From the Executive Editor
At this writing, just a few weeks into Obama's presidency, a truly progressive governing majority is getting to work. Amid profound crises at home and abroad, the new president and Congress can't do it alone -- they need the support, criticism, and independent pressure of progressive social-change organizations.
The NAACP is among the oldest of such organizations, and confronted with facile proclamations of a "post-racial" society, it faces the challenge of defining a mission suitable to the situation of black America today. Its young new president, Benjamin Jealous, is an Obama-like figure but one who passed up politics for activism. Our writing fellow Adam Serwer sheds a light on the state of racial politics and activism in this new day.
Organized labor is another venerable anchor of progressive politics, but it has been stalled by the inability to form unions in the face of massive employer resistance. Editor-at-Large Harold Meyerson writes that without the Employee Free Choice Act, unions are often forced to organize outside the workplace, bringing massive political and public pressure on companies. EFCA would bring workers back into the process.
Compared to labor and the civil-rights movement, the bloggers and online activists of the Netroots are surely the new kids on the block, and they face challenges as well. As Eli Sanders reports, the Netroots put their energy into a Washington state congressional race but, despite some successes along the way, couldn't quite change the rules of old politics and the mainstream media.
This month we also inaugurate some changes to our Up Front section. We'll now feature one longer piece -- this month, Ezra Klein's from the front lines of foodie politics -- and a brief dialogue between two of our writers. In this issue, Dana Goldstein and Adam Serwer discuss GOP identity politics. It seems that change has come to even the Republican Party.
-- Mark Schmitt
No New Deal Niceties
University of Minnesota economics professor Harlan Smith digested, applauded, and then rebutted parts of Harold Meyerson's cover story, "A Global New Deal": "I was initially impressed by Meyerson's logical argument that as business became national, certain other things had to become national rather than purely local. Now with business being global, the things he mentions would need to become global also. The nature of globalization and the structure of the World Trade Organization will be important in judging [Meyerson's] propositions. At present, transnational corporations do as they wish to maximize their own profits, whatever effects there may be on other interests. This needs to be changed so that all nations have a chance to advance their own interests." Smith differs from Meyerson on how to get there -- he rejects the goal of internationally recognized standards for trade, labor, and consumer protection and suggests the U.S. more strictly regulate its own dealings.
Jim Carpenter, an economics instructor at Milwaukee Area Technical College, wrote in to tack on four more ideas to Robert Kuttner's piece, "Obama's Economic Opportunity." He wrote, "Taxing the wealthy could actually stimulate the economy if the source of the tax payments is idle cash that will be put into circulation by government spending." He moved on to collective consumption: "More attention needs to be placed on rebooting employment rather than increasing consumer spending. People will have to reduce their needless consumption if we want to tackle this problem. The only way to achieve full employment when highly productive workers decide to live more simply and consume less is to share the work." He then addressed joblessness, eyeing pre-recession dynamics: "It is time to create a safety net of publicly funded jobs for individuals who have no income and want to work. In Milwaukee, where I live, there were enormous levels of joblessness even before this latest crisis. Simply rebooting aggregate demand is not going to create job opportunities for everyone needing work." And finally, he urged that we "increase, and not forget" spending in developing nations.
In February, the ideas outlined in Kuttner's feature were discussed at length at "Thinking Big, Thinking Forward: A Conference on America's Economic Future" sponsored by TAP, Demos, the Economic Policy Institute, and the Campaign for America's Future. Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman gave the keynote address, and Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania and Congressman George Miller of California were among the leaders and experts who attended to engage the question of how to rebuild a new and more sustainable economy out of the current crisis.
Reader David Blatt e-mailed us to say "the magazine and the Web site are consistently excellent. In particular, Mark Schmitt's articles over the past year have, time after time, provided the most incisive analysis of the presidential campaign and of Barack Obama's unique and transformative style of politics. Thanks for being the best place to go for progressive takes on key policy issues."
Correction: Our piece "How Bush Broke the Government" was written and reported by several contributors. We regret that Emily Douglas was left off of that list.