I call myself a progressive and I’m active in a local group that calls itself the Progressive Democrats of Orange County (NC). People sometimes ask me: What do progressives believe? Here’s my answer.
We are a diverse group with varying experiences, desires, and hot-button issues. What we share is the desire for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as articulated in our country’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence. In a word, we all want freedom to pursue what is important to us as individuals, families, and community members1.
Capitalism has delivered unparalleled prosperity for some in the United States; it has also led to large and increasing disparities in opportunity and well-being for others. Other western democracies have shown that capitalism tempered by suitable regulation and social contracts can deliver more broad-based prosperity than does the US’s increasingly winner-take-all version.
We are progressives in that we want sustained progress in improving the human condition for all members of our society, which strengthens our democracy and our freedoms.
As progressives, we believe that government has a crucial role in achieving this progress. This belief is in contrast to the GOP’s 40-year love affair with both Adam Smith’s theory of the invisible hand and the mantra of small government. Over the years, government investments in medical research, science, and technology have created the major drivers of today’s economy and have improved our health and longevity. Government protections have forced industry to reduce air and water pollution that harms human health. Longstanding government programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid have reduced poverty among the aged and disabled, and among persons with limited incomes, including children and pregnant women.
Alarmingly, our current government is backsliding and actively attacking progressive policies and protections. We want to reverse this trend and return to a proper appreciation of our government’s role in nurturing capitalism while at the same time ensuring individual liberties and economic opportunity for all U.S. citizens.
We want to go beyond restoring past success to further improving the human condition. This is The Progressive Freedom vision for a modern world.
As progressives we recognize essential freedoms that extend the freedoms guaranteed in the United States Constitution. We believe in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “four essential human freedoms,” which he set forth in his 1941 State of the Union speech2:
… The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way – everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want … everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear … anywhere in the world.
As progressives we recognize what President Barack Obama called “universal values3”:
[t]he liberty of knowing that your leader is accountable to you, and that you won’t be locked up for disagreeing with them; the opportunity to get an education and to be able to work with dignity; the freedom to practice your faith without fear or restriction.
We believe that the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, FDR’s aspirational four freedoms, and President Obama’s “universal values” are a strong foundation for our modern world. More specifically, as progressives, we work to achieve policies that implement these essential freedoms:
Human dignity requires that everyone must have:
- A decent, safe, place to live and work.
- Enough food to eat.
- Quality medical care, including preventative, reproductive, and mental health care.
- Control of one’s own body.
- Clean air, clean water, and a stable climate.
The strength of capitalism is that it is an economic system that provides both individual opportunity and increased prosperity by allowing individuals to strive to achieve what is important to them. But economic opportunity for all requires that everyone must have:
- Access to quality education that enables everyone to fully develop their interests, skills, and talents.
- A level playing field for all workers. The power of large corporations must be balanced by laws that protect the right of workers to negotiate collectively, that prohibit employers suppressing competition for labor, and that prohibit discrimination in the workplace.
- A simple, fair income tax system that taxes investment gains as much or more than working people’s wages, and that does not provide special tax breaks for wealthy and middle-income people.
- Access to affordable child care and elder care. Without such access, it is impossible to pursue economic success.
Opportunity, and a chance at prosperity for all, requires public investment in scientific research, infrastructure, and a legal and regulatory framework that works for everyone, not just corporations.
To achieve Lincoln’s resolve that “government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth4” we must ensure that:
- All citizens can vote without artificial obstacles like onerous registration and identification requirements, inconvenient polling places and hours, and intimidation tactics.
- Everyone’s vote counts equally; no one’s vote is diminished by gerrymandering.
- Our representatives represent all of us, not just the rich, with the power of money in politics diminished by effective campaign finance and lobbying laws.
We all want the freedom to make our own choices in the most intimate matters of our lives:
- Government at all levels must neither encourage nor discourage faith, nor may it treat any faith preferentially.
- One’s faith beliefs may not be imposed on others by government action, nor may faith or lack of faith be used as a criterion to discriminate in business or public life, nor may religious views exempt anyone from otherwise applicable antidiscrimination laws.
- Laws will be based on scientific evidence, not religious dogma.
- We are each free to choose whom we love, regardless of gender identity or race. Governments at all levels must respect our choices and provide the same level of support to all such unions.
To achieve FDR’s freedom from fear, we must work toward peace:
- Recognize the humanity of all people and seek cooperation among nations.
- Maintain an effective military defense capability, without directing the wealth of our nation towards an ever-growing military budget and a new arms race.
We have briefly described essential freedoms beyond those guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution that are necessary to achieve the kind of freedom that is important to us as progressives. Together, we can make a just and equitable world a reality!
- 1.Nackman L. Reclaiming Freedom. On The Topic. https://onthetopic.org/2019/07/05/reclaiming-freedom/. Published July 5, 2019.
- 2.The Four Freedoms. Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park. https://www.fdrfourfreedomspark.org/fdr-the-four-freedoms.
- 3.Obama B. Remarks by the President at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta, Indonesia. The White House. https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2010/11/10/remarks-president-university-indonesia-jakarta-indonesia. Published November 10, 2010.
- 4.Lincoln A. Gettysburg Address. Presented at the: Gettysburg Address; 1863.
Acknowledgements: I’d like to acknowledge Ava Nackman, who made major improvements in my first draft, and Kathy Kaufman, Marguerite Most, Felix Peng, and Rebecca Cerese, who made many suggestions that improved it. I’ve also gotten helpful feedback from Jimmy Holcomb. Of course, all the stuff you dislike is my fault, not their’s!