Context for Sirota's Post on Liberal vs Progressive

10/19/2005 10:00 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Just a little historical background for Dave Sirota's spot on post on the difference between liberal and progressive. His examples are perfect and his general description is accurate—the difference is that progressives are more willing than liberals to confront corparate power in general, in principle, because they are not dependent on the system the way liberals are.

But there's history to this, a reason for the difference. Once upon a time there was this idea called "socialism." Socialism wasn't the same as Marxist-Leninist totalitarianism, though you youngsters out there may be forgiven if you don't know that. Socialism was a much more general idea (ask Tom Hayden). It said that, in a just society, things like air and water and food and basic medical care shouldn't be provided the same way we provide sneakers and movies and vintage wines. It was the idea that people have a right to the former, in virtue of their sheer existence. Leave the latter to the magic of the market, whatever—what really matters?

Sirota's distinction is a relic of that idea—though it seems now like an ancient debate. But you can detect the geneology in all the nuances of his examples. The original idea is lost because a lot of people (myself included, mea culpa) now use the term "progressive" to obscure that very geneology. We are all so focused on opposition to the powers that be. We are postponing the day when we actually have to say what we are for and why—not on this or that policy, but in general. What is the right way for human beings to go in this fallen world?