- The Washington Times - Friday, June 22, 2007

THE WASHINGTON TIMES Don’t call them liberals. They prefer the term “progressive” and think their brand of politics is where the country is headed.

Historically, “progressive” has been defined as one believing in moderate political change and especially social improvement by governmental action.

For the thousands of liberal activists who gathered in Washington this week and want to “Take Back America,” the meaning of the word is that and more — it’s about taking action.

“It’s a willingness to fight,” said James Boyce, a host for BlogTalkRadio and a longtime Democratic political strategist. “It’s about spine and dogma and a certainty of movement. It’s a way to counter conservatives.”

And just who fits the “progressive” bill?

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the front-runner for the 2008 presidential nomination but not the favorite of this crowd, said she is that kind of politician when bashing Republicans at the conference this week.

“We’re going to send them packing in January 2009 and return progressive leadership to the White House,” the New York Democrat said, to loud applause.

Roger Hickey, co-director of Campaign for America’s Future, noted the term did not always belong to the Democrats: Theodore Roosevelt was a Republican who formed one of the original progressive parties and even Dwight Eisenhower once described himself as a “progressive Republican.”

Activists say there’s nothing new about the movement, but note its resurgence in the past year.

Jeff Cohen of Progressive Democrats of America co-wrote a piece for the Los Angeles Times 21 years ago outlining the role of progressives in abolishing slavery and the women’s suffrage movement.

“It has been so long since progressives were afforded their place in political debate that many have forgotten the rich history of the American left and its contributions to society,” Mr. Cohen wrote. “History teaches us that what is ‘left’ today is often the common wisdom of tomorrow.”

Liberals, Mr. Cohen wrote, “have often been Johnny-come-latelies hovering timidly about the edges of social movements while others put their lives and livelihoods on the line. Typically, the liberals have entered the fray only after the waters were tested and deemed safe.”

Now, most activists whose top priority is getting U.S. troops out of Iraq describe themselves as “progressive” and define the “movement” as standing up to “establishment” Democrats.

Those activists say they are tired of the Washington line about “political realities” that prevent Congress from ending the war.

Mr. Hickey said the movement is driving the political debate among Democrats and forcing presidential hopefuls to the left.

The word “progressive,” he said, “goes beyond the traditional concept of liberalism, which we also subscribe to, and it has an emphasis on empowering people in the political and economic sphere. It languished in part because the word ‘liberal’ has been attacked a lot, combined with elitist terms like ‘limo liberal,’ and that’s really not what we’re about.”

Rep. Barbara Lee, an antiwar California Democrat and co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, cheered the recent release of a report showing Americans are not as conservative as some think.

“It’s time to put to bed the myth that this is a conservative nation. Americans are progressive,” she said. “They believe in the common good, and they want a government that works for everybody, not just the wealthy few.”

Mrs. Clinton has outlined a “modern progressive vision” in speeches since announcing her White House bid, but some liberals are doubtful because of her husband’s record.

A posting on liberal blog Firedoglake.com accused President Clinton of “very often selling out the progressive base” on legislation like NAFTA.

“For short-term advantage, he weakened the progressive movement. Perhaps it was a compromise he had to make, but that was then; this is now,” read the June 2006 post.

November’s midterm election was hailed as a triumph for Democrats with “progressive” platforms.

“This was a progressive victory,” Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos.com declared after Democrats seized control of Congress last fall, in large part with the help from liberal bloggers.

The “netroots” — liberal bloggers with growing influence — often call out Democratic leaders for not being courageous enough, and push what they call progressive ideals.

Mr. Moulitsas said the movement is productive, bringing “new blood” and “a cohesive sense of purpose,” and encouraged activists to “stand tough and fight back.”

The “progressive” label has not become popular merely because liberal has become a dirty word that Democrats want to avoid, Democratic strategist David Sirota wrote at HuffingtonPost.com.

“Many of today’s Democratic politicians … are simply not comfortable taking a more confrontational posture towards large economic institutions (many of whom fund their campaigns) … that regularly take a confrontational posture towards America’s middle-class,” he wrote.

Robert Borosage, co-director of Campaign for America’s Future, fired up the crowd at Take Back America this week by reminding them they aren’t striving for the center of politics.

“This is not time to trim our sails,” he said. “This is the time to claim the future. You must feel the fierce urgency of now. If we don’t grab it, someone else will, and they will take it in the wrong direction.”

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