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The Expansionist
Friday, July 04, 2008
"Progressive" / "Regressive". I have said here that it is absurd for Democrats to think that a black man is going to be elected President of the United States, in a country in which "Liberal" is a dirty word — much less that a black man and white woman, be it Hillary Clinton or Kathleen Sebelius, would be a "dream team". Indeed, I was thinking last nite that such a "dream team" might produce the greatest electoral catastrophe in American electoral history since the presidential contest in 1852 produced the disappearance of the Whig Party, and might actually end the existence of the Democratic Party if realists cannot take back the reins and restore the party to sanity. But today's post is not really about that. It's about the difference between the words "progressive" and "regressive".
"Liberal" has indeed become a dirty word in this country, and scores of millions of actual liberals habitually avoid the word "liberal" in favor of "progressive". It's not from shame, exactly, but to avoid raising hackles.
"Progressive" has legitimate uses, but in politics, they are few, and avoiding "liberal" for "progressive" is unprincipled cowardice unless one is speaking of "the progressive movement". In that sense, the word aligns a person with a long history of reformist movements, be they called Progressives, Populists, Liberals, or anything else. Leftists unashamed of being Leftwing may class Democratic Socialists and even some disreputable, extremist Leftwing organizations as "Progressives", tho most people of the moderate Left avoid such identification, not just as a public-relations matter but also because they reject the notion that liberalism is, for instance, the first stage in an inevitable progression to Communism.
Liberals wary of being thought "Liberal" do not avoid the word "progressive". Contrast the word "regressive". I do not hear anyone at all proclaiming proudly that s/he is a "Regressive", part of a long, historically heroic "Regressive Movement". Why is that?
A Google search for "progressive movement politics" produces "about 543,000" webpages. All the top results relate to "progressivism" ("about 572,000" results). Tho "regressive movement politics" produces "about 393,000" pages, many of the top results relate to psychology and other matters than politics, and none speaks proudly of political "regressivism" (that word produces "about 1,770" results, and none of the top results uses the term proudly as a political identification.
Plainly, Regressives are duly ashamed of being Regressive. Why, then, do they insist on doing things they are ashamed of?
Liberals / Progressives are proud of the things they stand for: universal healthcare, racial equality, 'progressive' taxation to promote socioeconomic democracy and reduce inequality, promoting universal employment in good jobs with good working conditions and good benefits, and on and on. Regressives, who oppose all those things, do not generally proclaim to the skies their devotion to inequality as a positive good, not just defensible but actually morally admirable, a wonderful thing we should actively pursue. They pretend that socioeconomic inequality provides "incentives" for people to "improve themselves" that they would not have if the distribution of wealth, power, and privilege were more equal. But they stop short of saying that it's a good thing that some people are so poor that they die because they can't afford health insurance. Why not? If that's what you feel, say it, dammit! Say it, and be judged for what you really feel.
Happily, one of the Nation's worst Regressives, Jesse Helms, died today. Hurray! WaHOOOOO! If it is true that the world changes only in that some people die and others are born, the world changed for the better today. Alas, there is no hell for Helms to burn in. Too bad. Let's just be glad that a very bad man is dead. Sadly, one is left to wonder if this Shakespearian passage applies to Helms's legacy:

The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interrèd with their bones.

Why can't we reverse that?
(The current U.S. military death toll in Iraq, according to the website "Iraq Coalition Casualties", is 4,113 — for Israel.)

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