For a country so young, America is fascinated with history–and its less distinguished cousin, nostalgia. From the blockbuster Ken Burns series “The War” airing on endless loop on PBS to the Tony Award-winning “Jersey Boys” that recreates the doo-wop of the 1950s, the past obsesses our nation.
Of course, a fascination with one’s history can be paralyzing; too much pining for the “good ol’ days” instead of bringing about progress today is stultifying. That’s why Democracy rigorously searches for new ideas, pushing progressives not to be satisfied with the past but to find solutions to the tough problems of the present and the future. Yet, as Mark Twain reportedly said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” There is a continuity to human achievements as well as failures, a past from which we cannot only learn, but gain inspiration.
In this issue, we have a series of articles that do just that. Matthew Dallek, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, reclaims the lessons of civil defense during World War II to construct a progressive approach to homeland security today. Peniel Joseph–a professor of African and Afro-American studies at Brandeis University–places three distinct strands of the civil rights movement into the larger struggle for American democracy. And veteran journalist Jim Sleeper explores the life of labor leader Al Shanker to assess the prospects for his brand of “tough liberalism” today.
Interpreting history correctly is the focus of another group of articles that puncture the fatuous myths and misreadings of our past peddled by conservatives. While President George Bush and his allies invoke the legacy of Vietnam to support the continuing war in Iraq, Steven Simon from the Council on Foreign Relations and the Naval War College’s Jonathan Stevenson argue that they are drawing exactly the wrong lesson from the conflict. In fact, the history of the Vietnam War teaches us that an immediate, controlled withdrawal, on America’s terms, is preferable to being run out of a country broken and beleaguered. Other supporters of the war in Iraq, specifically neoconservatives, view the conflict as part of a “World War IV” against Islamofascism. Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, demolishes this construct and puts forward a positive, liberal internationalist alternative to replace it. And, while the right has demonized George McGovern as a shorthand for everything they see wrong with the left, journalist Rick Perlstein revisits the election of 1972 to explain how McGovern’s loss has been misinterpreted, and what that means for progressive strategy today.
To balance these looks into the past, New York Law School Professor Beth Noveck explores how new technologies–like Wikipedia and open-source programming–can profoundly change governance; political scientist Thomas Schaller explains the movement to regulate “public bads”; Harvard professor and former assistant secretary of Health and Human Services Mary Jo Bane assesses the faith-based initiatives of the early Bush years; NYU Law Professor Aziz Huq examines the long, bipartisan trend of centralization of power in the presidency; co-editor Andrei Cherny takes a look at the current war over the “war on terror”; and Sierra Club President Carl Pope examines the future of the environmental movement.
One final note about our own journal’s history: In recognition of our first full year of publication, Democracy has been selected as a finalist for a 2007 Utne Independent Press Award in the category of Best New Publication. “Your hard work consistently surprised, informed, challenged, and entertained us during a year when some of the best journalism and writing in memory was produced off the mainstream’s radar,” the award organizers wrote to us. Winners will be announced at the beginning of 2008. We can truly say it’s an honor just being nominated.
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