dear mr. miller, 16

I recently saw your blog at TPMCafe.

Having read some of your excellent posts, and the description of

yourself, I’m very curious as to what a “Progressive Conservative”

embodies? Given your impressively thoughtful posts, I am really

interested to hear some of your thoughts in an effort to evolve my own.

Kind Regards

A TPM reader from New Zealand

Hi, [TPM reader],

Thanks for the kind words and the very interesting letter.  You are the first person to actually ask me what I mean by progressive conservatism.  Figures it isn’t an American doing the asking.  We are much too sure of ourselves to admit to evolving thoughts.

This “epiphany” of mine is relatively new.  For most of my short political life, I was a fire-breathing liberal warrior who couldn’t even be a democrat since they were too corporate and not far enough “left” for my tastes.  I berated Bill Clinton for his various and sundry problems even as I took apart Junior and Daddy and Saint Ronnie for their sins.

I began the last election supporting Dennis Kucinich in the primaries because I thought he had an authentic voice, smart ideas and I wanted to see how America would react to his progressive platform delivered in the fiery rhetoric of a True Believer.  We all  see how that turned out.  Even for John Edwards, who was a democratic president straight out of central casting.  But we elected the young black guy with a funny name who spoke of bringing us together before trying to design a society that won’t drive us further apart.

I read Audacity of Hope and was struck by how essentially conservative Barack’s methodology and thought process seems to be, though he is quite “liberal” in his ideals and where he would see society end up.  Not because he thinks his ideas are better or inherently good, but due to an innate understanding of our current systems as well as a common sense view of how to fix things.  The man reminds me of our greatest presidents and statesmen.  Men from of an older school of thought, of all political persuasions.  Pragmatic men like Teddy Roosevelt and his nephew Franklin and the  man Ben who FDR was named after.  Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson, who both allowed for the idea that no matter how reprehensible the “crime” we had a duty to come to the negotiation table as fellow citizens with all wounds bound up and all slights forgiven, if not forgotten, as we move forward as one people.

So, I began supporting Obama after Kucinich dropped out.  I remained an independent, though registered democrat to vote for  Barack in our primary.  I kept seeing fierce divisions, even among democrats, that rivaled anything I had seen out of the Rabid Right.  The Raging Left had blood in their nostrils and a impending sense of victory that even now makes them mostly unbearable.  I am just thankful that rather than simply cheering that their side won or being pissed that their side lost, most Americans seem to be approaching our whole society as something that must be changed in a myriad of ways to get us where we need to go.

That includes not letting a major American political party continue being controlled by zealots and half wits.

Hence my third political life in as many years.  From a slacker not paying attention to a Raging Left independent who would crush everything under the weight of my Rhetorical Sword of Fury to a moderate, progressive conservative who would see this country changed through a process of Evolution instead of Revolution.  I don’t think we have time to man the barricades and start from scratch.  We need to think in three-dimensions right now if we want to get out asses out of the fire and must evolve our existing systems to get there.

I joined the Republican Party for the first time in my life this past August, inspired by a democratic presidential candidate and his book calling for reconciliation. I voted for Obama and a republican for local council member at large who is an old school conservative. The trend is clear to me.  The crazies are losing control of the GOP.  Time to reassert adult leadership from the grassroots.  That sort of thing is invisible until you are examining in hindsight how the change happened.

I hope that answers the question.  It is one I get a lot these days, but not quite in the fashion that you asked.  Usually it is more incredulous and a little condescending.  As if the roots of conservative political thinking in America don’t go all the way back to the founding of the Republic.  The underlying ideals of conservatism – a smart, efficient federal government tactically supporting a union of strong states all working toward a clear national strategy – are hardly something to be scorned and are quite compatible with progressive ideals.  I don’t think conservative methodology has to be counter the liberal ideals of providing a basic and decent standard of living for all of our citizens.

Even from a bottom-line focus, a country with a majority of citizens who are educated and happy will drive more GDP, so a true conservative should support progressive government as being the only common sense solution to building a 21st century society.  A true conservative should support sensible regulation of all industries central to Life, Liberty and The Pursuit of Happiness.  Sectors such as energy, food, finance and medicine.  I would see both parties in America – republican and democrat – designing progressive (innovative) solutions that create a sustainable world, even if they approach the goal from opposite angles or ideological framing.  That would enable us to take a real leadership position in the wider global effort as well.  We need to start living up to our marketing message.

America has a hypocrisy problem that will only be solved by rethinking the entire enterprise from the ground up.

Obama has a decent shot at starting the American Renaissance, but only if he goes back to the type of political gamesmanship that caused him to write Audacity of Hope in the first place as well as inspire a nation to put him in the White House.  I see a lot of the Same Old, Same Old right now and it feels like time we don’t have is being wasted.  Still, there was always going to be a learning curve and Barack has shown himself to be

a quick study.  He is tracking our efforts all the way to the local level, which is paramount given all the holes at the point of implementation.  We have more Fraud, Waste and Abuse than many countries have in GDP.

I hope to join all moderate republicans and democrats who think America is beyond the point where ideology can deliver the results we need.  I believe a pragmatic progressivism based in common sense and best practices will deliver incremental, though exponential, change over the coming decades.

Sorry to go on and on and on and on, but it’s what I do best.



PS: I was thinking of using your letter and my response as a blog entry.  Would you mind if I used it in full, absent identifying information?  Thanks in advance!

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16 thoughts on “dear mr. miller,

  • San Fernando Curt

    To me, the term “progressive conservative” indicates less indecision than flexibility in a real-world political environment. Nothing like a crisis to bring the importance of pragmatism to the fore. The right and left wings of this country are frozen with unworkable ideology. We need less academic theorizing, and more “shovel-ready” ideas.

    • Jason Everett Miller

      Decisiveness combined with an ability to be at least semi-objective and intelligent when looking at our available opportunities could deliver revolutionary results without all the mess of an actual revolution. Here’s to “shovel ready” progressive activism!

  • brantlamb

    “Progressive conservative. I believe we need governing policies that are based in common sense and not dogma. An evolution of society and not a revolution that seeks to tear everything down and start from scratch.” If you think that you’re going to find the Republican party at all maleable and willing to go toward what this country needs, you haven’t been listening to these knotheads.

    The big shots in the party haven’t learned a damn thing from history. Big shot Republicans have scuttled the economy with this bullshit of “lowering regulation” for years. Hoover, Reagan, Bush Sr. and Junior have screwed the pooch whenever they could work around or had the cooperation of Congress.

    Man, you must be a glutton for punishment.

    And how you went from Kucinich to these bozos? From the sublime to the ridiculous, man.

    • Jason Everett Miller

      I think you mistake a willingness to work at the grassroots to change our political dialogue with agreement about their current policies. That is no more true for me than it was true for progressives who sought to make the democratic party more liberal during the DLC years.

      The People always change before the Power Brokers.

      • brantlamb

        No, Jason. I don’t mistake anything in this case, I think you’re trying to get them to move to a position to which they are diametrically opposed.

        They have become the party of “no”. They always want a smaller government, it’s never small enough. They always want more tax cuts for the wealthy, there are never enough. They always want less social programs, there are never few enough. They want abortion stopped, and they want contraceptives stopped, and they want only abstinence only programs exclusively, when their own vice presidential candidate’s daughter is knocked up, and they don’t want to support poor people’s kids. They always want less regulation, even when lack of regulation has our country’s cart in the ditch, the wheels spinning uselessly in the air.

        This leaves me in something of a quandary; I think you’re better off on our side of the aisle, but you may serve just as well as a traffic cone in the middle of their lane. Don’t be surprised when they just run you over, though. You’re trying to turn asshats into thinkers. Thinking just isn’t their long suit.

        The thing that I’ve seen lately that I most think most clearly represents the Republican party is the Darwinesque illustration of Republicans going through evolution, with each stage saying “Tax cuts!” until the last one (Homo Republicanus) steps off the cliff, saying “Tax cuts!”. I think it would have been better if the cartoonist had them revert to being slope-headed knuckle-draggers just before they went over the cliff, though. The fine points are always appreciated, you know.

        • Jason Everett Miller

          I still think you mistake the republican leadership as somehow being representative of the rank and file. Even the most cursory reading of various polls (as well as Obama’s current national approval rating) shows that isn’t the case. The crazier the republicans on TV get, the less cohesive the party becomes at the local level.

          Again, the grassroots of a party always changes before the leadership. It is inevitable that the current form and function of the republican party will change or it will become extinct. Given the thoughtful and confused conservatives I know in my own life, I don’t see the GOP going away as much as experiencing a crisis of identity and mission. You are pointing to a very small percentage of the party as somehow representing all the thinking of conservatives.

          That simply isn’t in keeping with historical trends, even in your own party.

          All you have to look at is the trend in the democratic party over the three or four election cycles. They have sent a lot more freshmen to Congress than the GOP. It’s because the democratic grassroots have become more progressive and have sought to mitigate the influence of the DLC corporate power brokers. Still, look at Barack’s cabinet and inner circle – it is all Clinton, all DLC, all the time.

          “Your side” is no more immune to the influence of money and corruption than the “other side” is but in different ways. I say democrats should concentrate on ensuring their party lives up to its stated goals and let the republicans do whatever it is they are going to do. All democrats can do at this point by criticizing and getting overly aggressive is make the GOP as a whole get much worse before it gets better.

          The best way to fix the republican party (an important step to our eventual renaissance as a nation) is to lead by example.

          Democratic policies are going to get enacted over the next four years that have to work. Stop talking about how stupid republicans were for believing the lies of tax cuts and prove that another system of governance works better. Simply dumping billions of dollars into a broken system is going to make that case much harder to make, so I suggest the democratic faithful might be better off challenging Obama and the members in Congress to fix the system even as they try to save it.

  • OldenGoldenDecoy


    Man . . .

    I’d love to read the online rantings described here: “…a fire-breathing liberal warrior” with a “Rhetorical Sword of Fury…” ???

    I guess I’ll have to go to I can’t seem to find anything like that through Google or Yahoo.

    Or … maybe his rants were online under a different screen name. Or sitting on the couch at home yelling at the TV . . .


  • Evainne

    Rec’d it earlier. Could not comment at the time. Had no time. 😉

    Progressive conservative = synthesis. As in thesis, antithesis and then synthesis. No? You walk it, Jason.

    • Jason Everett Miller

      No problem at all. Thanks for the earlier recommend and for stopping back by. Your comment is right on point. I think Obama has clarified the same gestalt on the left side of the equation. What we need is both sides to be balanced in order to find equilibrium. A state not often seen in America.