Progressives, Liberals, Movements, and Political Parties

Cross-posted from my blog at Campaign for America’s Future.

Lately I’ve been getting an increasing recurrence of the same questions: what is the difference between liberals and progressives, and what is the difference between the Progressive Movement and the Progressive Party?  The answers to these questions are important, for as we inch ever closer to the general election in November and as primary battles across the country reach their conclusion the future of our country and our world shall be determined by them-and by how swiftly we figure them out.

The first question I shall tackle is, what is the difference between a liberal and a progressive?  For that I’ll quote the Huffington Post’s David Sirota, who explains it far more eloquently than I can:

I often get asked what the difference between a “liberal” and a “progressive” is. The questions from the media on this subject are always something like, “Isn’t ‘progressive’ just another name for ‘liberal’ that people want to use because ‘liberal’ has become a bad word?”

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.

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.

In short, a modern liberal wants socio-economic justice; a progressive recognizes that in order to achieve this end, the excesses of those who actively undermine these goals must be reigned in.  Try to imagine what it would have been like if Franklin Roosevelt had tried to pass his New Deal packages without cracking down on the laissez faire business interests that had so crippled the nation’s economy.  Without laws and regulations to protect Americans from the excesses of the “free” market, the New Deal would have been a miserable failure and nothing would have changed.

The second question, what is the difference between the Progressive Movement, and the Progressive Party?  In order to answer this question, we must first understand what it is we stand for.  At my discussion forum,, members and I drafted and voted upon a party platform around which members can rally:

Progressive Party Platform

1. Fighting for Economic Justice and Security in the U.S. and Global Economies

  • To uphold the right to universal access to affordable, high quality health care for all.
  • To preserve guaranteed Social Security benefits for all Americans, protect private pensions, and require corporate accountability.
  • To invest in America and create new jobs in the U.S. by building more affordable housing, re-building America's schools and physical infrastructure, cleaning up our environment, and improving homeland security.
  • To export more American products and not more American jobs and demand fair trade.
  • To reaffirm freedom of association and enforce the right to organize.
  • To ensure working families can live above the poverty line and with dignity by raising and indexing the minimum wage.

2. Protecting and Preserving Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

  • To sunset expiring provisions of the Patriot Act and bring remaining provisions into line with the U. S. Constitution.
  • To protect the personal privacy of all Americans from unbridled police powers and unchecked government intrusion.
  • To extend the Voting Rights Act and reform our electoral processes.
  • To fight corporate consolidation of the media and ensure opportunity for all voices to be heard.
  • To ensure enforcement of all legal rights in the workplace.
  • To eliminate all forms of discrimination based upon color, race, religion, gender, creed, disability, or sexual orientation.

3. Promoting Global Peace and Security

  • To honor and help our overburdened international public servants – both military and civilian.
  • To bring U. S. troops home from Iraq as soon as possible.
  • To re-build U.S. alliances around the world, restore international respect for American power and influence, and reaffirm our nation's constructive engagement in the United Nations and other multilateral organizations.
  • To enhance international cooperation to reduce the threats posed by nuclear proliferation and weapons of mass destruction.
  • To increase efforts to combat hunger and the scourge of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and other infectious diseases.
  • To encourage debt relief for poor countries and support efforts to reach the UN's Millennium Goals for Developing Countries.

4. Environmental Protection & Energy Independence

  • To free ourselves and our economy from dependence upon imported oil and shift to growing reliance upon renewable energy supplies and technologies, thus creating at least three million new jobs, cleansing our environment, and enhancing our nation's security.
  • To free ourselves and our economy from dependence upon imported oil and shift to growing reliance upon renewable energy supplies and technologies, thus creating at least three million new jobs, cleansing our environment, and enhancing our nation's security.
  • To change incentives in federal tax, procurement, and appropriation policies to:

    (A.) Speed commercialization of solar, biomass, and wind power generation, while encouraging state and local policy innovation to link clean energy and job creation;

    (B.) Convert domestic assembly lines to manufacture highly efficient vehicles, enhance global competitiveness of U.S. auto industry, and expand consumer choice;

    (C.) Increase investment in construction of "green buildings" and more energy-efficient homes and workplaces;

    (D.) Link higher energy efficiency standards in appliances to consumer and manufacturing incentives that increase demand for new durable goods and increase investment in U.S. factories;

  • To eliminate environmental threat posed by global warming and ensuring that America does our part to advance an effective global problem-solving approach.
  • To expand energy-efficient transportation choices by increasing investment in synthesized networks, including bicycle, local bus and rail transit, regional high-speed rail and magnetic levitation rail projects.
  • To preserve prudent public interest regulations that encourage sustainable growth and investment, ensure energy diversity and system reliability, protect workers and the environment, reward consumer conservation, and support an expanding marketplace that rewards the commercialization of energy-efficient technologies.
  • To protect, preserve, restore, and where reasonably possible expand wild lands and animal and plant populations endangered by human activity, reasonably compensating businesses and homeowners for damages or losses incurred by such.

5. Abortion Rights and Legal Reductions

  • Codify the 1973 Supreme Court Ruling on Roe vs Wade by passing HR 5151-the Freedom of Choice Act.
  • Pass legislation and encourage community leadership to, among other acts: Increase funding to child placement services (foster care agencies); increase funding for comprehensive sex education programs that are proven to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies; increase awareness of the protective benefits of proper use of contraceptives, and increase access to them; increase funding for educational programs to spread awareness of sexually transmitted pathogens including viruses and bacteria, and their effects upon the human body; increase funding for prenatal care for unwed and low-income mothers; and expand daycare and nanny services to assist low-income families and single parents who choose to keep their children after birth.

6. Gun Control and State Militias

  • Adopt reasonable gun control laws that keep guns out of the hands of criminals, while preserving the 2nd Amendment right of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms.
  • Restore full control of the National Guard units to their respective states, maintaining both a federal standing military and the individual state-controlled and regulated Militias.

7. Legalizing Marijuana

  • Legalize marijuana, and regulate it like tobacco and alcohol.
  • Increase funds to existing education and rehabilitation programs; create new programs and expand existing ones where necessary, to reduce addiction; pass common sense drug laws that focus on rehabilitation for non-violent offenders; and engage parents and community leaders to educate their children on the dangers of drugs.

These positions are largely based upon the platform currently supported by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, with some additions.  Now that we’ve established what an American Progressive Movement stands for, we may address the fundamental question: what is the difference between it and the Progressive Party?

Simply put, no movement can achieve results in this country without a strong, well organized political party to implement policy within the halls of government.  Movement conservatism did not insinuate itself into and ultimately usurp without first taking over the Republican-and, eventually, the Democratic-Party.  Its architects realized that in order to make its goals political reality, the movement required a well funded, organized, disciplined, and united political party through which it could carry out its mission to undo the achievements of the Twentieth Century.

Similarly, if Progressives are to mount an effective counter-movement, we must focus our energies toward building a strong, well organized and funded political party.  Without some means of implementing policy through control of the institutions of power we can only keep nipping at the edges while idly hoping at some point we’ll have nibbled away enough to make a difference.  To this end American Progressives must make a painful decision, and quickly: do we continue to stick with a failing effort to reform the Democratic Party from within, or do we lay the foundations for a new political party and start over?

The answer to this dilemma lies in the words of Franklin Roosevelt himself, who in giving the commencement address at Oglethorpe University in 1932, said, “[i]t is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something. The millions who are in want will not stand by silently forever while the things to satisfy their needs are within easy reach. We need enthusiasm, imagination and the ability to face facts, even unpleasant ones, bravely. We need to correct, by drastic means if necessary, the faults in our economic system from which we now suffer.”

It should be clear by now that the Democratic Party is probably going to fail yet again in November, unless Progressives are prepared to take drastic action to correct the problems created by both movement conservatism and socio-economic inequality.  Fortunately, the seeds of true reform have already been sown is states such as Vermont and Washington.  By expanding the Progressive Party to all fifty states, and by building up from the local level, we can within a few years begin to force the Democrats to fully re-embrace their Progressive base, or else suffer perpetual irrelevancy.

This is the fundamental difference between the Progressive Movement, and the Progressive Party, but it is also an outline for how we may join the two.  By uniting the Progressive movement behind a political party through which it may achieve results, America may yet see an era of change come to pass-but only if we have the courage to act.