Thinkers Think Again

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.

Tags: conservative, progressive, Republican Party (all tags)

Comments

3 Comments

Kudos for bringig up the big picture...

...wherein I offer one piece of conceptual input.

We're at a crossroads in our society, here in the U.S. as far as the economy is concerned. The same holds true for our environment and our energy resources.

The overriding theme here, IMHO: We must do more with less, and seek alternative means to (by which we) obtain "more."

We must be extremely creative. It is time to dig down deep into our psyche and our energy as a society to find practical solutions.

We cannot spend as we have in the best, both from a governmental standpoint, and very much so on a personal level. Our healthcare/Medicare system is bankrupt, both philosophically and financially. This is even more severe than the looming bankruptcy of our Social Security finances.

We cannot ignore pressing societal catastrophes, above and beyond the financial ones (mentioned above) for even one more day. If encouraged and allowed, creativity will drive us out of the energy crisis and interrelated environmental crises before us. To a great extend, eventually, this will inevitably have to be a self-funding solution, too.

Given the farcical events that have played out in our housing sector of late, it's already been demonstrated that our government fails miserably--and for a variety of obvious reasons--when it attempts to engage in GSE's ("government sponsored enterprises"). Therefore, this will have to be an effort that heavily engages the private sector.

But, above all else, perhaps the most forward-thinking meme of our new progressivism will be the overriding theme that "Today matters little if we're not focused on tomorrow."

Because everything--and I do mean just about everything--in our society, from our financial markets to our government, to the boardrooms of our corporations and all the way down to our individual voters' mentalities must shift now from the "what-have-you-done-for-me-lately-put-mo re-cash-in-my-pocket-TODAY" mindset, to a much more intelligent focus on the future...not one day, or 90 days, or even 180 days
 down the road...but one year, 5 years, and 25 years from now.

And, this will be, perhaps, the most difficult effort of all. It is unpopular. It runs against the grain of public sentiment and voter opinion. But, it's the right thing to do.

Therefore, the "progressive shift" becomes: "Do the right thing. Forget about expediency."

And, regrettably, there's probably not a politician on the planet that could successfully get elected--let alone lead--a major country if they ran for office focused on this agenda.

It comes down to educating our society, intensively; and framing solutions extremely creatively, in a manner which they garner popular support, too.

This is a very daunting and extremely difficult-to-obtain agenda, to say the least. But, we really have no choice but to pursue it.

Will this, by definition, marginalize or diminish the popularity of Progressive thought (if we, as Progressives, venture in this direction)? Some would argue not.

But, again, regrettably, (IMHO) we have reached somewhat of a point of no return on these three large issues; and a severe and immediate--and potentially very unpopular--redirection of philosophy and action is really our only choice today.

by bobswern 2008-07-22 08:14AM | 0 recs
Re: Thinkers Think Again

Holy cow--this is so important. The Democrats have a major need for some really big ideas in the next few years.

I really believe that we are winning elections right now due to Republican failures, and not necessarily our own successes. If we are going to have success in 2010 and beyond, it is crucial that we come up with new solutions.

I like some of bobswern's ideas on this, although communicating them effectively will be a major challenge.

by Jeff Rosenberg 2008-07-22 08:25AM | 0 recs
Re: Thinkers Think Again

The key is pragmatic results oriented actions not idealistic morality oriented actions.

On the economy and energy this is a 3-8 trillion dollar problem.  The ramp up probably shouldn't be done at more than 200 billion a year but it should be much more than the 15 billion Obama is currently talking about.

Global warming etc will all take care of itself so long as we don't use coal as our energy independence tool.

High school education in the inner city is a very pragmatic place to focus our energy.  By college its too late, the culture needs to be changed in the preteen years with students learning and being held  to similar standards to students at public schools in rich areas.  Catholic schools tend to do this pretty well while public schools not so much.

We need a MASSIVE MASSIVE MASSIVE refocusing on MANUFACTURING.  We need as a nation to make things.  In order to make things we need to be a nation of makers, engineers, beer makers, clothing makers, anything that can be exported.   Having a 100 million dollar program to encourage engineering would be massive.

by dtaylor2 2008-07-22 08:39AM | 0 recs

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