A Call for Truth in Political Labeling

Inspiration for this post comes from Meghan McCain, daughter of John McCain and Rush Limbaugh, talk show host.  Back in March of 2009, during an interview on “Larry King Live” in response to a question, Meghan McCain proudly announced that she was a “progressive Republican”.  Today a caller to Rush’s show wanted to know why he insisted on using the word liberal instead of progressive.  Rush’s answer was basically because the term liberal in recent years has picked up a negative image while progressive still carries the positive image of being forward looking and modern, and he uses liberal because he likes to tweak Democrats.

I am a fan of labels, particularly in the political arena.  The use of a truthful and accurate label to describe someone’s political philosophy is an efficient way to identify one’s approach to the issues that affect our lives.  However, in modern times, the use of labels has fallen into disfavor and using one leaves one open to the accusation of “name calling”.  In addition to that, a major problem with labels is that adherents to an unpopular political philosophy will attempt to hide their true beliefs by applying a misleading label to themselves.  Conversely, they will adopt a popular label in order to hide their true political philosophy. For example, virtually every Republican politician today, from Mark Kirk to John McCain to John Boehner refer to themselves as “conservative”.

Democrats, who for the most part, support a socialist agenda, insist on calling themselves “progressives”.  The result is that the average voter has a difficult time distinguishing a Republican from a RINO or a liberal Democrat from a socialist.  This confusion of labels is what causes many Americans to throw up their hands and declare “a pox on both your houses”, you’re all the same; which brings us to the question, what is the difference between a socialist, a progressive, a Republican and a conservative?

To understand these differences properly we have to look at the history of the terms.  Socialism, as an organized political philosophy began in the mid-nineteenth century, primarily from the teachings of Karl Marx in Germany. Its stated ideals of social and economic equality, a popular democracy and its opposition to the inequities of some segments of capitalism quickly won favor with many Americans.  However, Americans are different from Europeans so these socialists doctrines had to be Americanized. During the last decades of the nineteenth century, the American version of socialism adopted the label, “progressive”.

Political leaders of that era, which ended in the Great Depression, used many of the same tactics used today by the Democratic Party.  One that stands out is the demonization of capitalism. Leading capitalists were labeled “robber barons” and their financial empires were broken up or destroyed amid the cheers of the general public. Theodore Roosevelt became one of America’s most popular progressive leaders, earning the nickname of “Trust Buster” for his success in breaking up some of the largest capitalists institutions of his day.

The twentieth century dawned with progressivism being the most popular political philosophy in America.  The Presidential Election of 1912 featured four progressives vying for the office, representing four different political parties.  William Howard Taft, the incumbent ran as a progressive Republican, Woodrow Wilson as a progressive Democrat, Eugene Debs ran as a Socialist and Theodore Roosevelt ran on the new Progressive Party ticket.  Roosevelt and Taft split the Republican vote giving the election to Wilson.

The 1912 election was the beginning of the end for Constitutional government in America.  No matter who won the election the American people would have elected a progressive President. The one thing all four candidates had in common was the advocacy of a progressive income tax designed to facilitate a more equitable redistribution of the nation‘s wealth. A second similarity of the 1912 candidates was the belief in government’s ability to manage and eventually solve all of the country’s problems, if only its institutions were made more “democratic“.  In 1913 two progressive amendments were added to the Constitution, the Sixteenth, establishing a progressive income tax and the Seventeenth, requiring the popular election of Senators.

Socialism in its Americanized version, progressivism, was instrumental in bringing about the Great Depression.  America was slower than Europe in emerging from the Depression because of the twelve plus year reign of the Democrat Saint of Progressives, Franklin Roosevelt. Today, while the progressives make up the base of the Democrat Party, progressivism also exercises a strong influence on the Republican Party.

Progressive Republicans label themselves as “moderates” or sometimes as “fiscal conservatives”. It pains me to point this out, but many of those in the popular tea party movement would be more properly classified as “progressive conservatives”.  If that seems on the surface to be oxymoronic, let me clarify the term. Many self-identified conservatives are perfectly content with unconstitutional spending by the federal government as long as it is limited to things they perceive as being of personal benefit to them.  Education, infrastructure, and health care for example. They are content with unconstitutional taxation as long as it is not too oppressive to them personally. The same can be said of government regulation of businesses.  Unconstitutional regulations are considered Okay by many conservatives as long as they perceive it to be in their personal best interest.

It is difficult to define true conservatism today because there are so few examples to point to. To understand it properly we again have to go back in history to the first conservatives. During the early-post revolutionary period, the conservatives were known as anti-federalists.  After 1891 and the ratification of the Bill of Rights conservatives were popularly known as republicans.  The identifying characteristics were defense of the Constitution, rule of law, intolerance for government corruption, love of liberty and the sanctity of private property. Conservatism prevailed in America until the progressive era.  The last bulwark of conservatism was lost when the Supreme Court was successfully politicized by President Roosevelt in the mid-nineteen-thirties.

Since that time, conservatives have been in the minority, as they are today. A recent Gallop poll is being touted as evidence that conservatives are the largest voting block in America today.  Forty percent of those polled identified themselves as conservative, thirty-six percent as moderate and only twenty percent as liberal.  Before you break out the Champagne, consider the fact that most of those who identified themselves as conservatives were simply expressing their dissatisfaction with the excessive progressive policies of the Obama Administration not an ideologically understood preference for true conservative principles.

No one can rightfully claim the label of “conservative” who tolerates and often encourages the wanton violation of the Constitution by their elected officials whether they considerer themselves as fiscal conservatives, social conservatives or blue dog Democrats. When I hear self-proclaimed conservatives call for bipartisan federal solutions to things like health care, education, alternative energy and so forth, I fear for my country.

Progressivism is the American version of socialism.  Socialism and our Constitution are mutually exclusive. Constitution based conservatism cannot compromise with progressivism. It must defeat it or perish.  The call for bipartisanship is nothing more than a call for surrender, one battle at a time and can only lead to despotism. True conservatives do not want “smaller government”; they want a constitutionally limited government.  They do not want “lower taxes”; they want constitutionally authorized taxation only. They do not want a “less intrusive government”; they want the federal government out of their personal lives, period.

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8 responses to “A Call for Truth in Political Labeling

  1. I liked your explanation, but I did notice one inaccuracy.

    You stated:

    “During the early-post revolutionary period, the conservatives were known as anti-federalists. After 1891 and the ratification of the Bill of Rights conservatives were popularly known as republicans. The identifying characteristics were defense of the Constitution, rule of law, intolerance for government corruption, love of liberty and the sanctity of private property. Conservatism prevailed in America until the progressive era.”

    While the anti-federalists were the “conservative” faction, it was actually the Democratic Party that carried the legacy of the anti-federalists, while the Republican Party carried the Hamilton/Clay banner of the federalists. Up until 1896, the Democratic Party was more or less libertarian, and the Republican Party was a party of corporate welfare, central banking, and public works spending. There is a good analysis of the transformation of the party system at the link below showing how the Republican Party and Democratic Party changed around the time of William Jennings Bryan.


    The analysis begins on page 169.

    Additionally, the term liberal referred to laissez-faire political ideas until the early 20th century. Before that time “conservative” referred to support for centralized government power.

    • To be more exact the Democratic-Republican Party of Jefferson and Madison carried the legacy of the anti-federalist. The popular name for the Democratic-Republican Party was “republicans”. After the Federalists Party faded out during the Administration of James Monroe many former Federalists drifted to the Democratic-Republicans forming a “nationalist” wing. It was this group that Andrew Jackson organized into the Democrat Party and won the election of 1828. See “Time Line To Tyranny

  2. I suppose I could be more exact as well. I was skipping the era of good feelings and moving straight from the big-government Federalist Party to the big-government Whig Party (which essentially morphed into Lincoln’s big-government Republican Party). Excepting the one-party era of good feelings, after which many of the nationalists moved to the Whig Party, the Democratic Party remained roughly laissez-faire until the turn of the century.

  3. Since this is a blog and not a book, I tend to take a broad view of history and try not to get bogged down in the minutiae of every twist and turn of political history. My main point is that the Democrat Party of today is the philosophical descendant of the early federalists and is made up today mostly of American Socialists under the name of Progressives. The Republican Party is the philosophical descendant of the Anti-federalists. Historically the Republicans have been the defenders of the Constitution, albeit ineffectually and often disturbingly deviating toward popular progressive policies for political reasons.

  4. Understood. I do find it important, however, as my understanding of history throughout my childhood was twisted by the fact that I assumed that the Jeffersonian Democrats of the nineteenth century were just as “nationalist” as the Democrats of the twentieth century. Similarly, because I was a limited-government Republican in the ’90s, I assumed that the Republican Party of the nineteenth century was consistent with the laissez-faire ideal as well. Once I began paying attention to the minutae, I realized that I had completely misinterpreted much of American history.

    • Josh, You and I do not disagree unless you are attempting to perpetuate the Democrat Mythology that Jefferson was the “founder” of the Democrat Party. That is just factually incorrect. Jackson was the founder of the Party that exists today in 1825. There is little or no similarity between the governing philosophy of Jefferson and Democrats.

      There has never been a period in history when any party, Republican, Whig, National republican, Federalist or Anti-Federalist, was as “nationalist” as the Democrat Party of the twentieth or twenty-first century.

  5. No, we’re in agreement, although even Jackson himself is hardly comparable to today’s Democrats. Come to think of it, Jackson may be preferable to many of today’s Republicans, especially those who support bailouts and central banking. At least Jackson was an outspoken enemy of central banks.