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Feb-27-2011 20:54printcomments

What Is Modern Day Progressivism?

Perhaps, it is time for the progressive movement to re-brand itself so American voters can better understand what "progressive" means.

Progresive era
Salem-News.com

(SAN FRANCISCO) - Political campaigns have been compared to marketing campaigns for products where the candidates market themselves to the voters using modern marketing techniques such as market research, advertising, branding, product differentiation, product placement, and often, disparaging Brand X, the other product. The successful sale of the product depends in large part on marketing. Long ago, Republicans accepted and perfected this reality as did Obama in the last presidential election. Progressives, on the other hand, just do not seem to understand this concept.

Federal and state laws say you cannot misrepresent your product or deceive the buying public and, in some cases, the law requires you to substantiate product claims. "Puffing" or the exaggeration of the good points of a product is legal unless the puffery includes outright lies or has no basis in fact.

In politics, we rely on the opponent, the media, or political organizations to set the record straight as to the veracity of candidates' claims. But often these false or deceptive claims are not disputed fast or effective enough. Remember, the Republican-funded group attacks on John Kerry's war record and how effective they were.

Republicans know that when you tell a whopper -- the larger the better -- often enough, most people will come to accept it as the truth.

Consider the election and reelection of George W. Bush. The Republicans took a not-to-bright, unremarkable, rich Yale preppie and turned him into a winning candidate. Twice. Remember, Bush in a flannel shirt clearing brush on his Crawford ranch talking "straight" to the Mexican people. Bush wasn't a rich Yale preppie anymore; he became Joe Sixpack and his "Bushisms" actually resonated with the voters. Never mind that voting for Bush rather than Al Gore or John Kerry was voting against the self-interest of most Americans.

It wasn't an intellectual choice for voters.

Rather, the Bush campaign just told a better story and connected emotionally with them. Republicans were selling morality, Jesus, national security, lower taxes, and freedom in 30, 60, and 90 second soundbites. Oh how we laughed at Bush, but he laughed last all the way to two election victories.

In the last presidential election, Barack Obama's "call for change," the fact that he is a Black-American, and some wishful thinking, gave him a progressive or at least a far-left look to some. His marketing strategy won him the presidency.

Yet, even a token investigation of Obama's record as an Illinois state senator (1997-2004) and his short time as a U.S. Senator (2005-2008) would have shown little or no evidence that he was a progressive or a far-left liberal. Obama just told a better story than John McCain and Sarah Palin. He connected emotionally with voters.

Progressives just do not understand or accept the concept of the political candidate or his or her ideology as a product to be sold to the American voter. Progressives for the most part still believe that electing a candidate is an intellectual exercise that requires nothing more than a reasonable, intelligent argument.

Stranger than fiction Order Now

Watching progressives compete in the political marketplace is like watching our local high school basketball team compete against the Los Angeles Lakers.

I have used "progressivism" and "progressive" in this article. But what does "progressive" mean? "Progressiveā€ sounds so forward thinking, new and modern. So positive. (And I do not mean the 1912 Progressive Party of Teddy Roosevelt.) Is "progressive" just another word for far-left liberalism or socialism or just the opposite of conservative or reactionary? Or are progressives just far-left Democrats like the late Ted Kennedy, Dennis Kucinich, Barney Frank, Alan Grayson, Bernie Sanders, Al Franken, John Conyers, John Lewis, and Maxine Waters? The average voter probably cannot name five progressive politicians or the top five goals of the progressive movement. Yet, they can name Conservative Republicans like Bush, Dick Cheney, and Sarah Palin.

According to a January 2011 Rasmussen survey, being described as a progressive is a positive for only 22% of voters and a negative for 34%, with 41% seeing it in between. But in a previous survey, voters were evenly divided, with 29% saying progressive was a positive description and 28% describing it as a negative. This marks a continuing downward trend for progressive which little over three years ago was slightly more popular than conservative.

Perhaps, it is time for the progressive movement to re-brand itself so American voters can better understand what "progressive" means.


Salem-News.com writer Ralph E. Stone was born in Massachusetts. He is a graduate of both Middlebury College and Suffolk Law School. We are very fortunate to have this writer's talents in this troubling world; Ralph has an eye for detail that others miss. As is the case with many Salem-News.com writers, Ralph is an American Veteran who served in war. Ralph served his nation after college as a U.S. Army officer during the Vietnam war. After Vietnam, he went on to have a career with the Federal Trade Commission as an Attorney specializing in Consumer and Antitrust Law. Over the years, Ralph has traveled extensively with his wife Judi, taking in data from all over the world, which today adds to his collective knowledge about extremely important subjects like the economy and taxation. You can send Ralph an email at this address stonere@earthlink.net




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Hank Ruark March 2, 2011 10:05 am (Pacific time)

To all: Do not overlook the fifty-year history of determined, desperate, daring and decidedly effective press,radio,tv and magazine propaganda, heavily corporate and rich-group financed, set forth to defy, deny and defeat what the New Deal had accomplished. Started with some dozen richie family efforts, burgeoned into think-tank and association and foundation and academic and across-the-media attack and continues via Koch et al funds and many recent examples, including Murdoch-Ailes establishment of Fox News for more of the same. By our CHOICE of action or non-action and by facts of widespread failure to be "forever vigilant" for full freedoms, we've allowed occurrence of much we should have defied, denied and defeated..and now we are paying the costs of huge consequences, as in worldwide economic tribulations which many economists see beginning in the Reagan era with overblown emphasis on tax slashes for the rich resulting in monstrous deficits.


Ralph E. Stone March 2, 2011 6:49 am (Pacific time)

Mr. Nichie: You got off on a tangent in your comment. You must have been a "Swift Boater," that challenged Kerry's military record, the circumstances relating to the award of his combat medals, and criticized his subsequent antiwar activities as a member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. The group's false charges were discredited. Even Senator McCain came to Kerry's defense when he said, "I think the [Swift Boat] ad is dishonest and dishonorable. As it is none of these individuals served on the boat (Kerry) commanded. Many of his crewmates have testified to his courage under fire. I think John Kerry served honorably in Vietnam." You are an example as to how effective disinformation campaigns can be. But don't let these facts confuse you.


JDA February 28, 2011 6:42 pm (Pacific time)

As you have noted, the term progressive is already a re-branding. Even if the far left were to come up with another label, most people would realize their liberal nature. My advice to progressives is align themselves with specific issues that resonate with voters at strategic points in time.


Howard Nichie February 28, 2011 12:42 pm (Pacific time)

Ralph:"Remember, the Republican-funded group attacks on John Kerry's war record and how effective they were." Not a good example, for not only was Kerry proven a liar over and over after he gave false and misleading congressional testimony, he also continued that charade as he went into the senate. Half the people in military fatigues with him in front of congress had never been in the military, which is pretty much how the majority of liberals roll. Oh sure a few libs in the military, but a tiny percentage, and usually lower ranked enlisted, E-6 and below. Of course the veteran's and active duty military gave him a thumbs down at approx. 7 to 3 ratio. As far as voter's voting against their self-interest, well all Gore had to do was win his own state, but the voters of Tennessee had no use for Al Jr. Then if Kerry won Florida, where as all you on the left claim that Bush lost in 2000, he would be president. Around a 400,000 voting margin said no thank you. I must admit I have no use for Bush, but I have flown in the jet Bush flew, and no sappy slow-witted person would be able to do that. As far as Harvard or Yale graduates, well Obama has a Harvard Law Degree, though he has no legal work paper trail and we have no grade transcripts, so yeah, those degrees are not that big of a deal in many cases. Thogh Bush did have an MBA, was successful in business and politics, so pretty good evidence he was beyond your characterization. Ditto for Ted "Rent a Brothel"[1961] Kennedy (see latest release of info on him). Since you like to quote Rasmussen, you should peruse his different polls, it may be a wake-up call for you on who the enlightened voters are. Maybe not... then please know more and more likely voters are realizing that the word "progressive" is another way of saying radical liberal. See the poll on "liberal's" favorability.


Daniel Johnson February 28, 2011 11:53 am (Pacific time)

Old Soldier: You write: "If you tell the majority of the people that you are going to take money from their hard earned labors in order to give it to someone that did not earn it, even children think that it is unfair.."

I couldn't agree with you more. Consider the rich in society. Just to take as one example, the Waltons, dominant shareholders of Wal-Mart. They have billions in assets. Did they earn it? Of course not. They have been taking part of the hard-earned income (indirectly, by paying them lower wages) of the company's thousands of employees and transferring it to themselves. Is that fair?


Old Soldier in Tennessee February 28, 2011 6:37 am (Pacific time)

Mr. Stone, I would submit to you that Progressives do not want to let their true intentions or beliefs be known to the average public. If these intentions or beliefs became known the American people would soundly reject them. Take, for instance, the recent health-care reform and other socialist reforms that have been attempted or enacted. These have become wildly unpopular with the majority of voters. If you tell the majority of the people that you are going to take money from their hard earned labors in order to give it to someone that did not earn it, even children think that it is unfair. Progressives have done very well for the last few decades by flying under the radar and taking an incrimental approach to their agenda. It is only when they come out in to the open with their plans that they anger the majority of people. Couple this with the complicity of the majority of national news sources and you have a recipe for progressive reform. I, for one, wish that the Progressives would be open about all of their intentions. That way we could have an honest debate about their merits instead of the usual deception. Respectfully An Old Soldier in Tennessee


kpc February 28, 2011 6:05 am (Pacific time)

It wasn't that the Republican "marketing" of George W. Bush was so well done, it was that the media in both elections, but especially 2004, had its finger on the scale. One image of Senator Kerry that did resonate with people who saw it was the reunion of Kerry with the man whose life he saved in Vietnam at an Iowa campaign event. It was almost like something from a Capra movie - with the hero saying something like "anyone would have done that." That was why the SBVT were needed - that image suggested a strong man, who could lead a country back to safety. There were no real questions on Kerry's service - the anger was from his later (very commendable) protesting. It was the NAVY's story that the SBVT challenged - and the media ignored that the official record said that Kerry was a hero. This would be like the media not weighting a transcript showing a 4.0 acccum over people, allied with his opponent saying that they were in class with him and he at best got a c-. The media endorsed the Bush "story" - with few calling them on how it did not match reality. More importantly, they gave equal and sometimes more weight to the Republican version of what Kerry said than to Kerry's own speeches. This muffled Kerry's message. In addition, look at what the media did to Teresa Heinz Kerry. Through her foundation, Teresa had been a force in green building. More impressively, a PA newspaper wrote at the time of the 2010 G20 summit in Pittsburgh, that it was Teresa who made the call to the area's philanthropists to lead an effort in the 1990s to revitalize the town, that now ends up ranked as one of the most livable towns in the world. Here, although it helps make my point that the media of the country helped Bush by validating the image he crated - it does suggest that, at least with creating an image for his incredible wife, the Democrats could have done far better. That, in itself, would have helped validate that Kerry is who he says he is.

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