Charlotta Bass, US Vice President candidate, Progressive Party 1952

The term Progressive has been creeping into the political discourse in the past couple years.

Terms for political movements change all the time.  While we tend to think of liberal versus conservative, political thought does not fit nicely on a one dimensional line.

Whigs, Socialists, Social Credit and many other parties have come and gone and been relabeled.

Canada has a Conservative, Liberal, and New Democratic (which includes Socialism as part of its mission) parties which cover a spectrum of philosophies.  Our neighbours, the US only has Democrats and Republicans who mainly align on the centralizing power versus decentralizing power to the states and to individuals (and corporations, which are individuals as well).

In both countries, we hear policies and ideas more and more being labeled as Progressive.  It is an interesting choice of words because it insinuates that other alternatives are regressive, old fashioned and no longer relevant.

Historically, Canada has had a few parties named Progressive, as has the US.

The Canadian Progressive Party fizzled and then splinters became the far right Reform Party, another joined the Conservatives to become the Progressive Conservatives and yet another representing western farmers joined the far left CCF, which became the NDP.

The US has had three Progressive Parties.  The first was mainly a platform for Teddy Roosevelt after he split from the Republicans.  The other two were less successful.  The last one was more progressive, running a third party candidate for President and an Afro-American woman for Vice President and finishing third in 1952.

If Progressive can mean pretty much what you want it to mean, why the emerging popularity today?

It is a bridging word that allows more conservative people to embrace ideas more identified with liberals and vice versa.

In the US, with the impasse between Democrats and Republicans, Progressive offers a new word to modify initiatives without labeling them with liberal or conservative and thereby alienating half the population.  If an idea is labeled left or right, liberal or conservative, it automatically attracts enmity.

But let’s face it, US politics is already very far to the right of most other democracies in the free world.  About time they got a little Progressive and caught up with the rest of the world.

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