Danny Cardwell's picture

    What Does It Mean To Be A Progressive?

    "My constituency is the desperate, the damned, the disinherited, the disrespected, and the despised. They are restless and seek relief. They've voted in record numbers. They have invested faith, hope and trust that they have in us. The Democratic Party must send them a signal that we care."  To Be Revealed Later

    What does it mean to be a progressive? This isn't a rhetorical question. I came to my political awareness in the mid 90's; back then, there were very few self described progressives in my circle. I was in my twenties, and most of the people I knew identified as liberal. That was before the right-wing think tanks and commentators masterfully shifted what it meant to be a liberal. If being a progressive means being a Bernie supporter does that automatically make Hillary supporters liberal or neoliberal? This might seem like a frivolous line of questioning, but it matters more now than it did in 2008. The choice between President Obama and Hillary Clinton wasn't as politically pronounced as the choice between Bernie and Hillary is today.   

    I don't know if Bernie can win in a general election. This is more than a statement grounded in political uncertainty. It's a thinly veiled question some in our ranks ask themselves. Bernie Sanders is an ideological Rorschach test. To his young, enthusiastic base Bernie represents a clean shift from the status quo they learned about in history and political science classes. He resonates with their desire to try something completely different as a way of avoiding the economic outcomes they see on the horizon. For his older, somewhat politically jaded, supporters he represents the hard left turn they've been waiting for the Democratic party to take. Many pragmatic- dare I say conservative- Democrats have fallen hook, line, and sinker for the argument that Bernie can't win in November. Maybe he can't; maybe the country isn't ready for a Democratic Socialist. Labels matter; the fact that Socialism has been such a loaded term for so long might affect his ability to gain the moderate and independent vote, but what if now is the perfect time, politically speaking, to usher in an era of progressive politics? How many of us could sleep knowing we missed our chance? 

    This isn't an endorsement for Bernie or a hit piece against Hillary. I'm convinced that both of them would be far better stewards over the economy, better for the long-term national security of our nation, and would pick better Supreme Court Justices than their Republican rivals, but most of us already believe this. If Bernie doesn't get the nomination, but forces the national conversation to move to the left on government spending, Social Security, minimum wage, and affordable college would Hillary use that political cover to advance the progressive agenda? How many progressives are supporting Hillary because they're afraid our ideas are still too far ahead of the electorate? 

    These questions matter. We have to be honest about how far we're willing to go in the direction of progressive ideas. We have to be clear about what our priorities are. If Hillary wins the nomination how do we force her to move from the center to embrace Bernie's supporters? If the centrist argument against Bernie hinges on the perception that he can't get votes from the center then wouldn't the same argument work in the opposite direction against Hillary? I've talked to young Bernie supporters who view the Clintons as Republican lite. Whether their critique is right or wrong is a immaterial to the fact that they believe it. If a portion of Bernie's supporters sit out of the 2016 election, and minority turn out is low in purple states the game is over. Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio will be the next president. If Hillary wins the nomination we can't ask Bernie supporters to make all of the concessions necessary to form a winning coalition. We need to create an atmosphere where Hillary has to move left to embrace them.

    The far-right is dominating the media. Many national on-air personalities no longer question negative statements made about Progressive policies- no matter how false they are. The quote from the top of this post was from Jesse Jackson's speech at the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco. Almost thirty-two years later those words still describe many in our ranks. Too many of us are getting crushed under the weight of a global economy that demands a more productive and cheaper labor force, and the cost of college and health care are still rising. How much further down this moderate path will we allow the Democratic party to pull us before we admit that walking on the Republican path gets us where they want us to go just at a slower pace?



    As you say, beliefs matter.  But so do facts.  Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have legitimate claims on progressive voters and have legitimate claims on the progressive label.

    You mentioned Social Security, for example.  Will Bernie move her to the left on Social Security.  Well, maybe he already has.  Or maybe she was already there.  Either way, she's there now. She proposes to raise taxes on high earners to expand Social Security access for those who need it most. That is progressive.

    There aren't really a ton of legitimate knocks on HRC as a progressive.  There are complains about compromises her husband made in a different political environment (operating after 12 years of Reagan/Bush) and there are complaints that she is a foreign policy hawk (though not so hawkish that Obama didn't take a lot of her advice.)  She's basically a globalist in terms of trade but, again, so is Obama and since we're not going back to a world of high tariffs and import restrictions, so any president is going to have to make existing deals better and learn from the past when crafting future agreements.

    When it comes to Wall Street she wants more regulations and to raise capital gains taxes (by changing the schedule for what qualifies as a long term gain) which is a progressive move that would encourage longer term investing while raising taxes on rapid traders, who tend to be higher income.

    After every primary, the runner-up's supporters demand concessions from the winner.  I remember the very angry calls for Hillary to be given the veep slot and the implication that it would be downright disrespectful for Obama to deny her at least that. But, you know, things rarely work out that way.  There will be Bernie supporters, no doubt, not enthused at the prospect of voting for Clinton and some of them will miss election day or vote for a third party candidate, should somebody emerge on the left.  It's also the case that none of us are very good at figuring out what's inside the souls of other people, even the most public figures.  Al Gore didn't inspire progressives in 2000 and look who he turned out to be?  On the face of it, Hillary offers more to the left in 2016 than Gore did back then and she seems to offer enough that anyone feeling the Bern now should still find the couch too hot to sit on when it comes to making sure that Cruz, Rubio or Trump doesn't wind up in the White House.

    My perspective on some of these national issues is a little skewed. I live in one of the most conservative districts in Virginia. Creigh Deeds is the State Senator from our area and he's hardly a progressive, but he is one of the few Democrats who routinely wins elections in our area- which is odd considering he lost the Attorney General race and Governors race. In rural Virginia some of my friends, who are to the left of Cuba, are worried that Bernie can't win in November, so they're consider voting for Hillary in the primary. I held an open forum last October for Ellen Arthur she was running for the 24th district House of Delegates against the incumbent Ben Cline. She's very intelligent she's a retired lawyer and staunch progressive. She was beaten pretty decisively by an inferior candidate who wouldn't even debate her. Obama won Virginia twice, but it's not an electoral lock for Bernie or Hillary. We have off year elections that yield low voter turn out, but anti-government and anti-Obama sentiment are at an all time high. There are a rabid bunch of Trump and Cruz supporters along the interstate 81 corridor that makes up much of the Republican base on the western side of the state. This is setting up to be an interesting primary season on all fronts. Thanks for commenting! 

    It might be an easy thing for me to say, given Hillary's long lead in the polls but your friends who want to vote for Bernie should just... vote for Bernie.  

    He's an objectively worthy candidate so I don't see any vote for him as "wasted."

    The more votes he gets in losing, the more stature he will have going forward and, given that he's a good guy, we want him to have more stature.  If Hillary Clinton becomes president she is better off with a Bernie that she prevailed over than with a Bernie she has crushed.  He will become an ally, after all.

    If Bernie wins, well... then, we should deal with the problems of his electability at that point. If he wins, we will have learned something huge about the preferences of Democratic voters -- and very likely some things that are better in the open than suppressed.

    If he wins, there will also probably be a wild third party orgy of self financed centrist saviors who throw in, so all predictions about what will happen at this point become useless.  If Bernie Sanders is a national candidate, suddenly Mike Bloomberg will think he can be one too.

    So, I say, express yourselves out there.  If you like Bernie, vote for him. Let's see what happens.

    I'll add that Jesse Jackson, to name a longshot candidate from the left, did win by losing, back in the day.

    Great piece, Danny, with much to think about.  You and Michael have pretty much gone over all that I might have said, so I'll just say, as Michael did, that Hillary is farther to the left than most people either know or will admit.  She's not at Bernie's level, but she's no Bill.  Nor is she an Obama.

    We need to keep reminding ourselves that our goal is to stop the Republicans--not just in the presidential race, which is important enough, but in the House and Senate.  We have to work together to take their power away.  That's the goal.  We have to keep our eyes on it.


    Somehow the person who was called "Bill's liberal conscience" is now called the tool of Wall Street while Bill is widely admired by most democrats. I always liked Hillary and while I accepted Bill's moderate stances as necessary for the times I never much liked him. I still don't like him much. Hillary had her own team in the West Wing and was constantly pushing Bill to the left on virtually every policy issue. Bill's team called them the "Bolsheviks down the hall." To  hear people talk now it seems like no one remembers what really happened during the Clinton presidency.

    No one can know what a person will do as president but the evidence suggests that Hillary will be significantly to the left of Obama.

    To  hear people talk now it seems like no one remembers what really happened during the Clinton presidency.

    Yeah, she's taking a lot of blame.  You'd think while she was writing her fantasy health plan that she'd warmed up with a draft of NAFTA or something.

    I remember a story leaked by a "high government official" a member of Bill's staff, meant to take down Hillary and to portray her as a cold hearted bitch. Bill's staff was reportedly discussing how to water down some policy proposal to make it more palatable to conservative elements of the public. They defended that practice as being politically necessary.  Hillary passionately argued against that saying something like, 'Why should we care about those people? They didn't vote for Bill in 92 and they won't vote for him in 96.'

    This of course was spun to say that Hillary doesn't care about people who didn't vote for Bill. When she actually  was fighting against the practice of triangulation and political pandering to conservative elements favored by Bill's staff. For me, what was meant to diminish Hillary's influence in Clinton's first term only made me like her more. ymmv

    Latest Comments