I submit that there are far too many people, especially politicians, calling themselves a progressive. Exactly when the nation desperately needs real progressives to spearhead new third-party efforts at recapturing American democracy for we the people, fake progressives siphon off public interest and energy, especially among independents and disenfranchised eligible voters. In particular, there are too many Democrats calling themselves progressives. It comes down to this. It seems that virtually anyone these days who wants some change in society thinks it reasonable and beneficial to call themselves a progressive. As noted in Wikipedia, with this kind of superficial definition "This could include the entire political spectrum with the exception of traditional conservatives."
The Campaign for America's Future ran a contest for determining "What Is A Progressive." I found the results discouraging, because most entries were vague platitudes, such as this one: "A progressive is someone who believes in the common good-in a fair shake for every person-and is willing to fight for it." The problem with such statements is that virtually everyone can agree with them. Such definitions do not differentiate. It is fair to say that this group is rightfully seen as a home for leftist, liberal, worker-oriented Democrats fighting what they see as an unfair economy and Democrats under control of "money politics." While I support many of their objectives I remain concerned about conflating progressivism with Democrats. Robert Borosage, the head of the group, acknowledged: "I assume that Green activists will continue to build their independent party, and that independents won't enlist in the Democratic Party. Fighting for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party is not the same as fighting for the restoration of American Democracy.
Similarly, when I checked the objectives of the House Congressional Progressive Caucus with 62 members I could find nothing that crisply defines a unique set of values. These are its four core principles: 1. Fighting for economic justice and security for all; 2. Protecting and preserving our civil rights and civil liberties; 3. Promoting global peace and security; and 4. Environmental Protection & Energy Independence. More platitudes. And it appeared that all the members were Democrats.
What we really need is a much better way of deciding what makes a person a true progressive. Here is my modest proposal.
First, a true progressive must reject the status quo dominance of the two-party duopoly. Ralph Nader has always been a true progressive. He wisely noted that "progressives have been abandoned by the corporate Democrats and told,'You got nowhere to go other than to stay home or vote for the Democrats.'" Members of third parties have a right to call themselves progressives, but not Democrats, regardless of how "liberal" they are. I reject every argument by those who twist logic to support voting for Democrats as the only means to advance progressive politics by defeating Republicans. Putting Democrats in high office has been shown by history to be utterly useless in advancing true progressive values. "Progressive- democrat" and "progressive-Republican" are oxymorons.
Second, a true progressive must openly and sharply condemn the corrupt corporatist state and its proven capability to pervert both Democrats and Republicans as well as our economy.
Third, a true progressive must forcefully condemn the corporate mainstream media for failing their responsibility to protect our Republic and representative democracy.
Fourth, today's true progressive must rise above social issues and focus on our most crucial problem the sad state of our delusional democracy. American democracy has been sliding downhill for many years under both Democrats and Republicans, and the rising influence of economic plutocrats. No social issue is as important as rescuing and rejuvenating American democracy. No one. Not homosexual marriage, not abortion rights, not any of the divisive issues that Democrats and Republicans exploit for their own purposes.
Fifth, 21st century progressives must focus on the rising economic inequality that is destroying the lives of working- and middle-class Americans. This necessitates attacking the power of economic elites. This includes fighting globalization and trade agreements that export American jobs, wealth and sovereignty. It also requires fighting illegal immigration, so desired by corporate powers as a source of cheap labor. It means fighting for affordable universal healthcare.
Finally, true progressives must think of themselves as patriotic American revolutionaries engaged in a Second American Revolution to fight the tyranny of domestic forces that have systematically dismantled the effectiveness of our three branches of government, made a mockery of the notion of representative democracy, and traded-off service to the public for service to the rich and powerful. They must be and act like status quo busters. They must vigorously fight for many electoral reforms. A true progressive must be an activist, not just a complainer and moaner.
Authentic progressives must regularly and vigorously challenge the progressive credentials of people who self-servingly and dishonestly cover themselves with the mantle of progressivism. In so many ways these agents of deception are more dangerous than the outright corporate lackeys in both the Democratic and Republican parties. And just as we must closely monitor false progressives, we must also be watchdogs over so-called "progressive media" programs. Many of these are just devious ways to support Democrats.
I know from surfing the web I am not alone in these views. I Googled "fake progressives" and found some gems. I especially liked these comments from one commenter in a discussion group who was angry about Democrats: "Well it could help you stir up progressives, who you ignore in your actions but try to acknowledge in your words, and that's what you f*cking democrats do! You b*tch about the republicans instead of addressing true issues that progressives care about." And I liked this view of Edward Zehr: "an intellectually dishonest and cynically manipulative mainstream press, staffed largely by fake progressives who have come to strangely resemble the very people they used to despise." And lastly this complaint on the Daily Kos site about "censorious caterwauling of fake progressives who spend their days obsessing about this site's gravitas, urging the deletion of diaries that make them a little edgy and making backhanded apologies whenever anyone posts a truly principled idea because they're mortified that it might threaten the 'electability' of lame-ass DLC dems."
For the good of the nation, let's hold self-professed progressives accountable. For that we need specific criteria, such as those proposed here.
P.S. I expect that primary loser Senator Joe Lieberman will increasingly call himself a progressive, not just an independent Democrat.
[Joel S. Hirschhorn's new book is Delusional Democracy Fixing the Republic Without Overthrowing the Government; he can be reached through www.delusionaldemocracy.com.]