From the Executive Editor

The cultural and social assumptions underlying our politics change slowly, but they do change. We've lived for decades with the assumption that "tough on crime" policies and mass incarceration are politically inevitable, but as Adam Serwer reports in this issue, a new approach to criminal justice is taking hold in several states, with programs that focus less on incarceration and more on reducing recidivism. And, Gabriel Arana reports in our cover story, it's possible that the long road toward marriage equality could end not just with gay marriage but with an affirmation of equal rights for gays and lesbians unimaginable a decade ago. Arana, who joined our editorial staff in July, explores the wide range of possibilities and pitfalls opened up by the decision to bring a constitutional challenge against California's Proposition 8.

Progressives should also be willing to challenge our own assumptions, and sociologist Dalton Conley argues in this issue that one such assumption is that reducing economic inequality should be a central goal of public policy. Elsewhere, Bob Kuttner debunks the notion that only committee chairs and administration officials control the fate of financial reform. A relatively unknown senator, Maria Cantwell of Washington, has, by virtue of her brains and diligence, emerged as a key player in the debate over reform. And Tara McKelvey reports on the complicated fate of democracy promotion as a component of U.S. foreign policy: George W. Bush's rhetorical coupling of "democracy" with militaristic foreign policy has poisoned the word so the Obama administration has been reluctant to use it. But in this case, is simply distancing ourselves from Bush-era policies the best course of action? As Obama nears the end of his first year in office, these are the sorts of questions we're asking.

-- Mark Schmitt


Buying Health Reform

From San Diego, blogger Mike Tidmus gives a shout-out to Sarah Laskow's piece ("Let's Make a Deal!") highlighting the various lobbyists who shelled out big bucks to influence the health-care bill. He writes, "Laskow takes a frequently stomach-turning look at the huge, well-funded lobbying organizations that are attempting to influence healthcare reform."

liberal education

Reader Keith Kroll, a teacher, laments that November's special report ("Inequality Goes to College") neglected to address the role of education in forging an informed citizenry. He writes, "I appreciate the Prospect's special report on higher education. It was disheartening, however, that even a progressive magazine would include such little discussion of the role and importance of the liberal arts and higher education in fostering citizenship and democracy. In particular, the national conversation about community colleges has become almost solely focused on job training and producing 'workers.' In such dire economic times the importance of an engaged citizenship is of more, not less, importance."

Decent Millennium

Jezebel's Anna North is skeptical of Mark Schmitt's claim (in "Title IX Dad") that Title IX -- and the gender equality it required -- fostered a generation of more humane thinkers. She writes, "There's plenty of evidence that millennials still have some work to do in creating a culture of gender equality, but I do notice that my brother's friends are more comfortable identifying as feminists than even my friends were at their age. And my brother has been, since his teens, more open-minded and quicker to call out prejudice for what it is than most of the boys I grew up with. Some of this is probably because he went to a very progressive high school, but some of it may come from the fact that he played Little League with girls."

Indelible Lines

In response to Adam
Serwer's review of Richard Alba's Blurring the Color Line, the author writes in to clarify that, unfortunately, erasing it altogether is an unrealistic goal. "I cannot imagine any plausible process that would, in the next several decades, lead to the disappearance of racial inequalities from American life," Alba writes. "If the ideal is impossible to attain, at least in the near future, then we are faced with choices among realistic options that may blunt the negative role of race. In this situation, it seems to me that the opening up of the labor market because of the exodus of the heavily white baby-boom generation is a development to herald, especially because it is quite likely to be associated with greater fluidity of ethnoracial boundaries. However, it is also going to present a time-limited opportunity. It follows that those of us who care about racial inequality ought to think about ways to take maximum advantage of it."

Myth Buster

Reader Steve Strickland praises Tim Fernholz's piece ("The Myth of Too Big to Fail") debunking the common financial-crisis catchphrase. He writes, "It was a pleasure to read an article on a relatively complex subject that not once resorted to bashing Bush incompetence or Obama socialism. Mr. Fernholz may be right, wrong, or somewhere in-between, but his article was lucid and reasoned."

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