Over the years, my description of my overall political stance has changed. I’ve gone from “middle of the road” to “somewhat conservative” to “somewhat liberal” to “progressive” and back. I’ve recently decided to call myself a “pragmatic liberal.” What does that mean? What I think it means, nothing more. While on some issues my stance has changed – sometimes 180 degrees – over the years, for the most part I have the same political stances I’ve always had. I haven’t changed that much, but the definitions of where I stand on the political spectrum have.
It really doesn’t matter what I call myself. The problem comes when you’re trying to figure out where you stand – and with whom – in the larger political spectrum. Which particular group do you most identify with? For a couple of years, I called myself a progressive. As time went on, changes happened, and suddenly I found that I wasn’t a “true progressive.” I didn’t change, just the definition – or what some asserted was the definition. This is a problem. You see, if you’re going to call something a “block,” a “movement,” as some have, it helps to have a definition that means something. Which is why I stopped calling myself a progressive.
What happened? A number of the more extreme elements started to try to redefine the term “Progressive,” to enforce a sense of purity in their cause. What defined purity? That was a moving target! It became a classic example of moving the goalposts. The definition would expand or contract to cover whatever stand was “pure” enough. If you did not parrot exactly what was the current popular argument, if you did not agree 100% with their definition and methods, you weren’t a progressive. The classic logical fallacy of the “No True Scotsman” became the “No True Progressive.” You can see this on various left-wing blogs, if you look at the posts and comments. “President Obama is not a progressive, he hasn’t” – fill in with whatever the writer thinks is the progressive stand. “Senator (name) voted for this bill, they’re not a progressive!” When it’s pointed out that on other issues the given politician is progressive, the goalpost will be moved to a new position which excludes that particular issue. “No true progressive” would do/vote for/say this!
After watching these logical fallacy games go on, I decided to leave the game. Progressive is rapidly becoming a meaningless term, because the definition keeps shifting so much. Everyone has a set of beliefs and stands on issues. Sharing a majority of those determines which general group you fall into on the political spectrum. What differs from person to person is the importance of individual issues, the priority they assign them, and the methods that should be used to achieve them. That’s also where the the goalposts get shifted around. Instead of shared beliefs and stands being the determining factor of how you’re defined, you’re not a “true progressive” if you haven’t assigned the same importance, the same priority, and agree to the methods as the “purists” insist. So, I’ve decided to be a pragmatic liberal instead. What does it mean? Exactly what I think it means. It’s something I know won’t change.