What does it mean to be a “progressive” anyway? What’s the difference between a liberal and a progressive?
These are questions I get asked frequently, and more recently specifically from my 87-year-old mother, an “Obama Democrat” living in Alabama.
The answer as I explained to my mother revolves around the degree of urgency one perceives the challenges facing our planet and the people who reside thereon, and the boldness and nature of the solutions being proposed to resolve those challenges.
What about conservatives?
Conservatives believe we live in a world governed by the law of the jungle and “it’s every man for himself” with results driven by “survival of the fittest.”
Liberals and progressives believe, “we are all in this together,” and that to a great extent “we are our brothers’ keepers.” We are responsible for helping, supporting, and protecting each other and the planet we call home.
And of course there are many different “labels within labels” such as those that call themselves “socially liberal and fiscally conservative.” To most of those, I say hogwash.
We are all so-called “fiscally conservative” as in, none of us want to waste or spend money foolishly. Those politicians who espouse to be liberal or progressive but fiscally conservative, are trying to ride a horse with two saddles.
For the purpose of today’s column my focus is on discussing the difference between liberals and progressives.
All will profess to support a just and fair society.
Liberals will acknowledge that we need to do more to reduce poverty, protect the environment, and achieve equality among peoples of different faiths, gender, ethnicity, sexual preference, etc.
However, liberals are also more accepting of the status quo, more forgiving of the corporate institutional structure that provides them with the benefits of a comfortable lifestyle, and more cynical that anything really can be done to resolve the problems of poverty, environmental protection, and social justice. Liberals, while espousing a belief in justice for all, generally avoid rocking the boat, and resist making noise or pushing back against the status quo in order to achieve that justice.
Progressives, to the contrary, believe the world is burning, both literally and figuratively. They believe climate change is a disaster that is happening here and now, not something that may or may not occur at some distant time in the future.
Progressives see the massive economic disparity between the 1 percent and the 99 percent, as criminal, and a reality resulting in millions of people on every continent being locked into a dehumanizing poverty.
Progressives see the status quo as a con game being run by corporate oligarchs who control big business and big government, who convince the masses they are free and independent citizens all the while luring them into a culture of unbridled consumerism resulting in their perpetual dependence on banks, credit cards, PayDay lenders and student loan institutions.
The liberals’ default position is to believe the corporate propaganda of Monsanto, DOW/Dupont, Syngenta and BASF when they say their technology and chemicals are needed to feed the world.
Progressives know that the corporate message is one of carefully crafted deceit intended to perpetuate their profits, while they pillage and poison our health and our planet.
Liberals will sometimes push back against overseas military intervention and regime change, but will rarely every support aggressive cuts in military spending, either foreign or domestic.
Progressives will decry the fact that America is the largest arms dealer on the planet and advocate loudly against the obscene amounts of money spent on missiles, bombs, and tanks, to the detriment of schools, hospitals, and homes.
Liberals will sigh and accept, perhaps with some resignation, the undebatable evidence of a declining civil society and a natural environment already damaged beyond repair. But they will then insist that there is nothing much to do about it, except perhaps to rely on big technology, big business, and big government to adapt and bail us all out of the dilemma.
Progressives refuse to accept the status quo and need no further evidence to know that the world is going to hell in a hand-basket. Progressives know that the answer is for everyday people to organize together and to take back control of our government from the corporate interests that now run the show.
Progressives know that it does not have to be this way and that other countries and other civil societies do in fact exercise citizen control over the polluters and the banks.
Progressives know that in many countries, health care is seen as a fundamental right and is provided to those in need regardless of their ability to pay.
Progressives know that in many countries the government tightly regulates the chemical industry and prohibits the use of a wide range of pesticides and other chemicals, with no detrimental impacts to their economy or to the food supply.
Sen. Bernie Sanders’ message during the 2016 presidential elections awoke the progressive message and the resulting movement, across America and in Hawaii. His unapologetic and strong call for increased banking regulation, for health care for all, for a $15 minimum wage, and for many other progressive reforms shook the world of policy and politics.
There is no going back now.
Gary Hooser formerly served in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kauai County Council and was former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA) and is executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.