Thursday, April 20, 2006


"The Common Good"

Michael Tomasky lays down his vision of a future relevant Democratic Party :

The Democrats need to become the party of the common good. They need a simple organizing principle that is distinct from Republicans and that isn't a reaction to the Republicans. They need to remember what made liberalism so successful from 1933 to 1966, that reciprocal arrangement of trust between state and nation. And they need to take the best parts of the rights tradition of liberalism and the best parts of the more recent responsibilities tradition and fuse them into a new philosophy that is both civic-republican and liberal -- that goes back to the kind of rhetoric Johnson used in 1964 and 1965, that attempts to enlist citizens in large projects to which everyone contributes and from which everyone benefits.

Arguing for it is the only way that Democrats can come to stand for something clear and authoritative again. It's not enough in our age, after the modern conservative ascendancy, to stand for activist government, or necessary taxes and regulation, or gay marriage, or abortion rights, or evolution, or the primacy of science, or universal health care, or affirmative action, or paths to citizenship for illegal immigrants, or college education for all, or environmental protection, or more foreign aid, or a comprehensive plan to foster democracy in the Arab world, or any of the other particular and necessary things that Democrats do or should support; it isn't enough to stand for any of those things per se. Some of them have been discredited to the broad public, while others are highly contentious and leave the Democrats open to the same old charges. And those that aren't contentious or discredited suffer the far worse problem of being uninteresting: They're just policies, and voters don't, and should not be expected to, respond to policies. Voters respond to ideas, and Democrats can stand for an idea: the idea that we’re all in this -- post-industrial America, the globalized world, and especially the post–9-11 world in which free peoples have to unite to fight new threats -- together, and that we have to pull together, make some sacrifices, and, just sometimes, look beyond our own interests to solve our problems and create the future.

The common good is common sense, and the historical time is right for it, for two reasons. First, what I’m trying to describe here is post-ideological in the best sense, a sense that could have broader appeal than what we normally think of as liberal ideology, because what’s at the core of this worldview isn’t ideology. It’s something more innately human: faith. Not religious faith. Faith in America and its potential to do good; faith that we can build a civic sphere in which engagement and deliberation lead to good and rational outcomes; and faith that citizens might once again reciprocally recognize, as they did in the era of Democratic dominance, that they will gain from these outcomes. Maintaining such a faith is extraordinarily difficult in the face of the right-wing noise machine and a conservative movement that, to put it mildly, do not engage in good-faith civic debate. Conservatism can succeed on such a cynical basis; its darker view of human nature accepts discord as a fact of life and exploits it. But for liberalism, which is grounded in a more benign view of human nature, to succeed, the most persuasive answer to bad faith, as Martin Luther King showed, is more good faith. All Americans are not Bill O’Reilly fans or Wall Street Journal editorialists. While they may not call themselves liberals, many of them -- enough of them -- are intelligent people who want to be inspired by someone to help their country.
Kos and Atrios also weigh in on the idea.

As an interested non-Democratic observer, I'll way in fully at a later time. Howerver, my only immediate thought is, what does Philip K. Howard -- who's been using the phrase
"common good" for a few years now in an attempt to restrain our overly-litigious society -- think of this idea of utilizing the phrase as a tagline for a new Democratic Party philosophy?

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