On this July 4th, when it comes to challenges facing America, the Bush Administration demonstrates that the conservative agenda is, to borrow a phrase, part of the problem, not the solution. But progressives need to seize the opening created by the reckless, reactionary and divisive rightwing policies to put forth positive initiatives that address the challenges facing the country.
These initiatives not only need to be large enough to address the festering problems facing us, but also broad enough to engage new allies and attract new supporters, and clear enough to be both compelling and comprehensible.
Anyone interested in a savvy primer on good progressive ideas would have found it at a featured panel–“Five Initiatives for a More Perfect Union,”–at the Campaign for America’s “Taking Back America” conference last month in Washington, DC.
Five leading thinkers and organizers argued–as Yale Professor Jacob Hacker put it–that while conservative policies are “in shambles,” the Right has managed to “transform the straw of slim margins and unpopular policies into the gold of big policy victories.” Progressives, then, need to communicate to the American people that they have good ideas, and that government has a critical role to play in “a new and uncertain era.”
Here, then, are five initiatives for the next time you hear some ethically challenged rightwinger (think Tom DeLay) claim that progressives are obstructionists with no good ideas:
1) “America Needs a Raise.” Stewart Acuff, the organizing director of the AFL-CIO, called attention to the value of a bill called the Employee Free Choice Act. Among other things, it would require employers to recognize unions when workers signed cards and petitions seeking union representation. Acuff stressed that it was vital that we mobilize and empower workers and secure workers’ rights in a new economy and in the face of Bush’s ruthless and systematic attack on American labor. (Click here to read Acuff’s Nation editorial on the legislation.)
2) “Pre-school for All: The Best Economic Development Investment.” Julie Burton, director of Project Kid Smart with People for the American Way, cited the benefits of providing pre-school for every American child. Pre-school would improve kids’ lives. Studies in Chicago and Michigan, for instance, found that kids who attend a quality pre-school learn to read faster, are more likely to attend college, earn higher salaries, have more stable marriages and, perhaps not coincidentally, are also less likely to commit a crime.
Equally important is that pre-school, as Burton explained, is also a terrific investment in America’s economic future. People who attend pre-school develop the skills necessary in a modern workforce, and every dollar spent on pre-school reaps the nation $7 down the road. Pre-school generates higher tax revenues and requires less spending on “remedial services.”