March 30, 2009 8:53AM

How Progressive Are You?

I’m two weeks late coming to this, but the “Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party” Obama Administration Farm Team Center for American Progress has developed a quiz aiming to answer the question, “How Progressive Are You?” The quiz asks you to rank, on a 10‐​point scale, how much you agree with 40 different statements. Now, I won’t quibble here with the misuse of the word “progressive” — having debased the term “liberal” (which in any other country pretty much means what Cato supports), the Left moves on to its next target — but the quiz highlights the false dichotomy between “progressive” and “conservative.” 

The fallacy of this linear political spectrum forces people to wring their hands and call themselves “socially liberal, fiscally conservative” — does anyone call themselves “fiscally liberal” even if they are? — or “moderate” (no firm views on anything, huh?) or anything else that adds no descriptive meaning to a political discussion. Where do you put a Jim Webb? A Reagan Democrat? A Ross Perot voter? A gay Republican? A deficit hawk versus a supply‐​sider? Let alone Crunchy Cons, Purple Americans, Wal‐​Mart Republicans, South Park Conservatives, NASCAR dads, soccer moms, and, oh yes, libertarians. 

And the statements the quiz asks you to evaluate are just weird. I mean, yes, “Lower taxes are generally a good thing” (I paraphrase) gets you somewhere, but what does “Talking with rogue nations such as Iran or with state‐​sponsored terrorist groups is naive and only gives them legitimacy” get you? Or “America has taken too large a role in solving the world’s problems and should focus more at home”? What is the “progressive” response to these statements? The “conservative” one? I think I know what the Bush response and the Obama response would be to the first one, but how does either fit into any particular ideology? 

The Institute for Humane Studies at least gives you a two‐​dimensional quiz, so you can see how much government intervention you want in economic and social affairs (the “progressive” view presumably being lots of intervention in the economy, none on social issues). And IHS poses classical debates in political philosophy rather than thinly veiled leading questions relating to current affairs. 

In any event, when you finish the quiz, it tells you your score and that the average score for Americans is 209.5. How do they get this number? A selectively biased survey of people who frequent the CAP website would surely score much higher on the progressive scale. No, it’s based on a “National Study of Values and Beliefs.” Well, ok, but, again, if those are the types of questions you ask people — or, even worse, the quiz designers code the survey responses — I’m not sure how much I care about the result. (Incidentally, the survey reveals that “the potential for true progressive governance is greater than at any point in decades.” Great, that’s either a banal formulation of the fact that Democrats have retaken the political branches or a self‐​serving conclusion. Or both.)

In case anyone cares, I scored 100 out of 400, which makes me “very conservative.” I suppose that won’t come as a surprise to my “progressive” friends, but then I’m always talking to them about how bad the bailouts/​stimuli are for the economy, how we should actually follow the Constitution, etc. All the folks who over the years have called me a libertine or hedonist, however, will not be amused to learn that I’m actually one of them…