Issue #1, Summer 2006

A Message to Our Readers

What could be more anachronistic–in the media culture and political climate of 2006–than the founding of a quarterly journal of ideas? In light of the venomous screeds, discourses on “framing” and political positioning, or any of the other obsessions progressives have adopted of late, who would think that there was an appetite for a meaningful discussion devoted to facts and the basic questions of progressive philosophy? It’s almost as if we were to announce the return of poodle skirts and pet-rocks. But we believe that, to regenerate the strength of the progressive movement, big ideas are vitally important. And Democracy represents our bet–and the bet of our supporters–that they will matter.

National Review “stands athwart history, yelling Stop,” wrote William F. Buckley in its first issue. The conservative consensus forged, to a large extent, in those pages–along with the neoconservative ideas that came out of the Public Interest, Commentary, and the National Interest–was built on a foundation of serious thinking by serious people grappling with essential questions about how the world works and how it should work. They embarked on this process in order to challenge the dominance of New Deal progressivism. And four decades later, the consensus and the ideas developed in those journals and honed over the years have transformed America.

Yet we launch this endeavor at a time when American politics has grown profoundly unserious. As they have amassed more power for themselves than at any point in nearly a century, conservatives have grown tired in their thinking as it’s become clear that their ideas have failed. But instead of stepping into the breach with a coherent response, many progressives have adopted a compulsive fixation on electoral posturing and crafting the message of the day. Progressives too often have come to eschew bold ambition, preferring to take shelter in the safe harbor of “realism” and “competence.”

The times demand more. We are undergoing a profound transformation in our economy, in the nature of global realities and national security threats, and the character of American democracy and society. This transformation has rendered obsolete the comfortable assumptions of the 1930s, the 1960s, the 1980s–and even the 1990s. As progressives have during previous times of similar flux, we must craft a response that moves beyond the mere criticism of the right wing or a rigid adherence to the past. We need a twenty-first-century progressivism that builds on our proud history, is true to our central values, and is relevant to our times.

Progressives have been at their best when we face the future bravely and optimistically; when we are both rigorous in looking at the world as it is and vigorous in introducing creative approaches to remake the world as we believe it should be. Democracy is neither interested in reiterating the conventional wisdom nor in maintaining unity around outdated orthodoxies. We do not seek to publish policy papers or political plans; we’ll leave the budget line items and electoral strategies to others.

Rather, Democracy will serve as a place where ideas can be developed and important debates can be spurred. We see our role as upsetting accepted assumptions and pushing the boundaries of what is accepted by, and expected from, progressives. We believe that many of the old cleavages that divided progressives in the last century have been rendered irrelevant and, if you agree, we hope you’ll comment on the pieces you read here, offer new ideas and arguments, and enter the debate. Now is the time to fashion a new progressivism for the twenty-first century and we welcome all who are willing to join in this conversation.

Conservative ideas have dominated our national discourse for most of a generation. No more. The world and this nation are changing too fast to allow for ideologues who will take us backward. But neither do they allow for those timid souls who are satisfied with, or cowed into, protecting an ever-smaller inheritance from being whittled away. Instead, we need to rejuvenate progressivism and send it back on the march with bold ambition to change America and the world for the better. At Democracy, we stand athwart history and yell, Forward!

Issue #1, Summer 2006
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The National Review and its ilk didn't win the battle of ideas. What they did along with the brace of "think tanks" that arose was act as shills for their wealthy backers.

They provided (provide) an intellectual gloss to a wide range of anti-democratic and anti-egalitarian interests. Places like the Hoover Institution exist only because of the funding they get from wealthy backers. Their scholarly standing is nil, most of these places don't publish in respected journals, but issue white papers under their own imprint or run ads in opinion journals.

The recent study on the influence of just 18 super wealthy families on the estate tax debate illustrates how this technique works. There is no battle of ideas, there are a group of intellectual whores who do the bidding of their wealthy masters. A compliant press completes the picture.

Jun 20, 2006, 3:55 PM
Elites and the rest:

One big problem is that our elites, including our educated elites, have grown increasingly out of touch with the everyday realities of ordinary people. The current immigration debate is a case in point: here is an issue that, if you except the laws of supply and demand, directly effects the economic well-being of most of our citizens, the poorest, weakest, and least educated most of all. And yet this dimension of the problem is scarcely addressed in the media, with the single exception of Lou Dobbs.

Or take the way out tax code is no longer enforced on the 13,000 wealthiest families in America, resulting in a shortfall in revenues on the order of $300 billion annually. Again, apart from a single financial journalist at the NYT, this story goes untold -- no doubt because the "donor class" that these 13,000 families compose are bankrolling both of the major political parties. (Ironically, campaign finance reform had the effect of increasing, not decreasing, the influence of this class on American politics, since a single maverick billionaire can no longer finance an unorthodox candidate.

The fact that focus groups play such an important role in framing the issues in American political campaigns must not blind us to the fact that the most important issues are never framed at all.

For more thoughts in a similar vein feel free to crib from my inactive website/blog


Jun 21, 2006, 12:03 AM

There are huge numbers of great ideas, both conceptual as well as practicle out and about. Many of these good ideas were out there while thr Right Wing created a fog of fraud misrepresenting and strawmanning those ideas, and making their own straw army, not backed with any actual support, but only to win the days battle.

Remember the Laffer curve? While Liberals were diverted disproving it had any validity, they got that round of tax cuts and have moved on to other frauds, never to even bring it up again. The list of such is to long to list anymore.

That being said, there is a lot of basic stuff, like Ayn Rand Libertarianism, or openly deciteful Straussian Doctrines, or the related Dominionist Cristofascism that are bedrock background of the "Bush Base" that needs to be peeled open and aired out, and called out.

Untill "the Base" sees those as the fraud they are and is embarrassed to be connected with it, even if beaten they will rise again and again, untill that job is done.

The next and perhaps bigger problem, the massive election fraud, that the Right has a massive marginalization campaign, assisted by many, Democrats, makes all other ideas moot, or gives the Republicans new ideas about how to make things worse.

Only when those two problems are solved can any program of improving the lives of most people, or the saving of the civilization even begin. True enough a well thought out set of plans needs to be in place at that time, but without getting past those two, there will never be that time.

I have written many posts at and across the liberal blogasphere (as a Google of Freedem would show), that have addressed all three points of departure. You have my email if you would like further thoughts on what is already out there.

There is no derth of ideas, but only spinning wingers trying to quash the many ideas that are out there.

Jun 21, 2006, 12:17 AM

You state that\"Progressives too often have come to eschew bold ambition, preferring to take shelter in the safe harbor of \"realism\" and \"competence.\"

. What are you talking about? Ideas like national single payer helath insurance, universal college education, energy independence, rational regulatory policies to protect our citizens and the environment, radical redistribution of wealth along the original Christian notion of "from those according to their ability, to those according to their need," are not floating in the safe harbor of realism. What do you mean by competence? Certainly in the Bush era where incompetence is seemingly rewarded and cherished, just plain old simple competence in governing is what we need.

Jun 21, 2006, 12:19 PM
Micah Sifry:

Congrats on a new beginning. I'm always for more good writing and thinking.

Curious about one thing that goes unmentioned in your letter to readers--is this magazine at all modeled on Sheldon Wolin's original Democracy? Take a look; you'd be in good company.


Jun 21, 2006, 9:35 PM

Having watched with dismay the destruction of the democratic party by the plutocrats in America using a simple "marketing plan," I feel democrats are slipping further by refusing to keep their selling points "simple." What does "cut and run" suggest to listeners today? It growls with ferocity to anyone who hints at frailty in support of our troops in their endless "war on terror." It is both simple and effective--as is George Bush.

Could democrats turn "cut and run" into a positive force? From what responsibilities have republicans "cut and run" that have endangered this nation? Republicans depict themselves as the protectorate, ever vigilant, protecting us from attack. Can anyone refute that? Look to the world's view of the USA. Who has lied grievously to us to maintain power?

Democrats need a simple message distributed in language suited to its audience. Repetition is the key to selling anything. The media come next.

Jun 22, 2006, 11:18 AM
David Billington:

The intention of your journal is commendable but whether you have a distinctive influence will obviously depend on your editorial policy, and that will depend in part on how wide a net you cast for originality.

Here is a suggestion: reserve a part of your website for submissions that you think are too unorthodox to include alongside the policy thinkers who will contribute most of your articles. Let the readers vote on which of these marginal submissions they think are worthwhile. Then move the winner(s) to a section on your table of contents reserved for them.

Jun 22, 2006, 7:40 PM
Joseph Libson:

I'm on the other side. I'm a conservative.

I very much welcome your magazine. I agree with you that all of the good ideas are coming out of the conservatives.

And that is bad. Our nation can only stay great if good opposing ideas are battling against each to change and become *great* ideas.

The right needs a sparring partner. In the last couple of decades it seems we have only had a punching bag.



Jul 2, 2006, 1:59 AM
Joseph Libson:

I couldn't resist.

Comment #2 above.

"national single payer helath insurance, universal college education, energy independence, rational regulatory policies to protect our citizens and the environment, radical redistribution of wealth"

Does any serious citizen believe that those bankrupt notions are ways forward?

I hope that is not the direction this magazine will take.

Jul 2, 2006, 2:07 AM
Dan Kervick:

Does any serious citizen believe that those bankrupt notions are ways forward?

I do Joseph.

Jul 6, 2006, 12:05 AM

I wish success to Democracy. It is encouraging to see the publication of a journal that promotes intense intellectual debate of progressive ideas.

However, I don't believe this will ultimately carry the day.

Progressive need to develop effective marketing strategies for their ideas that will confront and challenge the salesmanship of the neocon right. For example, where was the progressive answer when the neocons sold America on abolishing the "death tax," that would only increase the largess of the super wealthy at the expense of the middle class? It seems simple enough to explain that the middle class will pay more when the super wealth pay less or nothing! Where is the progressive defense of the constitution when the neocons proceed to rip it to shreds over and over again? What progressive ideas are going to stop the neocons from gutting the Voting Right Act? I believe the answer is hard work and money spent in the trenches that brings out the disenchanted voter. The answer is facing up to the racism in America that the neocons so adroitly exploit for their own benefit, while the progressives sit silently on the sidelines. Do the progressives have an affirmative strategy to the neocon "southern strategy? The beat goes on.

Good luck.

Jul 10, 2006, 12:08 AM

Does any serious citizen believe that those bankrupt notions are ways forward?

Me too.

Aug 7, 2006, 9:43 PM
Rich Thompson:

While I agree that the magazine will be useful and look forward to reading many issues, I think you overstate your case a bit. It's not that conservatives have all the good ideas. (They have many of the bad ones, and a few good ones). Rather, the void I think you want to fill is that there is not a serious medium where democrats (or progressives or liberals, take your pick) can grapple with issues in a serious way. Currently, many of the good ideas from the left are simply common sense applied, or developed by (hopefully) principled politicians applying progressive values. There's little debate of these ideas, at least in a substantive way.

But even if it were true that the left has fewer ideas than the right, this shouldn't be a source for shame. There are some ideas we can afford not to have (tax-cut and spend, preventive war).

Sep 10, 2006, 8:54 PM
Jim Harrigan:

Admittedly late to the party here given it is 2011.

I'm fascinated with the massive rambling generalities of the authors, let alone the stale "progressive" answers of either the authors or the posted comments. To quote the founding piece above in veins:
"We see our role as upsetting accepted assumptions and pushing the boundaries of what is accepted by, and expected from, progressives. Now is the time to fashion a new progressivism for the twenty-first century and we welcome all who are willing to join in this conversation."

If founding internet startups in a Starbucks is visionary or simply going back to local government, good luck with how far that will take the movement. Is that right, upsetting assumptions and expecations? If the answers eventually don't involve Federal Government or even local government mandates, take overs, tax base redistributive wealth for all proposals, then perhaps you will be novel. Otherwise, a fall back to long rhetorical descriptions of the same old positions with a writing flare is hardly "new assumptions" (unless I suppose it comes with full Marist G7 meeting violence as well).One can easily see I'm a "National Reviewer" conservative.

Next, "Conservative ideas have dominated our national discourse for most of a generation. No more. The world and this nation are changing too fast to allow for ideologues who will take us backward."

Take us backward into what, specifically? Lower taxes, private property, effort=reward. Presumably the authors mean pre-"golden era" New Deal/Great Society sweat shops, with Scrooge, whip in hand one hand and stick in the other beating the drum and chanting "row, row, row" to the slaves in the galley.

The real problem to me is a full on 50/50 divide. You don't like us, we don't like you and both want to win. How about a truly new, radical proposal? Full political divide of the country going forward? Walter Williams (NR contributor) wrote a piece years ago (2000?) called "Why can't we just peacably divide?" Well...why not? Again, you want programs, redistribution ad nauseum, go for it? Just do it on your side from "your people". Oh wait, they have no capital to tax! Oops. I'm fully for outright divide of the country (what, East/West at the Mississippi?) or even dividing the states into quadrants? Red/Blue, 4 quarters for each state. How about a checkpoint Charlie as well?

The real problem with progressivism is it wants something for nothing with other peoples money, lives, capital, resources of any sort in some grand utopian scheme that literally has never worked in 6000 years of known history on a grand and long term scale. If you simply schemed with your own resources and lives, you wouldn't get any pushback.

Aug 18, 2011, 1:28 PM

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