Making Progressivism Real

On Monday, Chris Bowers wrote about a fascinating Lear/Zogby study on entertainment choices and ideological orientation.  The study is interesting because in addition to asking respondents to self-identify as liberal, conservative, or moderate, the study asks respondents a flurry of questions and then assigns ideological markers ("Blue", "Red", and "Purple") to respondents post-hoc.

Bowers argues that the most significant way to produce political change is to support cultural institutions which produce progressive ideological change will make a much larger difference in electoral and legislative outcomes than anything that is done in the political world.  I think it's a very wise point.  Clever campaign ads and better voter targeting will only take a progressive candidate so far in a world where progressives are vastly outnumbered by conservatives.  Contra-wise, even a very poorly run campaign for a progressive candidate can succeed in a world awash with progressives.  That's why labor unions, progressive news and opinion media, and liberal religious organizations are so important: they are cultural institutions which make progressivism real for people who may not be tuned into politics actively, and thereby make people more progressive.  The first-order political impacts of these organizations, like church voter registration drives and campaign donations from unions, are just gravy.

For a long time, I've assumed that creating the kind of ideological change that will result in parity between progressives and conservatives is going to be a mammoth task.  That's largely because ideological self-identification in exit polls has produced pretty steady results for a long time - about 33% of the electorate identifies as conservative, 20% as liberal, and the remaining 47% as moderate.

However, the new Zogby/Lear survey paints quite a different picture.  The survey puts about 39% of the country in the "Blue" team, 37% of the country in the "Red" team, and the remaining 24% in the "Purple" team.  That's an astounding result!  It means that a large chunk of the progressive base is going to the polls and thinking of themselves as "moderates", rather than as "liberals".  Indeed, the survey data bear this out.  When asked to self-identify ideologically, Blue team members spread out almost equally between "progressive" (31.1%), "liberal" (36.6%), and "moderate" (31.5%).  In contrast, 87% of Red team members described themselves as "conservative" or "very conservative", with another 12% describing themselves as "moderate".  (It's important to note that these ideological self-identifications didn't seem to matter for the presidential vote.  Despite having many more self-described moderates, the Blue team voted 95.6% for Kerry, as opposed to the 98.6% of the Red team which voted for Bush; the comparable numbers among self-identified liberals and conservatives voting for Kerry and Bush respectively are in the mid-80s in exit polls.  It's hard to say whether the Blue team slipped in voting progressively in down-ballot races.  Finally, it's worth )

In light of these findings, I think the Center for American Progress's "Progressive and Proud of it" advertising campaign is both timely and wise.  If you haven't seen the videos, click over there and check them out.  I like them, a lot, although I do have some quibbles with the details.  (For example, why put two white guys in the knock-off Mac commercials?  Shouldn't progressives be represented by someone who's either not white, or not a guy?)

On the whole, however, this advertising campaign, along with similar efforts like Commonweal Institute's "Promoting Progressive Values" project, are exactly the kind of thing we need.  These efforts help people who might not be politically involved understand what progressivism is, and why they should identify with it.  At the same time, these efforts lay the groundwork for candidates to self-identify as progressive, and to follow-through on that self-identification with progressive actions while in office.  If there's a large group of voters willing to call themselves progressives, candidates and elected officials have an interest in identifying themselves with that group.

In a way, the progressive ads are very similar to liberal cultural institutions.  Institutions like unions, liberal churches, schools, and news media make ideology real by connecting the abstract concepts of an ideology with the tangible facts of everyday life.  That is why we in the progressive movement should be working diligently to support labor organizing, establish and expand the reach of liberal religious organizations, and create progressive news and opinion media.  These are the kinds of activities which are ultimately going to keep our movement growing.

Tags: Ideology, progressive movement (all tags)

Comments

20 Comments

Re: Making Progressivism Real

The most significant way to produce political change is to support cultural institutions which produce progressive ideological change will make a much larger difference in electoral and legislative outcomes than anything that is done in the political world.

Reading this line is extremely ironic considering the conscious efforts of the white progressive and feminist blogosphere to shut out bloggers of color.

Just in case you didn't think it yourself, Shai.

by nonwhiteperson 2007-11-16 01:04PM | 0 recs
This is why theists have a built-in advantage

they have churches.   Their are no churches of atheism or churches of secularism.  Right wing ideology is based on groupthink, and groups are more powerful than people acting independently.   Yes the left has some groups too (labor unions, etc) but they tend to be fewer and less united because of divisions which inherently can arise from the different interpretations, springing from independent thought, of what is in the human interest.  

by gobacktotexas 2007-11-16 01:21PM | 0 recs
argh-there are no churches,

I meant to say

by gobacktotexas 2007-11-16 01:22PM | 0 recs
Re: This is why theists have a built-in advantage

I think this is a massive oversimplification of the character of conservative religion.  The religious right is a many-headed beast, with lots of different factions and sub-movements.  It's also not even clear to me that where the "rubber meets the road" - GOTV facilitated by conservative churches - groupthink plays a particularly important role.  I suppose you have some point that conservative churches do tend to make their congregants more conservative, but on the other hand, liberal churches tend to make their congregants more liberal.  (And we do have quite a few, by the way - from the very liberal Unitarian Universalists and UCCs, to the more moderate but largely liberal Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians and ELCAs, and of course a very large share of Catholics who are liberal.)  I think what makes the religious right so politically effective as compared to the religious left is that they have much better machinery for translating their religious practices into political results.  Conservative churches will go right up to the legal limits separating church resources from political activity (and in some cases step right over them), while liberal churches tend to be much more measured in approaching political power, favoring direct social service or issue campaigns in order to avoid running afoul of tax law.

There's also a large part of our base which identifies as secular or atheist (and an equally large part, I think, which identifies as "spiritual but not religious".)  And you're right that, because they generally don't belong to a religious group, they are harder to reach and mobilize.  On the other hand, I don't think this problem is insurmountable.  What it means from a practical point of view is that candidates should be finding clever ways to microtarget atheists and seculars, knowing that they could be a part of a winning coalition but that they are a bit harder to reach than regular churchgoers.  That requires extra work, but it's hardly an overwhelming obstacle.

by Shai Sachs 2007-11-17 05:15AM | 0 recs
There is no Progressivism

"produce progressive ideological change"

The worst possible thing we could do is attach being progressive to some sort of narrow-minded ideological interpretation. It's as if to have not learned a single lesson from the failures of the liberal silo's of single-issueism or the straight jacket that conservatives now find themselves hindered by.

Why can't the ideologues just stick with calling themselves liberal?

by Jerome Armstrong 2007-11-16 01:21PM | 0 recs
Re: There is no Progressivism

I understand the threats of narrow-minded single issue liberalism (and I enjoyed your book as well) but can you explain how the label "liberal" does not carry a similar risk of being attached to "narrow-minded ideological interpretation"?

by gobacktotexas 2007-11-16 01:26PM | 0 recs
Re: There is no Progressivism

That was my point.

by Jerome Armstrong 2007-11-16 05:44PM | 0 recs
Re: There is no Progressivism

I am really confused.  What does progressive ideology have to do with single-issue liberalism?  To my understanding, single-issue liberalism was a historical artifact of 60 years of consensus Democratic rule combined with the odd "Southern Democrat" phenomenon.  (i.e., liberals had a chance to get their issues heard, but they sometimes needed to grab Republican votes in order to win.)  That created a very weird Washington power structure, but it didn't have anything to do with progressive ideology.

What I mean by progressive ideology is a set of simple value propositions that progressives, by and large, subscribe to.  (Perhaps "progressive worldview" is a better phrase.)  I happen to like Paul Waldman's formulation of this ideology - "we're all in this together" - best, but there are plenty of different versions floating around.  Without those kinds of foundational values, and without the cultural institutions which place these abstract ideas into real life contexts, it's hard to see how the progressive movement will maintain and build power.

by Shai Sachs 2007-11-17 05:35AM | 0 recs
Re: There is no Progressivism

I have tried to make that same argument, talking about values and having a worldview, instead of making it ideological. That might just mean a swapping of words to you, but it's not (in much the same way that being identified as progressive rather than liberal is not just a swapping out of words). Part of being progressive is holding a worldview that is non-ideological, and instead is more wholistic.

by Jerome Armstrong 2007-11-18 02:23AM | 0 recs
Re: Making Progressivism Real

Were I to use the simplistic ideological labels that are thrown around today, I would consider myself a one-time liberal who now aligns more with conservatives.   To me, this doesn't have that much to do with political parties which are just the hoped for mechanism of instituting the policies of my ideology.

So I agree that there is a tendency to be attached to a "narrow-minded ideological interpretation" as you say but I don't always think this is something to be feared, unless there is some sort of stigma that you see in the label.  By the way, I think this labeling is practiced by both ideologies.

I think one of my biggest problems is that some "Liberals", especially those in the intellectual arenas like educators, do not consider my ideology as valid.  Admitting that there is a valid conservative ideology that has a long history in this country does not mean you have to agree with it or accept it.  You just have to admit that it's out there and that it's not inherently evil.

I disagree with much of the Liberal/Progressive ideology but I would never dismiss it out if hand because I know it will always exist in our political system.

A comment I read in a conservative article recently summarizes this point of view very well...

"Conservatives believe that Liberals are wrong, Liberals believe that conservatives are evil".  

If that is the predominant opinion on the blogosphere... then it would be difficult to establish even a starting point for a debate.

by KensUSA 2007-11-16 05:06PM | 0 recs
Re: Making Progressivism Real

Liberals believe that conservatives are evil?  Are you serious?  Every visible face of the conservative movement has spent the last twenty-five-plus years going on and on about how liberals are evil, hate America, caused the terrorist attacks, blah, blah, blah.  Bill O'Reilly and Michelle Malkin are not exactly parliamentary debaters, you know.

by Shai Sachs 2007-11-17 05:48AM | 0 recs
Re: Making Progressivism Real

Don't forget colleges and universities!  Knowledge is inherently "liberating" and these institutions are the closest things we have to "churches"...

The right wingers know this, and that is why they have made a concerted effort to try and take down higher education or at least dilute it to their liking.

Thanks,

Mike

by lordmikethegreat 2007-11-16 05:44PM | 0 recs
Re: Making Progressivism Real

Well, it's true; college appears to be one of the most liberalizing institutions around, despite a pretty heavy-handed and longstanding attempt on the part of the conservative movement to buy a conservative campus.  We should be working to make college more accessible, and not just because we support universal education.

But I think you're forgetting that there are quite a few religious groups which are extremely liberal.    I listed a whole slew of groups in an earlier comment which are identifiably liberal, and I left several off even that list.  So I think it's more correct to say that churches and other religious communities are the closest things we have to churches.

by Shai Sachs 2007-11-17 05:56AM | 0 recs
Re: Making Progressivism Real

"Progressive and proud of it" is FINALLY an attempt to define an alternative to the small govt, free market, rugged individualistic conservatism.  I believe progressives must clearly state our vision, something like, "Personal freedom and community reponsibilities make for a greater common good."  We must place the commons - our earth, schools and unviersities, energy and infrastrucuture, etc - at the heart of our vision.  This distinguishes us from free marketeers, who hold nothing sacred but the ability for money to flow toward concentration. And that is THEIR concentration, not your.

by dogenman 2007-11-16 05:48PM | 0 recs
Re: Making Progressivism Real


dogenman... I don't think it's fair to say that "free-marketeers" hold nothing sacred but the ability for money to flow toward concentration".  The pursuit of excellence and the pursuit of capital does not mean one can't value their family and their community.  Many free-market conservatives give to charities and participate in the betterment of their local communities.

There are other ways to exhibit compassion then through a government program.

by KensUSA 2007-11-16 06:56PM | 0 recs
Re: Making Progressivism Real

the essence of free-market ideology is the striving for individual excellence.  by nature, this means that the individual's highest priority must be to improve itself.  the concept of "self" might include the family or friends for some, but is always based on the exclusion of others.  

by bluedavid 2007-11-16 08:49PM | 0 recs
Re: Making Progressivism Real

Words without meaning, mean nothing.  We Liberals let the Republicans define the "L" word.  Liberal has a time honored tradition.  Classic Liberalism is "a doctrine stressing the importance of human rationality, individual property rights, natural rights, the protection of civil liberties, constitutional limitations of government, free markets, and individual freedom from restraint.(Wikipedia)"

Proggressive or Liberal, unless there is a definition of the word that is widely articulated and wrtitten.  Churches have Creeds.  Countries have Anthems and Pledges.  Liberals and Progressives need a Consise Statement that defines who we are.  

The Welfare State was never part of Liberalism.  It crept in as a temporary solution to the Great Depression.  I do not think that Liberals beleive in Big Government.  The Ideal and Goals of this country is to create an environment of opportunity to be self sufficient, with protection of the few and the weak.    

Rationality means that we think things through and find a solution that matches the problem rather than doing what we have always done.  Jefferson proposed constant revolution becasue he knew the Human Intertia is to do what we have done.  Liberalism requires thinking.  

The Declaration of Independence is a Liberal Document.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. -- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, -- That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

Sounds Like a Creed to me.  Sounds PRogressive and it is certainly Liberal.  Every Citizen of the United States should be able to recite these simple lines from memory.  It is our political birthright and secular creed.  

by repearwo 2007-11-17 02:09AM | 0 recs
Of Course Liberals Believe In Big Government!

(So do conservatives of course, they just won't admit it).

Progressives and Liberals realize that ordinary people, either at work or in their private lives, need protection from overwhelming corporate power that runs so much of their lives.

And the only way to restrain the automatic tendency of private corporate power toward monopoly control is by the power of government, backed by organized popular demand. I.e. a people's lobbying effort that never ends - because the class war of the rich against the poor never ends (and against the middle-class, and ultimately, in the end if they are allowed to prevail, from the aristocracy of super-rich against all).

President Roosevelt rightly said in 1938:

The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism - ownership of Government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.

The second truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if its business system does not provide employment and produce and distribute goods in such a way as to sustain an acceptable standard of living.

Both of those concepts: that private wealth and power must never be allowed to dominate government, and that democracy is not safe if our capitalist system does not provide an acceptable standard of living, are under constant assault and threat from the right.

THEIR ruling idea is the natural aristocracy of wealth. From this all flows: that the rich should not be progressively taxed because that's unfair, that the poor should make do with what crumbs fall from the tables of the masters, that business should be free to ship every job in the U.S. overseas and turn us all into servers at Mcdonalds and Wall Mart Greeters, if that's what's good for the share-holders, that every-man is on his own, etc, thus labor unions and every form of social organization that resists all these forms of enslavement should be abolished.

by Cugel 2007-11-17 04:22PM | 0 recs
Re: Making Progressivism Real

She's not in trouble, however the mainstream media would like you to think she is. I'm getting downright sick of the smear tactics. They must stop immediately.

http://www.voteforhillaryonline.com

by voteforhillaryonline 2007-11-17 02:44PM | 0 recs
Education, unions, media, churches

I think Chris was talking about supporting institutions such as education, unions, media and churches that produce liberal ideology people who normally feel left out can relate to. These could be universities, unions, the new media, and liberal churches, which would, in turn, change electoral politics so people who are normally left out would vote.

by nonwhiteperson 2007-11-17 02:54PM | 0 recs

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