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December 2, 2017
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The Difference Between Liberal and Progressive

Ralph and Washington Post columnist, E.J. Dionne debate the distinction between “Progressive” and “Liberal,” and Original Nader’s Raider, Robert Fellmeth tells us why he thinks speech on the Internet should not be anonymous.

E. J. Dionne writes about politics in a twice-weekly column in the Washington Post and on the Post Partisan blog.  He is also a senior fellow in governance Studies at the Brookings Institution (, a government professor at Georgetown University and a frequent guest on NPR, ABC’s This Week and MSNBC.  He is the author of seven books, the latest of which is “One Nation Under Trump: A Guide For the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not Yet Deported.”

“I don’t see the same sharp distinctions between the center/left and the left right now in the U.S. or – as you put it – between liberals and progressives.  For example, take the issue of universal healthcare.  Some of my progressive friends say that only single-payer is the way to go.  I have nothing against single-payer.  It’s a system that works in many countries.  I also think that universal coverage that would essentially treat the health system as a public utility, which is kind of what you do in Germany or the Netherlands – that that would work as well.  I think we should have a healthy argument about what’s going to work better, not some argument that says only single-payer is the way to achieve universal coverage.”  E.J. Dionne

After helping Ralph investigate the Federal Trade Commission as one of those original “Nader’s Raiders,” Robert Fellmeth became an attorney for the Center for the Study of Responsive Law, Ralph’s office in DC.  In 1980, as a University of San Diego Law School faculty member, he founded that school’s Center for Public Interest Law.  He is also the founder of the Children’s Advocacy Institute, one of the nation’s premiere academic, research, and advocacy organizations working to improve the lives of all children and youth, with special emphasis on reforming the child protection and foster care systems and improving outcomes for youth aging out of foster care.

“People talk about the right to speak and free speech on the utterance side. But that’s only one part of it. The other part of it is the right of the audience to weigh the credibility of the speaker.  Who is that?  What are their biases?  What’s their expertise?  The first amendment is not just defending the right of people to bleat, to make noise.  It has a purpose in terms of ascertaining the truth, and developing the points of view, and educating people.  And the identity of the speaker is critical to that function.” Robert Fellmeth


  1. Donald Klepack says:

    The truth is the truth, there is no need to leave a name. Anyway you can lie about your name. I notice that RT (Russian Television) must be registered as a foreign agent yet their show seems to be truthful. The DNC and RNC is less truthful than RT.

  2. Martin Drake says:

    E.J. Dionne says in one breath that “there’s not much difference between center-left and left” and in the next breath says “well I don’t think we need single-payer we could have a different system, unlike some on the left who say that’s the only way to go….” Isn’t that a difference right there? His point is not even supported by his own evidence. Then he draws a parallel to “liberals” in the 1960s, as if the Powell memo and the past 50 years didn’t happen. This guy is not a serious thinker, and should not even really be listened to except as a foil, as with most Washington Post writers.

  3. Stehanie says:

    Hello Ralph.
    I am so glad you went on past my teenage yrs! (Although I had figured it out.)
    What I am insisting today makes everything I held to life [as a healthy escape/ the hippies/ suffragists] has become mostly meaningless. And that is the environmental CHEMICAL DUMPS from planes. For the skin diseases are not anomalies/ but rather strikingly real and showing up in children.. And addressing that question should be primary. (I knew about this but what I did not know it formulates in an early stage BEFORE the open-sores. I really almost beg you to look into this cartoon-madness, that only very sick people could create in a lab – unless they had an antidote. You may be so caught in the pristine 1950s like your comment on the bogus FEMA Sandy-Hook drill, where people there said the school was closed for yrs.. yeah crazy loons … right. And forsaken in the Kennedy inspired nature of the upper-east states/ that you haven’t a grasp.)
    You really at least on your own need to look into the “strange skin diseases from the tested fibers” that have a weird red-blood cell attached that takes over a citizen’s DNA.. It’s the ultimate Nazi-fashioned delivery system. Everyone is a subject for they all have it in their blood.
    For the dupes: Rosalind Peterson a USDA employee address to the UN is a start. The rest do on your own; you’ll have to. But you will find that the dust that surrounds your home is NOT normal dust.
    Please everyone get pissed about this. You do not need a microscope.!

  4. Stehanie says:

    Also Ralph.
    The people have nothing in common with your first “guest”.. And likely desire never to.
    People [aside from being overtly poisoned daily] have nothing but spite about these phony spinmasters..
    People DO NOT vote and DO NOT read papers anymore and most DO NOT watch news..
    People are very misguided because they don’t know history other than Kennedy’s murder; which is something indeed.
    But people really would only listen to you if you had people on with broken English or school teachers complaining about the ridiculous state of the system now, or anti-vaccine parents … people really are in a way more sophisticated now even though they cannot speak English.

  5. Naomi Lochner says:

    Thank you for this show. I appreciate the information each week.
    Please remind Ralph that the website is :

  6. Perry Logan says:

    I think “liberal” and “progressive” are identical. We started calling ourselves progressives after hate radio had smeared liberals to death for umpteen years.

  7. Evan M Oswald says:

    To my mind, a progressive is someone who is moving forward on important political issues on the behalf of workers and civil rights. Which, admittedly is very open ended – but is reflected in the wide usage of the term. Currently, the “progressive movement” is a strong force in american politics and best described by bernie sanders platform in the 2016 democratic primaries. However 99% of that energy is in the electorate, not the legislators and not the judges either. This is more true the higher up (e.g. federal level as opposed to the local level). As any good movement goes, it is working it’s way from the bottom on up. And the successes and organization is there – Our Revolution’s success is case in point. But this creates a issue: how do the politicians who aren’t fighting on behalf of the workers and minorities hold office? They say they are progressive, pretend the progressive movement isn’t happening, or dismiss the legitimacy of the progressive movement. Many of the former are very good liberals, but not progressives. By “liberal” I mean the democratic party lines: social issues only (weak on wallstreet/banks, weak on war/invasion/pentagon, weak on fighting on behalf of workers) and never talk about money’s influence on politics. [end of rant] Great show today!

    • Doctor Who says:

      Well said, Evan. That pretty much sums it up. BUT I think that the folks who only use “identity politics” and work only on social issues shouldn’t be called “Liberal” either. They are Neoliberal corporatists. Blue dogs or centrist moderates. We need to take back the word “Liberal” from the people who have bastardized the word. Because those people are NOT representative of said word.

  8. Doug MacFarland says:

    I would like to point out that by Ralph’s definition, Bernie is firmly in the liberal column. Re: Foreign Policy, military spending

    • Doctor Who says:

      Did you hear Bernie’s recent speech on “foreign policy” and do you know that he voted against increasing the military budget? He has also criticized Netanyahu and the treatment of Palestinians. Bernie may not be a “Democratic Socialist” but he is certainly a progressive/social Democrat of old.

    • robert dresdner says:

      I think its a desperate sign of where the US is going that the best the Left can do is Sen. Sanders [otherwise Independent] who decided he has to run as a Democrat to get any mainstream airplay and press, but even he was self limiting—Sanders demanded tepid domestic policy reforms like 15 min wage, single payer health care, etc. He was afraid to address glaring foreign policy questions that challenge the US Deep State military industrial complex, NSA/CIA, drones etc.

  9. Afdal says:

    “They use single transferable vote in Australia and it works just fine.” There are some important caveats and nuance to this statement however. STV is an application of instant runoff voting with proportional representation. The implication with bringing up STV in the United States is often that instant runoff voting can be used to transition into proportional representation with single transferable vote. In the parts of Australian government that use STV they do have representation of multiple political parties. However, Australia has also used instant runoff voting for single-winner elections for decades, and in every office that it has done so an entrenched two-party duopoly has remained with third parties unable to obtain meaningful representation. Instant runoff voting systems develop new forms of tactical voting that ultimately make them only marginally more expressive than plurality voting (while also being overly complicated). When used for single-winner offices, instant runoff voting is unfortunately not expressive enough to overcome Duverger’s Law and result in meaningful representation of more than two political parties. Approval voting or Score voting can overcome Duverger’s Law even in single-winner elections, and proportional representation can be achieved with either of them.

    Somewhat disappointed in Ralph giving a platform to push the “Russian interference” insanity during his Fellmeth interview. Why don’t you get whistleblowers Bill Binney or Skip Holden on your show some time Ralph and let them soundly debunk this new McCarthyism? I have also used anonymous discussion forums for over a decade and they have played a central role in shaping my political identity. Anonymity is an excellent means of having dialectical exchanges, where the persona of a person and their reputation has no role in evaluating their argument. It has allowed me to discuss topics and put forward ideas that I and many others wouldn’t normally have a place to discuss them. People who insist you need an identity because debating is about something so spooky as “courage” are really just looking for a way to empower ad hominem fallacies.

  10. Michele says:

    Ralph, I agree with your criticism of Judy Woodruff’s refusal to interview or otherwise even discuss the fact of the progressive conference at Constitution Hall. Though the News Hour has at least moved away a bit from the old standard sort-of debate format (depends who’s reporting of course), a Dem vs. a Rep spokesperson arguing the same old points, ignoring so much of the real progressive work and change now under way in the country, and misleading viewers into thinking they must still rely two ineffective, tired, disconnected, and I think differently corrupt, parties who still talk the same approaches that helped create our current vulnerability. Corrupt activity gets little coverage too, and very little on voter suppression. The political and voter/electoral coverage also largely ignores additional parties and divergent movements Lots of normalizing still goes on public air in reporting on what is truly sociopathic right wing activity and figures in various branches. It’s so frustrating that I can’t watch or listen much anymore to basic misrepresentation of the world we currently face.

  11. I am a high placed executive in a company that provides Internet solutions and services to fortune 500 companies. My political and social beliefs are, however, VERY progressive and would, I am sure, be viewed as radical and “anti-capitalist” or “anti-free-enterprise” – or at the very least highly controversial, by my employers, board members, stockholders and of course most of our customers.

    In my position I am expected to operate social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. I maintain such accounts using my actual name and identity and I post matters pertaining to our company and the market in which we operate.

    Parallel to my “official” business-oriented social media accounts, I operate a blog and I have cultivated an online and “anonymous” persona, which I use for Twitter and for postings on such sites as A determined investigator would probably be able to piece together my actual identity, but I would hope that business associates and my employers would not be able to discover my “heretical” proclivities.

    For this anonymity, I am very grateful.

  12. Hagbard Celine says:

    I think anoymity on the Web is important just as it is in the case of the media using any anonymous sources. Without that there will be a chilling effect. In the case of an anonymous commenter causing harm to others, such as in the case of causing others to self harm etc. I belive this is a non-issue. In cases where this happens, invariably those who are responsible are found out by the authorities. In the end we are not truly an any mouse. There are ip adresses and other signatures that make this unlikely without sophisticated tools which the majority of people lack.

    There are times where people wish to voice their opinions without having to suffer the effects of groups that will then hound them incessantly. I have had friends for instance, who have criticized AIPAC and the undue influence they have had on US policy, and who used their names online, that were then harassed and suffered greatly as a result.

    Also, the idea that Russia has unduly influenced the American political process in the 2016 election is a mindless conspiracy theory. Trump was elected because Clinton was an arrogant and unelectable candidate. The fact that Trump was incessantly publicized by the corporate media does not seem to register with some. By some estimates, he received over 5 billion dollars of free coverage.Thank you for your excellent work Mr Nader.

  13. Lydia Breen says:

    Ralph, I wished you had pushed E.J. Dionne a litter harder in his interview. What he didn’t seem to understand was that “liberals” in the Democratic Party hold the power in the Democratic Party, making for an imbalance. It’s easy to call for “kumbaya” when liberals call the shots, set the agenda… I know you, of all people, understand that. You were too gentle. I’m sorry you didn’t challenge him on his blithe remarks.

  14. Bruce K. says:

    Ultimately I am not sure that anything said/written on the Internet is anonymous, or even unnoticed, at least to the US Intelligence agencies and any other groups that operate at that level … to which I include lots of private companies we do not even know about that make their money collating and associating identities and imputing sentiments, and probably threat assessments of their surveilled subjects.

    Nevertheless, having or speaking out about certain political sentiments, at work or even in private life, should they become public can have disastrous ramifications for a person who is brave or foolish enough to do this.

    This is the same reason we have a secret ballot, so that one cannot be persecuted for what someone else makes of their comments or assumes from their beliefs.

    When one looks back through history to what the Third Reich was able to do to with 80-column paper punch cards the ability to retain privacy and anonymity seems too important to surrender – and the powers of big data science are so vast and unsuspected that some really definite regulation is important to have. This seems to be understood by most countries other than the US or the big tyrannies.

    It would be great to see more programs about this subject and deeper dives into what is going on.

    Thanks for the great show.

  15. robert dresdner says:

    To answer Ralph’s academic question posed to E.J. Dionne, , “Whats left of the Left?”, I’d say very little and further very few care. The problems in America are far beyond the Left to answer. Sanders barely hit half the domestic crises and he avoided everything else and even then with that desperate triage he got nowhere. He wasnt nominated. Jill Stein got ~1% in 2016, and was kept put out of the Debates by the 2 Party racket called the Parties. If you’re in a ghetto you’re “disenfranchised” ie too busy dodging crime, muggings, drugs, bad schools, bad cops to care about voting, and if youre a working white did you think the Left will do something about your school loans and discrimination, or that fat boss hoping for a groping at the office? In fact, the Left is on the run, or virtually in hiding in most areas and walks of life, especially the workplace [hence the responses above that address the need to be anonymous at work or at home while on the Internet]. the Left is 1-10% of the voters at best.

  16. Tara L Carreon says:

    This show did a great job of showing us the differences between a liberal and progressive: E.J. Dionne the liberal, and Ralph Nader the progressive. Thank you Ralph for showing us what these words mean today.

    Here’s what I took away from the interview:

    1. E.J. Dionne refuses to recognize the existence of progressives who are in opposition to liberals, because as a liberal, he insists on owning the entire left. Under cover of “there’s no difference,” he suppresses progressives’ freedom of speech to say something different than what liberals say. Even when he admits that there are “real” differences and arguments, and the existence of people who call themselves “progressives” and “socialists” in order to distinguish themselves from “liberals,” he still maintains that there is no real difference. The point for someone who wants the difference of their argument to be heard is NOT what is in common with other viewpoints, but what is different.

    2. If liberals discredit their own name, by not doing anything useful for the working and oppressed classes, or not fighting back against the conservatives, or joining the conservatives on issues that are opposed by progressives, what right do they have to take the identity of people who oppose them? As Ralph points out, progressives oppose them on many issues, including: “the military-industrial complex, the militarization of foreign policy, the spread of empire, the constant violation of international laws through armed intrusions into international sovereignties, drones, special forces, bases all over the world, the Pentagon budget, Wall Street Crime, Oil Company crime, commercial crime, corporate crime, 250,000 Americans dying every year from preventable problems in hospitals from malpractice and hospital-induced infections, corporate domination, and the concentration of the media.” And I would add “peace and loss of sovereignty through trade agreements” to that list. Taking the name of people who oppose you and are different from you is called “identity-theft.” And that’s what democrats do: they smear themselves with their own bad behavior, then pretend they are good by calling themselves “progressives.”

    3. Why are liberals taking their name in the first place from a name E.J. Dione points out was recently associated with “pro-market conservative?” Can’t they come up with a new name, free of negative associations, one more descriptive of a people-caring party, if that’s what they are? Is that because they want the confusion of history to mar their name and cause, giving them an excuse to steal the name of progressives?

    4. Why do disagreements and distinctions between liberals and progressives have to be “sharp” in order to be relevant? E.J. Dione denies up front, and several times afterwards, that there are any “sharp” differences between liberals and progressives, but later on admits that there have indeed been “sharp” changes in the way the nation is organized – “in the past people moved from farms to factories, whereas today people are moving from manufacturing to a service economy” – and that the “new [sharp] inequalities” resulting from this new organization create “a logic leading to a new engagement with progressivism.” As if sharp inequalities are not always present in our country. In fact, he admits that sharp inequalities were present during the entire buildup to the 2008 “great” recession, and that “liberals probably should have paid more attention to the events that led up to it, the ways that the economy was tilted toward the very privileged and allowed to run free in a way that proved very destructive to the economy as a whole, and particularly the least well-off people in it.” What he’s really saying here is that status-quo liberals should have listened to progressives telling them all along what was going wrong in our country. But Dione, apparently, thinks that it’s only when the shite hits the fan that it’s useful to listen to progressives, and then it’s obviously too late. It’s this kind of democratic self-defeating “liberal logic” that sends us progressives running to other political camps.

    5. “Liberal” democrats do nothing but make excuses for their failures to prevent bad things from happening. They’re like the CIA. We’re supposed to forgive them everything. They didn’t know; they couldn’t see; they couldn’t hear; severe setbacks beset them; cultural issues divide us; they’re going to take up the challenge and do better some time far, far in the future! “‘Politics’ has to be a good word again for people, but we’ve got a long way to go before we get there” says Dionne.

    6. How can we have a healthy argument about what ideas are going to work better between liberals and progressives when progressive voices are totally suppressed? E.J. Dionne’s response to Ralph’s complaint about media black-out of the Breaking Through Power conference and Judy Woodruff’s refusal to have any of the 162 progressive speakers who spoke at the conference on PBS was contrary and unsympathetic: “I just want to shout out Judy Woodruff as a journalist; she’s actually one of the best; I’m a big fan of hers…. and I get lots of complaints about coverage of all sorts of things, so I don’t really know enough about all that to comment.”

    7. Dionne relies on history to define terms that are constantly changing, and turns a blind eye to current events that drastically change the meaning of the old terms (When does anything these days stay the same long enough to become “historical?”) stating that since Ralph Nader’s group of heroes who passed all those great consumer-protection laws in the sixties and seventies called themselves “liberals,” that the term must mean the same thing today, i.e., people who call themselves “liberals.” He totally ignores the fact that Ralph Nader can’t get a law passed these days in the “liberal” world for anything in the world, or even get anyone in a democratic White House to talk to him, as well as the huge nightmare called Hillary Clinton, “the liberal/progressive” neo-con, neo-liberal, pro-imperialist, war-monger, trying to own the word “progressive” which if the word means anything, it wants to be “sharply” distinguished from the policies of the Clintons.

    8. Dionne reveals himself as one of the typical, fear-mongering democrats when he says, “and just parenthetically, one of the reasons I am not sympathetic to driving this hard wedge between liberals and progressives, or center-left and left, is because I think there are threats, both to democracy itself, to basic equality in the country, to social justice, that the left and center-left need to unite to take on right now.” “Just parenthetically?” This statement properly belongs up front, so we can all know where he’s coming from, but all of us real progressives knew that this was the secret behind his opposition all along. We’ve heard it so many times: “Everyone on the left has to vote for the democrats, or else catastrophic, apocalyptic things will happen in our country.” Democrats don’t want progressives to have freedom to vote for the person of their choice. Instead, they insist on “unity,” like unity is some kind of virtue, instead of slavery for progressives. Liberal democrats should at least get one message from progressives: “We don’t want to unite with you. We hate you, because you want to dominate us. You’re weak, and your political philosophies suck.”

    9. The proper answer to Ralph’s question, “What do you think happened to these third and fourth parties?” — at least as far as the Green Party is concerned — was “total suppression by the Democratic party.” We know what they did to Ralph, their hundreds of lawsuits, and endless harassment, but of course, Dionne doesn’t want to admit to the skullduggery of his party against real progressives. And it is impossible to believe in E.J. Dionne’s democratic credentials when he claims that Ralph had no right to run for president, and took votes “out of Al Gore’s hide.” This is the kind of anti-democratic view that has become entrenched in the Democratic party, and marks them for fascists. He doesn’t want to change the system that puts democrats on the other side of republicans in a two-party power duopoly. He wants people to accept that this is the way it is — apparently forever — so we should just get used to it, and stop fighting back. They are the leviathan in America.

    10. And lastly, the difference between liberals and progressives was demonstrated in yet another obsession of his: The Evil Donald Trump. Nothing else has mattered to democrats for one second since he was elected, not worker safety, not air pollution, not medical safety, not infrastructure, not minimum wage, or healthcare, or killing millions in Yemen, or taking over the world – no, nothing but the Evil Donald Trump forever. How are we going to get anywhere good when democrats refuse to do what good they can? If they did good things for us when they could, then maybe Donald Trump wouldn’t have been elected, and we would have voted for them. In my opinion, the democrats brought forward Hillary Clinton because they wanted to lose. That’s what kind of sell-outs the democrats are to a progressive. We want nothing to do with these traitors.