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Ash writes: "The easiest state in America for a Progressive to get elected is California. It's also a political environment rife with Progressive imposters."

California's governor Gavin Newsom and Sen. Kamala Harris with Jennifer Siebel Newsom at an event in 2018. (photo: Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)
California's governor Gavin Newsom and Sen. Kamala Harris with Jennifer Siebel Newsom at an event in 2018. (photo: Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

Progressive Masquerading

By Marc Ash, Reader Supported News

19 July 19


he easiest state in America for a Progressive to get elected is California. It’s also a political environment rife with Progressive imposters.

California, like the US federal government, is besieged by special interests. Typically businesses and interests looking to enrich themselves and their investors. Those entities are most often represented by lobbyists who get paid well to convince lawmakers to create laws and policies that are profitable to their clients.

California voters since the 1960s have become increasingly progressive. They want change, social justice, racial justice, environmental justice, women’s reproductive justice and, as they say in California’s working class neighborhoods, plain old justice justice — the core idea of progressivism being movement away from corrupt policies and toward social progress.

But little changes

California, like the US federal government, is quite corrupt. Policies ingrained over decades to benefit specific industries do so year after year regardless of who gets elected.

Typically the candidates campaign on a progressive agenda and then just accept the status quo once in office. The big donors understand this will be the case and back the candidates most likely to follow the script.

California is also a trendsetter. The progressive drift in national Democratic politics now mirrors the left-coast trend. Bernie Sanders broke the ice with his break-out progressive presidential run in 2016, which set the stage and the agenda for what we now see unfolding in the 2020 Democratic nominating campaign: Progressives and those masquerading as Progressives leaping onto the stage, California style.

Who will do what they say they will do?

The problem obviously is the danger of being fooled again and again and again. What to do? In a word, pick real Progressives. Sounds easy, but how to separate the dedicated Progressive leaders from those seeking cheap political currency?

The easiest and most reliable way to predict what political leaders will do in the future is to carefully consider what they have done in the past. Sanders and Warren have by far the most verifiable and dependable progressive credentials in the Democratic nominating race. Sanders’s platform from 2016 was so effective, in fact, that most of the Democratic contenders have adopted his positions entirely or in part.

The difference with Sanders and Warren is that you know what you will get, you know what they will do. Sanders appears to have a bit better traction in terms of implementing change, due mostly to his very effective off-season organizing efforts. Warren has the legacy of her role in creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under President Obama, who to his credit energetically supported her efforts.

In short, if you are thinking about voting for a Progressive, do your homework ... and pick a Progressive.

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Marc Ash is the founder and former Executive Director of Truthout, and is now founder and Editor of Reader Supported News.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner


+19 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-07-19 12:07
This is good advice -- be careful about who claims the label "progressive." We should remember that the term "progressives" was introduced as a fraud in the first place. In the 1988 and 1992 elections, Bush I attacked Dukakis and then Clinton for being a "liberals." Reagan (a California politician, just like Nixon) had already made the term "liberal" toxic. Few politicians wanted to be identifies as "liberal." The mass media made sure of this.

So right wing democrats came up with the term "progressive" which would enlist the people Marc describes above but be ill-defined enough so that no one really knew what a "progressives" was.

It is too bad we can't use the term "liberal" or "democratic socialist" for the causes of racial/ethnic justice, economic reform that aims at more equal distribution of wealth, criminal justice reform, peace, stable international relations, and so on.

Progressive has gotten bound up with "identity politics," which is really economic neo-liberalism applied to social issues. Identity politics pushed class politics out of the democratic party.

The current presidential hopefuls from California -- Harris, Steyer, Swallwall (until last week) -- are not real progressives or liberals. They are neo-liberals and identity democrats. At heart, they are the same Blue Dogs that Clinton was. That means, right wing democrats.

California is a great state. I am from there. But it has always had mostly terrible politicians.
+2 # Depressionborn 2019-07-19 20:30
It appears that "Progressive" and liberty can never co-exist?

Auberon Herbert once said, "liberty means refusing to allow some men to use the state to compel other men to serve their interests or opinion."
+6 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-07-21 08:39
I go with Rousseau's Social Contract on this. We all are endowed by nature with total liberty, but we give up some of it in a contract with others in order to accomplish social goals rather than individual goals. In this sense, we do use the state to compel others or ourselves to serve the interests of the group or the society.

Libertarians often don't push their thinking far enough to realize just how difficult it would be to live a total individuals and with no social contract with other people.

Governments have no rights or powers in and of themselves. they are created as instruments of social contracts. Governments can be created or abolished at will -- as history show.

Our problem now is that our government has given itself a super-existence ; that is, its own existence is supreme. This not a democratic government. It is the root of tyranny.
+1 # dbrize 2019-07-21 22:33
The apology, that is constantly put forth for the injustice of government, viz., that a man must consent to give up some of his rights, in order to have his other rights protected - involves a palpable absurdity, both legally and politically.
Lysander Spooner

The great Spooner was no fan of Rousseau. Or government. He was on to something. That we must concede liberty to gain liberty is as convoluted as the current idea that we must make war to prevent war.
+1 # librarian1984 2019-07-22 17:40
I don't think we give up rights for other rights; I think we give up freedoms to purchase security and convenience.

The 'consent of the governed' makes sense as a social move. You submit to law enforcement to increase civic peace, for example, and that is sensible due to population density. But problems arise when government is abusive or seizes more rights than agreed to.

We need government, most likely, but we don't often get GOOD government.
-3 # Depressionborn 2019-07-23 16:30
good gov is no gov. because it is power, and corruptible. sad really. But corruption looks for power
0 # dbrize 2019-07-23 18:07
Quoting librarian1984:
I don't think we give up rights for other rights; I think we give up freedoms to purchase security and convenience.

The 'consent of the governed' makes sense as a social move. You submit to law enforcement to increase civic peace, for example, and that is sensible due to population density. But problems arise when government is abusive or seizes more rights than agreed to.

We need government, most likely, but we don't often get GOOD government.

No lib, despite our attempts to romanticize government as somehow perfectible, all of history teaches that the state always reverts toward corruption and violence. Even our own Constitution which is as close to Rousseau’s nebulous “social contract” as anything man created has proven powerless to prevent these facts.

The idea behind the Constitution was to place severe limitations on government power and yet always and everywhere governments have no interest in limitations and our own experience bears proof that they always work to expand their power over the people.

No election is going to change any of this. The state is its own judge and jury; does anyone believe the state created Supreme Court is going to prevent its own sponsors from taxing us as much as it wants, fighting endless wars in our name or protecting our privacy from intrusive state sponsored spying? Rhetorical question.

Elections are merely temporary placebos for the 45% of the population that backs the winner.
+1 # librarian1984 2019-07-23 21:57
I believe we can use history and honesty to improve. Maybe government is not perfectible, but a diligent citizenry with the power to regulate and enforce can make it workable.

All things are corruptible. That doesn't mean they're not necessary, and we are intelligent creatures. If we can come up with smartphones we can figure out healthcare and immigration.

Both parties are corrupt, as Washington and others feared. We need leaders and an aware electorate. Those things are not impossible. Jefferson knew it. Sanders knows it.

I haven't given up on democracy.
+1 # dbrize 2019-07-24 12:07
I admire your optimism. And we must all attempt to exist within the system we are born into. And I am not being dismissive by my comments. Merely extending our thought process.

Your comment “...a diligent citizenry with the power to regulate and enforce...” imo is a fallacy. “We” don’t possess that power, we give it to the state, which compounds their power. As for an “aware electorate”, isn’t an aware electorate defined as those who see it as we do? :)

As for democracy, assuming you are referencing it as defined, 51% of voters forcing 49% to accept their wishes is always going to lead to serious problems, which is why the Constitution avoided it and why the state has been end running around it since its creation. Hence the desire to end the EC. No?

Yes my posting friend, we should engage the system we deal with, but not assume it is the only workable system, which does not diminish my respectful disagreement with your POV.
0 # Farafalla 2019-07-24 20:32
I don’t know how anybody can give you thumbs up after this very RR line: “Progressive has gotten bound up with "identity politics," which is really economic neo-liberalism applied to social issues. Identity politics pushed class politics out of the democratic party.”
Identity politics is neoliberalism? Interesting doctoral dissertation at Trump University.
+7 # trimegestus 2019-07-19 13:13
An accurate assessment by Rodion.

" … Progressive has gotten bound up with "identity politics," which is really economic neo-liberalism applied to social issues. Identity politics pushed class politics out of the democratic party."

The public, in all demographics, knows that its economic welfare has been neglected by the neoliberal "identity" elected Democrats.

If progressives allow the movement to be co-opted and defined by the "identity" brand, they will facilitate another electoral defeat in 2020.
+4 # candida 2019-07-19 14:46
Quoting trimegestus:
" … Progressive has gotten bound up with "identity politics," which is really economic neo-liberalism applied to social issues. Identity politics pushed class politics out of the democratic party."

Both Rodion and Trime are wrong about identity politics, what it is, where it came from, and its effect on the DP. Both take a Republican, right-wing view of it. This country was based on "identity politics" when citizenship was restricted to white, property-owning (including slave-owning) men over 35-years-of-age only. The term only arose to name what has been there for centuries and continues to exist with both negative (e.g., "white supremacists/na tionalists") and positive (e.g.,"people of color") connotatios.
+8 # librarian1984 2019-07-20 05:34
Neoliberals, the fake progressives, have weaponized political correctness and weakened the cause for justice because everyone can see how fake they are.

Hillary and her minions accused Sanders of being sexist, racist and even anti-Semitic, and whenever anyone criticized Clinton they were called sexist. That habit makes women look weaker, not stronger, and injures genuine victims of sexism.

Neoliberals use this tactic to avoid talking about issues. fifty years on we still don't have equal pay or a national day care system, and are on the verge of losing abortion.

Clintonites accused others of being racist, but it was Sanders who gave his mike to BLM protestors, while Bill and Hillary shut them down and demeaned activists multiple times.


Neoliberals verbally embrace pc-ness, but they do not walk the walk, they just use it cynically for political purposes. They don't really care about women, children, minorities or veterans. They use them for the basest of reasons, to seize power and make money.

Identity politics may be legitimate but not the way the neoliberals use it, and it is less compelling politically than issues of economic justice.
0 # candida 2019-07-20 18:45
Quoting librarian1984:
Identity politics may be legitimate but not the way the neoliberals use it, and it is less compelling politically than issues of economic justice.

Only for white, straight people whose belonging to the nationstate is not questioned. THe CLintons, as you describe them, are hardly the beginning or end or representative of identity politics. Calling others sexist, racist, etc. is not the essence of identity politics. Recognizing that political groups, coalitions and alliances of all stripes (i.e., social power) are formed on the basis of social identity is. SImply that.
+7 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-07-20 05:41
candida -- I understand your point and agree with it. There are "white identity" or "Christian identity" groups that precede the liberal identity factions that are mostly LGBTQ, race/ethnic, feminists, Jews/Zionists and so on. We hear it all the time: the US is a white Christian nation. Male, too.

If we push it, everyone belongs to an "identity" group. My point is that politics should be above identity. We need to make laws and policies that apply to everyone equally. Identity politics fundamentally claims that there are special identities that should be treated as "special" or "privileged" under the law.

Identity politics is about privilege and about dis-enfranchisi ng others who don't share that identity. Neo-liberalism makes the market the universal foundation of society. Because of that, governments privilege market based activities. This is just a privilege for a certain identity group.

American politics is now almost all about special interests or privileged groups. The good thing about Medicare for All is that it privileges no one. Everyone gets it. You can buy more if you want, but everyone is treated the same under the law. That's what politics should be about.

I'm not against special treatment for special cases. We do need affirmative action, remedial laws, hate crime enforcement, and many other ways of addressing particular problems. I just don't like identity as a fundamental political principle.
0 # candida 2019-07-20 20:53
PART 2: The quintessentiall y liberal ideal of making "laws and policies that apply to everyone equally" (aka a "color-blind" society) has proven impossible in an unequal society where groups of people dominate others on the basis of their identities (of both oppressor and the oppressed). Therefore, what you call "special cases" is really a norm the political and juridical structure needs to acknowledge and reflect in order to have equality of outcomes (which must be the goal if we truly believe in equality or equity). Let's hope Medicare for All privileges no one. But this was supposed to be true of FDR's New Deal and the GI Bill. Recent scholarship has shown this not to be the case, favoring white men and discriminatory toward Blacks, Mexican and Native Americans, and women in ways that live on today.

Lastly, I thumbs-upped your comment, not because I agree, but because of your apparent sincerity and respectfulness. I also apologize for calling you a troll on an earlier comment, if you're not one. You just sound like one to me so much of the time (though not this time).
-3 # Depressionborn 2019-07-25 14:06
We here are white, Bible believing middle class family people. So candida, please get off my back with your Marxist foolishness. We don't dominate anyone. Mind your own business.
+1 # candida 2019-08-02 21:16
Touched a nerve, huh, Depression? Exactly who are the "we" here? I think you mistook RSN for Breitbart or the Fox News site. Is this your way of saying, "Go back from where you came from?" Well, some of my ancestors are from this continent, unlike "white, Bible believing middle class family people."

It's hard to take you too seriously (except that you sound like Trump and his base) when you invoke Marxism so badly. Try reading some Marx before getting so defensive. You'll find my comments have nothing to do with Marx (though he was a genius).

It's sad. You're not only "Depressionborn " but of "Depression mind and heart."
-2 # candida 2019-07-20 20:55
PART 1: Rodion, you might not like "identity as a fundamental political principle," but it exists as such, nonetheless, because social identity is a universal and historic character of human groups since our emergence as hunter-gatherer s and always will be. Because politics is a human endeavor, it will never be "above" identity but always implicated by it for that reason. Rather than deny and fear that fact, we need to accept and respect it and understand it can work for liberatory ends as well as repressive ones.

Identity politics is not only "about privilege and about dis-enfranchisi ng others who don't share that identity." It can also be about caring for, sharing with and including others who are different from us. Ultimately, it is about seeing our shared humanity through our multiple identities. IT's up to us to decide to which ends we want our identities to work.
+8 # lorenbliss 2019-07-19 17:02
Excellent reporting and analysis by Mr. Ash.

My only quibble is with his fourth graf: rather than describing the state and federal governments as "quite corrupt,"
I would have to describe the federal government, the California government and in fact every state, regional and local government in the U.S. as "hopelessly corrupt."

And "hopelessly corrupt" they shall all remain until the Ultimate Evil of Capitalism is overthrown, its perpe-traitors imprisoned and its cancerous ideology -- ecocidal suicide for profit -- is itself forever outlawed.

Or we become extinct -- whichever happens first.
-4 # candida 2019-07-19 17:58
Dear Marc Ash,

I am disturbed and disappointed by the bias of RSN that is coronating who is the "progressive" candidate(s) so early in the race, limiting it almost exclusively to Sanders with an occasional nod (as here) to Warren. For instance, Julian Castro broke out of the debates with his progressive stance on immigration, moving most the field to the left, and he has been a progressive in Texas politics for years. So, why is he not included on your honorable list of "progressives"?

Similar things might be said of other candidates like Buttegieg and the guy out of Oregon (or is it Washington?), but I really don't know from RSN because there's so much rah rah for Bernie and boohooing of the rest. And this is from someone who likes and voted for Bernie in the primaries. But I would like to see (and give my money to) a site that allows its readers to make the determination of Who-is-the-true -progressive" more independently with more articles about the pros and cons of the other candidates. Run articles like the NYT's expose of Harris and let them speak for themselves. But treat all the candidates fairly and even-handedly. Educate us. Please don't propagandize or patronize us, your faithful readers (and donors).
+5 # lorenbliss 2019-07-20 00:56
Forget "the guy from Washington." His name is Jay Inslee and he is every bit as bogus as they come.

For proof just check out Washington state's tax structure, which is the most savagely regressive (and maliciously maintained) tax structure in the nation. Actually, as far as anyone can tell, it’s the most savagely regressive tax structure on the entire planet -- with the costs of governance paid almost entirely by us, the lowest-income 99 Percenters, while the obscenely pampered aristocrats are exempted from taxation by their lavish wealth and pay little or nothing.

See for example

And then there’s the fact the state’s politicians, whether Democratic (sic) or Republican, never saw a corp[orate tax break they didn’t embrace, most recently an $80 billion tax break to Boeing a couple of years ago.

Given these irrefutable facts, if Inslee is a "progressive," then Caligula was a "humanitarian."

Same applies to the state itself. Its "progressive" elements are limited to identity politics in the coastal cities; otherwise the coastal cities are -- and have been since the '30s -- as fascist as the rest of state.
+8 # Marc Ash 2019-07-20 10:00
Dear candida,

Good points you raise.

Mayor Julian Castro expresses good progressive ideals and seems sincere in achieving those goals. The problem is that there is no track record on a national level. What Julian Castro would fo as President to confront the massive corruption gripping the entire political process is unclear.

What you get with Sanders and Warren is a track record, at the federal level of taking risks to confront big serious problems. This speaks to the issue of not getting fooled again.

Sanders for instance has already turned the entire political debate in DC on its head. That's big, that's landmark progress.
-2 # candida 2019-07-20 18:33
Dear Marc,

Good points you raise, too, and I mostly agree. (Julian Castro was Sec. of HUD.) Still, I would like to see articles exploring the multifactedness of the candidates' positions, policies and past practices rather than the black and white depictions I mostly see, here (Bernie all good, almost everyone else mostly bad). This will do more to develop the progressive politic, at least, for this progressive. Thank you for your reply.
+6 # kyzipster 2019-07-19 18:36
'Classical liberal' is a term that's emerging very quickly. Used by people who are basically neoliberals who claim a Libertarian bent and don't want to be associated with the right's racism and populism or even the Republican Party or with the left's identity politics and embrace of socialism.

I don't know if I'm imaging it but I think because of Bernie Sanders popularity, he has taken the sting out of 'socialism' which has also made 'liberal' no longer an insult as it became during the Reagan/Clinton era. Sanders has caused the right-wing media bubble to spin out of control by embracing 'socialism', much like Trump has created Trump Derangement Syndrome on the left.

I hope this shake up of the status quo evolves into some good change but it could get worse before it gets better.
-3 # Depressionborn 2019-07-20 04:10
Classical liberalism is a political philosophy and ideology belonging to liberalism in which primary emphasis is placed on securing the freedom of the individual by limiting the power of the government.
+3 # Inspired Citizen 2019-07-20 13:51
Warren is a progressive? Why on Earth did she make her bed with the uber-neoliberal 3 years ago?

Because she is a neo-liberal. THAT's her record.

Bernie or Bust!
+5 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-07-21 08:44
I.C. -- good points. Warren was a republican up until 1996. She was a Reagan republican, so as you say, a neo-liberal.

She changed to a democrat when she got the job at Harvard. Maybe it was to fit in with the more democratic faculty and community of Harvard. But these are right wing democrats, mostly.

Warren is smart and she's learning. She does not have much of a track record. But she is still better than most democratic candidates who have poor records and don't seem to be able to learn.
+1 # ktony 2019-07-21 17:55
I am very appreciative for all the various points of view in this discussion thread. Have my likes and dislikes in the upper few. I can't/won't focus on all of them.
I like Mike Gravel. He's been keeping some ideas alive for a while. Harris misrepresents her history as a prosecutor and as Attorney General. No trust there. Warren and Sanders top my list.
0 # chapdrum 2019-07-21 20:18
Absolutely nothing to the right of center is going to literally save us from what we are watching being done to us. To say the least.
+4 # kcmwilson 2019-07-21 21:23
In my view Tulsi Gabbard is probably the most independent progressive candidate. Outspoken against war and regime change, a two tour veteran, someone willing to step into the fray and face conflicts head on. The problem she faces is that the corporate owned Clinton arm of the Democratic party wants no part of her. Nor does the Pentagon and weapons industry, which amounts to a significant portion of our GDP these days. She gets a bad rap for talking to Assad, but even Reagan opted for talking to our perceived enemies. She is smart, fearless and projects a great image if you take time to listen to her speak.
+2 # E-Mon 2019-07-22 23:31
kcmwilson, I'm totally with you on Tulsi. I think the thing we need to do is look at where "they're" getting their money from because that's who they'll end up working for. As much as I'd like to like Warren I heard she's getting corporate $$. Tulsi on the other hand is 100% people powered. Then there's her track record which is impeccable. She's not guided by partisan politics but rather what's morally correct.

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