“I’m not a progressive. I’m just a regular Democrat.”

by Ross Barkan, Political Currents

Labels in the American political system have always been slippery. Progressive, liberal, leftist, conservative, hard-right, and hard-left can mean very different things to very different audiences. MAGA, perhaps, offers the most clarity—an unabashed supporter of Donald Trump. But even then, within the vast array of Republicans who back Trump, are disparate political views. Some want a national abortion ban. Some, like Trump himself, don’t quite know what they want.

Others strive to shed labels altogether. Many politicians, for somewhat obvious reasons, embrace them when they’re convenient—rounding up votes in primaries, appealing to activists, and raising cash—and abandoning them once they become a burden. The burden, or perceived burden, arrives when a politician has to campaign in a competitive general election. John Fetterman, the famous senator from Pennsylvania, is deep into his rebrand, and seemingly considering how to position himself when he faces voters again in 2028. His campaign proudly promoted a clip from the 2022 Democratic primary when he told a journalist who asked if he’s a progressive that “no, I’m just a Democrat that has always run on what I believe and know to be true.” Interestingly enough, Fetterman’s social media account doesn’t quote this verbatim. Instead, the post above the clip reads “I’m not a progressive, I’m just a regular Democrat.”

John Fetterman, Democratic candidate for US Senate rallies for a packed crowed of supporters at Montgomery County Community College.

It’s a notable approach from a politician who has caught heat, of late, for his hawkish views on Israel. Fetterman, unlike several other Democratic senators, has not called for a ceasefire or denounced the Israeli military for slaughtering thousands of civilians in Gaza. As pressure has grown on the Biden administration to do more to curb Benjamin Netanyahu’s military ambitions, Fetterman’s rhetoric has been mostly indistinguishable from Mike Johnson or any other conservative Republican. His simultaneous embrace of tougher immigration laws has led NBC News to label him a “maverick” for breaking with progressive Democrats.

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