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September 15, 2007

The New Liberal Opportunity

In its September 7 issue, The Chronicle of Higher Education features a review essay by E. J. Dionne Jr. on "The Liberal Moment," to which Todd Gitlin, Alan Wolfe, and I each offer our responses. I detect very little difference among us, which is another gift of the conservative implosion. As the Bush years come to a close, we are all clearer about liberal principles and the political realities that need to be reckoned with if America is to come closer to those ideals.

The core paragraphs of my piece, "The Liberal Opportunity," (also available here) are as follows:

What liberals now have is not a mandate but an opportunity -- actually, three kinds of opportunity. The first is an immediate political opportunity to help Democrats win the next election and reverse the current administration's policies abroad, assaults on constitutional liberties, and weakening of regulatory protections of health, safety, labor, and the environment.

The second is a strategic opportunity to address long-term problems such as rising economic inequality and global warming that conservatives have downplayed or denied and neglected.

And the third is an opportunity -- call it an intellectual or ideological opportunity -- to rebuild a base of popular support for liberal ideas by reopening a conversation with people who believe that liberals have not shown them any concern or respect and by redefining what liberalism means in the minds of a new generation.

The first of these opportunities naturally absorbs most of the immediate attention. But if Democrats win in 2008, the historical significance of that victory will depend on whether they can seize the strategic and ideological opportunities to deal with the nation's long-run problems and create the basis for a durable political majority.

And that is where ideas can potentially make the biggest difference.

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