[A note on usage: I have capitalized the word “Progressive” every time it is used as an adjective that refers to the political philosophy of progressivism, even when the adjective doesn’t refer to a formal “Progressive” party, to distinguish it from “progressive” in its literal, everyday sense. This would be comparable to the difference between “Democratic” and “democratic,” except that there often has been no Progressive Party formally representing Progressive ideas. When used as a noun, I capitalized Progressive(s) when it referred to those holding those ideas during the Progressive Era or as members of a Progressive party, but not when it referred to people who embraced the Progressive ideology during times when there were no formal Progressive parties to which to belong.]
Introduction to Progressivism
Progressivism in America denotes both an ideological tradition and a political reform movement that emerged during the last quarter of the 19th century, both of which have continued to the present day. Historians commonly refer to the era from approximately 1890 to 1920 as the Progressive Era. Progressivism, however, never died out. While an explicitly named “Progressive” third party emerged several times after the Progressive era, more often progressivism went underground, influencing and allying themselves with other political groups and parties. Even though the last time anyone was listed on a presidential ballot as the candidate of a “Progressive” party was in 1952, progressives have mounted an amazingly successful “stealth” comeback, for progressivism has become the dominant political force in Washington today.
The majority Democratic Party is Progressive to the core. President Obama and his principal rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton, both presented themselves to their fellow Democrats as “Progressive.” Obama was perceived as the more genuinely Progressive of the two, for he secured nominations from leading Progressive organizations, such as moveon.org, The Nation(a weekly periodical that proudly proclaims itself “the flagship of the left”), and Progressives for Obama, a group formed by such high-profile progressives as Tom Hayden (who sided with North Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh during the Vietnam War), Hollywood leftist Danny Glover, and two members of Democratic Socialists of America, Barbara Ehrenreich and Bill Fletcher Jr.
In addition to the President of the United States being an unabashed, self-avowed “progressive,” the largest caucus in the current Congress is Progressive, comprising the left wing of the Democratic Party. The Congressional Progressive Caucus was founded in 1991 by the avowed socialist, Sen. (then Rep.) Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and consists of 80-plus members, including staunch admirers of such socialist luminaries as Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. The powerful Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, was a longtime member of the Progressive Cause, who, when she became Speaker, dropped her formal membership as a matter of decorum, not because of any disagreement with her Progressive colleagues.
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