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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Progressivism, Freedom and the Role of Government

The online forum “Progressive Politics and the Meaning of American Freedom” that Demos and TDS recently cosponsored (see a pdf version of the forum’s nine essays here, and a summary here) illustrated a variety of views on the political salience of “freedom” rhetoric by conservatives, the proper definition of “freedom” from a progressive perspective, and the relationship between freedom and government as an instrument for promoting it.
A broad area of consensus among our essayists was the observation that progressive politics are persistently–and right now, urgently–undermined by popular mistrust of government, regardless of the motive: the fear that government inherently constricts freedom, the conviction that government is corrupt or incompetent, or the suspicion that government is aligned with forces inimical to freedom.
As a result, those who believe freedom is the quintessential American value that progressives must embrace, those who believe freedom is properly defined as a publicly-guaranteed right to a decent living and the opportunity to succeed, and those who believe freedom should be consistent with collective responsibilities for common needs and aspirations–all have a vital stake in rehabilitating the public sector as an effective vehicle for vindicating democracy and those individual rights.
How to do that–by reforming the public sector, explaining it, defending it, aiming it more sharply at corporate abuses, or fundamentally changing it–will be the next subject that Demos and TDS will tackle with an online forum. It is obviously an overriding issue in the 2010 elections, but more importantly, it represents an enduring challenge to progressives who seek to make government work for broadly- shared freedom and other common goals.

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