WASHINGTON (AP) — Back up a moment from the brawl between Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders over who is the real progressive and whether one can be that and be pragmatic at the same time.
What IS progressivism in 2016, anyway?
There is no universally agreed-upon contemporary definition of progressivism, so the Democratic candidates battling for the party's core liberal supporters are defining it as they please. Which is to say: They seem to be substituting "progressive" for the less-popular "liberal" — a political dirty word in recent elections for its implication that a candidate backs expensive "big government" in a thrifty era of economic recession and recovery.
Progressivism is rooted in the early 20th century as a response to inequities created by modernization and industrialization, and there appears to be no modern-day definition. These days, American liberalism is an ideology that supports a role for government in the relief from poverty, health care for all, universal education, protection of the environment — with the bill footed by taxpayers.
Sound too scholarly? A distinction without a difference?
That's perfectly OK with the Democratic presidential candidates, who are in a spat over who's more "progressive" before the New Hampshire primary Tuesday.
A decoder to help understand how Sanders and Clinton are using the term:
PROGRESSIVISM AS SANDERS DEFINES IT
Sanders' campaign website says he's for "a progressive economic agenda that creates jobs, raises wages, protects the environment and provides health care for all." His platform also poses the election as a choice between taking on "the enormous economic and political power of the billionaire class" or continuing to "slide into economic and political oligarchy."
Clinton, Sanders argues, is not progressive because she voted for the Iraq war, accepted millions of dollars in campaign contributions from Wall Street and took speaking fees of $675,000 from Goldman Sachs. He's suggesting that the big money makes Clinton beholden to "establishment politics and establishment economics." In contrast, Sanders, a socialist, is arguing that he's challenging the status quo that allows billionaires like Donald Trump "to buy elections."
Sanders has made much of Clinton's remark in September, when she told an audience in Ohio that she sometimes gets accused of being "kinda moderate and center. I plead guilty."
This week, Sanders said Clinton is a progressive "on some days."
"Except when she announces that she is a proud moderate, and then I guess she is not a progressive," Sanders said.
PROGRESSIVISM, PER CLINTON
Clinton bristled at that remark, calling it a "low blow" and firing back that she's been "fighting the progressive fight" for years.
She's suggesting that she's "a progressive who wants to make progress," a dig at what she says are Sanders' pie-in-the-sky proposals, such as free college tuition.
Her voice growing louder at a rally in Derry, New Hampshire, she said "it was a good day for progressives" when she backed an expansion of children's health insurance coverage for millions of kids, for example.
"So I hope we keep it on the issues because if it's about our records, hey — I'm going to win by a landslide," Clinton added.
She also dismissed Sanders' judgment on how progressive she is, saying he's trying to paint himself as "the gatekeeper of who's progressive."
"I know what I've done, but I don't think it helps for the senator to be making those kinds of comparisons because clearly we share a lot of the same hopes and aspirations for our country," she said on CNN.