Thinkers Think Again
by The Opportunity Agenda, Tue Jul 22, 2008 at 07:23:57 AM EDT
A piece in the Sunday New York Times reports that conservative think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation are engaged in hot internal discussions about self-transformation. With support for a conservative president and a conservative Republican party at all-time lows, the Times reports, "policy cooks have returned to the kitchen to whip up a menu of new solutions for conservatives disaffected with the party." Some, like A.E.I. fellow and Bush alum David Frum, are even taking a fresh look at conservative heresies, like the idea that it's in all of our interest to offer people in prison education, mentoring, and support for their children.
Those of us in the progressive ideas sector could also benefit from some self reflection. Few if any transformative progressive ideas emerged from the crowded, marathon primary season, and few are on display in the current debate. And that's especially true when it comes to the concerns of the voters who are bringing the most progressive energy to the race: new African-American, Latino, and young voters. Those voters are struggling with broken systems of education, health care, credit, immigration, housing, and criminal justice, among others. And they are ready for a reinvented, positive role for the public structures that expand opportunity.
Progressive think tanks and advocacy groups have to step up to that challenge. For decades, we've been seeking incremental change and, more often, fighting off harmful proposals. As the Bill Clinton years proved, that dynamic won't magically change just because a more left-leaning Administration or Congress is in office. It will be up to us, and to the new generation of organizers, activists, bloggers, and thinkers, to bring the big ideas and to push them forward in a form and language that resonates with everyday Americans.
While holding tight to our values, we'll need to reexamine some core assumptions. And, perhaps most importantly, we'll have to really listen to the hopes, dreams and concerns of our nation's diverse communities--not just through polls and focus groups, but through tough and honest conversations and the interactive power of Web 2.0. Now is the time to ask ourselves some tough questions, and to change what we do in response.