"Get This Party Started": The Central Ideas
by Matthew Kerbel, Thu Jan 26, 2006 at 02:04:31 PM EST
Last week, Chris and I mentioned that tonight begins what we expect to be an ongoing discussion engaging the netroots and members of official Washington, built around the book Get This Party Started: How Progressives Can Fight Back and Win. As the book's editor, I was invited me to kick off the discussion with an overview of the broad themes of the book.
"Get This Party Started" was conceived as a vehicle for coordinating the discussion of what progressives must do to win now and for bringing together a diverse and top-line group of Washington insiders and grassroots activists. Along with Chris, the contributors include Howard Dean, E.J. Dionne, Anna Greenberg, George Lakoff, John Podesta, Amy Sullivan, Jim Wallis, and others. In future weeks, we'll be joined by some of the book's other contributors, including some who make their living inside the Beltway, as we build the discussion and move toward political action.
If you would like a copy of the book before the conversation begins or as a result of what we'll be talking about tonight, click here (it's an inexpensive purchase -- $10 on Amazon and $15 in the stores).
The book's guiding approach is that if we all talk to each other instead of past each other and have a comprehensive discussion about message, language and strategy, we can accelerate the progress progressives have already made and move in a coordinated fashion toward victory in November - and beyond. So, this book is a call to action as much as a blueprint for action. If we're going to be successful, we're going to need to talk it through and make it happen.
The book covers a lot of ground, and in preparing for tonight's discussion I was torn between presenting just a few ideas or, at the risk of overwhelming everyone, addressing all the core ideas. I decided to put it all out there and let the conversation develop as it will. In the weeks ahead, we'll have the chance to go into more depth on the things we don't get to tonight. So, in the interest of getting this conversation started, the central ideas of "Get This Party Started" are:
* Americans are ready for progressive government. President Bush and the Republican Congress insist on taking the country in a direction it does not like. Americans have lost confidence in their leadership, in their ability to keep the country safe, and in their domestic agenda. The electorate is restless and open to new leadership and progressive ideas.
* Progressive ideas are mainstream ideas. Progressives advocate a change that Americans say they crave: policies that will encourage balance and fairness in our politics, keep us safe by honoring the time-tested courage of our best national convictions, and advance effective, smart government.
* Progressive values are mainstream values. Progressives are - and always have been - committed to improving our living standards, ensuring broad-based opportunities in a rapidly changing economy, protecting the nation by partnering with other democracies in the fight against extremism, and reforming the political system to ensure honesty and openness worthy of the public's respect and admiration.
* Progressive values are moral values. Progressives value opportunity, community and tolerance tempered by responsibility - traditional American values shared by religious and secular Americans that form the foundation of moral politics. Conservatives like to talk about morality, but they divided the country, misled the country into an unnecessary war and pushed economic policies that have hurt the poor and middle class.
* Progressives combine the values of personal responsibility and social justice. Progressives can offer voters a new political choice: a moral agenda of personal responsibility married with social justice. It will resonate with working-class and middle-class voters who hold traditional values but who are turned off by the mean-spiritedness and intolerance of the conservative agenda toward women, gays and the poor.
* Progressives believe that America is prosperous and strong when we provide opportunity to the middle class. Progressives support a system that rewards work and is open to all regardless of one's station in life. Progressives believe that our diversity is our strength and Americans should have the opportunity to realize their aspirations and ambitions through a meaningful and dignified life.
* Progressives believe that America needs to defend its national interests while engaging the world through alliances. Progressives fought and won two world wars, and believe America needs a military that is second to none. Progressives believe that America must lead the global effort to secure freedom, democracy and human rights, but that a moral foreign policy is rooted in moral leadership and multilateral action.
* Progressives believe that the privileges of American life must be accompanied by responsibilities from all and a commitment to serve the larger community. Progressives believe that citizens owe something to their families and localities; public officials to the national interest; and corporate leaders to shareholders, employees, consumers, and communities. Progressives recognize the responsibility to use the commonwealth for the common good and believe Americans have a duty to manage wisely the national and natural assets we hold in trust for future generations.
* Progressives are reformers. Special interests have overtaken government, and big money has severed the attachment between officials and citizens that makes good government possible. One prominent place where progressives can begin to break down the influence of money in politics is by working to close the loophole in the 2002 McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Act that allows "independent" 527 organizations to flood the political system with cash.
* Progressives reject the false choice between "moving to the left" and "moving to the center". Progressive Democrats should articulate progressive values and not worry about ideological positioning, because voters are already comfortable with progressive values but often do not know that the Democratic Party supports them. The move away from the bifurcating politics of "left" and "right" would be an enormously positive change that would revitalize our stale and divisive political dialogue.
* Progressives have deep roots in a successful century-old tradition that guides today's progressive politics. The progressive impulse arose in response to disturbing trends in American life associated with the emergence of a powerful and uncontrolled capitalist economy in the late nineteenth century. Progressive reformers then and today value improved conditions for Americans by harnessing the power of government to assist the needy and vulnerable.
* Progressives do not seek a litmus test for membership. Although it is tempting to try to create a progressive "bumper sticker" to battle the Right, progressives throughout history have differed on some priorities and policy specifics. However, progressives are united by shared values and objectives. Progressives should therefore avoid message litmus tests and work to create a robust climate for intellectual exchange, the development of new ideas, and genuine collaboration.
* Progressives can connect with voters by presenting them with a values narrative. Americans have long agreed with progressive positions on a range of issues spanning healthcare, the economy, Social Security, taxes, education and the environment, but progressives tend to think and talk in policy terms that elude voters. By speaking thematically rather than programmatically, progressives can reach voters who are already inclined to support them.
* Progressives can connect with voters by explaining their ideas in clear, simple language. George W. Bush has bad ideas, but he knows how to communicate them in ways people understand. Progressives have good ideas that people will embrace as progressives begin to explain them in plain English.
* Progressives need to take on the Washington consultant class that has undermined Democrats' political prospects. Democrats should stop rewarding consultants who keep losing elections. History shows that hitherto unknown consultants will emerge, if encouraged to do so, from successful state and local campaigns.
* Progressives need to develop their early embrace of Internet campaigning. The Internet provides progressives with a powerful organizing tool, and its potential has yet to be tapped. The Internet can enable collective action on an almost unimaginable scale, facilitating the formation of countless local communities of people willing to leave their homes and take action.
* The Internet can be the great equalizer for progressives in an era of Republican big-money politics by promoting widespread, inexpensive grass roots mobilization. If the Democratic Party, a wing of the Democratic Party, or an affiliated progressive organization can start to see itself as a service organization, serving the needs of its constituents to engage in politics, then with the help of the Internet it can reach and mobilize countless numbers of community leaders and voters.
* Progressives should recognize the Internet as a natural vehicle for advancing the goal of restoring meaning to politics. By reaching disparate constituencies through the Internet and connecting them to the political process, progressives can begin to restore purpose to a political process that for many has been reduced to a televised spectator sport. The Internet can energize and empower ordinary citizens to take leadership roles in their communities on behalf of progressive candidates and policies if organizations like the Democratic National Committee and political campaigns have the courage to ease away from centralized control of grassroots organizing.
* The Democratic Party should understand and embrace blogs, which provide a critical outlet for shaping the news agenda and advancing progressive goals. Over the past few years, the progressive political "blogosphere" has developed into a full-fledged counterweight to traditional media for the production, judgment, distribution and consumption of political writing. Recognizing the enormous agenda-setting and activist potential of progressive blogs will go a long way toward amplifying a progressive message and revitalizing volunteer activism in the Democratic Party.