Webster's would define a progressive as "one who looks forward".
I've decided that, in my own efforts to define what a progressive IS, I'm going to try very hard to avoid doing 2 things:
- Firstly, I'm going to try to avoid defining a progressive by what they AREN'T.
- Secondly, I'm going to try to avoid comparing progressives to other groups as though they are mutually exclusive - "progressive", in political terms, is not mutually exclusive from "conservative" as we know it and as I previously defined it, for example.
So... what is a "progressive"?
To me, a progressive is someone who eschews the sacred cows of public policy discussions in order to have a full dialogue about what needs to happen to move society closer to a goal that is socially just. By this definition, Lyndon Johnson was acting as a progressive when he moved forward with the Civil Rights Act - a stance that to this day still hinders the fortunes of the Democratic Party in the southern U.S.. Likewise, Abraham Lincoln - a Republican, let's remember - was a progressive with his championing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
To me, a progressive is someone who feels that government can and should be a force for good within a society. That those things we can't count on the market to deliver for the betterment of all, government should take up, to ensure no one gets left behind. By this measure, Mackenzie King (introducing Old Age Pensions in 1930) and Tommy Douglas, John Diefenbaker, and Lester Pearson (the 3 mid-wives of national Medicare) were all progressives, in their own way.
To me, a progressive is someone who recognizes the value of stability, but also the potential reward to a society for embracing new ideas. That the "status quo" CAN be a good thing, but that it isn't ALWAYS a good thing. Using this barometer, Dwight D. Eisenhower (expansion of Social Security, creation of the Interstate Highway system, response to Brown v. Board of Education) and Theodore Roosevelt (Trust-busting, leadership of the "Progressive Party") were progressives.
The rotten thing about political labels, as I've said before, is that they can be applied by just about anyone, onto just about anyone else, and given whatever meaning one wishes. I can proudly call myself a progressive, thinking it means exactly what I've outlined above - and, at the same time, a political opponent can sneeringly refer to me as a "progressive, which is code for Liberal"... and, so long as we're using labels (progressive, liberal, conservative, libertarian) for convenience's sake, in the place of frank and open discussions about policy, that will always be the risk.
But, when you look at the actual party affiliations of the people I've named in my examples, you see a cross-section of MANY different political parties: a Democrat; 3 Republicans; 2 Liberals; a New Democrat; and a Progressive Conservative.
I've been tempted many times during this writing to go on the offensive, and talk about anti-progressive forces. To talk about political rhetoric that promises to return things to "the good old days" or "the way things used to be"...
But I'm a progressive.
I'm looking forward.
And the future I see for this province is as bright as a clear day in Calgary, as expansive as an Athabasca prairie, and as rich and full as an Edmonton festival.
Come along with me, won't you?