In March of his year, the Seattle Times ran this story about the battle over "Progressivism vs. Liberalism.
With "liberal" out, what's left? Progressive
Mary Helms, 54, whose family raises peanuts and cotton in Dothan, Ala., said she knew what a liberal was: "Someone who doesn't have very good morals."
And a progressive? "I don't really know anyone who says he's a progressive," Helms said. So she has nothing against them.
As the quote suggests, the article is a good overview of the issue, if not a very scientific survey of the popular usage (and implications) of the labels.
I have always thought it was a mistake to abandon the word 'liberal," merely because conservatives relentlessly trashed it for decades. What, they're suddenly not going to do that with a new label? Of course they are. Already, Rush Limbaugh refers to "Progressive liberals." So sure, perhaps "progressive" is less tainted now, but once the left starts using it routinely, the right will attack it just as routinely as they hammer away on liberal now..
Some feel "liberal" was always too heavily skewed toward issues of personal liberty, and not towards applying government in the interests of forward progress. I am sympathetic to that argument to a point, but not completely convinced. And even if it has some merit, I don't know that it's enough rationale to overpower the emotional connection that generations of liberals have had with the word. Like my parents and grandparents before me, I've always been proud to be a "liberal," and was never thrilled about giving it up merely because the enemy used their massive media and social clout to tarnish it. And I don't care much that "Teddy" was a progressive, ok?
For me, liberal is a perfectly useful word, and the long tradition of liberal thought and liberal figures requires a lot less explaining than the shorter (and much fuzzier) tradition of "progressives."
If it really helps the cause to junk it, fine. I am just not convinced it does that yet, and I get a little annoyed that there has been this faceless, nameless advocacy effort over the past 10-15 years to make "progressive" the new plug-and-play word for liberal. It's not very liberal to have an unknown elite making that decision.
I voiced this very concern back in April when I strongly advocated that #p2 be an umbrella social media hashtag with no particular group or mission aligned with it. It would simply represent the progressive/liberal movement as a whole, acting as a clear channel–or hailing frequency–where any important message or news item could make it into a liberal's social mindspace.
While that mission is still vital, I felt at the time that the Progressive community might end up going back to its liberal roots, rendering the tag obsolete or quaint. And since progresivism is often seen as a subordinate idea to classic liberalism, #L2, or something like it, might have had a longer half-life. Sadly, a lowercase "L" is just not very forceful in a Twitter feed, and many people would type it instead of the uppercase variant. So for that reason alone, I opted to drop the whole argument. I probably shouldn't have. Stuff happens.
Anyway, the discussion will no doubt go on, probably for generations. It would be nice if something happened to force us to use one or the other in a uniform way. As it stands, we seesaw back and forth from one to another, often a dozen times in a single conversation. We have enough fights on our hands just trying to package our messages effectively. We just don't need to be sparring over the labels we slap on them.
If you know of writings on this subject, please post as a comment below, and I will include it in a future reading list.