Progressive Conservative or Conservative Progressive?
February 17, 2008 10 Comments
I recently heard a popular conservative commentator lament the idea of ‘hyphenated conservatism’ i.e. moderate-conservatives, religious-conservatives, social-conservatives, etc. I assume he would say the same thing about progressive conservatives. While I am inclined to agree with the commentator on the general point that we need a more cohesive conservatism in America and that sub-labels can be divisive, I also think that when you have a two party system like we do in the U.S. it can be very short-sighted to lump everyone under broad political labels.
I must admit that TR also disliked the notion of ’hyphenated Americans’ of another sort. He was referring not to political leanings, but to recent immigrants who still closely identified themselves with their former countries. TR always believed in the power of nationalism and he saw hyphenated Americans as a obstacle to a successful Melting Pot. I am happy to say that today we have assimilated those groups into our country while still allowing them all to maintain their ethnic identities. (Proof of that will be evident on March 17th when millions of Irish Americans raise a pint to their heritage.)
If we can agree to the generalization that Democrat = liberal and Republican = conservative I think we must also admit that people identify themselves as liberal or conservative for a lot of different reasons. That is where the sub-labels become necessary. By understanding the different components of our parties we can better reach out to them. I am not talking about special interest groups. I am talking about people who are conservative for different reasons but share a lot of common ideals.
There seems to be an attitude these days among certain conservative talking heads that it is not the party that must change, but the individuals. Each sub-conservative is a square peg which must be hammered into an elephant-shaped hole. I disagree. That attitude only drives people away.
Conservatism has been re-defined several times in this century. A conservative from 1907 would hardly recognize a conservative from today. Are we to believe that the current platform has reached perfection and there is no room for change? Just in the last 8 years we have seen President Bush exhibit a conservatism that apparently means an interventionalist foreign policy as well as zero fiscal discipline. Not exactly the conservatism of Barry Goldwater, is it?
I proudly consider myself one of the millions of ‘hyphenated conservatives’ in our country. I call myself a progressive conservative because I identify so strongly with the ideals of Teddy Roosevelt and some of his contemporaries.
Progressivism is a specific movement dealing with numerous issues such as the environment, social justice and democratic reforms. The progressive movement has never been entirely cohesive and not all progressives agree on how to acheive their goals or to what level they should be pursued. I do not agree with all parts of the traditional progressive platform, such as its hostility towards capitalism and its over-emphasis on government run social programs. Other aspects like conservation and democratic reforms are a big deal to me. That’s why the sub-designation. It enables me to set my progressivism apart from liberal progressivism.
What is most unfortunate is that ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ have become synonymous. This discounts a period in our history when progressives sat proudly on both sides of the aisle. We must work hard to change that.
So it becomes a question of which is more important, the progressivism or the conservatism? For me the conservatism will always be the core of my beliefs. If I remember correctly from my 8th grade English class, that makes progressive the modifier. Beyond that, TR considered himself a progressive conservative, so that’s good enough for me.