The 1912 platform, and those that followed in the 1924 and 1948 Progressive Party campaigns, show that as a political identity the term "Progressive" has more valuable and consistent content over a substantial period of American history than either "Democrat" or "Republican" does. In the New Gilded Age the Progressive program is particularly relevant since it was originally formulated, and achieved significant success, as a response to the same problem of plutocracy presented by the first Gilded Age. See Sam Pizzigati, The Rich Don't Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970 (2012).
Progressive structural reforms helped set the stage for the extended New Deal era. But the term "Progressive Democrat" is an oxymoron. As this article suggests, one may vote for either of the two major parties without losing the identity of being a Progressive voter. But it is impossible to be a partisan Democrat and also to be a Progressive in the sense the term is used here. Historically Progressives put principle above party, and succeeded by doing so. Such Progressive principles included, 1) enhancing the tools for democratic control of government, 2) a preference for enduring structural reform over more easily coopted spending programs such as typified the New Deal, and 3) clearly defined opposition to plutocratic control of government. As T. Roosevelt s aid, "property shall be the servant and not the master of the commonwealth."
This article needs a term to describe voters who would prioritize above party the defense of democracy from overthrow by plutocrats, and would support fundamental structural reform rather than an easily coopted spending program (e.g., FENA). Rather than invent a new term that has not been misappropriated by the Democratic Party, it seems preferable to recover -- if only for purposes of this article -- the most historically accurate term along with the non-partisan meaning it had during most of the late 19th and 20th centuries.
The term "liberal" remains for describing Democrats who might support some or all progressive programs, but are more partisan than principled in their voting, and resist identifying plutocrats as the opposition. This is the connotation the term acquired during the New Deal, which now informs a kind of progressive epithet as in Chris Hedges' description: "the liberal elite, has always been willing to sacrifice integrity and truth for power." To avoid turning a necessary footnote into a separate article, useful further discussion on the distinction between these two terms can be pursued here, here, here, and here.
2 The term "neoliberal" may be even more controversial than the term "progressive." Various links where the term is used in this article provide information about the concept. It is used here to mean the reverse of progressive, policies that elevate property, or the market, as the "master of the commonwealth": accordingly anti-democratic, and pro-plutocrat. After the Great Recession, "progressive" and "neoliberal" define the two opposed sets of options for public policy, one democratic the other plutocratic.
3 If the Electoral College were taken into account to focus SIV organizing efforts just in battleground states, then the number required to swing the 2012 election would have been considerably lower still. Rather than 2.5 million votes nationwide, switching just 6% of that amount, 150,000 votes in five states, would have swung the election to Romney. Intensive use of Victory Lab techniques would make this targeted strategy even more plausibly within the reach of progressives.
An earlier version of this article was published by Truthout.