Monday, March 03, 2008

In These Times - The American Left

In These Times takes an interesting look at Leftist politics in America, and how the left has moved through a variety of terms to describe itself over the years.

The American Left: Liberals, Progressives and the Left

By Ken Brociner

The term “progressive” has evolved a great deal over the past 35 years.

By the ’70s, many ’60s veterans had concluded that working “within the system” had become a viable option. As a result, many leftists stopped using rhetoric and slogans that had marginalized them from the political mainstream. Labels like “radical”, “leftist”, and “revolutionary” sounded stale and gratuitously provocative. And so, gradually, activists began to use the much less threatening “progressive.” Today, “progressive” is the term of choice for practically everyone who has a politics that used to be called “radical.”

On a somewhat parallel track, in the ’80s, liberal politicians found themselves under attack by the Reagan inspired right-wing of the Republican Party. Soon, conservatives succeeded in changing “liberal” into something akin to a dirty word and liberal politicians began to avoid any association with the term whatsoever.

By the early ’90s more and more Democratic politicians began referring to themselves as being “progressive.” For most of the ’90s, though, this shift was so gradual that only the closest political observers seemed to even notice it. Notably, the progressive label was not only picked up by liberals like Ted Kennedy, but also by centrists like Bill Clinton and his cohorts in the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC).

In fact, during the Clinton administration a tug of war ensued between centrists, liberals, and the left over who owned “progressive.” But by the end of the ’90s, “progressive” belonged to the left-wing of the Democratic party as well as to those activists who had one foot in the party and one foot outside of it—to its left.

Since 2001, “progressive” has become considerably more vague in its meaning and application. With a hard right-wing administration in power, the differences between various left of center groups and politicians became less important than the need to stand up in opposition to Bush’s disastrous policies.

Read the rest, in which the author then considers how to push a potential Obama administration more to the left. Not sure that is a good idea -- Obama will likely win by being a centrist, and should govern the same way.

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