I recently had my eyes opened to a phenomenon that I didn’t know existed. Well, that’s not completely accurate; I knew it existed, but I had never experienced for myself first hand so it was completely foreign to me. You see I always considered myself a liberal. (I guess we now call ourselves “progressives” since conservatives have done their best to make the word “liberal” a dirty word.) Growing up in Louisiana my Dad, who was probably the kindest man I have ever known, greatly loved the liberties which our country provides us and was very empathic with the plight of the poor and downtrodden. Maybe it was because he was a son of a poor tenant farmer who by luck and a lot of hard work had risen to a level of some respectability. His love of his fellow man is among my most valuable inheritances.
However, I have lived in Alabama for a long time where I really don’t have a real liberal standard to compare myself to. I’m sure that if you live in the US you are already aware that Alabama is one of the most conservative states in the country. As I am found of saying, “In this state, anyone to the left of Genghis Khan is considered a liberal”. Now I have always had liberal views on social issues and even though I am a bit more moderate on fiscal issues. I always placed myself solidly in the liberal camp, especially when compared to the average resident in Alabama.
Over the last few months I have been frequenting a discussion website for Democrats (who now a days are mostly liberal) called the Democratic Underground. http://www.democraticunderground.com. Website has a number of discussion groups, but probably the most popular is called “General Discussion”. While you can post about almost any topic there, posts about the Democratic Presidential primaries are banned on that board, and with good reason. Discussions about the primaries and the vying Democratic candidates can get… well…. a bit nasty. On DU as the regulars call it, discussions about the primaries are limited to groups set aside for each candidate and a board called General Discussion – Primaries.
The poisonous atmosphere which exists in the UD Primaries board was the first thing that surprised me. After all, while the Republican Presidential candidates who have been publicly tearing each other apart, it has been the Democratic candidates who have been following Reagan’s 11th Commandment – do not speak ill of other (Democrats). Well, that word has apparently not filtered down to the supporters of Democratic Presidential candidates because there is all out war on the UD Primaries board. Bernie Sanders’ supporters have been particularly nasty. I think they must go to right wing message boards to get their talking points. It is also very apparent that the majority of the Bernie supporters are far more left wing that then the typical Hillary fan.
That brings me to my second big revelation. I have always viewed myself as a liberal progressive, especially on social issues, but I have found that my views pale in comparison to some of these folks. I have recently determined that where you view yourself on the political continuum which ranges socialism (or even true communism, not the USSR type) to totalitarianism depends a great deal on your perspective. As I mentioned early, I have lived the majority of my adult life in the state Alabama most people are very conservative. It now appears that the liberals here are very moderate in their views. I guess that I had never true examples of far left wing people with whom to compare myself. Well I do now.
Many people on the Democratic Underground board are evidently a lot more “progressive” than I am. And strangely it isn’t that we are that different in our stands on the issues which confront our nation; moderate progressive and those who I will call ultra progressives are pretty much in harmony on the issues. What is different is the approach we favor to achieving our objectives and how far we would go to attain them. Some people seem to approach politics with more passion, others with more deliberation. Some people seem to act more on emotion while others rely more on reason to guide their actions. Some are more attracted by idealism, while others prefer pragmatism over idealism.
I would use the words passionate, emotional and idealistic to describe ultra progressive or far left liberals. On the other hand I would use practical, reasonable, and pragmatic to describe progressives who are more moderate. Of course I don’t mean to indicate that progressives come in only two flavors, far from it. Each person occupies a slightly different place on the continuum between the two types described. In addition, individuals are often more progressive on some issues than others. I am only describing large loosely associated groups of people and I find myself in the more moderate group. Nor am I implying that one group is inherently better than the other; they just are who they are.
Because of their passion ultra progressive would probably to be more willing to sacrifice for their causes. I think that they would be more likely to demonstrate, march in the streets, and walk in picket lines, though more moderate progressives may sometimes do so as well depending on the situation. The ultra progressives also tend to take their progressive positions on issues to extremes. Perhaps because of their idealism and emotional attachment to their beliefs, they seem to think of themselves as more idiotically pure.
I remember a couple example of taking progressive positions to extremes. For most progressives the use of military force is certainly our last option. However, I remember a discussion on Democratic Underground about the use of the US military with some ultra progressives who take that concept to a whole new level. One ultra progressive DU member wrote that we should have never gotten involved in World War II, even after being attacked at Peal Harbor. Another poster insinuated that we had goaded Japan into attacking us by refusing to sell them oil. Still another poster wrote that even the Revolutionary War was unnecessary and that we would be perfectly happy today as British Subjects.
In another discussion several ultra progressive DU members stated that they refuse to stand during the national anthem. One DU member essential said she would not stand because was ashamed of her country for the problems we caused in the Middle East. Several others agreed with her. Yet another member said that she had not stood for the anthem “since George W. Bush lied to us in order to lead us into an unnecessary war in Iraq”. Maybe hasn’t noticed that W is no longer President. Another ultra progressive said that she stood during the anthem because she was afraid of what people would think if she remained seating and she felt like a coward. Other guy said he and a friend went to a soccer game and they sat though the anthem while a number of Mexican Americans around them stood with their hands over their hearts and sang along. He said he felt like a heel because “those who had far less reason to be patriotic stood while I sat”. When he asked on DU whether he had done the right thing, several members assured him that he had. I guess for some ultra progressives, patriotism and love of country is not something in which one should take pride.
Also in the vocabulary of the some ultra progressives, compromise is best described as a dirty word. The seemed to have missed the lesson in high school civics when they taught us that politics is the art of the possible. In a political system such as ours, no one group an always get what they want and compromise is often the grease that lubricates the cogs of our government. Many ultra conservatives don’t believe in compromising by giving up something your opponent values greatly and you value little for something you value greatly and your opponent values little. They seem to view each possible compromise as a betrayal of their ideals. Ultra progressives frequently refuse to compromise even when that strategy would allow them to eventually achieve their goals. Their idealism gets in their way.
Based on what I have seen on DU, most of the ultra liberal types favor Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton. I guess that is not surprising– Bernie has been an ultra progressive his entire life and both Hillary and Bill Clinton have taken more moderate positions on some issues. What is harder to understand is the visceral hatred that some of these people have displayed in their posts towards Hillary. For one thing, many of them hate the fact that Hillary has a super PAC and that large financial corporations are some of her biggest donors. The ultra progressive Sanders supporters hate Wall Street and brag that Bernie does not have a Super PAC. Hillary and I share the belief that special interest groups should not be able to try to “buy” elections. However, for more moderate progressives like us this is where that practicality trumps (no pun intended) idealism. Until that problem is resolved a candidate can’t afford to unilarterally disarm, not when the people like the Koch brothers have budgeted many hundreds of millions of dollars to support the other side.
Another thing that I find weird are firm statements by many of the Sanders supporters that if Bernie doesn’t win the nomination, they will not vote for Clinton. They say that they hate Clinton so much that they would rather vote for a third party candidate or not vote at all. This where their idealism triumphs over their pragmatism for many ultra progressives. On the face of it their positions makes absolutely no sense. As ultra progressives you would think that the last thing that they would want to happen is for one conservative Republican candidates to occupy the White House for at least the next four years. Logically you would think that they would much prefer a Clinton victory in the general election than a win by Trump, or Carson, or Cruz or Rubio. However, these people are not driven by logic, they are driven by emotion. It is also their idealism drives them to make statements like, “If Bernie doesn’t win the nomination, I will have to vote my conscious for a more progress third party candidate rather than vote for Clinton”, even though that is essentially a throw away vote.
The ultra progressive Sanders supporters also have trouble coming to grips with the fact that Bernie in all likelihood will not win the Democratic nomination even though he trails Clinton by more then 20 percentage points in the national polls. Remember these are idealistic, emotional people who not given to realistic expectations. They continue to sling mud right out of the Republican playbook at Clinton as they continue to cling to unlikely scenarios by which Bernie can somehow overcome Hillary’s seemingly insurmountable lead. They also claim that Sanders is behind because the youth vote is heavily under represented in the polls even though cell phones are canvassed in all of the major polls. The also point to Obama’s rise to victory over Clinton in 2008 as evidence that Bernie can still prevail without admitting to themselves that Bernie Sanders is no Barack Obama.
So in summary, based on what I have observed, ultra progressives are best described as passionate, emotional, and idealistic. I have come to the conclusion that these traits are likely to cause people of this political persuasion to be more willing get involved and sacrifice for their causes. I have also found that besides being big promoters of all liberal causes, ultra conservatives are often less nationalistic and more likely to oppose military action than the norm for most US citizens.
Ultra progressives are sometimes so idealistic that they are often unwilling to compromise on issues, even to further their objectives. They often feel that in the process of compromising on issues they would also be compromising their strongly held beliefs. This tendency can cause them to be less than effective in political situations. Therefore, they an be guilty of letting “best” be the enemy of “good enough”.
While the nature of ultra progressives has been somewhat of an eye opener for this Southern boy, this phenomenon is probably much better known in other more liberal areas of the country such as the North East and the West Coast. I also suspect that like ultra conservatives, ultra progressives (or ultra liberals) have existed all over the world down through history. What I have written here is simply my observations based on what I have experienced on line so I readily admit that my conclusions may differ significantly from reality. However, I can tell you in all honesty that I find this particular breed of political animal fascinating.