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Issue #19, Winter 2011
First Principles: The Role of Government
Michael Tomasky
t might seem an odd time to make a case for government. After all, government, its scope and role, was at the center of the recent election campaign, and voters unequivocally said “enough.”
But progressives aren’t going to give up on government because of one election. A strong role for the federal government as incubator, nurturer, and watchdog is central to the progressive vision of society. What needs to be reexamined is not our commitment to it. Rather, we need to reexamine just how it is that the right has made so many people so furious at the very idea of government, and how we succeed and fail at persuading them otherwise.
In this “First Principles” series, Democracy will visit core questions across a range of topics in succeeding issues. We’ll look at citizenship and civic values, the economy, the Constitution and the courts, and other subjects. In each package, we will feature essays that look at how the right built its arguments, break down why those arguments are misleading, and put forward new progressive facts, ideas, and metaphors.
Here, the esteemed historian of the right, Rick Perlstein, gives us a bracing intellectual history of conservative arguments against government; the exaggerations and calumnies that may feel new to some people today go back to the 1920s and revolve (then as now) around whipping up fears of indoctrination and limited freedom. Alan Wolfe, director of Boston College’s Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, argues that conservatism is not a movement of limited government, as it claims to be, but one of willful failure: Today’s conservatives are so irate and extreme, and so obsessed with political advantage, that they not only cannot govern but will not govern. And Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer, authors of The True Patriot, make a strong and provocative case for a redesigned federal government, a government with large ambitions–indeed, even larger than its present ones–but with a far less controlling hand over how those ambitions are achieved. It’s the kind of fresh thinking that we need right now, with one of the central pillars of our vision of society under sustained attack.
Enemies of State Rick Perlstein
Why Conservatives Won’t Govern Alan Wolfe
The “More What, Less How” Government Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer
ISSUE #19, WINTER 2011
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JP Sayles:
Michael, I feel the last election was about two things: #1 advertising is omnipotent, repubs had more money and scream fear louder. #2 Change, anything for change.
Here's an entirely unique idea to reclaim the loyalty of our politicians by incentivizing change of their financial dependence from special interest groups to the voting masses.
There is a poll at the end showing 97% support for this game-changing strategy. There are links to my website PoliticalFinanceReform.org from the article.
If interested, there are 3 more polls, all above 62% supporting this reform and I have 1 year of test marketing data I will be glad to share.
People love this and are ready for this, or something very much like it. Will you help me spread the word? How about a poll of your readers? How can we work together?
Keep up the great work
Feb 12, 2011, 9:57 PM
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Michael Tomasky is the Editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas and American Editor-at-Large of the Guardian (UK).
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First Principles: The Role of Government
Michael Tomasky: Progressives aren’t going to give up on government because of one election. A strong role for the federal government as incubator, nurturer, and watchdog is central to the progressive vision of society.
Enemies of State
Rick Perlstein: Historically, nothing has terrified conservatives so much as efficient, effective, activist government.
Why Conservatives Won’t Govern
Alan Wolfe: Rather than using government badly out of a conviction that it always fails, they now refuse to allow government to do its work at all.
The “More What, Less How” Government
Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer: What is government for? Over the last two years, this has been the dominant question of American politics. Yet so few leaders have offered coherent answers.

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