Saturday, October 14, 2006

New Definitions of Republican and Democrat

I often here "Republican this" and "Democrat that." Or "conservative this" and "liberal that." But rarely do I hear really representative words describing the actions and attitudes of today's two party system. Namely, "regressive" and "progressive."

It is in this vein that I think Democrats needs to re-define themselves. Most, but certainly not all (Joe Lieberman comes to mind), Democrats could be called "progressive" while most, but again not all, Republicans could be characterized as "regressive." I will try to explain in this post and others what I mean.

First, Democrats are often times disparaged by their Republican foes with the negative-sounding term, "liberal." "Liberal" today means left wing nut. It means somebody who doesn't embrace the values of the "common man." Generally, "liberals" are anybody against the Average Joe; they're East or West Coast elitists who know better than their constituents what is right and wrong for the public.

The right wing nuts, the Republicans, have run a successful campaign on a) defining liberalism and b) associating thier political enemies as such.

However, if one takes a different perspective, that of how people behave rather than what they believe in, one could couch the differences between Democrats/liberals and Republicans/conservatives as really the difference between "progressives" and "regressives."

Progressive means forward-looking. It means looking at the current state and seeking ways to improve it. It also means something very specific with respect to taxation: It means that as your income rises, your marginal tax rate on each successive dollar you earn is taxed at a higer rate. Put another way, poorer people pay a low tax rate and richer people pay a concomitantly higher tax rate.

In each of the above cases, most Democrats can be classified as progressives. They look at Social Security, for example, and search for ways to make it better. Contrast this with Republicans, or regressives, who look at Social Security, and rather than attempting to make it better, they propose killing the beast.

Same goes for the Constitution. Progressives look at the current state of affairs, realizing that the Constitution was a) a framework and b) made by men who had no way to foresee the future. They seek to modify, if ever slightly, the Constitution such that it keeps up with society as society progresses, while regressives tend to hold the Constitution as not only a "universal law" but an unfailing one at that. "Strict Constructionists of the Constitution" is what the Republicans bandy about all the time. Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Alito and Scalia are considered to be of this ilk: All Republican-nominated and coddled.

As alluded to a bit earlier, progressives also tend to favor a progressive tax structure. An example of a regressive tax is something like sales tax on food. Since a poor person spends a higher proportion of his income on food than luxury goods (like yachts), a tax on food is regressive. It "penalizes" the poorer worker more than it does the richer worker. On the other hand, a luxury tax is a progressive tax in a similar but opposite way.

The payroll tax is a regressive tax. The more money you make, the less effective tax rate you pay, since there's a cap on income at which you stop paying taxes.

In all of these tax cases, and many more, progressives clearly believe that richer folks should pay a higher tax rate than poorer folks.

To sum it all up, Democrats need to a) lay out a framework whereby the terms "progressive" and "regressive" are juxtaposed in terms of good and bad, and b) define themselves as progressives and their opponents as regressives. Finally, Democrats need to show specific examples in specific matchups against their opponents of how they're progressive while their political enemies are regressive.

Simple to say, much, MUCH harder to do.