Why “Liberals” Should Stop Calling Themselves “Liberals”

presidentobama1Before I get started, let me say there’s nothing at all wrong with being a “liberal.”  I ofter refer to myself as one simply because it’s the popular terminology for someone with my political beliefs.

I just think the word is too small.  Not small as in it’s only 7 letters, but small as in too confining.  It ties us into one set of ideas in the same way “conservative” ties Republicans to theirs.

Besides, I don’t feel it truly encompasses what it is that we’re fighting for.

We claim to be on the side of acceptance, freedom, liberty and justice—yet “liberals” often do the very thing we accuse conservatives of doing.  We outcast those who don’t agree with us on every issue.

“So you support same-sex marriage and sensible immigration reform but think abortions should be banned at 20 weeks?  Well you’re not a true liberal!

I’ve seen comments like this, and others that are similar, said quite often.

And I feel these kinds of remarks do an injustice for what “our side” is trying to accomplish.  I’ve said for a while the strength and weakness of Democrats is often the same thing.  It’s our diversity.  The very differences which make us stronger are the same differences which often divide us on some issues.

Then what about those Republicans who no longer feel they’re represented by the GOP?  These are people we should be recruiting, not judging the very same way Republicans judge them.  So they don’t agree with us on every issue.

News flash: most liberals don’t agree with each other on every issue either.

But the truth is, neither side is going to accomplish much of anything by only pandering to their base.  In states such as California more liberal candidates can absolutely win, but in states like Texas we must support more conservative Democrats—which isn’t happening.

The word “compromise” has to stop being a dirty word.  We’re not going to get everything we want in every bill passed, and we can’t hang out to dry the politicians who don’t do everything we want.

Case in point — President Obama.  You know how often I’ve seen “liberals” call him no better than George W. Bush because of a handful of issues?  Because he supports 10-15% of some of the same policies Bush did, that makes him “exactly the same.”  Are you kidding?

This is why I feel we should be called “progressives” much more often than “liberals.”

To me we fight for the progress of our nation and our society.  We fight for freedoms, equality and liberty—for all.  We support programs that try and lift up the poor, while still keeping the door open for Americans to seek wealth.

When I hear “progressive” I think of people, diverse people, who want to push our country forward.  Progress away from decades old traditions which are outdated.  People who might not always agree on every issue, but will work together to find the best path to return the United States to being the leader in innovation, education and quality of life.

A “progressive” I feel reaches beyond the narrow description of a “liberal” or “conservative,” and can bring about an area in politics where people from both sides can find enough commonality so that we can work together and make this country stronger.

These days a negative connotation is often attached to “being liberal” which doesn’t appeal to those who might support some of the same issues we do, but don’t consider themselves what “liberals” can often be stereotyped as.  There are too many who take the term “being liberal” and exploit it for their own gains while representing none of the true values for which the phrase stands.

I think “progressive” better fits what our true goals are—progress.

While there’s nothing wrong with anyone who wants to call themselves liberal, or believes the term is that of pride (as it is), my opinion is just that it holds us too confined to one particular set of beliefs.  And it does this while ignoring those who want great things for this country—they just don’t happen to agree with every “liberal stance.”

And while Republicans are pandering to their radical base seemingly more every day, embracing the furthest reaches of their conservative supporters, I feel this is a time for liberals to do what we want our country to do—progress.

We should openly embrace the term “progressive” so that we can put on full display the diversity for which we know this country is based and build upon our differences for a stronger nation.

And while there’s nothing at all wrong with the term “liberal,” I just feel “progressive’ more accurately describes who we are and what we want to accomplish for our country.

Allen Clifton

Allen Clifton is a native Texan who now lives in the Austin area. He has a degree in Political Science from Sam Houston State University. Allen is a co-founder of Forward Progressives and creator of the popular Right Off A Cliff column and Facebook page. Be sure to follow Allen on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to his channel on YouTube as well.


Facebook comments

  • Shore Bud Mike

    I completely agree. In the late 1960s, ‘progressive rock’ broke us free of the limitations of the same top 40 songs and acted as a springboard for further music diversification. Calling ourselves ‘progressives’ makes us the collective springboard for a better future.

    • Tumbleweed

      Your better future already exists and it lives in North Korea!

  • patricia spinazzola

    While the term liberal denotes how we think, progressive denotes what we DO. We move forward, not content with the status quo, and certainly never go backward. It’s a term I’ve come to embrace, as it’s not static, but fluid. I view progressives as changing when it’s warranted, as in altering behavior in response to global warming. We are also not afraid of change.

  • Denise Brodey Sunderland

    From this point forward I am a Progressive. I 100% agree with you and your reasoning.Allen Rules!

  • ProgressiveNotLiberal

    simply want a replacement word for the “toxic” liberal
    moniker without actually being Progressive. Liberals should become more
    progressive, not just call themselves something that sounds better.

  • Butch Turner

    Allen, while most all the time I agree with you 100%, this time I have to say I think you may be wrong, or at least understating things a bit. I am a liberal, it tells you where my overall thoughts on certain issues will stand. For instance I am not in favor of some gun issues that some liberals are, but am in favor of some control of firearm sales. I feel that puts me firmly in the “liberal” field instead of for instance the “far left”. I stop short of saying I am a Democrat because I never have and never will vote a straight Democratic ticket just for the sake of voting Democrat. I will not say I am a progressive as that is the same to me as when Republicans say the are “moderates”. Its not a true definition of who you are. I am yet to meet a democrat that agrees on all the issues that the “liberals” advocate, yet I know many republicans that agree 100% with all the GOP backed actions. All of which will tell you they are moderates or libertarians. Fortunately the liberals have done their jobs, the words “conservative” “Right wing” and “Tea Party” are starting to take on a very negative feel in the country lately, and the liberals are to be congratulated for that. You see the word progressive makes you think all things must change, and that’s way to much for some to comprehend, while liberal is a general term and has a ” no set size or amount” feeling attached to it.[ sprinkle liberal amounts, use liberally] and that’s where we should stand. The republicans especially the conservatives say they talk and negotiate and we all know they don’t, they demand and they play on the nations fears. Liberals should be proud of who we are because we are the ones that will talk and we will negotiate, that has been proven time and again. To me progressive is more akin to the republicans conservatives then the moderates. It makes those less informed feel we want everything to change and that’s a scary thought for a lot of folks. I feel once folks see the benefits of a liberal stance they will embrace the idea much more then if put to them as a “progressive” idea. Unfortunately in the country now we see all republicans as super conservatives, and they see us all as bleeding hearts. I think if things are to change we need to offer a viable alternative, while the GOP is hard line my way or the highway we should say ok well this isn’t right and it needs change, lets see what we can do to improve. Its not a huge distinction I admit, but to bring more unhappy republicans over to our way of thinking I think we need to downplay the initial idea they have of us of wanting to change everything. We need to give an idea of us as the ones that will examine and react to events rather then have a set response for things. I believe the term Liberal lends itself to that idea much more then progressive would.

  • Ed Dentino

    realized many years ago that the Gopers were using the word to demean
    people who were Dems. They infer that it means someone who will
    tolerate anything – as if it implies a weakness or lack of fortitude.
    Liberals, in my view, have a range of values and goals that the Gopers
    demean – often without considering the unintended consequences of their
    own goals. Without elaboration on that topic, I’ve just used the term
    ‘progressive’ for the past 13 years and it seems to have gained traction
    with others. As Andy Rooney observed: “I’ve noticed that
    conservatives don’t seem to conserve much of anything.”

  • Leslie Evans

    I prefer “liberal” over “progressive” precisely because it is more limited. It firstly conveys support to free speech and defense of parliamentary democracy. Secondarily it suggests secular humanism, defense of separation of church and state, and openness toward sexual and ethnic difference. “Progressive” was for many years a codeword of the Marxist Left, intended to convey opposition to capitalism in its entirety and support to a vision of total state ownership of productive property as the panacea for the country’s ills. I still have many Marxist friends on Facebook who use “progressive” in this sense, and as I was once such a Marxist myself if I were to use the term “progressive” to describe my politics it would be misleading to these friends, and other old lefties, while “liberal” tells them very clearly where our differences lie.

    • IAmindala

      But i think you just did exactly what this article is talking about. I am on the left side of pretty much every issue I can think of, and I am a christian, I am on the left side precisely because I am a christian. To say that ‘liberal’ suggests secular humanism suggests I am not a true liberal, which is not even a little bit true.

  • disqus_6AeSbMRBY2

    Proud progressive here, in complete agreement.

  • drrichardpaul

    I am never going to call myself a Progressive because I don’t always believe in what Progressives do. I fight for these things: Freedom from oppression, Parliamentary Democracy, and the right to say whatever the hell we want. When people call themselves Liberals, yet tend towards more authoritarian measures, then that forces me to out them as the Radical Center instead of Liberal.

  • SophieCT

    I’m happy to call myself a Liberal. I don’t see progressives as DOers, as you do. Clicking Like isn’t the same as the centuries of real action Liberals have taken.

  • PeterS

    Liberalism is based on Rationalism. Progressiveness is just one aspect of Liberalism and places an unnecessary constraint on the grandest of ideologies.



  • FastMovingCloud

    I don’t completely agree (although I would not argue that you aren’t a ‘true liberal’ because of it). I do agree with the part decrying the all for party purity. I think divergence of thought leads to the best ideas and plans. The only reason I refuse to call myself “progressive” or anything other than Liberal is that the right took that label away from us for decades by making it synonymous with ‘weak’ or ‘drug-addled’ and so many other slurs. I am fighting (along with Stephanie Miller and the Sexy Liberals) to bring that word back unashamedly!!

  • Tillmann Puschka

    America doesn’t have any “liberal” political parties- if anything at all, you have far right (democrats), and even further right (republicans). So gay marriage is now constitutionally legal- so what? Individual states still refuse to honor that right, you’ll never have any kind of national health care system that would prevent people from becoming financially ruined should they ever fall seriously ill, nor will you ever be able to reign in the NRA or the corporations, both of which are destroying your lives.

    Come spend a few years in Sweden or Denmark if you want to know what life in a liberal country is really like. Obama is a suit, just like any other American politician at that level, and that’s why you’ll never experience “change”.

  • Willy S.

    What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

  • Melanie Adams

    my son and i were half joking about this the other day, sort of. we were wondering when liberals stopped being FUN! LOL i mean, they practically stopped the vietnam war while smoking pot, drinking cheap wine and dropping acid. now we can’t say brownbag or freshman? at least republicans will swill back some scotch while snorting coke off of a stripper’s ass. once in awhile. and they’re sure as hell not the ones making EVERY little thing said be something to take offense at JESUS! lighten up for crissakes! liberals are starting to sound an awful lot like….

  • Tumbleweed

    A better idea would be to call them what they really are… Communists!