During the Reagan years the term "liberal" was discredited, having been widely equated with high taxes and spending. Gradually, liberal Democrats stopped using the word to describe themselves. Yet, old habits die slowly. In the days of FDR and LBJ when most of the goals of the liberals had been achieved liberals thought the word was tantamount to "good." With changing public perceptions, however, nearly all liberals searched for a new word to help them once again seize the political high ground.
They think they have found it in the word "progressive." In the House of Representatives they have something they call the "Progressive Caucus." One of its members, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL), in a television interview this week, claimed this caucus has a federal budget plan to counter the Republican one introduced by Rep. Paul Ryan. After first denouncing Ryan's plan by claiming it would do many bad things, she said the "Progressive Caucus" plan would lower the federal deficit and balance the budget in 20 years! In the face of galloping new deficits of $1 trillion a year for three years now, how does this "plan" amount to progress?
"Progress," as defined by Webster's New World Dictionary, is "1. a moving forward or onward. 2. forward course; development. 3. advance toward perfection or to a better state; improvement." It's no wonder the liberals are using it more and more, for it is freighted with positive notions.
Their actions belie the definition of the term: the Democrat-controlled Senate's failure to pass a budget in over 1,000 days; refusal to reform the heading-toward-bankruptcy Medicare and Medicaid programs; the no-questions-asked loans aggregating $3 billion to dicey "green" companies such as Solyndra.
"Irresponsible," "unrealistic," and "risky" describe these things, but not "progressive." The accurate word to describe what Obama and his Congressional allies have been doing is "regress." (Definition: "1. a going back. 2. the right of privilege of this. 3. backward movement.")
It is not surprising that the "mainstream" media use the word "progressive" without quotation marks to describe liberal Democrats and their proposals. What is surprising is that conservative commentators often do the same thing, as if the people who use the word to describe themselves deserve it. Even some Republican lawmakers in interviews treat the word as a common description. and not what it is, an effort by their adversaries to attach good overtones to bad ideas.
Here is a proposal: Let every Republican office holder or office seeker and every conservative commentator vow to put quotation marks around "progressive" in any written communication or article and, in radio or television appearances, precede it with the phrase "so-called." Thus, in print, it would be the "progressive" wing of the Democratic Party and in broadcasts, the so-called "progressive" wing of the Democratic Party." Bolder voices might go further and call it by its accurate name, the regressive wing of the Democratic Party.
Peter Hannaford was closely associated with the late President Ronald Reagan for a number of years. His latest book is Reagan's Roots: The People and Places That Shaped His Character.