As the Democratic Party girds for the ’06 elections, a pair of articles in The American Prospect by co-editors Paul Starr and Robert Kuttner shed light on the challenges confronting contemporary liberalism and reforms needed to secure its future.
Starr’s “The Liberal Project Now” urges liberals to avoid the trap of becomming “merely defensive and oppositional” and to renew “the principled commitments to liberal ideas” and “liberal innovation.” He offers this challenge to Dems:
Rebuilding a Democratic majority will require a broad and inclusive politics and the acceptance of ideological diversity within the party. As the Republicans support centrists who can win in the blue states, so Democrats — including liberals — will have to support centrists who can win in the red states. Some say the Democrats need only the courage of their convictions to tap a deep well of progressive sentiment, but if there is a latent national majority for that kind of pure and unadulterated liberal politics, it has kept itself well hidden for a long time. The more realistic goal is a government that is responsive to liberal influence on foreign and domestic policy and committed to the constitutional principles in force since the late 1930s.
In “The Death and Life of American Liberalism,” Kuttner argues that the primary reason for the right’s recent success is that it is “a movement, 30 years in the making” and a “smooth machine joined by common ideology.” He cites the power of the GOP’s superior institutional unfrastructure, discipline and echo chamber as formidable GOP assets, in stark contrast to the Dems’ “uncertain trumpet” and failure to fully grasp that “conviction beats waffling.” But he finds cause for Democratic optimism in surveying the current and future political landscape:
And yet, this overpowering structural tilt conceals some surprisingly good news. Despite its immense advantages, the right barely prevailed in the last two presidential elections, even against feckless Democratic campaigns. The superior infrastructure just offset the extremism. The country remains skeptical about most Republican policies, from Social Security privatization to the assault on the courts. As John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira have documented, potentially liberal groups are demographically ascendant. There is a latent liberal majority, if liberals can once again learn to do politics.
Kuttner counsels Dems to become more vigorous champions of “the economic struggles of ordinary citizens” and argues that “a resurgent Democratic Party built on progressivism would be more worth having” than a centrist party based on moderation. He concludes with this observation:
The resurgence of liberalism and the Democratic Party, when it comes, will necessarily be grass roots as well as intellectual or professional. A new generation of think tanks and message machines can help, but in a democracy, the ultimate test is whether a program animates voters. Democratic candidates will shed their temporizing not when a linguistic expert gives them better packaging but when voters demonstrate that a muscular progressivism that addresses the plight of the common American is a winning politics.
Kuttner’s and Starr’s articles, along with Meyerson’s piece cited below, show why The American Prospect should be a regular bookmark for Dems. TAP offers its readers a lot free of charge, but subscribers help to make a worthy investment in a more focused Democratic vision.