Jon at A Tiny Revolution approvingly cites a posting by Jamison Foser of Media Matters. When I read Foser's article, though (or the part near Jon's quote of it, anyway), this part left me dumbfounded:
At this point, you'd have to be blind to miss the pattern. Every prominent progressive leader who comes along is openly derided in the media.
By "prominent progressive leaders," does he mean Ralph Nader, or Peter Camejo, or others along those lines? No. If you read the article (I don't recommend it), Foser is actually referring to people like Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, Howard Dean, and even John Murtha. Yes, you read that correctly: Foser is seriously proposing that this group of center-right Democrats are not just progressives, but "prominent progressive leaders."
Sure, you say, that's pretty ridiculous, but this is the Internet, after all--anyone can post post whatever foolishness they want. But Foser's not just some ranting guest editorialist. According to Media Matters' "About" page, Foser "served as Research Director at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) for the 2002 cycle" and "is Managing Director at Media Matters for America."
So I have to assume that this abuse of language isn't a mistake. Since the 2004 election I've noticed a concerted effort on the part of mainstream Democrats and the liberal blogs to co-opt the word "progressive." But the fact that a party operative like Foser would apply the term in such a laughably inappropriate way leads me to believe that this isn't just the spontaneous arrival of some new zeitgeist, but rather a conscious strategy on the part of the Democratic Party. They realize that a large part of their base is gravitating toward more progressive positions (witness the growth of the Progressive Democrats of America, for example), and that the more progressive part of their base is also the more active--but they also have no desire to actually adopt policies and positions that these people favor. So instead, in classic Democrat fashion, they're simply aping the terminology without changing their center-right ideology.
I don't want to focus too much on the Democrats themselves, though, because the fact is they're selling this snake oil to a willing clientele. More and more since the 2004 election I've seen relatively straight line, middle of the road liberals self-identifying as progressives. So when the Democrats use the term "progressive" to mean nothing more than "not Republican", they're reinforcing just the self-image that so many Bush-despising, MoveOn-supporting, DailyKos-reading, rank and file Democrats want to apply to themselves.
I have a conservative friend who's always hated the word "progressive," which he derides as "just 'liberal' with a cherry on top." I've always disagreed with him on this, of course, since I am a progressive and so I know the word has a genuine meaning. But now, sadly, I'm forced to admit that my friend has it right. Mainstream Democrats are absconding with the word "progressive" in order to stay as far as possible away from the "liberal" moniker which has been so thoroughly tarnished by conservatives over the past two decades. But in doing so, they're draining the word of all meaning.
This isn't just a quibble about language, either; it's a dangerous form of self-delusion. People are using the word "progressive" to refer to Kerry, Gore, and Clinton in order to convince themselves that the votes they cast for those standard-issue corporate Democrats were not only justified on practical grounds, but were in fact somehow furthering progressive objectives. If they persist in that self-delusion, they'll only make the same mistakes again that they've made in recent elections...and with the same disastrous results.