I am what I am and that’s all that I am (on being a pragmatic progressive)

Es­ti­mated reading time is 9 min­utes.

I POSTED A LINK ON FACEBOOK to an ar­ticle that took to task a group acronymi­cally known as PUBs, which stands for Pro­gres­sive Uni­corn Brigade. I don’t know how I have missed this ref­er­ence over the past few years, but I hadn’t a clue as to what PUB meant! The au­thor de­scribes these crit­ters as “usu­ally white pro­gres­sives who de­mand per­fec­tion from Democrats.”

The ar­ticle is ti­tled “Who Gets To Be Pro­gres­sive?” and it can be found on Milt Shook’s Please Cut The Crap web­site, cur­rently my fav­er­avest po­lit­ical blog! A fellow pro­gres­sive and com­pa­triot of mine (we’ll call him Bill) read the ar­ticle and posted a com­ment on my Face­book page, to which I re­sponded, etc. Here are the first few back-and-forths:

BILL:No need to de­fine pro­gres­sive but let me de­fine PUB. ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’ ”

NEAL: “Bill, I guess I haven’t been paying at­ten­tion: is PUB a common term these days? They sound like the ar­se­w­holes who ru­ined many an anti-war demon­stra­tion in the ’60s and ’70s by not com­pro­mising with the au­thor­i­ties and get­ting some things done be­cause they couldn’t get every­thing they wanted done.”

BILL: “Pro­gres­sive re­form was never a matter of compromise.”

Bill in­cluded a link to an ar­ticle by Thom Hart­mann dis­cussing the ac­com­plish­ments that pro­gres­sives have made for this country, which in­cludes many im­por­tant bills by the Fed­eral gov­ern­ment that have ben­e­fited the ma­jority of the people—and that means you and me. 1

NEAL “Boolschidt! And Hart­mann doesn’t even men­tion com­pro­mise. He does men­tion things that FDR got done, a Dem who worked with progressives.”



Thom Hart­mann was a main­stay on my radio when he was part of the pro­gres­sive talk radio sta­tion here in the lib­eral Pa­cific North­west. Then a con­ser­v­a­tive cor­po­ra­tion bought the sta­tion and re­placed a suc­cessful lib­eral news and opinion sta­tion with yet an­other sports talk station.

Shortly af­ter­wards, it struck me that Bill and I might be at log­ger­heads over nothing at all—that, in fact, we were using one word to mean two things.

NEAL: “Y’­know Bill, we might have dif­ferent de­f­i­n­i­tions of what pro­gres­sive means in these here United States. For me, we are a group with cer­tain be­liefs about gov­ern­ment and busi­ness and society.

We are in a 2-party system without our own party.

We are 90% at odds with the cur­rent GOP, and per­haps 50% with the Dems.

We must work with one of those two parties.

In a system like the British have, we’d be an in­de­pen­dent party with seats in Par­lia­ment. The Dems would prob­ably have the most seats, the Rep*blicans second, the Tea Party third, and we’d be fourth.

(But only if we had enough sense to partner with the Greens and So­cial­ists as one party. Oth­er­wise we might be sixth.)

We’d get things done by siding with the Dems against the Reps and Teas. So even if we had a Progressive/Green party, we’d still com­pro­mise every single day of our po­lit­ical lives be­cause we’d al­ways be a mi­nority party.

Just as we’ve had to work with FDR, Kennedy, Carter, Clinton, and Obama.

And we’re not gonna get our way most of the time.”

Got me? I think of Amer­i­cans who iden­tify as pro­gres­sive as being part of a po­lit­ical move­ment that is in­de­pen­dent of the De­mo­c­ratic Party. We are a party without an of­fi­cial name (easily done but hasn’t been), an of­fi­cial ad­dress (easily done but hasn’t been), and an of­fi­cial fig­ure­head or leader (well, there’d be some prob­lems with that one).

BILL: “You make good points. My sense of things is that Dems have hit a tip­ping point. For years the base has been get­ting louder and larger but the par­ty’s at­ti­tude has been largely to ig­nore the base be­cause, frankly, where are they going to go? They aren’t about to vote Republican.

But I think this time around the base is so large & its mes­sage res­onates & is catching on. I’m fairly sure that the es­tab­lish­ment De­moc­rats did not see this ex­plo­sion coming and are having a hard time ex­plaining it and I’d lump Please Cut The Crap in with those un­able to ex­plain what’s going on.”

NEAL: “You may be cor­rect. I hope you ARE cor­rect. It would be won­derful if you were. Only voter turnout will tell.I don’t see us EVER dumping the 2-party system so those of us who are Dems-by-default will have to keep com­pro­mising to get any­thing done . . .”

I don’t agree with Bill in the least about his take on Please Cut The Crap and have said so be­fore. So here is an abridged ver­sion of Milt Shook (PCTC) on prob­lems that we pro­gres­sives have as a group. I have edited most of the text out that ad­dresses and have broken lengthy para­graphs up into smaller ones (for ease in reading on my site).



This is Milt Shook’s un­of­fi­cial In­ternet photo, where he looks sus­pi­ciously like Joe the Rep*blican of In­ternet fame. De­spite folks who thinks he’s a dyed-inna-wool Hillaryite, here’s his com­ment on the sub­ject: “I’m leaning to voting Bernie, but won’t trash Hillary. If you claim she’s cor­rupt, ex­plain why rightwing BS for 30 years hasn’t put her in jail.”

Pragmatic progressivism

I have been a pro­gres­sive my en­tire life. I just happen to be prag­matic. All that means is, I re­alize that everyone doesn’t feel the way I do and that we need to com­pro­mise to get things done. I re­alize that we can’t em­ploy the same sort of rhetoric as the right-wing and ex­pect to have any po­lit­ical success.

Be­cause of that, I sup­pose that makes me some­what mod­erate on some level. Yes, I know this makes the heads of many PUBs’ heads ex­plode, but it is quite possible—in fact, prefer­able, if we’re being honest—to be both pro­gres­sive and mod­erate. There is no place in a de­mo­c­ratic po­lit­ical system for in­tol­er­ance of anyone ex­cept extremists.

Ap­par­ently [to] PUBs, you can only be pro­gres­sive if you be­lieve ex­actly the same things they do. Of course, this is com­plete bull­shit, as anyone with a lick of sense knows.

From 1933 through about 1966, pro­gres­sives worked with the De­mo­c­ratic Party and we got all kinds of things done, like So­cial Se­cu­rity, Medicare, civil rights, voting rights, en­vi­ron­mental leg­is­la­tion, and work­place safety regulations.

Since 1980, how­ever, we have been in­ef­fec­tive. 2

Here’s the deal, folks; is­sues can be per­sonal, but pol­i­tics is not. Pol­i­tics is cold and cal­cu­lated strategy and re­quires making sure you have the best pos­sible per­sonnel the de­mo­c­ratic system will allow you to have.

The root word of pro­gres­sive is progress. There­fore, anyone who ad­vo­cates for so­ci­etal progress is, by de­f­i­n­i­tion, progressive.

I am a progressive.

Bernie Sanders is a pro­gres­sive. 3

Hillary and Bill Clinton are also progressives.

Pres­i­dent Obama is also a pro­gres­sive. 4

Anyone who wants to move this country for­ward is tech­ni­cally pro­gres­sive and should be em­braced as such. 5

The only way to turn this into a pro­gres­sive country is to get most people be­hind pro­gres­sive ideals.

Put simply, dem­a­goguing is­sues is a po­lit­ical loser for our side. It works for the far right be­cause they’re ap­pealing to mo­rons and racists.

There is never one single so­lu­tion to any problem we have, with one ex­cep­tion. The reason our gov­ern­ment has be­come so use­less and de­crepit is be­cause one of our po­lit­ical par­ties has be­come rad­i­cal­ized and unworkable.

Get rid of the cur­rent Re­pub­lican Party and what you will have is a new par­a­digm be­tween pro­gres­sives and a new loyal op­po­si­tion, meaning ac­tual mod­er­ates and con­ser­v­a­tives who ac­tu­ally care about the country and who simply dis­agree with us on policy.

This country will change in al­most no time when we do that. We did it be­fore, in 1932, and we can do it again.

In­stead of fan­ta­sizing about a rev­o­lu­tion that will never happen, why not just win elec­tions for De­moc­rats and then work with them to get as much progress as possible.

It is a democ­racy, so you will never get 100% of every­thing you want, but you have to admit, 10-15% every cycle for the next 6-10 cy­cles is cer­tainly better than the minus-10% we’ve gotten for the last 20.

Everyone who is against the Re­pub­lican Party is pro­gres­sive at this mo­ment in time. You do the country no fa­vors by being a lefty ver­sion of a rightwinger.



Co­in­ci­den­tally, as I was writing this ar­ticle, I met my first PUB in a Star­buck’s line! Harlan was waiting for a tripleshot-lowfat-caramelmint-macchiato when we dis­cussed uni­versal health-care. He was very po­lite when I asked if he would pose for a photo for this ar­ticle. As you can see, he agreed.

Progressive as adjective and noun

Shook’s orig­inal piece is more than 2,700 words long, while the abridg­ment above is just over 500 words. So there’s lots more to read of “Who Gets To Be Pro­gres­sive?” at Please Cut The Crap!

Based on my back-and-forth with Bill and Shook’s ar­ticle, we can easily sur­mise that there is pro­gres­sive as an ad­jec­tive (“Obama is a fairly pro­gres­sive Pres­i­dent”) and pro­gres­sive as a noun (“I am a pro­gres­sive who al­ways votes De­mo­c­ratic at the na­tional level but looks for third-party op­tions at other levels”).

I use it both ways but when I use it as an ad­jec­tive, I use it in con­junc­tion with an­other word that de­scribes my sub­ject: “Hillary Clinton had one of the most con­sis­tently ‘lib­eral’ voting tal­lies in the eight years she served in the Senate, making her a rea­son­ably pro­gres­sive De­mo­crat.” 6

Fi­nally, de­spite my mys­tical lib­eral leaning, I am what I am: a pro­gres­sive who hap­pens to be pragmatic.



FEATURED IMAGE: I found this photo from the Oc­cupy Wall Street event (Sep­tember 2011) on The Guardian web­site with an ar­ticle ti­tled “A letter to my dismal al­lies on the US left.” Written by Re­becca Solnit, it ex­presses a view­point sim­ilar to that of Please Cut The Crap:

“O rancid sector of the far left, please stop your grousing! Com­pared to you, Eeyore sounds like a Tele­tubby. If I gave you a pony, you would not only be fu­rious that not everyone has a pony, but you would pick on the pony for not being rad­ical enough until it wept big, sad, hot pony tears. Be­cause what we’re talking about here is not an analysis, a strategy, or a cos­mology, but an at­ti­tude, and one that is poi­soning us. Not just me, but you, us, and our possibilities.”



1   And every one of these ac­com­plish­ments that ben­e­fited you and me was fought tooth and nail by con­ser­v­a­tives, who don’t want any­thing done by the gov­ern­ment that doesn’t make them richer:

Con­ser­v­a­tives op­posed the revolution.
• Con­ser­v­a­tives op­posed freeing the slaves.
Con­ser­v­a­tives op­posed women’s rights.
Con­ser­v­a­tives opposed—and con­tinue to oppose—public education.
Con­ser­v­a­tives opposed—and con­tinue to oppose—democracy in the workplace.
Con­ser­v­a­tives op­posed child labor laws.
Con­ser­v­a­tives op­posed the New Deal.
Con­ser­v­a­tives op­posed So­cial Se­cu­rity, Medicare, and Medicaid.
Con­ser­v­a­tives also op­posed the Civil Rights Move­ment and con­tinue to op­pose the Gay Rights Movement.

Name a great achieve­ment in Amer­ican his­tory and con­ser­v­a­tives were against it. This isn’t opinion, it’s just fact . . .

Pro­gres­sives and so­cial­ists working with pro­gres­sive De­moc­rats ac­com­plished al­most all of these things and so much more.

2   The “we” here should refer to all De­moc­rats, a huge number of whom sit out the non-Presidential elec­tions, thereby al­lowing the Rep*blicans to re­peat­edly take con­trol of the House. Es­sen­tially, those Dems who don’t vote during those elec­tions negate the votes they did cast during the Pres­i­den­tial elections.

3   Using my de­f­i­n­i­tions above, I agree that Milt Shook and Bernie Sanders are pro­gres­sives (the noun).

Using my de­f­i­n­i­tions above, I agree that Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama are pro­gres­sive Democrats.

5   Here! Here!

6   Based on “Hillary Clinton Was the 11th Most Lib­eral Member of the Senate” by phenry for the DailyKos.


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