Liberals And Progressives

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Booksie Classic

There are similarities and differences between Liberals and Progressives


I wrote this piece back in 2020 because there's a lot of talk about the Progressive Left and the Democratic Party in the media and among academics. Sometimes progressive is synonymous with liberal. In other cases liberals and progressives are viewed as conflicting. This was especially the case in 2016 when Bernie Sanders battled Hilary Clinton for the Democratic Presidential nomination. It has been an issue for Democrats during the Biden Presidency as he worked to pass legislation that addressed climate change, childcare, paid leave, and infrastructure too. In this piece I give my thoughts on the similarities and differences between progressives and liberals. 
David Sirota writes in the Huffington Post :
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.
I read this and found myself agreeing and disagreeing with Sirota at the same time. Either way I still identify strongly with liberalism, and that's part of the problem too many liberals call themselves progressive because they're ashamed of their own tradition. And I'm tired of using rightwing demonization of the term as an excuse not to claim it. Sirota attributes lots of things to progressivism that come from modern political liberalism starting with the New Deal. He's absolutely right that I want to use taxpayer money to fund welfare programs like home energy assistance and Social Security too. However I think it's very important to talk about structural issues related to capitalism also. I want to stop the assault on unions through right to work laws because unions empower workers in relation to owners. I think we need to break up all kinds of banks, financial firms, media, and tech companies because they're are too big and powerful. They hurt smaller firms and consumers. Maybe I'm in the minority among liberals. But maybe there is a deeper philosophical difference between liberals and progressives.
Progressives believe in government action to improve society and move it forward. They're always concerned about a different program or regulation to accomplish their goal. Moreover progressives value direct engagement by the people whether it's voting or activism. Liberals believe ensuring individual freedom is the central goal of politics. We believe in certain limits on government while embracing some government action to protect and enhance individual freedom. And liberals value social improvement too when it advances individual freedom. While classical liberals favored freedom from the state which led to civil liberties, more representative government, and government non intervention in the economy; modern political liberals value freedom to do things in addition to freedom from government interference. Modern liberals are fine with capitalism as long as free enterprise doesn't harm workers, consumers, the environment, or cool the climate. Liberals believe government programs paid for through progressive taxes help the needy and give them choices. And modern political liberals support laws and policies that remove societal barriers like racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. 
Progressives are part of a reenergized left that includes democratic socialists who want to eliminate capitalism. This is an important difference between them and liberals who want to make capitalism work for all. However for the most part socialists like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez are doing what democratic socialists have done for generations- advocating for strong reforms that make life better within capitalism. That's something liberals need to get back too while openly embracing our own tradition. Doing so would help us draw a contrast with the left while working productively with them to make America better for all.

Submitted: August 06, 2022

© Copyright 2022 Kenneth Bryant. All rights reserved.

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Add Your Comments:


Damon Nomad

As always well written and thoughtful, again I do not see eye to eye with your views but I respect them. As I have gotten older, I have become more skeptical of the labels. One problem is the fragmentation and division our country, divisions within divisions. Can you imagine what Ronald Reagan would think of with MAGA people calling themselves Republican conservatives.

Sat, August 6th, 2022 11:46am

Kenneth Bryant

Thanks so much Damon. This essay leads into another piece I'm going to publish critical of Liberalism. At this point progressives have taken the place of liberals as the advocates of a reformist politics. In some ways that is necessary and good. However there is a downside too. First, the Progressive Left is less interested in the political process. This makes it hard for them to get any thing done. Second, they are focused on total defeat of their opponents which makes them less willing to respect their opponents. Lastly, as I pointed out in the essay there are differences in values an ideology between progressives and liberals.
All of this will help to clarify and provide context for my next essay.

Sat, August 6th, 2022 12:22pm

olive tree

Hasn't been a competent US pres since Bush's predecessor... Dem or repub. Full stop.

Sat, August 6th, 2022 10:43pm


Your post concentrates on the internal politics of the USA but the majority of the western world outside of the anglosphere see the USA quite differently;
to quite
"When is Enough Enough.

The United States of America has become the world greatest kleptocracy since the end of world war two.

In its foreign policy, economic policies, covert actions and aggressive wars it has stolen on a grand scale across the globe.

It steals

It steals
and self respect

It demands that it and it alone has the sole right to determine the rules under which the rest of the world must live. It ignores International Law, the UN Charter and holds itself above any external restriction. It has abused the nuclear non proliferation treaty by placing nuclear weapons into non nuclear states. It politicians lie and deceive almost as a matter of habit.

My question is; How much longer is the rest of the world going to put up with this?"

Sun, August 7th, 2022 6:16am

Kenneth Bryant

JDB401 you're right to point out America's wrongdoings abroad past and present. At the same time, the US can't withdraw from world affairs either. We shouldn't think we're better than anyone else. But I don't see America as an evil empire either. If we become isolationist and focus only on domestic problems, then a lot of global challenges won't be met. Think about climate change, pandemics, poverty, and mass migration.

Furthermore, let's be honest about the world as it really is. Islamic terrorists like Al Queda and Isis are determined to oppress other Muslims and bring down the secular democratic West too. The Us and others have to stand up to them. Should Russia be allowed to control Ukraine or any other county in Eastern Europe and the Baltic? I would say no. The US is problematic to say the least. Yet we exist in a troubled world filled with aggressors who are no good for their own people, neighbors, or America.

Sun, August 7th, 2022 3:51pm

D. Thurmond aka JEF

Although your view is legitimate, it still holds the same flaws that the conservative right and the used-to-be Tea-Party-People have, they do not include any of the centralist's views in their thinking. No left-winger will ever gain a centralist's vote if they want to get rid of Capitalism, even the communists have incorporated some aspects of Capitalism into their societies. --- And the right is not going to hold the loyalty of any of the centers if they keep thinking that this is Rome and that the rich should make all the rules. No, no matter how they want it, the center cannot and will not be voiceless.

Mon, August 8th, 2022 8:08pm

Kenneth Bryant

Thanks D. Thurmond aka JEF
My problem with Moderate Centrists is that too often they side with Conservatives. Consider how they watered down then blocked the President's Build Back Better initiative. They also side with the Republican Right giving them just enough votes to win Congressional races even in what would be considered Blue States. Nobody not even Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren is advocating policies that will lead to Socialism in America. That's just Rightwing fear mongering.
The extreme Right will keep winning elections and undermining our democracy and society because too many moderates go along with them. It's not that moderates are voiceless. I hear them loud and clear STANDING TO THE RIGHT.

Wed, August 10th, 2022 5:51am

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