Are Progressives “Liberal”?

I have been teaching the progressive movement in college classes for over two decades.

Progressives always had one goal: power.

They were born in the Deep North and found a political home in the early Republican Party. They were also smart.

Progressives thought locally and acted locally, particularly in the late 19th century when the movement seemed dead.

You see, “national” politicos thought they killed the movement in the 1890s. Conservatives Grover Cleveland and William McKinley won the presidency in 1892 and 1896 respectively.

Progressives appeared to be shut out. They never are. Progressives are the most aggressive political thugs in American politics. They never quit.

Why? Power.

By 1900, the Republicans placed an open progressive, Teddy Roosevelt, on the ticket with McKinley, and when he was assassinated in 1901, progressives had their man in office.

That didn’t matter as much, because for the preceding two decades, progressives had transformed State politics by running for local office and joining local civic organizations.

National election victories were great, but controlling the States was even better. This didn’t mean they had success everywhere, but they were able to make some gains in virtually every section in America, even in the South.

Thus, when Hillary Clinton announced in 2008 that she was a “progressive”, it seemed American politics had come full circle.

You see, Wilson and Roosevelt damaged the term in the early 20th century with open attacks on business and troubling American involvement in European wars. Coupled with the growth of communism–they too were progressive–along with Hitler’s and Mussolini’s open embrace of the term–and progressivism again seemed dead.

Along came the “liberal.” Liberals were just people interested in free speech and free ideas. They loved capitalism but wanted to trim its abuses. They were also anti-communist.

Except they clung to much of the same dogma as progressives.

By the 1980s and 1990s, Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich had made liberal a dirty word, and so progressives just went back to calling themselves what they had always been.

This doesn’t sit well with “moderates” on the left. They miss the days of being called a liberal.

All of this is fascinating, for it shows that the left’s “big tent” isn’t really that big.

At the same time, both “liberals” and “progressives” think government should expand and use it’s considerable muscle to control American society.

Again, power.

This all made for great Podcast fodder. I discuss the terms on Episode 904 of The Brion McClanahan Show.

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