Tim Whyte | ‘Progress’ and What it Means to Different People

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By Tim Whyte

Signal Editor 

Sometimes, the left is a lot smarter than the right. Take, for example, the current broadly accepted meaning of the word, “Progressive.”

It’s a powerful word and it’s been applied ingeniously.

My hat’s off to the left. They’ve managed to stake out territory that equates all of their positions with “progress,” and anything else, by obvious inference, is “not progress.” It’s a brilliant piece of ideological marketing. 

Those on the right have no equivalent. 

“Conservative,” even if you are one, doesn’t stoke the same kind of passion that “progressive” does.

Yikes. “Conservative” just sounds… old. Lackluster. Unwilling to bring about change — even if that’s not how you really are.

So, for example, if you think “progress” would mean lower taxes, an increased emphasis on personal responsibility, protecting the nation’s borders and preventing people from coming here illegally, putting citizens’ rights and needs first, and laws that protect the unborn, you are not in favor of “progress” — at least, not by the current, now broadly accepted definition of “progressive.”

Mind you, I’m not condemning all “progressive” thought. I actually consider myself something of an ideological grazer. I take some from the left, some from the right and some from that dark, secret, unrepresented place that should be called “the middle.”

For example, I do believe in some kind of social safety net — within reason. I believe we should strive to help the homeless and those less fortunate, not with endless handouts but with a helping hand so they can pull themselves up. I oppose racism and bigotry of all forms. I believe we should take a balanced approach to caring for our environment (the Green New Deal ain’t it) and I believe in equal rights for LGBTQ people, including marriage. 

And, like Kevin Costner’s character in “Bull Durham,” I also believe in things like good scotch, “a Constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter,”  and “long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days.”

I digress.

I also vehemently disagree with much of what the modern left stands for, including things like providing free health care at taxpayer expense to those who immigrated illegally, providing college financial aid to those same immigrants when so many citizens can’t afford higher education, free housing for anyone who just doesn’t want to work, excessive environmental regulations that don’t measurably help the environment, and taxing us to death to pay for an endless wish list of things that are designed more to bloat bureaucracies and get votes for the next election, rather than their stated purpose of providing not just equal opportunity, but actual equality — without accountability or responsibility.

There’s a difference, you know. 

But back to the ideological marketing. That “progressive” piece — just one word, really — has been a boon for the left, and it’s a genius piece of sloganeering. Somewhere, someone first thought of applying it to modern politics, and it’s brilliant. 

The Republicans have been asleep at the switch, really. President Trump’s “MAGA” has backfired to the point where the left now considers it a slur, and largely has been able to make that characterization stick, at least in the big cities on the coasts. 

Is there no one in the GOP marketing department? Can’t they do a better job of telling their story? To quote an old Eddie Murphy comedy routine, “We need a hook for this.”

The conservatives need an “eye-catcher” as a new descriptor to replace the C-word (uh, conservative.)And they can’t stake out “progressive” because the left has beaten them to it — even though the right could correctly define some of their goals as “progress.” 

Because, of course, progress really is in the eye of the beholder.  

Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal. His column appears Sundays. On Twitter:  @TimWhyte.  

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