Mark Schmitt is a senior fellow and advisor to the president at the Roosevelt Institute, a New York-based think tank affiliated with the FDR Library. He is a former executive editor of The American Prospect.
Let me begin by admitting that if fortune decrees that the next president of the United States must be another conservative Republican, I'd certainly rather it be John McCain than George Allen, Tom Tancredo, Newt Gingrich, or most of the other current
But have no illusions: McCain is a very conservative Republican who has now embarked on the project of reaffirming his position as the rightful heir to Barry Goldwater's politics as well as his Senate seat. Last month, for example, McCain voted to extend the very tax cuts that he had once voted against, a move that tax-cut strategist Larry Hunter correctly described to The Washington Times as “a further morphing of McCain into George W. Bush.”
Not long ago, i attended a meeting of 20 or so progressive advocates and experts on a major policy issue. I looked around the room and realized that I was, I'm quite sure, the youngest person there. And that's happened before. But I'm 43 years old. It's fun to feel like a prodigy, but I'm not.
In other settings, such as among bloggers, I'm the oldest. But rarely, on the cusp of middle age, do I find myself in the middle of a broad range of ages, or in a room dominated by my coevals.
“We need a message.” “We need a philosophy.” “We need a simple statement of what we believe, just like the right has.” No meeting of progressives lasts long before these sentiments are expressed. Sometimes a committee will be assigned to frame the new message.
The result might be a crisp but banal statement of uncontested values. Or a list of 62 programs that acknowledge all the key constituencies and causes. As a colleague of mine once said, most attempts at this synthesis are no worse than any other, and no better.
Why is this so hard? Why haven't we been able to define what it means to be a progressive (or liberal) in clear, meaningful terms?
The question of the week seems to be, Can Democrats nationalize the 2006 congressional election the way Republicans did in 1994? Modernized counterparts to Newt Gingrich's “Contract with America” are being prepared, slogans tested, and national issues developed for an assault on the profoundly weakened beachhead of the GOP autocracy.
As is so often the case, though, Democrats are transfixed by the history and perceived successes of the right, when there are better lessons in our own history and our own successes. We'll come back to that in a minute.
For the environmental community, “The Death of Environmentalism” hit last year with the force of a tsunami, leaving its audience so taken aback by its sweeping, cocksure condemnation of their decades of selfless struggle that they could barely think about it rationally, even when they accepted its basic truth.