Open Phones: Progressive vs. Liberal

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A recent Pew Poll found that 67% of the public have a positive perception of the word "progressive", yet only 50% have a positive view of the word "liberal". We are opening the phones to ask, how do you define these terms? 

Call in 212-433-WNYC, 212-433-9692 at 10:06 and let us know.

Comments [36]

Jim B

Picking up on Nicole from BK's comment and Ed's remsrks, I think the term "ptogressive" today implies more of a grass roots, ground-up approach than classic 20th century liberalism, from Howard Dean's democratic successes in 2008, to the Wisconsin recall, to OWS.

Dec. 29 2011 12:01 PM
Natalie from Brooklyn

I am a proud liberal and subscribe to the pure dictionary meaning: open minded, not bigoted, generous, etc. When I moved from my parents' conservative home, I was fortunate to enter a women's college with liberal professors who opened our minds to look at all sides of any subject or issue. I hope I can continue to always keep that manner of thinking.
Progressive can mean anything and even appeal to conservative Republicans with different goals than my own.
Some Democrats are doctrinaire and rigid in their thinking, as much as any other ideology; not if they are open-minded, however.

Dec. 29 2011 12:00 PM

When I read that a US sniper team had been successful in an assassination in Yemen and later the Navy Seal assassination of Osama bin Laden, I realized that the President currently has the privilege -- with the approval of Congress and "the American People" -- of ordering murder anywhere in the world. It brought back the reality to me that we -- and the President I voted for -- support a practice that is considered illegal by the UN Charter and immoral by our spiritual leaders. (BTW, along with the Center for Constitutional Rights, I supported the impeachment and now the prosecution of George Bush for his crimes.)

Dec. 29 2011 11:36 AM
Jeff from Sleepy Hollow

I agree Erin. History should inform our readings of the words. I think you misunderstood me. I don't suggest that the default liberal solution is to add more government, I believe however that conservatives assume this to be true and that the WORD liberal is less appropriate because the "use generously" connotation supports this contentious,blind assumption. Progressive better defines me as I'm in favor of using government to solve problems (EPA, gun control, financial regs) while we trim what is inefficient, ineffective or unneccessary.

Dec. 29 2011 11:09 AM
Erin from Brooklyn

It's depressing to me how few (if any) commenters refer, even in passing, to the history of the progressive movement, and to the history of liberal thought and its associated movements. A recent commenter has even suggested in earnest that a default liberal solution is "to add more government"! This indicates to me that these terms, having been "defined" by everyone without regard to their historical development, have come to mean exactly nothing. I struggle to hope that this can somehow be a good thing?

Dec. 29 2011 10:41 AM
Jeff from Sleepy Hollow

One definition of liberal that I was surprised didn't come up was a connotation of abundant or generous, such as someone's liberal use of a word or using an ingredient liberally in a recipe. For this reason I associate more with progressive because liberal implies a default solution to a problem is to add more government.

Dec. 29 2011 10:31 AM
Amy from Manhattan

I began calling myself a progressive rather than a liberal not because of GHW Bush's repeated denigration of "llllliberals" but because of 2 musicians: Phil Ochs & Paul Robeson. Phil Ochs's song "Love Me, I'm a Liberal" paints liberals as talking the talk but not walking the walk, & Paul Robeson was a member of the Progressive Party (long after Teddy Roosevelt, & not really the same party as in his time), & I figured if it was good enough for him it was good enough for me. I think of progressive as being between liberal & radical.

Dec. 29 2011 10:31 AM

Based on politicians political records, any political term can pretty much mean anything. Both Conservatives and Liberals often say they stand for one thing but do exactly the opposite in reality.

Dec. 29 2011 10:29 AM
Brian from LI

There is no difference, the term progressive was used after years of the right wing noise machine (Rush) demonizing the word liberal.

Dec. 29 2011 10:29 AM
Edward from NJ

Based on the callers, "progressive" can mean whatever you want it to mean.

Dec. 29 2011 10:27 AM

A hear a lot of Stockholm Syndrome from the callers. They have internalized the "liberal is bad" idea that the right-wingers have been pushing for years. The right (conservatives) has successfully branded liberals as untrustworthy, lazy, profligate, anti-American. What are all the "progressives" going to do when Frank Luntz does the same thing to the word "progressive" that he's done to liberal? We'll have no choice to call ourselves "moderates." Like our President - who's really a conservative.

Dec. 29 2011 10:26 AM
alex from Manhattan from New York, NY

There are no liberals, progressives nor conservatives in America today. People today who say they are conservatives do not adhere to the values esposed by conservatives of the past.
There are only corporatists and their followers and the people.
The media and politicians try to confuse Americans with using these old fashion terms.

Dec. 29 2011 10:23 AM
Robert from NYC

Muriel that's probably because Brian is a progressive. lol.

Dec. 29 2011 10:22 AM

It's always about the money or how the wealth is spread around the "L" word works when people are not starving in the streets. Progressive on the other hand is an action word.

There was a lot more money flowing during th'60's
Acceptance Speech as the Democratic presidential nominee (15 July 1960)
If by a "Liberal" they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people — their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties — someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a "Liberal," then I'm proud to say I'm a "Liberal."

Dec. 29 2011 10:21 AM
Edward Peters from Queens NYC

listening to the webster's definition at beginning i grabbed on to liberal as among other things" tolerant," and recall a line from the Short HAppy Life of Francis J Mac Comber by Hemingway, to paraphrase, "he was tolerant, unfortunately it was the worse thing about him"

Dec. 29 2011 10:20 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Liberal (in the States) has been turned in to mean "idealist" and adherence to dogma.

Dec. 29 2011 10:19 AM

I blame that Frank guy with the bad hair piece for ruining the word Liberal.

Dec. 29 2011 10:19 AM
Michael from brooklyn

As a european, I still don't understand why American who loves the word "freedom", have this weird fear/hate for the word liberal, as it means free, and my own perception by viewing some "liberal" parties in europe : independent.

Which brings on the question, how come libertarianism isn't shunned?

Dec. 29 2011 10:19 AM
Muriel from NYC

Brian, I was quite shocked by your comment: "Perhaps the word liberal is maligned because of failed liberal policies" What failed liberal policies are you talking about? The word liberal is maligned because Republican profiteers would like to acquire those "liberal" federal programs for their own profit. Perhaps you should look at those "failed" liberal policies that you are talking about.

Dec. 29 2011 10:18 AM
John from NYC

Hey, instead of re-branding, how about an honest evaluation of the fundamental ideas.

Dec. 29 2011 10:18 AM
Chris Gay from Manhattan

"Liberal" connotes a permissiveness that "progressive" does not.

Dec. 29 2011 10:18 AM
Matthew from Brooklyn

When I hear the work Progressive, I believe it CAN apply to both liberals and conservatives. I feel it is a more bi-partisan term, but I'm sure many will disagree with this view.

Dec. 29 2011 10:18 AM
Nicole in BK

I wasn't too familiar with either term when I first volunteered and then earned a paid position on Howard Dean's presidential campaign. It was during that campaign that I started referring to myself as progressive. The difference for me was that I found if there was an issue/topic, people who labeled themselves as liberals took the extreme opposite view of what conservatives would. I'm sure this isn't the case across the board, but what I've found is if conservatives would say something is black, liberals would say white. There's no option for a middle ground.

After the campaign ended, I happened to attend a conference at the New School on media. The conversation became focused on Israel and Palestine, I found people who labeled themselves as liberals talking in pro-Palestinian extremes, validating their right to attack and even destroy Israel. I'm a Jewish woman who believes in a two-state solution, a middle ground.

In my experience as well, those who label themselves progressive seem to be more thoughtful, and think through an issue from both sides, as opposed to deciding by only their personal values.

Dec. 29 2011 10:18 AM

Guess liberalism is beaten up on now because of it's failed policies of the last decade including huge tax cuts for the rich which contributed to doubling the debt, deregulation and blind faith in the market. Oh wait, those weren't liberal policies that brought us where we are now...

Dec. 29 2011 10:17 AM
Wick from New Jersey

Liberal just sounds older. It seems rooted in the previous century.

Dec. 29 2011 10:17 AM
Liz from Washington Heights

Progressivism has more historical impact and legitimacy. Progressivism entails a community spirit, a hard working ethos that propels the nation forward. People hear liberalism and think of more current, radical issues that have not gained mainstream acceptance by society.

Dec. 29 2011 10:17 AM
Impatient from Manhattan

The term "progressive" is inherently divisive. Are progressives so intolerant to suggest that anyone who doesn't agree with the philosophy is anti-progress? Genius marketing, though. Sounds like a branding that Don Draper would have come up with.

Dec. 29 2011 10:16 AM
Cory from Planet Earth

The difference is that the Progressive movement focused on reform and regulation of excesses. The Liberal movement became associated, for better or worse, with spending, in addition to reform and regulation. Spending is the club "conservatives" (really reactionaries) beat either one with.

Dec. 29 2011 10:16 AM
Tom from Upper West Side

I am a Progressive, combining fiscal conservatism with social liberalism.

Dec. 29 2011 10:15 AM
Brian W from Oakland, CA

The deprecation of the word Liberal has less to do with the failures of liberal policies than it has to do with the success of conservative branding of liberal as bad. If they re-frame liberal, we can reframe ourselves as Progressive.

Dec. 29 2011 10:15 AM
Edward from NJ

It started as rebranding.

Now it's generational: Your Dad was liberal. You're a progressive.

Dec. 29 2011 10:15 AM
Joe Corrao

Obama is running on someone elses record?...words are 1 thing deeds are another.

Dec. 29 2011 10:14 AM
RLewis from bowery

It's definitely the same folks and just rebranding, but Liberal sounds too "anything goes" in a 1960's way and sort of Libertarian; whereas Progressive sounds like something moving forward into the future. Too much of either can end up as bad as anything overly Conservative.

Dec. 29 2011 10:11 AM
John in Bergen from NE NJ

A liberal is a man or a woman or a child who looks forward to a better day, a more tranquil night, and a bright, infinite future.
-Leonard Bernstein

Dec. 29 2011 10:10 AM
David A. from West Hempstead

It really is just rebranding. I'm all for it, though; liberal should go back to meaning what it meant last century, where it would apply most easily to Ron Paul.

Dec. 29 2011 10:10 AM
Robert from NYC

I'll hand it to a handful of "progressives" that they are tried and true "progressives" ,but my problem is with the majority who used to be liberals and just wimpily (is that a word?) backed off the "label" when the right attacked and turned liberal into a bad word. It just proves, sadly, that many of my liberal brothers and sisters are just what the right makes of them. How sad is that!!

Dec. 29 2011 10:04 AM

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