Thursday, July 20, 2006

get real

Progressive realism’s watchword is results. No more chasing woolly-headed ideological dreams like those that conservatives have pursued lately or liberals did long ago in ways that alienated the public. The idea is simply to make actual progress toward many of the same quantifiable goals that the right has claimed to support: reducing vulnerability to terrorism and natural catastrophe, raising incomes, improving economic security, reducing poverty, cutting deficits, strengthening Social Security, slowing medical inflation, broadening health insurance coverage, upgrading schools, and implementing genuinely “smart regulation” of the environment and public hazards. But instead of sticking with ideas hatched at conservative and libertarian think tanks that have demonstrably failed on every single one of those fronts, progressive realists would build on initiatives that have worked before at the national or state level or in other countries. That includes increases in the minimum wage, adjustments to Social Security consistent with the enormously successful 1983 reforms, and a renewed push toward universal health insurance -- which any number of other countries have demonstrated is a far more efficient way to protect the public than our crazy-quilt system. Legislation would be written to include impact assessments and sunset provisions, which require a re-evaluation after a specified period to publicly review whether the policy produced the intended results.
The wonk in me likes the policy minutiae, while the populist in me likes the simplification of the tax code. This is more than just nostalgia for triangulation and the DLC; this concept of progressive realism has the potential to become a major current within political thought, both in domestic and foreign policy. Progressivism as currently formulated leaves something to be desired in its amorphous relationship to socialism, while realism is the strong medicine needed to save American foreign policy from lapsing into irrelevancy. In foreign policy, progressive realism means creating a more robust system of international institutions which can be leveraged to pursue the national self-interest against new threats or for economic opportunity without the exclusive and needless escalation towards military expenditures. This means better international weapons inspection programs, environmental and labor standards, humanitarian programs and the like. This outlook is sorely needed there too if we have any hope of preventing neoconservative radical idealism from sweeping the US into its third hot war with Iran. The challenge for progressives is to stomach the uproar from constituencies and interest groups that this results-oriented approach would entail, especially towards decrepit subsidies and entitlements which benefit only a few. However within this there is a precious opportunity to counterbalance the unwarranted success of the label 'compassionate conservative' by abolishing the pernicious tax-and-spend Ted Kennedy latte liberal caricature which dooms so many Democrats to ignominy. Its not about buying everybody a puppy or even thinking we can solve every problem but making a transparent government where accountablity can be measured in real-time with real numbers to find out what works and what doesn't.

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