Early last week, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries Briahna Joy Gray: Voters are 'torn' over Ohio special election Shontel Brown wins Ohio Democratic primary in show of establishment strength MORE (I-Vt.) took the podium proclaiming victory in the New Hampshire primary in a decisive, albeit expected victory.   

In that speech, as in the town hall debate a few nights beforehand, the debate a few nights after, and continually throughout this campaign, Sanders identified himself not as a Democrat but as a “progressive.”  


The distinction may seem subtle, but it is important, and it is indicative an increasingly intense struggle for the soul of the Democratic Party. Indeed, much like the contest between the Tea Party far right and the mainstream GOP to define the Republican platform, the continued existence of Sanders presidential campaign, let alone his win in New Hampshire and strong showing in Iowa, provides the best insight yet into a similar struggle gripping Democrats.

In modern politics, the word "progressive" was popularized by political consultants only a short while ago. Republicans spent much of the 1970s and 1980s adding negative baggage to the word “liberal,” and Democrats needed a fresh label for the 1990s. 

A progressive was fiscally responsible, socially liberal and believed in America as the leader of the free world, willing to stand up to dictators and protect the vulnerable – even by force and even when opposed by thuggish regimes at the United Nations, or others in the West lacked the resolve to join us. As intended, “progressive” meant getting Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonAzar regrets Trump didn't get vaccinated on national TV New spotlight on secretaries of state as electoral battlegrounds Bipartisan infrastructure win shows Democrats must continue working across the aisle MORE and Tony Blair elected.  

At home progressives were those committed to fighting for tolerance, social progress and economic prosperity, while keeping the lights burning bright in that shining city on the Hill, so those living under the harsh boot of oppression knew America was with them - even in their darkest nights in the Soviet gulag, or hiding from a Serbian death squad -- or under threat of ISIS or an Iranian- and Russian-sponsored Assad barrel bomb.  

Today, Sanders claims the mantle of "Progressive" and says we should move as fast as possible to normalize relations with Iran. This is a country which beyond being a direct national security threat to the United States, has killed more Americans with terrorism than anyone but Al Qaeda, is a regime that stones women to death for adultery or being raped, hang gays in the streets, jail and tortures innocents, works to destabilize US allies across the Middle East, and is assisting Assad in the most grievous human slaughter of the 21st century.   

It is a sentiment reflected in the ideas espoused by an increasingly isolationist wing of the Democratic party, inspired by the words of Sanders and the actions of President Obama, who call themselves progressives, but whose words and legacy espouse a worldview that does not see as America as the greatest force for good in the modern world, who see hubris, not leadership in America's history.  

Tellingly, neither Sanders nor Obama has articulated a Syria policy other than to endorse rank passivity, even mocking the notion of helping those fighting the use of chemical weapons and systematic rape and torture, and the carpet-bombing of civilians by Iran, Hezbollah Russia and Assad. Even our European allies like France have joined former Obama aides and top Democratic officials who call these isolationist policy choices “morally bankrupt.”   

Would the progressive position -- either of values or policy -- be to allow Russian, Iran and Assad free reign, or move as fast as possible to normalize relations with an Iranian regime that does all those things, and is simultaneously a military, terrorist and cyber security threat to America and our allies?   

No. Yet that is exactly what the neo-progressive wing of the Democratic party wants. 

So let’s stop calling them something they’re not. They’re not progressives; they are neo-progressives, or neo-progs. 

In part, the rise of the neo-progs is a modern political mashup. It is the fusion of two unlikely orphan forces of the post-Bill Clinton democratic party:  the netroots, that early-2000s far-left, tech-savvy wing of the party that propelled Howard Dean's White House dream and Ned Lamont's campaign to drive one-time Democratic Vice Presidential standard-bearer Joe Lieberman from the Democratic Party; with the leftovers of the suddenly resurgent anti-war left of the 1970s, brought together in the early-2000s in opposition to President Bush and the misguided war in Iraq.  

As the “no nukes” language of the left-wing foreign policy alienation of the 70s and 80s gave way to new anti-war chants – first “No Blood For Oil,” and quickly “Free Palestine,” young Democratic political bloggers, many of whom are now political insiders in Washington, were paid by patrons to chant political slogans attacking the war, neo-cons and endorsing increasingly isolationist tendencies, as part of the effort to help John KerryJohn KerryHow the US could help Australia develop climate action Equilibrium/ Sustainability — Presented by NextEra Energy — Clean power repurposes dirty power No. 2 State Department official to travel to China amid tensions MORE defeat GW Bush in 2004.

Later, much of the energy of this new movement, bringing together young voters coming of age during the Iraq War and washed up leftwing radicals from the 1960s like Ramsey Clark - Lyndon Johnson's former Attorney General who represented Saddam Hussein in his trial -- was captured by the Occupy Movement and birthed other radical streams like Code Pink.

During the Obama presidency, this rising band of isolationist neo-progs have seen their ideas nourished and been drawn to the Administration’s rationalizations for shirking America’s role as leader of the West. These deliberate choices, which Sanders applauds and would accelerate, have increased human suffering, war and famine, deepened instability, and undermined trust in global systems that we need to constrain behavior by bad actors and maintain a system of enforceable mores.  

Never before have regimes that contribute to human suffering and oppose progressive values been so free to act without consequence or fear of American retribution. 

Does that sound “progressive” to you?

Sanders is for wealth redistribution. He urges normal relations with regimes that embody the antithesis of American or progressive values, including Iran, China and Russia. Sanders is not progressive. He is a Socialist. He’s been pretty clear about that for decades in Washington. And his supporters, who believe in the same things, are not progressives.  

They are the neo-progs. 

Block is the CEO of The Israel Project, a Democratic strategist and a former Clinton administration official.