At a small gathering in Los Angeles recently, Miles Rapoport, president of the 13-year-old progressive think tank Demos, expressed optimism about the future for progressive values and policies.
Miles's talk was inspiring, but I asked him to elaborate by answering questions from a skeptic's point of view. Following is Part 2 of our dialogue. (Here is Part 1.)
Without campaign finance reform, the chances for systemic changes in economic policy and other items on the progressive agenda are slim to none. Congressional gridlock, corporations, lobbyists and even the Supreme Court are lined up against meaningful change. The issue is barely on voters' radar and even progressive politicians are too busy dialing for dollars to push for change. What makes you think we can change that?
Miles: This may be the toughest nut to crack of all. Money has played an increasing and increasingly awful role in politics, on all sides. But we have to fight back. In the short term, states can pass public financing of elections, as Connecticut, Arizona and Maine have. In the long term, we have to get the courts to revisit their ruling on freedom of speech so that it no longer includes the right to buy the biggest, drown-out bullhorn you can. But the good news is that even now, money spent doesn't always mean victory. Just ask Sheldon Adelson and Karl Rove!
What does the Right have right about the Left? Where can we be better?
Miles: Progressives, for a long time, have been too fragmented, either by ideology, or by what issue you care about most, or competition for funding, or other reasons. We definitely need better coordination, more mutual support, more funding, and the broadest possible coalition, focusing on full inclusion of everyone. We also were slower than the Right in realizing that a major focus needs to be on communications--honing, repeating, and widely spreading our messages. And again, the good news is that more and more people are recognizing these things, the playing field has indeed been leveling, and we are having some real success.
Some would say that what attracts investment to the U.S. is peace and a favorable legal framework to accumulate and maintain property. Let's say we succeed in reining in the power of mega-corporations in terms of wage fairness, environmental controls and enlightened workers' rights and union laws. Wouldn't corporations simply flee to other parts of the world that have cheap labor and loose regulations?
Miles: I think it is a distorted argument. While we can't and shouldn't compete to be the lowest wage economy in the world, we can compete if we invest in our infrastructure, our educational system, and in research. Countries in Europe have done this successfully without our levels of inequality or economic insecurity. As far as globalization goes, we absolutely need to fight for new rules for the global economy that allow all countries and people to thrive, rather than viewing globalization as a giant race to the bottom.