Pickens County Democrats
Pickens County, Georgia

Our Values:

From: Chapter 5, The Philosophy of Progressive Values in Voicing Our Values: A Message Guide for Policymakers and Advocates (Fourth Edition, 2019), Bernie Horn and Gloria Totten, Public Leadership Institute.


FIRST, where government has no proper role, because public action would violate individual rights, progressive policy should be based on freedom. By freedom, we mean the absence of legal interference with our fundamental rights—freedom of speech, religion, and association; the right to privacy; the rights of the accused; and the right of all citizens to vote. Compared to an individual, government wields tremendous power, so a progressive policy adds great weight—in the form of strong legal rights—to the individual's side of the scale. For example, freedom of speech is absolutely sacrosanct unless it immediately and directly puts others in danger—"falsely shouting fire in a theater" as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes put it.

Freedom should be fairly easy to understand—it's a defense of our basic constitutional rights and civil liberties. We include the right to vote because it should be as sacred as any constitutional right. The very definition of democracy—rule by the people—requires the unrestricted right to vote. So, laws that keep American citizens from casting ballots should be eliminated on the grounds that they violate our most fundamental democratic freedom.

We intentionally adopt a limited definition of freedom, often called "negative freedom." Why? That’s the only way it works. When defined too broadly, freedom becomes an empty platitude that can be wielded as a bludgeon to pummel any side of any political argument.

Freedom is the cornerstone of America's value system. For two centuries, America has been defined by its commitment to freedom. One poll found that Americans believe—by a margin of 73 to 15 percent—that freedom is more important than equality. But because it's so popular, freedom is the most misused of all political terms.

For nearly 20 years, conservatives have proclaimed that both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the "war on terror," were and are in defense of our freedom. But it's not true. Our freedom was never in jeopardy—the Iraqis, the Taliban, ISIS and al-Qaeda, none of them attempted to invade America and control our government. U.S. military and police actions might be said to protect our security, but not our freedom. So don't use the word freedom when discussing current military adventures—it just provides a false justification for war.

Similarly, conservatives equate freedom with capitalism. But it's not true. Our nation's market economy is not free from government control—actually, it is dominated by government. Markets are based on a dense web of laws enforced by multiple layers of federal, state, and local agencies. Businesses are not free to sell diseased meat, make insider stock trades, pollute our air and water, or discriminate on the basis of race, gender, or ethnicity. So don't be fooled by the terms free market, free enterprise, or free trade, because they all support right-wing policies.

Most astonishing is the way religious extremists use the word freedom to mean the very opposite. They argue that freedom gives them the right to use the power of government to impose their religious views on the rest of us. When they pressure school boards to mandate the teaching of intelligent design in schools, when they erect monuments to the Ten Commandments on public property, when they work to ban all abortions, when they seek to promote prayer in public schools, right-wingers assert it's an exercise in religious freedom. But it's simply not true. Freedom is the absence of government intervention.

Dear friends, we have a solemn responsibility to fiercely guard our constitutional and human rights to freedom. We must use freedom as our bully pulpit when arguing that government is out of control. We must point out that freedom is one of our most cherished values. We must insist that Clarence Darrow was right when he said, "You can protect your liberties in this world only by protecting the other man's freedom. You can be free only if I am free."

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From: Chapter 5, The Philosophy of Progressive Values in Voicing Our Values: A Message Guide for Policymakers and Advocates (Fourth Edition, 2019), Bernie Horn and Gloria Totten, Public Leadership Institute.


SECOND, where government acts as a referee between private, unequal interests, progressive policy should be based on opportunity. By opportunity, we mean a level playing field in social and economic affairs—fair dealings between the powerful and the less powerful, the elimination of discrimination, and a quality education for all. Competing interests usually hold unequal power, so progressive policy adds weight—guarantees of specific protections—to the weaker interest. For example, unskilled low-wage workers have no leverage to bargain for higher pay. That’s why it is up to the government to impose a reasonable minimum wage. Quite simply, when social and market forces do not naturally promote equal opportunity, government must step in.

Opportunity means, more than anything, a fair marketplace. Although progressives tend to stress the rights of consumers and employees against businesses, opportunity also means fairness between businesses—especially helping small enterprises against large ones—and fairness for stockholders against corporate officers. Individual ambition, innovation, and effort—harnessed by the market system—are supposed to benefit society as a whole. But that can happen only when the competition is fair.

Opportunity also means fair economic transactions with the government. Government should use the scale of justice when determining taxes—obviously a sliding scale where those who have the least pay the least. And when it is the government that is making payments—for contracts, subsidies, public education, and the like—the principle of opportunity dictates that all individuals and companies should have equal access, unless the balance of justice demands a measure of affirmative action.

The concept of opportunity is an easy sell to progressives. And yet, since the Reagan years, we've been losing the struggle to the right wingers who flatly oppose opportunity.

Conservatives have fought against ending discrimination, even though equal treatment is a precondition for equal opportunity. They don't even pretend to support equal opportunity in commerce; instead, conservatives lobby for government favors, no-bid contracts, and economic development giveaways. And right-wingers seek to destroy anything that allows individuals to stand up to larger economic forces, with labor unions, consumer protections, and antimonopoly policies under constant attack.

Our mission is clear. It is to guarantee that all Americans are able to realize their goals through education, hard work, and fair pay. We must provide every person, not just the privileged few, with an equal opportunity to pursue a better life—equal access to the American dream.

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From: Chapter 5, The Philosophy of Progressive Values in Voicing Our Values: A Message Guide for Policymakers and Advocates (Fourth Edition, 2019), Bernie Horn and Gloria Totten, Public Leadership Institute.


THIRD, where government acts to protect those who cannot reasonably protect themselves, including future generations, progressive policy should be based on security. By security, we mean protecting Americans from domestic criminals and foreign terrorists, of course, but also insuring the sick and the vulnerable, safeguarding the food we eat and products we use, and preserving our environment.

There is always a threat that larger or unexpected forces will attack any one of us, so progressive policy adds weight, in the form of government institutions and programs, that helps protect us from harm. For example, society has a responsibility to protect the elderly, the disabled, widows, and orphans and that's why an aptly named federal program has functioned in that role for more than a half-century—Social Security.

Security can be divided into three categories. First, government should secure our personal safety and health. That includes military and police protection, firefighting, health insurance, medical research, and protection from impurities, pollutants, and hazardous waste. Second, government should perform its fiduciary duty to protect individuals who cannot reasonably protect themselves. That includes people who are poor, elderly, children, disabled, mentally ill—as well as future generations. Of course, the weaker the individual, the greater the protection required. Third, government should protect our common future as a nation. That includes building and maintaining infrastructure, using zoning powers to enhance quality of life, and safeguarding the environment.

Progressives support the concept of security, of course. But we usually detour around the word when talking about law enforcement or national security. Like freedom, the word security seems to stick in the throats of progressives, perhaps because we're worried we'll sound like conservatives.

Progressives want to jump immediately to collaboration and cooperation, rehabilitation and reeducation. That line of thinking is both destructive and unrealistic. Crime and terrorism are issues of security. Yes, we believe that our policies are the best means to ensure security, but we need to talk about the ends as well. The proper role of government in these matters, and the top priority of officeholders, is to provide security for our communities. To ignore security is to lose the argument.

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