What is Progressivism?

Ned Resnikoff at Salon writes today about a lack of knowledge on what it means to be a “progressive”. He concludes his discussion on the difficulty in defining the term in our political climate with this:

In the meantime, progressives allow the far right to define the term for them. Or they let President Obama do it; and while he is certainly more sympathetic to the left than Glenn Beck, not many progressives are happy with his decidedly centrist, conciliatory political philosophy. To which I say, fair enough; but until the left formulates a coherent rejoinder, his is the only game in town.

I use the term quite often in my writing here so let me share how I define being a progressive and why I label myself as such. I define progressivism as seeking to address problems at their cause, rather than simply addressing their symptoms, and being willing to use new methods to solve those problems. For example, building a huge wall on the Mexico-U.S. border to address immigration issues is not a progressive move; thinking about ways to limit the incentive for people to cross illegally through temporary work visas (making them easier to issue and, perhaps more importantly for security concerned folks, track) as part of a more open-border policy would be progressive. Progressivism is also about seeking ways to foresee and prevent harmful social, economic, environmental, etc., events, rather than overreact to them when they happen. Our politics and policies lean heavily towards the reactionary mode and I would very much like to see more reasoned and pragmatic foresight in our policy approach.

Framing the progressive movement as one aimed at actually solving problems instead of dealing with symptoms (another example would be incarcerating millions of Americans for minor drug offenses instead of decriminalizing drugs and keeping these individuals as tax-payers and not tax-burdens; this would also have a profound impact on the violence in the drug trade), as well as one aimed at preventing issues that could become major problems, would make for a concise and easy to understand (albeit broad) definition of what progressivism stands for.


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