In an otherwise awful column, Maureen Dowd makes a relevant point:
There are deep schisms within the Democratic Party that were masked for a time, first by Bush and then by Obama’s election. Now that the Democrats have the presidency and the power and can enact legislation, it’s apparent that the word progressive is kind of meaningless.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the word progressive is meaningless, but Dowd is right that we huge schisms are being exposed between the grassroots of the Democratic Party and centrist, Beltway types. These aren’t new differences. There has been a long-running war between the online progressive movement (and more largely, progressive movementarians) and the timid wing of Democrats who think running as DLC, Third Way, Republican Lite politicians is a winning movement. Basically it’s the difference between people who think good policy leads to good politics and we should be proud of our ideas and those who think that while the American public can handle crazy Republican ideas, we can only shade slightly to the left if we want to be electorally viable. Again, these aren’t new distinctions and anyone who paid attention to what liberal bloggers have been saying for the last eight years would know that these differences exist.
But a mask is definitely coming off. Maybe it’s that the press is finally noticing these differences. Maybe it’s that leaders of the Democratic Party pretended that these differences didn’t exist and that tribal opposition and fear of Republicans would force liberals to remain together, regardless of the policy content at hand. And certainly, when groups like the Third Way and politicians like Harold Ford Jr. call themselves progressive, the word is losing meaning. But this isn’t news.
It’s not that the word progressive is meaningless. It’s that it is meaningless to people who adopted it because it provided shelter from attacks from the right on the word liberal. Maybe the cover this word provided is disappearing, but that doesn’t mean long-standing differences are new differences and in that, Dowd is right.