporations. We can rebuild a country where everyone has an opportunity to succeed, a country that is respected around the world, a country that at least tries to live up to its ideals. This will not happen all at once, and in true progressive fashion, it should happen from the bottom up. This means that all the political races matter – local government, state government, and national government. Let’s support the implementation of sane policies at all levels of government – cost-effective policies that benefit the most citizens possible, while preserving our freedoms.

It fits! Who could have known?

"Reality has a well-known liberal bias" - S. Colbert

Hi Steve!

Thanks for coming out of the shadows. Good ideas, well written!

We need a rebalancing of power between citizens, the government, and corporations; ultimately, the government is supposed to be accountable to us, not to big donors or favor-seeking corporations.

Progress and Tradition

Progressive politics is not new in North Carolina. I suspect that Democrats here have been calling themselves progressives long before they called themselves liberals. At one point, progressive meant public schools for everyone (separate, unequal, and so on but for "everyone"), it meant county hospitals, and county homes, a state "insane asylum" and other items that were dictated by "Christian charity". It meant county roads and farmers markets and county agents from Land Grant universities bringing the latest agricultural high-tech to farmers.

I don't think that progressives today are much different. The progressive agenda seems to be "universal health care", public education, high-tech solutions to deal with energy independence that spawns new businesses, legal equity for all people, clean government, fair elections, transparent government. And on and on. Disagreements occur at the margins.

Just so folks don't get confused about where I am coming from, I have taken to calling myself a radical, progressive, liberal, civic-minded, environmentally-protective democrat without feeling that I am being redundant.

I think that it's the capital letters that add confusion: Progressive or Liberal

50 states, 210 media market, 435 Congressional Districts, 3080 counties, 192,480 precincts

50 states, 210 media market, 435 Congressional Districts, 3080 counties, 192,480 precincts