What Do We Stand For?
by Mark Green
Tired of right-wing guru Grover Norquist's reactionary platitudes
passing for wisdom? Want to debate more than taxes and terrorism?
Just as conservatives regrouped, retooled and came back strong after
their painful loss in 1964, there are multiplying signs of a
progressive resurgence sparked by the extremism of the Bush
Administration. The huge response to books critiquing Bush, the
blockbuster success of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, the growth
in membership of many liberal organizations and the plunging support
for W. and his Iraq invasion are only some of the public indicators
of a comeback.
At the same time, a large number of scholars, writers and activists
have been quietly cobbling up a clear, confident and credible set of
policy alternatives for a new Administration. For example, in May
fifty leading scholars and advocates--Jamie Galbraith, Robert Reich,
Anne-Marie Slaughter, Gary Hart, Joe Trippi and others--convened at a
two-day conference at New York University to lay out "a program for
As a governing agenda, "progressive patriotism" is built on one
premise and four foundations. The premise is that
patriotism, or love
of country, must mean not only defending our country against attack
but also improving our country through dissent, debate and
From Walt Whitman's description of America as "always becoming" to
the GE slogan that "progress is our most important product," America
is based on the notion of challenging the status quo
in order to
progressively do better. In an interesting example of this
democracy, Cass Sunstein wrote in his 2oo3 book
Why Societies Need
Dissent, "A high-level official during World
War II, Luther Gulick,
attributed the successes of the Allies, and the failures of Hitler
and other Axis powers, to the greater ability of citizens in
democracies to scrutinize and dissent and hence to improve past and
proposed courses of action." By this standard,
it's unpatriotic and
un-American not to question authority and the status quo in an effort
to do better.
Real patriots should now not only wave flags but also, after
three-plus years of George W. Bush's presidency, ask whether a policy
or program advances the middle-class, collective security, a stronger
democracy and One America. These are four goals that candidates can
run on and govern by:
Strengthen the Middle Class. George Bush has
redistributed wealth more than George McGovern was ever accused
of--except upward rather than downward. His $1.7 trillion in tax cuts
on income, estates, dividends, capital gains and corporate earnings
has been a program of plutocracy posing as populism. Such "soak the
middle class" fiscal policies have only compounded the flat real
income of blue-collar workers over the past thirty years--the result
of declining unionization, the temping of jobs, the Wal-Marting of
wages and benefits, and the outsourcing of high-end manufacturing and
technology jobs. No wonder so many families feel like they're running
faster after an ever-accelerating bus.
It's time to become liberal hawks in the class war of ideas. Public
policy should now ask whether a proposal closes the growing gap
between the rich and the rest of us in terms of income and services.
Ways to do that include providing more healthcare coverage for the
uninsured, creating a living wage, providing for preschool and
after-school programs, pursuing energy security starting with a 5o
percent increase in auto-fuel efficiency and investing in job
training--to be partly paid for by reversing unproductive tax cuts
for the top 2 percent.
Strengthen Collective Security. As World War II was
drawing to a close, FDR and Churchill developed plans for
international peace and financial institutions so allies could pool
their resources and interests to defuse future threats. This approach
is even more necessary in today's world of stateless evils--of
shadowy terrorists carrying devastation in backpacks, brilliant
scientists selling the nuclear secrets stored in their brains,
invisible pollution drifting from Chernobyl to Hartford and
AIDS-carrying lotharios seducing women in different countries.
Older maxims, that "might makes right" and "bigger is better"--or the
perception of the United States as the Lone Ranger and our allies as
Tonto--is hopelessly counterproductive in a world dominated by
"problems without passports," in Kofi Annan's phrase. Simply walking
away from the ABM Treaty, Kyoto Protocol, Small Arms Agreement,
International Criminal Court, Chemical and Biological Weapons
Convention and UN Commission on the Status of Women--as well as our
growing calamity in Iraq--has alienated the populations of nearly
every nation on earth.
Greater efforts at collective security make us stronger, not weaker.
Can anyone now seriously doubt that we should have either avoided
entirely our quarter-trillion-dollar extravaganza in Iraq or
committed troops with a far greater international presence?
Strengthen Democracy. It's ironic how often American
warriors are eager to cross oceans to fight for democracy but how
uninterested--or opposed--they are to expanding it at home. The
result: While our allies regularly have 70 percent majorities voting
in national elections, we barely have half in presidential years and
a third in off-year Congressional elections. And while it cost an
average of $87,000 to win a House seat in 1976, that increased
tenfold, to $842,000, by 2000.
If the laws affecting voting and contributing mean that those who
govern us respond more to donors than voters, then there's little
prospect of enacting needed consumer, environmental, housing and
educational laws. A "democracy agenda" would include the public
financing of Congressional elections, restrictions on self-financed
candidates, paper trails for electronic voting, elimination of
racially discriminatory felony disenfranchisement laws, restrictions
on further media concentration and the merging of Veterans Day on
November 11 into a Democracy Day on the first Tuesday of November so
we honor veterans by giving citizens a day off to celebrate democracy
by exercising the franchise that so many fought and died for.
One America. Thirty-eight years after the end of the
Civil War, the great black scholar W.E.B. Du Bois predicted that the
twentieth century would be dominated by "the color-line." Will it now
include the twenty-first century as well? Can we really afford to
continue to have two-thirds of black children born out-of-wedlock?
The net worth of Latino families averaging one-twenty-fifth of white
families? A US Senate without any black, Latino or Asian members in a
country nearly one-third nonwhite?
How can a President and Congress change this in an era when
discrimination comes not in the form of hooded vigilantes but
politicians in dark suits and big smiles arguing against "reverse
discrimination" (when they never really spoke out against racial
discrimination in the first place)?
We not only need more candidates and officeholders who can
comfortably speak to and for white, black and Hispanic audiences--as
Robert F. Kennedy did so well forty years ago--but also look more to
universal solutions based on need rather than complexion in order to
mobilize majority coalitions. So better public
transit, public schools and environmental regulation can
simultaneously be more readily enacted but also disproportionately
help minorities enduring second-class healthcare and dirty air.
The frequently aired Cialis ad asks, "When the moment comes, will you
be ready?" The progressive community is ready with a long-gestating
and well-considered program that rejects messianic incompetence
abroad and class warfare at home in favor of nation-building--that
nation being America.
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