What Is Modern Day Progressivism?

Written by Ralph E. Stone. Posted in Opinion, Politics

Published on February 25, 2011 with 4 Comments

By Ralph E. Stone

February 25, 2011

Political campaigns have been compared to marketing campaigns where the candidates market themselves to the voters using modern marketing techniques such as market research, advertising, branding, product differentiation, product placement, and often, disparaging Brand X, the other product. The successful sale of the product depends in large part on marketing. Long ago, Republicans accepted and perfected this reality as did Obama in the last presidential election. Progressives, on the other hand, just do not seem to understand this concept.

Federal and state laws say you cannot misrepresent your product or deceive the buying public and, in some cases, the law requires you to substantiate product claims. “Puffing” or the exaggeration of the good points of a product is legal unless the puffery includes outright lies or has no basis in fact. In politics, we rely on the opponent, the media, or political organizations to set the record straight as to the veracity of candidates’ claims. But often these false claims are not disputed fast or effective enough. Remember, the Republican-funded group attacks on John Kerry’s war record and how effective they were. Republicans know that when you tell a whopper — the larger the better — often enough, most people will come to accept it as the truth.

Consider the election and reelection of George W. Bush. The Republicans took a not-to-bright, unremarkable, rich Yale preppie and turned him into a winning candidate. Twice. Remember, Bush in a flannel shirt clearing brush on his Crawford ranch talking “straight” to the Mexican people. Bush wasn’t a rich Yale preppie anymore; he became Joe Sixpack and his “Bushisms” actually resonated with the voters. Never mind that voting for Bush rather than Al Gore or John Kerry was voting against the self-interest of most Americans. It wasn’t an intellectual choice for voters. Rather, the Bush campaign just told a better story and connected emotionally with them. Republicans were selling morality, Jesus, national security, lower taxes, and freedom all in 30, 60, and 90 second soundbites. Oh how we laughed at Bush, but he laughed last all the way to two election victories.

In the last presidential election, Barack Obama’s “call for change,” the fact that he is a Black-American, and some wishful thinking, gave him a progressive or at least a far left of center look to some. His marketing strategy won him the presidency. Yet, even a token investigation of Obama’s record as an Illinois state senator (1997-2004) and his short time as a U.S. Senator (2005-2008) would have shown little or no evidence that he was a progressive or a far-left liberal. Obama just told a better story than John McCain and Sarah Palin. He connected emotionally with voters.

Progressives just do not understand or accept the concept of the political candidate or his or her ideology as a product to be sold to the American voter. Progressives for the most part still believe that electing a candidate is an intellectual exercise that requires nothing more than a reasonable, intelligent argument. Watching progressives compete in the political marketplace is like watching our local high school basketball team compete against the Los Angeles Lakers.

After all, “progressive” sounds so forward thinking, new and modern. So positive. (And I do not mean the 1912 Progressive Party of Teddy Roosevelt.) But according to a January 2011 Rasmussen survey, being described as a progressive is a positive for 22 percent of voters and a negative for 34 percent, with 41 percent seeing it in between. But in a previous survey, voters were evenly divided, with 29 percent saying progressive was a positive description and 28 percent describing it as a negative. This marks a continuing downward trend for progressive which little over three years ago was slightly more popular than conservative.

Is progressive just another word for far-left liberalism or socialism or just the opposite of conservative or reactionary. Or are progressives just far-left Democrats like the late Ted Kennedy, Dennis Kucinich, Barney Frank, Alan Grayson, Bernie Sanders, Al Franken, John Conyers, John Lewis, and Maxine Waters. The average voter probably cannot name five progressive politicians or the top five goals of the progressive movement. Yet, they can name Conservative Republicans like Bush, Dick Cheney, and Sarah Palin.

Perhaps, the progressive movement should re-brand itself so American voters can better understand what “progressive” means. A curious mind wants to know.

I consider myself a liberal. I have voted for Democrats except when I voted for Matt Gonzalez for mayor of San Francisco in 2003.

Ralph E. Stone

Ralph E. Stone

I was born in Massachusetts; graduated from Middlebury College and Suffolk Law School; served as an officer in the Vietnam war; retired from the Federal Trade Commission (consumer and antitrust law); travel extensively with my wife Judi; and since retirement involved in domestic violence prevention and consumer issues.

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