Magazine article The American Prospect

Come Together: Right Now, over Us. the Prospect's Co-Founder and the President of the Democratic Leadership Council's Think Tank Offer a Progressive Growth Strategy We Can All Agree On

Magazine article The American Prospect

Come Together: Right Now, over Us. the Prospect's Co-Founder and the President of the Democratic Leadership Council's Think Tank Offer a Progressive Growth Strategy We Can All Agree On

Article excerpt

IF LIBERALS AND NEW DEMOCRATS SOMETIMES SEEM LIKE the Hatfields and McCoys of center-left politics, it's because we each believe passionately that America's progressive soul is worth fighting for. For the most part, these debates within the family reflect principled disagreements about the best strategy for achieving both a just society and a progressive majority that embraces it. But though we still may disagree about some details, after years of radically conservative dominance of national politics, we find ourselves in vehement agreement with a simple proposition: The radical right is closing avenues of opportunity to working Americans.

This right-wing dominance, however, has produced a new unity on the progressive side. In this spirit, a group of us has gathered under a flag of truce to work out an alternative to Bushonomics: a progressive growth strategy for expanding the middle class.

Let's grant that it's not fair to blame presidents for all that goes wrong on their watch or to credit them for all that goes well, even if voters do it anyway. But it is fair to judge presidents on how well they play the hand history deals them. By this standard, it's fair to conclude that President Bush over the last three years has failed to cope effectively with America's core economic problem: 2 million lost jobs and the severing of the usual link between gross domestic product growth and job growth. Administration policies have failed to revive business and investor confidence in our economy, or to stem growing public anxieties over out sourcing and trade in general. They've made our tax system less progressive, starved government of the revenues it needs to tackle our most urgent domestic and security challenges, and submerged America's future in a rising tide of red ink.

Like their Gilded Age predecessors a century ago, today's conservatives have put government squarely on the side of entrenched wealth and unearned privilege. Their policies have enriched corporations but not workers. They have shifted the tax burden from the wealthy to working families. But they've done nothing to address health-care costs and health security for the working middle class, the prospect of losing one's job to outsourcing or trade, or a sharp rise in poverty.

Perhaps most insidiously of all, the right has dissipated the optimism and problem solving confidence of the Clinton years. During the 1990s, smart public policies reinforced robust economic growth and job creation, public-sector innovation flourished, problems long seen as intractable--such as rising crime and welfare dependency--began to yield to new remedies, and Washington showed that it could equip and empower citizens to solve problems. Today the prevailing mood is pessimism. The public overwhelmingly believes that the country is on the wrong track and frets about a jobless recovery, our ability to compete in the global economy, and America's increasing isolation in the world.

A POLITICAL ECONOMY OF PRIVILEGE

Bush's economic policy is a radical departure even for the right. It reverses the one thing that traditional conservatives did well: resist public deficits. Instead, the right's program sacrifices sound economics to political redistribution--the supposed sin for which conservatives lambasted progressives.

Democrats, of course, sought to redistribute resources and opportunities to the poor and the hard-pressed middle class. Bush's heart goes out instead to high earners groaning under the exactions of the lowest marginal tax rates in the advanced world and corporations oppressed by health, safety, and environmental regulations.

On Bush's watch, steel and timber companies get protection, energy and agribusiness concerns get subsidies, and multimillionaires get to pass on their estates tax-free, but somehow there isn't enough money to fund what the president once called his top priority--closing the achievement gap between poor and middle-class students in America's public schools--or to make sure that every worker has basic health insurance, or to provide working parents with decent child-care options, or to extend unemployment benefits for 760,000 workers who have exhausted their benefits looking for jobs that aren't there. …

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