So I was in something like stunned confusion yesterday. I was watching Glenn Beck’s Christmas episode from the day before, and the news segment announced that Mitt Romney had said he was a moderate and a progressive. This week? When people are starting to see that side (and the various other concerns) of Gingrich? Why would he say such a thing? I thought I may need to totally rethink considering my endorsement.
But the first thing I did was do a search online to find the actual quote. I found it, and it does sound bad—but it’s from 2002, not this week.
Think about what you knew about progressivism in 2002. I’m fairly aware of words, and sometimes I notice when meanings change. For example, when I was 18 I was given a journal and started writing in it. I began by describing myself, and I included an assessment of myself as “liberal.” But this wasn’t a political statement. At that point in time, and in my life, the word meant “open-minded” or “generous.” I was going into a “liberal arts” field; the word was positive and unrelated to politics. In addition, while I have always been somewhat conservative in dress and daring, and politically what we now call “conservative,” at that point in my life “conservative”—meaning “stuck on the status quo and unwilling to change and grow”—was not how I would have described myself. Some 20 years later, as I went back and read that first journal, I added a sticky note pointing out that the meaning of the word had changed, and I had never been politically “liberal.”
It bothers me that the opposition so frequently hijacks words that I previously found useful. “Progressive” is one of those. It was around 2001 when my homeschooling children and I went through a history book that enlightened us about the seriously negative turn the country took in the first couple of decades of the 20th century. I had known very little about the inception of the income tax (that was never supposed to go above 7% for even the most wealthy), the Federal Reserve, and government intervention by Woodrow Wilson and others. I didn’t learn much more about Wilson until maybe 2006 or so, at which point I became aware of the Marxist use of the word “progressive.” So it was only shortly before candidate Hillary Clinton used the word that I became aware of the alternate meaning. It had always meant what you’d expect: making progress, moving forward, positive movement. Suddenly it was code for Marxist socialist policies.
But back in 2002, even though experts who had read Wilson’s actual writings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries may have known the code meaning, most of us used the word “progressive” in its traditional positive sense. I can’t be certain how Mitt Romney defined the word in 2002, but my guess is that, to the liberal but politically uneducated Massachusetts constituency he was speaking to, it wasn’t socialist code. When Hillary used it, she intended the Wilsonian meaning, but used the word knowing her audience was unaware of the Marxist connotations; she was taking advantage of the positive connotations people were familiar with. And that was at least five years after Romney is accused of using the word with the current nefarious meaning.
Similarly, the word “moderate” didn’t really have its negative meaning until McCain’s candidacy four years ago. Although this word began gaining baggage over a longer time, it mostly meant “not extreme.” The Tea Party didn’t exist for another seven years . “Extreme” meant something very different from “wanting low taxes and adherence to the Constitution,” which isn’t extreme in reality but gets labeled that way; back in that day, “extreme” meant anti-government wackos like Timothy McVeigh or KKK members. I’m not acquainted with anyone in the GOP that qualifies as that older definition of “extreme,” so in 2002 we were all “moderates.” So, to a liberal Massachusetts audience in 2002, Mitt was probably saying, “You don’t need to worry about me doing anything completely at odds with your will; I’m just here to fix the state budget problems.”
Of course, I could be wrong. But when you look at everything Romney said during the last campaign—all conservative (using our current definition)—and at his record, which qualifies as conservative (with the proviso that we discuss health care, which we’re about to do), then you can see he is neither a stealth nor overt “progressive” by current definition.
I’m wondering who put forth the 2002 clip as “news,” and I wonder what agenda those outlets that ate it up are admitting to. The actual story was, “Back in 2002 Mitt Romney used the words ‘progressive’ and ‘moderate’ in describing himself, using the definitions they held back then.” The story was not, as purported, “Mitt Romney admits he is ‘progressive’ and ‘moderate’ after spending a career speaking and acting as if he is ‘conservative.’”
My intention had been to cover Massachusetts health care today, which is the biggest concern for most people (including me). But I felt like we had to cover that “definition” thing first, so we can go in with an open mind—what we used to call a “liberal” mind.
So I’m seeing two more posts in this Measuring Mitt series: Massachusetts care, and then a day on Romney's specific skills. I think I can get these out tomorrow and Monday. I’d still like to give the other candidates their due, but Christmas is coming, so no promises about regular posts for a couple of weeks.