Some Basics For Amending The Progressive Narrative:
It’s About The Fair Distribution Of Opportunity — For The Good Of All
by Thomas Kerey
The working premise of this proposal is that conservatives have gainedthe narrative upper hand in American discourse, taking politicaladvantage even of debacles their policies helped bring about.There is more to this swing of influence than the acquisition andideological shaping of mainstream media outlets by activistconservative interests seeking to turn back the tide of reform of the60s. Recent events across the world remind us that control of theofficial media does not equal a lock on the hearts and minds ofdiscontented citizens.The sidelining of progressive ideals in the nationalconversation is not just about lack of exposure.While the conservative movement has been continuously calibratingits message, progressives have not been as vigilant about this. Weprogressives need to reframe the underlying assumptions for ourpolitical initiatives for the current political environment, renewingthe progressive vision in a way that promotes our values within thealways evolving political culture. Specifically, we need to find newways to reach independents, moderates, and the unconvinced.As a case in point, it is not preordained that the CongressionalProgressive Caucus be less of a force to be reckoned with than the TeaParty. Poll after poll suggests that the majority of Americanscontinue to support progressive goals. Driving home how initiativeslike the People’s Budget and US UNCUT serve the common good can appealto this goodwill.What follows is an attempt to pull together a few basic,commonplace themes that need to be in the scope of progressivecampaigns. The inspiration for this comes from James Carville’s famousphrase, “It’s the economy, stupid,” used during the 1992 presidentialrace. The progressive response to the renewed conservative assault onsocial programs has been kaleidoscopic. What’s needed right now is aCarville-like focus.Among the background points — plain enough, but often neglectedthese days — that need to be reaffirmed (and repeated) are:1. The most successful and dynamic societies are those that enablethe maximum number of citizens to make a meaningful contribution, on alllevels, to the social project. This infusion of talent and energy fromacross all demographics is what underpins ongoing societal growth.The real value and meaning of having a vibrant middle class isfinally not about widespread comfort — although obviously we all welcomethat — but in securing the foundation for the sustained animation ofsociety as a whole.2. In order to enable this kind of broad, inclusive range ofcontribution from its citizens, society must be committed to the fairdistribution of opportunity. Promoting social equity is notfundamentally about the redistribution of wealth. Rather, it is aboutthe fair distribution of opportunity. Keeping the playing field level.Not allowing having opportunity to be an accident of birth. Making surethe doors are open to all — to enhance our nation’s future.This is necessary since, if confined within a closed,self-perpetuating cycle, the distribution of opportunity increasinglytilts in favor of the privileged.This should be understood as the baseline political rationale forthe whole range of progressive policies: Investing in all levels ofeducation. Investing in our citizen’s health care and safety. Investingin infrastructure. Protecting our environment and faithfully preservingour resources. Maintaining responsible oversight of commerce andfinancial markets to protect jobs as well as the assets of homeownersand investors. Maintaining the social safety net and protecting themost vulnerable among us. Investing in all of our citizens, from cradleto grave, to safeguard our common promise and heritageFDR’s New Deal policies — now explicitly under attack byconservatives — enabled America to rise to preeminence because theyprotected, lifted up, and empowered ordinary citizens, and thus allowedunprecedented numbers of Americans to contribute their gifts to ourdemocratic experiment. When this happens we then prosper and revenueshortfall, along with other related concerns, isn’t a stifling problem.3. The prevailing conservative position, repeated like a mantra,argues that cutting taxes, especially for the wealthiest interests andcitizens, along with a reduction in government programs and regulation,is the path to job creation and prosperity. This is voodoo politics,not backed up by the results of the past thirty years of social policy.It is actually the path to a de facto oligarchy in the long term, andamounts to a get-richer-quick scheme for the already advantaged in theshort term — to the larger society’s disadvantage.The policies that flow from these premises will lead to ourdecline because their enactment results in opportunity beingconcentrated among the privileged — choking back the contribution oftalent and energy from the many — which will ultimately bring aboutstagnation. Polarization of wealth equals restriction of opportunity.Unless you believe that the privileged are naturally superior toeveryone else, it is plain that the policy application of the“government is the problem” narrative will undermine the ability ofsociety to realize the broad potential of its citizens, and to moveforward and thrive.4. Finally, the elephant in the room of American politics: themilitary-industrial boondoggle — including an archipelago of close to a1,000 U.S. military bases around the world, and a succession ofadventurous wars — burning up trillions of public dollars over theyears. Military spending by the U.S. nearly equals the military expenditures ofthe rest of the world combined. This runaway fiasco, stealing ourfuture and undermining out real security, must be brought under control.Eisenhower sounded the alarm about this a half-century ago. Thetime we have to heed his warning is not unlimited. Disabusing ourselves ofthis corruption of national purpose must be part of any discussion ofmaking the opportunity to contribute available to all.