Six Tasks for Progressives

This piece is part of the Prospect's series on progressives' strategy over the next 40 years. To read the introduction, click here.

We have six tasks we must perform to build the kind of country America needs to be. The single most important is to outline a clear progressive economics. People want to know what the progressive economic perspective is, particularly now when so many centrist and conservative policies are in disrepute.

Our economic perspective really hasn’t permeated public consciousness yet. We have few if any candidates running on implementing such policies, and if they’re elected and do implement those policies, they don’t talk about them. Even when our candidates articulate an economic narrative, they add every other policy area to their talk. We need a much more disciplined focus on explaining our economic narrative.

We need to recruit a cohort of candidates to run in 2014 on these themes: Here’s our agenda; here’s how it creates jobs. We need to bring economists, candidates, and communications people together to map this out.

Second, we must fight for campaign-finance reform. The current system is rotting away our democracy. It turns progressive candidates into centrists. We have to elect a president and senators who will put justices on the Supreme Court who will overturn Citizens United.

Third, we can’t cede Americans’ core values to the right. We champion equality and justice, but we can’t let the right claim freedom and faith as its own. Freedom is restricted when votes are suppressed, when people who work their whole life can’t count on Social Security and Medicare to be there for them. We must expand our discussion of freedom. We must expand the discussion of responsibility. How responsible are Wall Street and the offshorers? There’s a slogan I like: If you do well in America, you should do right by America.

Fourth, there will be 34 gubernatorial and 28 major mayoral races in 2014. We need to figure out how to nominate more progressives in the primaries. Despite a high level of progressive coordination in the 2012 primaries, we weren’t particularly successful in getting the most progressive candidate nominated, even when primary turnout was as low as 11 percent. That’s ridiculous. We should be able to win those primaries, and we need a hard-nosed assessment of how we can better our performance in 2014.

Fifth, while we know about the changing demographics that benefit our cause, we don’t really have the infrastructure that can take advantage of it. The rise in the number of unmarried Americans, the size and politics of the millennials—these bode well for Democrats and progressives. But we need an organizational infrastructure that’s permanent to identify, register, and get these voters to the polls. We need to realize how isolated many unmarried Americans are. We need a structure that connects with them two years before the election, not two weeks before. Conservatives are serious about their voter--contact operations; they match our turnout efforts.

We need an infrastructure that’s there for the long term. We should never have let ACORN go down; it was just that kind of long-term organization. We need all our organizations—unions, community-based organizations, churches, women’s groups—to help build this permanent infrastructure, preferably organizations that nurture and develop grassroots leadership.

Finally, we need to grow more progressives. We need to make sure people have good educations, that the right doesn’t dominate school boards and curtail science education. We have to defend public radio and television. We need to promote our own ideas. When conservatives publish a book, they appear on four different talk shows; when liberals publish a book, they’re maybe on one. We’ve done a good job of promoting progressive perspectives online, but we’re still getting beat in the other media. We need to win those media, too. 

Read the other pieces in this series:

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