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 progressive patriotism.”
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 elections. 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 spirit of 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.