NeoProgBlog, The Neoprogressive Magazine online

'Work as if you lived in the early days of a better nation.' Alasdair Gray

Welcome to The NeoProgressive, where people of all political persuasions can debate vigorously within a framework of basic American values and mutual respect -- NeoProgressivism.

VISITORS: PLEASE COMMENT! I want to stimulate discussion, not be a voice in the wilderness.

(NeoProgBlog, The Neoprogressive, The Neoprogressive Magazine, and original material © 2005, 2006.)

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

A Neoprog Approach to the Abortion Debate

Linda Greenhouse of the New York Times reports today that the new Roberts court will hear two important abortion cases this term. She writes:

When the Supreme Court meets on Wednesday to hear its first abortion case in five years, the topic will be familiar: a requirement that doctors notify a pregnant teenager's parent before performing an abortion.

The court has upheld such laws for years, even in its more liberal days, and nearly all states now have them. But in the current climate, with the court in transition and the abortion debate as raucous as it has ever been, there is no such thing as just another abortion case. As reflected in dozens of briefs filed on both sides, interest in this new case, from New Hampshire, is extremely high.

And in fact, the case raises two questions with broader implications for the future of abortion.

One is how flexible a restriction on access to abortion must be when a woman's pregnancy poses a threat to her health. New Hampshire imposes a 48-hour waiting period after the required notice to at least one parent. Like all states, it provides an exception for conditions that present an immediate threat to a pregnant teenager's life.

But of the 43 states with parental-involvement statutes, New Hampshire is one of only five that do not also provide an exception for non-life-threatening medical emergencies, and it was on this basis that two lower federal courts declared the law unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court's decision in the case, Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, may therefore shed light on the contours of the "health exception" that the court's abortion precedents have required since Roe v. Wade in 1973. ***

Waiting in the wings, as the justices surely know, is another, perhaps even more highly charged abortion case. The Bush administration recently filed an appeal in defense of the federal ban on the procedure that abortion opponents have labeled "partial birth abortion," and the court must decide shortly whether to hear it.

That law, passed in 2003, has never taken effect. Federal courts around the country have declared it unconstitutional for lack of the health exception that the Supreme Court said was essential when it struck down a nearly identical Nebraska law in 2000. In passing the federal ban, Congress took account of that ruling by declaring that a health exception was superfluous because the procedure was, in its view, never medically necessary.

In other words: if a girl’s fertility is endangered by her pregnancy unless it is terminated immediately, but not her life, she still must notify one parent and wait 48 hours for her abortion (unless, presumably, that parent expressly consents sooner than that).

The New Hampshire law’s legislative and legal history is fraught with politics:

When the New Hampshire legislature was debating whether to enact a parental notification law in 2003, some legislators ... [argued] that the measure needed a health exception. But the bill's sponsors resisted... on the ground that it would offer doctors too big a loophole for avoiding parental involvement.

Without the health exception, the bill passed the State Senate by a vote of 12 to 11 and the House by a vote of 187 to 181. It was signed into law by the state's Republican governor, Craig Benson. John H. Lynch, the Democrat who defeated him in last November's election, opposes the law and has filed a brief in the Supreme Court urging the justices to declare it unconstitutional. The state's attorney general, Kelly A. Ayotte, a Republican, has pursued the appeal under her office's independent litigating authority and will argue the case herself.

So it’s not like the People of New Hampshire, or their elected representatives, are solidly united behind this bill; the New Hampshire government is divided as to whether it has significant, let alone compelling, interest in overriding a pregnant girl’s right to decide whether to terminate her pregnancy. This is important, because when the government chooses to infringe on someone's personal liberty, it ought to be for a reason compelling enough to create something like consensus. Ties go to the runner, and political ties should be resolved in favor of individual freedoms. But that's a digression from my main point.

Finally, the ability of women to challenge abortion laws at all is being attacked:

The second ... issue is under what circumstances federal courts can continue to do what they did in this case and in many other abortion cases: bar the enforcement of abortion restrictions that have not yet gone into effect, and so cannot be said to have injured any specific plaintiff. ***

[T]he Bush administration, which entered the case as a "friend of the court" to defend the statute, are arguing that the lower courts should never have entertained an attack on the law "on its face" in the first place. *** The Bush administration argues that with the exception of spousal notice, all other abortion issues should await as-applied challenges, a position the plaintiffs in the New Hampshire case describe as "callous." Their brief says "it would preclude courts from granting any relief at all until faced with a woman in crisis."

With the exception of Roe v. Wade itself - "Jane Roe" was actually pregnant when she challenged the longstanding Texas law that made abortion a crime - most abortion precedents on the books began as facial challenges. A rule that women must wait until new restrictions actually take effect would be a substantial change in the way abortion cases are litigated.

As lawyers are trained to do, I want to set aside the general questions, even if they are compelling (e.g., should abortions be legal always, or ever? Is parental consent always, or ever, a legitimate restriction on the right to abortion?) This Court is not going to declare parental consent laws unconstitutional in general or otherwise increase the scope of women’s abortion rights.

Instead, I want to focus on the key issues in these cases:

1. Whether it’s reasonable for a state to require parental consent even when the mother’s health is endangered by delay, so long as her life is not in danger;

2. Whether it’s right for courts to wait for particular cases before deciding how a law that delays abortions should apply; and

3. Consistent with the theme of this blog, how a Neoprogressive approach to this problem might look.

Contrary to many people’s belief, Roe v. Wade did not make a woman’s right to an abortion absolute, nor did it deny that fetuses have interests that may need protection. Read it; it might surprise you. The Roe Court did find that women, in consultation with their physicians, have the right to make their own choices about whether to carry a pregnancy to term. But it carefully balanced that right against the interests of the fetus, as protected by state laws, in being carried to term.

That’s where the “viability” system – an updated version of the “quickening” test used in the first American antiabortion statutes, enacted in the 1800s -- came into play. The Court ruled that before the fetus is viable – i.e., capable of independent life – abortion is entirely the mother’s choice. After the fetus becomes viable and might be capable of living outside the mother, then a state can ban abortions altogether unless the mother’s life or health are endangered.

The Roe court rejected the proposition that a fetus was a “person” under the Fourteenth Amendment, but it did say this:

[I]t is reasonable and appropriate for a State to decide that at some point in time another interest, that of ... potential human life, becomes significantly involved. The woman's privacy is no longer sole and any right of privacy she possesses must be measured accordingly.

A little further on, the Court reiterated:

We repeat ... that the State does have an important and legitimate interest in preserving and protecting the health of the pregnant woman ... and ... another important and legitimate interest in protecting the potentiality of human life. These interests are separate and distinct. Each grows in substantiality as the woman approaches term and, at a point during pregnancy, each becomes "compelling."

The Court also very strongly emphasized the physician’s role in the decisionmaking process, at one point even using language that puts the physician’s judgment before the mother’s. For abortions prior to fetal viability, it ruled that

the attending physician, in consultation with his patient, is free to determine, without regulation by the State, that, in his medical judgment, the patient's pregnancy should be terminated.

Roe thus was a carefully-wrought balancing act, one that acknowledged both the mother’s and the fetus’ “right to life” (the latter, more accurately, expressed as the state’s interest in protecting fetal life); respected the ability of physicians rather than judges or legislators to make proper decisions (anyone remember Terry Schiavo?); and tried to work a compromise between the various legitimate interests. One may disagree whether it balanced them properly, but its impulse to balance and accommodate the mother’s and fetus’ interests, while simultaneously negotiating the sliding scale of fetal development, was laudable.

So what is at stake before the Court this term?

First, the concept of protection of the mother’s health. Most people agree that when given a choice between the mother’s life or the fetus’, the mother’s life may come first. But health is a trickier question. Maternal health can be a minor issue (e.g., lower back pain, even when severe, is a common experience in the third trimester and wouldn’t warrant a late-term abortion), or it can be extremely critical: kidney or liver failure, stroke, vision loss. When a problematic pregnancy endangers a young woman’s fertility, as often occurs, then the problem loops back onto itself: does her right to reproductive choice include the right to decide to remain fertile? One would hope yes. More generally, following the Schiavo fiasco, one would hope that the Roe Court’s approach of respecting physicians’ judgment on health matters would prevail.

Yet the New Hampshire legislature – by a one vote margin – and its former governor – opposed by its current governor – have decided that a mother’s health is not important enough to waive the 48-hour waiting period when the mother is a minor. And the U.S. Congress and the current President, in the misnamed “partial birth abortion” law, have decreed, a la Schiavo, that they know better than women’s physicians do and a particular kind of third-trimester abortion never, ever is needed to protect the mother’s health.

The second issue, and potentially the larger one, concerns the legal concepts of “standing” and “ripeness”. Standing asks whether a particular plaintiff has enough involvement in a case to warrant bringing suit. Ripeness asks whether a legal controversy has matured sufficiently to allow a logical and complete resolution. Here, the questions appear to be whether a woman who is not pregnant, and not seeking an abortion, has standing to sue to invalidate an abortion law that might someday impact her, and whether an abortion law that has not yet been applied to a particular woman can be ripe for review.

Normally these are excellent rules. The common law relies upon particular cases to evolve, which gives it a grounding in the “real world” that lofty-worded statutes alone can never have. But sometimes, waiting for a real case to arise is impossible. When the real case arises – a 17 year old girl’s health is immediately endangered by a pregnancy that her parents insist she carry to term – the court will not be able to make a competent ruling in only two days. She’ll be lucky if it’s sooner than two years. Forget two minutes, which sometimes is the window an emergency room physician may have in which to make a life-altering decision. If they want time to make a carefully-considered decision, courts must review some laws “on their face” instead of waiting for particular cases to arise.

What’s more, the law also declines to address cases that are no longer relevant – that are moot. If the courts refuse to consider cases until they are presented with an actual, pregnant plaintiff, will they then dismiss those cases as soon as the child is born? Under that rule, the Supreme Court would never consider another abortion case. So the question really is, at which end of the pregnancy do we want to bend the rules: before it begins, so women, their doctors, and law enforcement officials all know what law to apply; or at the end, by continuing to consider abortion cases after the particular plaintiff has carried her unwanted pregnancy to term, delivered her baby, and suffered any adverse health effects that pregnancy caused? The current rule – that abortion laws may be reviewed on their face rather than waiting for actual cases to arise – is the only logical approach. Yet both New Hampshire’s maverick attorney general, and the Bush administration, are arguing for the illogical approach, simply to monkeywrench the process.

A Neoprogressive Approach As I’ve said before, if neoprogressives follow in the footsteps of the original progressives, they will be able to agree on “ground rules” for disagreement. I don’t expect all Americans ever to agree on whether abortion should be legal. But we should be able to agree on “first principles” to frame that debate. From a Neoprogressive perspective, those principles would include:

1. The right to privacy exists. Accordingly, women, in consultation with their physicians, have a fundamental Constitutional right to reproductive choice. It’s hard to believe, and most don’t remember, that as late as 1965 some states forbade married couples from using condoms. Griswold v. Connecticut found such law to be an unconstitutional infringement on married people’s right to reproductive choice. When judicial nominees are asked whether they believe the Constitution contains an implied right to privacy, they are being asked whether they believe Griswold was rightly decided. When so-called “originalists” claim there is no constitutional right to privacy, they are asking that not just Roe, but even Griswold, be overturned. Americans should put this part of the debate to rest: Griswold was rightly decided, we have a right to privacy from unwarranted government intrusion, and our reproductive and sexual choices are included in that right. We can still disagree about abortion even within that framework.

2. When a statute could prevent someone from obtaining an abortion before a court has time to rule otherwise, it is appropriate for courts to review that statute on its face, instead of waiting for someone’s right to be violated before acting. I won’t even waste words supporting this one. If the proposition isn’t self-evident, you’re not a Neoprogressive and likely won't ever become one.

3. Abortions suck. Abortions may be necessary, but they are not good. Every abortion is an unfortunate thing. Our goal should be to have no unwanted pregnancies, ever; no unhealthy pregnancies, ever; and no abortions, ever. Since there will always be unwanted and unhealthy pregnancies, there will always be good reasons for women to have abortions. But that doesn’t mean we have to be happy about it. Pro-choice advocates agreeing with their opponents on this issue will take a lot of heat out of the debate.

4. Some abortions should be legal, and some shouldn’t. This is what Roe said, and it’s the only humane way to proceed. Abortion is not an all-or-nothing question, and it cannot be made one.

Assume an 11 year old girl is raped, becomes pregnant, and while the baby will live, the mother probably will die during childbirth if the pregnancy is carried to term. Should her life be saved by aborting the pregnancy in the first trimester? If your answer is yes, then you are not absolutely anti-abortion. The fetus aborted in that scenario is no more or less "human" than any other.

Now assume a 30 year old woman decides to become pregnant, carries the pregnancy for nearly nine months, then changes her mind because she’s been offered a promotion and a baby suddenly is inconvenient to her career. Should she be allowed to abort the pregnancy even though the fetus would be perfectly capable of living outside her body if it were born normally the same day? If your answer is no, then you are not absolutely pro-choice, because you agree that in some circumstances a fetus has a right to be carried to term that overrides the mother's contrary choice.

Setting these four parameters, especially the last one, should eliminate most of the screaming and fanaticism from the debate. Within these four parameters, there is still plenty of room for heated discussion about sociology, religion, science, civil rights, and ethics.

Neoprogressives who believe human life begins at conception will tilt the balance in favor of protecting the fetus’ interests as much as possible, without denying that women have some say in the matter and without pretending that abortion can never occur. Neoprogressive feminists may lean strongly the other way, emphasizing the mother’s civil rights, without pretending that the fetus is never, at any stage, unworthy of protection. Neoprogressive libertarians, as always, will be all over the charts, depending on whether they are looking at the mother’s freedoms or the fetus’.

But we should all be able to agree on the basic American values and respect one another’s opinions, and work our way to a nuanced and practical compromise.

SUPPLEMENT, NOV. 30, 2005: Today, there's news that Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito not only has expressed a desire to overturn Roe v. Wade, but also, while working for the Solicitor General's Office under Ronald Reagan, outlined a strategy for gradually whittling it back, undercutting it over time with the goal of eventually overturning it altogether.

If he remains consistent to those views -- and there is no reason to think he isn't -- then he would, if confirmed, vote to bar courts from considering the constitutionality of abortion laws until faced with actual pregnant women, dismiss those women's appeals once their babies are born, and uphold obstacles to women obtaining abortions such as notice requirements, waiting periods, mandatory 'abortion alternative' education, etc. He would vote this way, not because he believes such rulings correctly interpret the Constitution, but because such rulings will chip away at Roe v. Wade itself.

From a neoprogressive perspective, the most troubling thing about Alito's views is not his distaste for abortion, which I am sure is sincere, but his deceptive approach. Matters of important public policy deserve to be addressed on their face, not undermined little by little. Rights should not be whittled away; they should either be affirmed or rejected. If Judge Alito thinks Roe is good law, he should say so. If he thinks it was wrongly decided and should be overturned, he should say so. But chipping away at it, little by little, is dishonest and dishonorable.

I have been withholding judgment on Judge Alito. No longer. The American people deserve honest judges, not ones with secret agendas and strategies for undermining civil rights. If Alito breaks with the usual gameplaying and straightforwardly declares his position on abortion, then he might be honest and honorable enough to be confirmed. But if he declines to answer that question, then, for advocating sneakiness instead of open debate, he is not worthy to serve, and should be rejected.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Bush Administration Claims Credit for Troop Reduction Plans

And so it begins: the rush of fervent hawks -- the same ones who promised to "stay the course," constantly moved the goalposts for declaring success, accused Jack Murtha of getting his ideas from Michael Moore, and attacked antiwar critics as unpatriotic -- to disingenuously claim that they always were reluctant about the war and that substantial troop reductions in 2006 were their idea all along.

This sort of revisionism is not new. Once WWII was over, no German ever admitted supporting Adolf Hitler or the war, even though he won a popular election to take power initially and support for the war was high at the beginning (thanks largely to the propoganda genius of Hermann Goering).

The neocon talking point for today, and probably for the next eleven months, is: "Jack Murtha didn't say anything we haven't already been saying." The talking point is: "the President always said we'd leave Iraq soon." The talking point is: "Don't let the Democrats take back the House in 2006 now that the American public has awakened to the reality that they were manipulated into supporting this war, and it's not going well, and it's precisely the neocons in the Administration and Congress who engineered this disaster."

Oops. That's not a talking point. They won't say it, and none of the Woodward-style "access reporters" in the mainstream media will ask the question that elicits it -- or, if they do, they won't ask the follow-up insisting that it be answered rather than evaded.

But let's be clear about two things:

1) None of the Republicans in the Administration or in the Congressional leadership showed any inclination to enunciate a clear plan, let alone take solid steps, to withdraw troops from Iraq before a handful of progressives, most notably Jack Murtha, finally caught the public's attention with a stand really supporting the troops. To pretend otherwise is sheer mendacity, calculated to minimize losses in the 2006 midterms.

2) This Administration, in particular, had no and still has no intention of withdrawing substantial numbers of troops from Iraq. They are still building 14 permanent bases on Iraq's sandy soil, and a permanent presence in Iraq -- to replace the airmen and other soldiers we pulled out of Saudi Arabia in capitulation to Osama bin Laden's demands and to secure a backup oil source in the event the Saudi royal family is overthrown -- is a key part of the neocon foreign policy and energy strategy. They will, of necessity, rotate exhausted, three-tour units home, but they will not willingly do more. If they do do more, it will be a capitulation to Congressional Republicans worried about their seats, and is not likely to last past next November.

Once again, this is not a partisan issue. There are Republicans on the same side as Murtha, and an embarassing number of Vichy Democrats, too cowardly to take a stand that might get them labeled cowards, who have waffled on the war. Overall, Congressional Republicans cannot be faulted much for supporting their President's policy, while Congressional Democrats should be blamed for failing, individually and as a party, to take a clear antiwar stance and articulate a lucid alternative to the Administration's Iraq war policy.

The Democrats' "neocon light" waffling may cost them dearly, because voter dissatisfaction with Republicans won't translate into Democratic gains next November if voters don't perceive a difference between the two. The Democrats have missed a rare opportunity to benefit from simply doing the right thing, and the tiny shred of truth contained in the Administration's new misdirection tactic -- that they and the Vichy Democrats have the same plan -- may blunt Republican losses next year.

But that is to the Democrats' shame, not to the Administration's credit. This Administration, which is not focused on the risk terrorists present to us at home and which "supports the troops" in rhetoric only, deserves no credit whatsoever for any troop reductions that political or practical necessity forces them to accept, and we should not be fooled when some troops are withdrawn just for show in the runup to the Congressional midterms.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Giving Sincere Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving, Friends.

I'm thankful to live in a nation where free speech is still protected almost all the time -- and when it isn't, there are people brave enough to speak out against the suppression.

I'm thankful to live in a nation whose people, despite too often being self-absorbed and politically dormant, have always awoken to defend American ideals when confronted with sufficient injustice -- and in a nation where the people's voice, in the end, always prevails.

I'm thankful to live in a nation with plenty of food, clean water, health care, good teachers, and competent health care -- and to be one of those who receives them.

I'm thankful to live in a land that still fights its civil wars with words, not with guns, where "the other side" can be found on the Letters to the Editor page and our children need not fear the janjaweed.

I'm thankful for technologies, from the hand-cranked presses of Ben Franklin to the hand-typed blogs of today, that let us share ideas and outrages and empower the intangible ideas our Constitution proposed.

We all know that every one of the things I give thanks for falls short. Sometimes there is suppression of dissenting voices; the blessings that God gave America are not shared by everyone, let alone shared equally; there are children today in America and around the world who will be hungry, who will be sick, who will be afraid. There are people still fighting to find a voice.

But while we pledge to struggle to correct these things, let's be thankful for what we do have, and for the certain knowledge that we still live in a nation where the possibility of remedy exists. In toto, there IS ENOUGH food here to go around; there are enough doctors; people still value free speech and democratic government. Not every place has enough. The fact that we do makes our job easy.

So: thank God we live in America. Thank God we have good work to do. God Bless America. And God bless everyone -- here and elsewhere -- who does not have enough today, and help us make that better.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Monday, November 21, 2005

The Cost of War

If war is to be conducted in our names, then we must be able to face the realities of that war. It's not patriotic to pretend it's clean. So, for a reality check, I offer the following, courtesy of the New England Journal of Medicine:

NEJM Caring for the Wounded In Iraq, A Photoessay

Woodward, Miller, and the Fall of the Fourth Estate

Joe Conason has posted a good piece about Bob Woodward, the reporter who was lionized for helping break the Watergate story but who since then has spent most of his time kissing up to important people then writing laudatory (and lucrative) books about them. Conason points out:

"Forced to reveal his strange secret about the Valerie Plame case, Bob Woodward has humiliated his trusting bosses at the Washington Post and exposed something rotten at the center of journalism's national elite. By withholding critical information from the Post's editors and pretending to be a neutral observer, Woodward badly compromised the values that he and his newspaper once embodied. A living symbol of the great constitutional role of a free press -- to hold government accountable -- has evidently degenerated into another obedient appendage of rogue officialdom.

"With his relentless pursuit of "access," the literary formula that has brought him so much money and fame, Woodward placed book sales above journalism. Boasting of his friendly relationship with the president who facilitated his interviews with administration officials, he now behaves like the journalistic courtiers of the Nixon era.

"To those who have observed Woodward's career since the glory of Watergate, including readers of his many bestselling books, the change in his role and outlook have long been obvious. For him, the cultivation of high-ranking sources is the very essence of journalism."

The "muckrakers" -- investigative journalists motivated by a sense of moral justice -- were a key component of last century's Progressive movement. Without them, the ordinary, middle-class citizens who formed the backbone of the movement would not have known about the abuses that the Progressives rose to rectify. The muckrakers were accurate, but they were not purely objective. They knew right from wrong, and the urge to rectify wrongs is what drove them. (How different, nowadays, when on the one hand schools of journalism are combined with schools of communication and public relations, and on the other hand reporters consider it "editorializing" to engage in analysis or truth-testing of government press releases.)

In the 1970s Woodward & Bernstein appeared to be the heirs apparent of the muckraker legacy. Not only was their work uncovering the corruption of the Nixon White House akin to some of the muckrakers' exposes, but the resultant public outcry and Nixon's ultimate resignation echo the Progressives' belief that government power does indeed come from the People, and that the People consequently had the power to counter corruption.

In hindsight, though, I realize that Woodward's career never was premised on investigative skills, but on the accident that he was contacted by the no. 2 man in the FBI (Mark Felt, aka "Deep Throat"). In other words, the Woodward-Bernstein team we associate with earthshaking investigative reporting actually relied on ... wait for it ... having access to a friendly high administration official. Exactly what Conason says Woodward banks on today. Which, of course, isn't surprising given the times (no pun intended): the greatest political journalist of that day, Scotty Reston of the NY Times, depended absolutely on his access to power, which in turn depended on ability to keep secrets and his willingness to disseminate good stories even when they were handed to him to advance someone's political goals. Woodward was just another Restonite "access journalist" -- but without Reston's sound judment or ethics.

So now I'm not surprised that Woodward is such an administration lackey. A good journalist would have understood Watergate as a vindication of the Fourth Estate's role in “checking and balancing” government. But a second-rate local crime beat reporter -- which is what Woodward was when Watergate fell into his lap -- only learned the lesson that having access to top people is how you get stories.

It's sad for Woodward, the Post, and all of us who used to hold him in high regard. He should not only be fired, but shunned -- in the old, literal sense of the word -- by all legitimate journalists. (He's free to catch a beer with Judy Miller and Jeff Gannon now and then.)

The good news is that we still have a muckraking press. However, it’s not found in big-city newspapers anymore. It’s more like Ben Franklin and Tom Paine: folks who combine investigation with comment, publish in small, competetive, opinionated journals and pamphlets, and distribute as directly as possible to the public. They're called bloggers.

OK, the idea that the blogosphere is taking over the politically-corrective functions of the "press" as that term is used in the First Amendment is not deep insight. In fact, it’s been recognized by the court. In his concurring opinion (caution: pdf) in the Judith Miller case, Judge David Sentelle (quoting a 1938 Supreme Court case) said this (internal citations and quotes omitted):

“[F]reedom of the press is a fundamental personal right not confined to newspapers and periodicals. It necessarily embraces pamphlets and leaflets. The press in its historic connotation
comprehends every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion. Are we then to create a privilege that protects only those reporters employed by Time Magazine, the New York Times, and other media giants, or do we extend that protection as well to the owner of a desktop printer producing a weekly newsletter to inform his neighbors, lodge brothers, co-religionists, or co-conspirators?

Perhaps more to the point today, does the privilege also protect the proprietor of a web log: the stereotypical “blogger” sitting in his pajamas at his personal computer posting on the World Wide Web his best product to inform whoever happens to browse his way? If not, why not? How could one draw a distinction consistent with the court’s vision of a broadly granted personal right? If so, then would it not be possible for a government official wishing to engage in the sort of unlawful leaking under investigation in the present controversy to call a trusted friend or a political ally, advise him to set up a web log (which I understand takes about three minutes) and then leak to him under a promise of confidentiality the information which the law forbids the official to disclose?”

In other words, if a “confidential source” privilege is given to Judy Miller, then it would also have to be given to me, Thersites.

That opinion offended reporters from the mainstream outlets – who disliked being equated with “mere” bloggers – when it should have chastened them. If we're doing their job, what the hell are they doing?

OK, so what does this mean in terms of building a new progressive movement?

From 1776 to about 1920, the press matured from pamphlets and hand-cranked rags to powerful, widely-distributed and well-respected newspapers, without losing its essential "Fourth Estate" character: probing, analytic, oppositional to entrenched power. Watergate falsely made us think that this tradition had survived, at least into the 1970s. But Judith Miller and Bob Woodward now make it painfully clear that the Fourth Estate, as embodied in mainstream outlets, is not merely moribund, but dead. We’re back to pamphlets and rags again, in digital form.

Unfortunately, that’s not good enough. We need a vibrant mainstream media, because middle America will never cast ballots based on information that's only available in blogs. Bloggers can do a lot of good, uncovering obscure facts (like the Artillery News article describing the use of white phosphorus as a direct antipersonnel weapon in Iraq, as I blogged about a few days ago; scroll down to Must Read No. 3), and bloggers can goad a complacent mainstream press into moving on stories that their corporate masters don't want them to pursue, but we can't win back Ohio without good analytical journalism in mainline newspapers and on the single-digit-channel TV stations’ evening news.

So the Neoprogressive challenge is this: to move real journalism from the blogosphere back to the mainstream, where it was when the original Progressives flourished, and where it belongs.

SUPPLEMENT, NOV. 27, 2005: Well, sometimes it's nice to get affirmation that you're on track. Today on, Howard Kurtz came up with not only the same conclusion I did -- that Woodward is an 'access journalist' in part because the journalistic heroes of his youth were the same -- but even the same comparison to James "Scotty" Reston, the NY Times reporter who was the dean of Washington reporters in the 1960s. Howard Kurtz, Nice to scoop a well-thought-of, mainstream journalist by nearly a week!! --Thersites

SUPPLEMENT, DEC. 1, 2005: The mainstream press' failure to do its job with sufficient rigor and integrity, and to distinguish itself from demagogues and pundits who pretend to be "journalists" but really are partisan operatives, is a fungus that’s starting to spread. (Thanks to Atrios and Jeff Mazur for the tip.)

Now, the press' abdication of its important role in our democracy is undercutting whatever integrity is still left in the campaign finance system. So: as I outlined above, the courts are recognizing that "journalists" aren't independent enough to be distinguished from bloggers and pundits; now they're not even independent enough to be distinguished from lobbyists! The Main Stream Media ("MSM") may feebly protest this ruling, but until it starts showing some backbone, no one will think it's worth protecting.

Once journalists starts angling for access and money, they glissade down an easy and slippery slope: they start emulating Judy Miller and Bob Woodward, start acting like Bob Novak and Ann Coulter, and wind up being Jeff Gannon or a K Street lobbyist. Many "journalists" even take a shortcut, moving from large papers to lobbying and PR firms (and, worse, back again) with relative ease.

If the MSM wants to be treated as something special -- with legal confidentiality and campaign finance exemptions and other perks -- then they have to stop chasing money and access, and start acting like independent journalists again. Our country needs them, and they're not rising to the call.

SUPPLEMENT, DEC. 12, 2005: Yeah, What I Said: Yesterday, Vanity Fair contributing editor James Wolcott had this to say about the fall of mainline journalism:

”So-called reputable journalists have completely forfeited their high horse when it comes to complaining about bloggers as a species of riffraff--they no longer have the right to lament bloggers' slapdash sourcing, to deplore their invective and lack of couth, to act as if they're civilized reporters forced to fend off laptop barbarians. No blogger has comported him or herself with the lazy arrogance and sloppy ethics of some of the Big Names in journalism (Bob Woodward, Judith Miller, Bob Novak), nor has done as much damage to the public's right to know and their own profession.”

SUPPLEMENT, FEB. 9, 2007: What's True, Stays True: Over a year later, and Dan Froomkin does a good job pointing out that mainline journalism remains based on access and collegiality rather than inquisitiveness and holding-to-account. Exhibit A: the Tim Russert's testimony at the Scooter Libby trial, where Russert admitted that all conversations he has with politicians are presumptively OFF the record unless agreed otherwise, instead of (as the law provides, and as is traditional) the other way around. This does, indeed, turn "journalists" into administration stenographers. Or, as Froomkin writes, "According to Russert's testimony yesterday at Libby's trial, when any senior government official calls him, they are presumptively off the record. That's not reporting, that's enabling.That's how you treat your friends when you're having an innocent chat, not the people you're supposed to be holding accountable."

Is it any wonder that the best reporting on the Libby trial comes from a blogger, Jane Hamsher of FireDogLake?

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Administration Swung & Missed At A Sneaky Curveball

Now German intelligence sources are repeating what's documented in the British Downing Street minutes and told by various midlevel U.S. whistleblowers: that the U.S. knowingly cited unreliable intelligence to bolster the case for war in Iraq.

How US Fell Under Curveball’s Spell

Take, Twist & Run

Why is this relevant to a blog on constructing a neoprogressive movement? Isn't it just more liberal doveishness?

I don't think so. The original Progressives were very concerned about the (un)wisdom of extending American power overseas -- about the desire of some powerful people to build an American empire. The Progressive movement 100 years ago fought to keep America's focus closer to home, and to ensure that when we did intervene in foreign affairs, it was constructive. They did not, in a word, favor adventurism.

The worldview that's driving this Administration's war in Iraq, like the rest of its foreign policy agenda, is one that wishes to establish America as aglobal imperial power -- primarily economically, but with the military if necessary. That view is not different than the policies the original Progressives fought against.

So if there is an anti-Bush-administration slant to this site, it's for good reason. Karl Rove, the man Bush called the "architect" of his presidency, has said that Mark Hanna, the political genius behind the McKinley presidency, is his role model. McKinley presided over the Gilded Age of robber barons and disproportionate wealth in what previously had been a largely egalitarian nation, and the original Progressives rose to combat his policies. So, yes, to the extent Rove is the neoHanna, and Bush is the neoMcKinley, the Neoprogressives will oppose their policies.

This view shouldn't drive true conservatives away. Neither McKinley nor Bush was truly conservative. The Neoprogressive values of democracy, flat-field capitalism, and a blend of optimism and caution aren't partisan, and the Neoprogressive Movement must have -- does have -- room for traditional conservative values, including the desire for a strong, and properly used, military. War hero, hunter, and Republican Teddy Roosevelt was one of the great original Progressives. He would have supported the troops, supported the war in Afghanistan, and opposed the war in Iraq. We need conservatives like him in our movement today.

Back to the news story: This new information is just one more stone on the growing pile of evidence that the U.S. was misled into this war. It's not deep wisdom to note that governments misleading nations into war are a bad thing. If the real reasons for war are good, they should be aired, debated, and substantially agreed upon before the war starts. If they're not good enough to share publicly, then they're not good enough to expend American lives advancing.

Demanding truth and accountability from our government, especially in matters of war and peace and American lives, is a Neoprogressive value that cuts across the usual political labels. It's not liberal, it's not conservative, it's simply American.

Friday, November 18, 2005

A Senator Who Actually Knows His Rump From a Foxhole Tells The Truth About The War

John Murtha (D-Pa) may be a Democrat, but he's tremendously well-respected on both sides of the aisle on military issues. No dove -- he voted for the Iraq resolution, always supports pro-military legislation, and represents a conservative district in central Pennsylvania's deer-hunting country.

He's also a combat veteran who retired as a colonel after 37 years in the Marine Corps, during which he earned the Bronze Star, two purple hearts, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, and the Navy Distinguished Service Medal. Because of his expert and firsthand understanding of military issues, he's particularly well-respected by the military brass themselves.

Here's what he recently -- literally with tears in his eyes -- said about Iraq:

"The war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion. The American public is way ahead of us. The United States and coalition troops have done all they can in Iraq, but it is time for a change in direction. Our military is suffering. The future of our country is at risk. We cannot continue on the present course. It is evident that continued military action is not in the best interests of the United States of America, the Iraqi people or the Persian Gulf Region. ...

For two and a half years, I have been concerned about the U.S. policy and the plan in Iraq. I have addressed my concerns with the Administration and the Pentagon and have spoken out in public about my concerns. The main reason for going to war has been discredited. ...

I have been visiting our wounded troops at Bethesda and Walter Reed hospitals almost every week since the beginning of the War. And what demoralizes them is going to war with not enough troops and equipment to make the transition to peace; the devastation caused by IEDs; being deployed to Iraq when their homes have been ravaged by hurricanes; being on their second or third deployment and leaving their families behind without a network of support."

Neoprogressivism should have a platform plank identical to that advocated by George Washington and by old-school conservatives and the original Progressives: that we maintain an overwhelmingly strong military capacity, and do everything in our power not to use it.

Support the troops? Not by cutting the per-troop funding of the VA. Not by stretching them too thin and sending them back for second, third, fourth, even fifth tours of duty. Not by abandoning their families at home. And never, not ever, sending them to war based on false pretenses, or without a clearly defined mission and exit strategy.

(In a comment to an earlier post, OsakaJack asks where Colin Powell is. The last sentence above is the Powell Doctrine. No one in this administration can articulate what our mission and exit strategy are. Powell wasted his tremendous credibility making a false case for war before the U.N., then was driven out of an administration that chose not to follow his advice on how wars should be conducted. He's embarrassedly licking his wounds, wondering how he went from being the potential first black President, to being the goat. That's where he is, and it's his own damned fault.)

I'd love for someone to disagree with me, and clearly state our mission and exit strategy, but I don't think we have one. Under Comments, I'll post more discussion of why I think we've failed to meet Powell's stipulations, and why unfortunately we do need to leave Iraq pursuant to the First Rule of Holes.

SUPPLEMENTAL, MON. NOV. 21: Remember the furor when the most junior Republican Congresswoman read a letter from an officer in Iraq, basically calling Murtha a coward? Well, I'm shocked -- shocked! -- to learn that the officer in question is a longstanding religious-conservative-lawyer-wacko. At long last, Congresswoman Schmidt, have you no shame?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

"Must-Reads", November 2005

Political ideology shouldn't happen in a vacuum; it should be a response to real-world problems, and tested by real-world results.

To that end, and to stimulate discussion, The Neoprogressive will post occasional stories and links to stir the pot -- showing problems that need to be addressed, examples of political courage and ideological failure, and hard facts that must be faced if we are to create a better real world and not just dig deeper holes in hopes of reaching fairyland. These stories will be posted as comments under this heading, with a new heading every month.

Unfortunately, many posts, these days, will concern the war in Iraq. We are a nation at war, and our troops deserve for that to be foremost on our minds.


Monday, November 14, 2005

On the Proper Role of Government in a Democratic Society

HL’s comments to my last post about the proper role of government in a progressive society are good kindling for dialogue. They also help explain why, in my view, a Neoprogressive movement will result not in a third “Progressive Party” but rather in a revival and renewed dialogue between the two primary parties, with different views but both operating under progressive principles.

I previously proposed that Neoprogressives are “libertarian in our personal affairs, but committed to community and convinced that government can and should act (and act competently) in the community's interest whenever it can do so effectively.” HL responded: “Sorry, I regard government as similar to fire, it is useful in its place but terribly dangerous if not banked and controlled. Such a stance as you've described is an invitation to more government power and intervention. I believe government should do only those things people cannot reasonably do for themselves. The more power we give it, the more opportunities for abuse there are. And contrary to private efforts, we have no choice with government, it dictates the terms and takes our money and freedom regardless of how well spent the money or how effective and reasonable the regulations.”

My original proposition was intended to rebut those neoconservatives who paint all government as a bad thing. Ronald Reagan set the tone when he stated famously, “government isn’t the solution to the problem, it is the problem.” Grover Norquist, the anti-tax activist, has said that cutting taxes is only a stepping stone to the greater goal of starving government until it’s “small enough to drown in the bathtub.” NeoProgressivism is opposed to those views.

HL correctly describes government as being like fire, harmful unless it is “banked or controlled.” He errs, however, in failing to give fire its due. It is more than “useful in its place.” It is tremendously useful; much, much more useful than it is harmful; indispensable to human existence, even. In households around the world, much more time is spent kindling useful fires than extinguishing dangerous ones.

If government is like fire, then Reagan’s and Norquist’s statements are silly on their face. No one would say that all fires are problems, not solutions. No one would say that all fires should be drowned. Certainly fire and government both need to be “banked and controlled,” but the truth is that they usually already are. When a government simultaneously is democratically elected and protects certain individual rights against the tyranny of the majority, then the “fire” of that government is nicely banked and controlled, and – so long as democracy and civil rights are maintained – the “fire” of such a government almost always does immeasurably more good than harm. To say that government should only act when there is no other option is akin to saying that, because fire can be dangerous, food should be eaten raw and cold whenever possible.

Nor do I agree with HL’s statement that “contrary to private efforts, we have no choice with government, it dictates the terms and takes our money and freedom regardless of how well spent the money or how effective and reasonable the regulations.” Quite the opposite. I have no control over how private individuals or industries conduct their affairs. If a landowner upstream from me clearcuts the riverbank, then my land will silt up. Microsoft and Halliburton do as they please with little regard for the concerns of their minority shareholders, let alone non-shareholder citizens. On the other hand, I am an owner of my government. If I believe my government is misspending my money or infringing my freedoms or enacting ineffective and unreasonable regulations, I have recourse at the ballot box, in the press, in the courts, and in my ability to run for office myself. What’s more, government and business have different responsibilities. Businesses exist to generate profit for their owners, even if that means externalizing costs by polluting the air we all breathe or omitting safety devices. Government, on the other hand, exists to serve the public interest; harming its citizens runs contrary to its reason for being. Given the choice, I’ll trust the government to protect my interests, not private industry.

The original Progressives called on government quite often. Progressive Republican Teddy Roosevelt used government to create what he called a “square deal” – i.e., to ensure that every player in the capitalist game was dealt a fair hand, as against the robber barons who had amassed such huge fortunes, and such legally watertight monopolies, that they effectively “held all the cards.” When factory owners asserted their “property right” to keep their factory doors locked to prevent theft and work-dodging – a “right” that resulted in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, when hundred of workers locked into a garment factory burned or jumped to their deaths when it caught fire – the original Progressives called on government to regulate working conditions. TR established the first National Parks, using taxpayer money to buy land that could have been developed to generate profit for individuals and instead placing it under public ownership for the benefit of all. Richard Nixon, who despite his faults was in some ways the last populist Progressive, signed the Endangered Species Act, which simply says that property rights do not include the right to act in a way that extincts a species that has existed on that property for thousands of years longer than the property owner has.

Norquist and his ilk have expressly stated that government overreaches every time it regulates private commerce, protects worker safety, or regulates private property to protect species from extinction. Janice Rogers Brown, a federal judicial nominee over whom there was much acrimony in the Senate, has stated that she would overturn substantially all federal environmental, child labor, workplace safety, and civil rights legislation enacted since 1937. In her view, all laws that restrict people’s freedom of contract – including children’s freedom to choose whether to work in factories, workers’ freedom to choose whether or not to take a job in a factory that keeps all the fire exits locked, and a property owner’s freedom to open a slaughterhouse next door to a hospital – are unconstitutional.

Such ideologues are not just debating the proper balance between the needs of the community and the rights of the individual. Like obsessive firefighters throwing water on every hearth, they oppose all government action in these areas. Their views are outside the mainstream of American thought, and Neoprogressives (both “liberal” and “conservative”) would reject them.

The American way – the Neoprogressive way – could disagree about the best balance while still acknowledging the legitimacy of both the community (acting through democratic government) and the individual (asserting his or her civil liberties and related rights). Neoprogressives, unlike neoconservatives, would agree on the following:

1. We Have Met The Government, And It Is Us.

Unlike totalitarian societies, the community’s needs are actually represented by our democratically-elected government. In other words, the government is not “them”; it’s “us.” When a demagogue states that “government is the problem,” he is stating that we the people are the problem. When a zealot tries to “drown government in the bathtub,” he’s trying to drown community values so that nothing but individual rights are left. That’s un-American.

2. Sometimes It’s OK If the Community Wins.

The needs of the community sometimes come into conflict with the individual’s right to freedom. In those cases, some people recite that we’re a “free country” and insist that the community’s needs step aside. However, that has never been the American system. Sometimes the community’s needs – which are, after all, just the sum total of individual needs – predominate. As long as the community’s decisions are made democratically and critical individual rights are protected, then acting in a way that benefits the community at large is the right thing to do.

3. Democratically Elected Governments May and Should Act Assertively In the Community’s Interest.

Since a democratically-elected government is simply the collective agent of the community, it has tremendous legitimacy and right to act, and should not be shy about doing so. That is why I stated, “government can and should act ... in the community's interest whenever it can do so effectively.”

4. The Proper Place to Restrict Government Power Is Not by De-legitimizing Government Itself, but by Clearly Defining the Limits of its Power as Against the Individual.

I do not favor unlimited government or the “tyranny of the majority.” The needs of the community do not always predominate; individual rights need to be protected. However, the American system of government provides for such protections by establishing limited government and by establishing certain citizen rights, such as the right to free speech, freedom of worship, freedom from unreasonable search, the right to jury trial as a counterweight to the government’s power to prosecute, and the right to fair compensation (determined by a jury) when the community takes an individual’s property for public use. Those rights – and corollary rights like people’s right to decide whether to use birth control or to marry a person of a different race, neither of which is expressly stated in the Constitution but which Progressive judges of both parties, consistent with the Ninth Amendment, have found to be implied by the other rights which are enumerated – should be vigorously defended. But if they are being protected, there is no reason for government to be unnecessarily hampered or restrained.

5. These Propositions Lead Not to a “Liberal” or “Socialist” Society, but to a Healthy Tension and Dialogue among Competing Interests.

Neoprogressivism accepts that neither the community’s interests nor the individual’s rights will always prevail. Rather, there is a proper tension between the need for government to act in order to advance the community’s interests, and the right of individual citizens to possess certain freedoms even when it’s against the majority’s will. Neoprogressives reject Norquist’s and Brown’s view, that government is inherently bad, just as strongly as they reject Mao’s and Stalin’s view, that government is inherently good. It’s a false dichotomy, and citizens shouldn’t fall for it.

6. The Neoprogressive Model, and the American Experiment Itself, Depend Absolutely on the Integrity of the Democratic Process.

Neoprogressivism’s wholehearted support for government action depends entirely on the legitimacy of that government – which in turn depends on the integrity of the democratic process. To the extent government represents something less than the whole community, its actions lose legitimacy.

For example, many people are upset about the New London case, which allows local governments to condemn private property (paying the owners, however), then giving the property to private developers. But the outcry against such action depends largely on the government’s motivation. Imagine this: the citizens of a community hold a referendum on whether to redevelop a blighted area with shops, housing, and a school and park. The plan is to provide tax incentives and a streamlined permit process, but otherwise to let a private developer, rather than the government, buy the properties and do the redevelopment itself. The referendum passes overwhelmingly. Everything goes swimmingly -- but then the owner of the last, key parcel changes his mind about selling and decides to hold out for an extortionate price, 100 times what his property's actually worth. Would people be incensed if the government condemned that last property, paying the owner the market price? Probably not.

So the concern isn't really with whether the government is allowed to turn condemned property over to a private developer. Rather, the problem is people’s distrust of their government; the scenario people are afraid of is one in which a city council, bolstered by the developer’s campaign contributions, condemns property for a development that’s not in the community’s best interests, forcing their neighbors to move so the developer can make a buck. In that situation, democracy has failed, the government’s action lacks legitimacy, and a Neoprogressive might well fight against the government and for the “holdout” landowner. The greater evil in that situation, however, is not the loss to the individual landowner who is forced to sell and move, but the death of democracy, the loss of the people’s government’s legitimacy and their faith in it.

Since Neoprogressivism seeks to re-legitimize the concept of government action to benefit the community, and since government has no legitimacy at all unless it truly represents the will of the community, Neoprogressives should work vigorously to foster true democracy by supporting campaign finance reform, demanding transparency and accountability in our voting technology, supporting a Constitutional right to vote (believe it or not, there is none at present!), removing as many barriers to voting as possible, seeking to overturn the Supreme Court cases equating corporate campaign contributions with protected free speech, and opposing judicial intervention in electoral outcomes. Ideally, Neoprogressives would work to enact public election financing: the cost would be pennies on the dollar compared to the boondoggles and earmarks we taxpayers currently pay for, and the phenomenon of every voter having more power than any corporation would drastically restructure, and improve, our government and our society.

7. Within the Neoprogressive Framework, There Is Plenty of Room for Debate and Dialogue.

The proposition that government, like fire, is generally a good thing, and should not be shy about acting in the public interest, does not mean that traditional liberalism “wins.” The question of what actually is “the community’s best interest” will always be hotly debated. Conservative Neoprogressives will argue for smaller government and lower taxes; liberal Neoprogressives will support more expansive programs and consider higher taxes a reasonable price to obtain them. NeoProgressivism asserts that democratic governments are generally good, not merely necessary evils, and therefore may legitimately and without embarrassment act in the community interest. But it does not say how far the balance should tip.

If anything, acknowledging the legitimacy of government action should enliven the debate over the proper role of government, and could help break up some political logjams. For example, all Neoprogressives, no matter their stance on abortion rights, could agree that the federal government has the power to take measures to reduce unwanted pregnancies, promote adoption, and reduce abortions by non-coercive means. So-called “conservatives” like Grover Norquist and Janet Rogers Brown, if they remain true to their theory of government, would consider such steps to be beyond the federal government’s power.

7. What Government Does, It Should Do Well – Which Imposes Obligations On We Citizens To Help It Do So.

We can debate what it is we want our government to do, but we should all agree that what it does, it should do well.

This seems like a facile proposition, but it has important ramifications. There is a direct connection between a government’s ideology and its effectiveness. When the government is run by people who ideologically are opposed to government action and who doubt the government’s ability to act competently, then any action it does take will be slow, hesitant, incomplete and inadequate. Hurricane Katrina showed this kind of government at its worst. There is a direct connection between the ideology that wants to suppress the federal government in favor of states rights and personal responsibility, and Michael Brown’s Congressional testimony blaming Louisiana and its citizens for the failures of FEMA.

We should have made up our minds. If FEMA was not going to act, it should have said so early and loudly, so that the states and their citizens knew what to expect. If FEMA was going to act, it should have done so rapidly and effectively. The tepid compromise that actually occurred cost lives, hurt our nation’s morale, and undermined our faith in our government – which means it undermined our faith in ourselves. The Neoprogressive assertion that there are proper times and places for government involvement in the civil affairs of our nation carries with it the assertion that, when the government acts, it should do so boldly and well. A Neoprogressive FEMA would have stepped up to the plate and gotten the job done.

However, our expectation that our government work well obligates we citizens to help it do so. First, we must insist that government agencies be staffed by people who believe in the mission of those agencies, not (as is often the case) by people who, prior to taking office, lobbied against the very agencies they now head. There is no place, in a Neoprogressive nation, for a Michael Brown, overseeing the hobbling of FEMA, or a John Bolton, recess-appointed ambassador to an organization he believes should not even exist. Effective government cannot be accomplished by people who question the legitimacy of the very agencies we citizens have hired them to administer.

Practically, this means that we must continually lobby our President to appoint competent and committed administrators, and we must support the right and obligation of the Senate to exercise oversight over Presidential appointees. As James Madison made clear, the Senate’s right of advice and consent and the minority’s right of filibuster exist, not to frustrate the President’s right to choose his executives, or to allow the minority party to unfairly advance an ideology that failed at the polls, but to shine sufficient light on the President’s choices that he will be embarrassed to appoint anyone who is not competent and committed to the task. Neoprogressives should refuse to be drawn into debates over party ideology in executive agency appointments, but focus on competency. We should make ourselves aware of these obscure appointments, and write our editors and Senators to register our opinions about them. We should act like employers conducting a job interview -- which is what we are.

Second: if we ask our government to undertake a job, we should give it the tools to accomplish that job. No National Guardsman should have been deployed to Iraq with Vietnam-era body armor. No teacher should have to buy classroom supplies from her own paycheck. To ask government to act, then inadequately fund it, creates a self-fulfilling prophecy that government is incompetent. It betrays our citizens, it betrays the soldiers, sailors, teachers, and others who work on our behalf, and it betrays our integrity.

8. Under a Neoprogressive Framework, the Size of Government Will Not Be Limited by Ideological Debates or Sneak Attacks, but by the People’s Will (And Willingness to Pay).

In calling for the re-legitimization of government action, I am not calling for free-spending liberalism, but mature, mutual accountability. I expect my daughters to get good grades. But along with that expectation comes my responsibility to provide them with adequate nutrition, a quiet place to study, a good desk lamp, and adequate school supplies. Similarly, when we empower government to act and demand that it act competently, we also incur the responsibility to provide funding adequate to enable it to meet those expectations. Neither side of the equation can be omitted.

Anti-tax advocates simultaneously try to starve the government then blame it for its weakness. Libertarians and anarchists want no government and no taxes. Seventies liberals and the current President and Congress alike funded ever-larger government with ever-increasing debt. A Neoprogressive nation, on the other hand, would vigorously debate the desirability, costs and benefits of different government functions, but when that debate was over (at least for that budget cycle), we would clearly identify the functions we expect our government to accomplish, fully fund those programs, and (barring exceptional circumstances like a global depression or world war) pay for those programs from current revenue, even if that meant eliminating other programs, revoking tax cuts, or raising new taxes. Neoprogressives would insist that America grow up – that it be willing to pay for the services it demands, and pay from current revenue, not on our children’s charge card.

Again, “conservative” and “liberal” Neoprogressives will debate how much government there should be, and what level of taxes are tolerable or healthy, but we all would agree to adequately fund every function we ask our government to perform, and we all would acknowledge that the taxes we pay to fund those functions are a fair and reasonable price for living in a civil society.


Thursday, November 10, 2005

Welcome to the

What the heck are Neoprogressives?

We're not "liberal" (a good word that's been turned into an expletive -- and who wants to nationalize the steel industry anymore anyway?) or "conservative" (another good word stolen by people who are not conservative at all). Nor are we necessarily "centrist" or "moderate" (which implies centrism or compromise on every issue; most issues require moderation and compromise but some demand unbending commitment to the moral position, and a wise person understands which are which).

Or, more accurately, we're all of those things, and more: liberal on human rights, the march of progress, the rule of law, the soundness of science, and the preservation of representative democracy; conservative about the public fisc, resource conservation, and the dangers of foreign military adventurism and the extension of imperial power; libertarian in our personal affairs, but committed to community and convinced that government can and should act (and act competently) in the community's interest whenever it can do so effectively; tolerant of others, appreciative of balance, centrist when centrism is wise, but unstinting and even extreme in the defense of basic democratic and human values when those values are under attack; idealistic without being naive.

A hundred years ago, we would have been called "progressives." But that word's been bastardized beyond recognition, used as a synonym for "liberal" (which is a fine word and should be able to stand on its own). Only political historians would really understand what we meant if we called ourselves simply "progressives."

So today I'm taking ownership, if not inventing, a new term: NeoProgressive. NeoProg.

Yes, neoprog already is a kind of music. It's also been used to describe a school of education theory in the 1960s and 1970s, and occasionally pops up as a derogatory on some neoconservative websites. But what I'm staking claim to, under this name, is a specific vision of postmodern political thought rooted ideologically and intellectually in the progressivism of the early 1900s, informed by humanity's subsequent experience and knowledge, expressly bipartisan (though it may realistically use party alliances to advance its nonpartisan agenda), and committed to resisting any efforts either to define it down as merely a kind of liberalism or to co-opt it for partisan purposes by partisan hacks. The word "neoprogressive" has been used before, just as the words "democrat" and "republican" were used long before those parties existed. But NeoProgressivism, so far as I can tell, is a new thing, as much as any new thing can be. What I hope we start building here isn't just neoprogressivism, but NeoProgressivism, an American NeoProgressive Movement, its platform and ideology.

The NeoProgressive Movement. Remember, you heard it here first.

As the blog unfolds, I hope to accomplish three things:

1. Develop a "neoprogressive manifesto" that explains systematically what neoprogressives believe;

2. Apply those principles to current events by linking to relevant news stories and discussing them from a neoprogressive perspective; and

3. Hopefully, ignite a new progressive movement in America that helps regular citizens recapture both parties from the wingnuts, Macchiavels, demagogues and cowards who currently lead them.

Let me amplify that last point. America doesn't need a third political party. Third parties never succeed; in fact, last century's progressive movement died precisely because Teddy Roosevelt sidetracked it into the Bull Moose party, which was soundly trounced at the polls and left the field open to one-sided liberals and conservatives who turned discourse into duality, with disastrous results.

Instead, we need to reestablish a progressive movement that includes both parties and leads them back into a constructive dialectic. If it works, we'll have two, ideologically distinct, political parties, in constructive tension with each other, in constant dialogue and even contentious dispute, but both respectful of the other, committed to fundamental American values, and focused on addressing the problems of the American people instead of simply winning against the other.

I'll grab my hammer and pound nails as often as I can to erect the framework of this site and this movement and give you things to chew on. The rest will be up to you, the readers who comment, challenge, amplify, brainstorm, etc. I'm hoping that, collaboratively, we can build a movement that redefines political discourse in America. And you're in at the beginning. Fun, huh?

And important.

Let's roll up our sleeves.

Nov. 10, 2005