The TBA Interview: Andrea Batista SchlesingerJun 14, 2007 at 10:56 AM by Bill Scher
Take Back America will kick off with the panel titled "Our Time Has Come," recognizing that conservatism has definitively failed America and it's time for progressives to lead. Serving on that panel will be Andrea Batista Schlesinger, executive director of the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy, which promotes "progressive public policy for social and economic fairness." She offers her insight on what we need to do to seize this moment.
Q: Why is this moment in American politics ripe for progressives to seize?
ABS: The Democratic victory in the 2006 elections, both in Congress and in states across the country provides a clear opportunity for progressives.
Voters voted for "change." But that change can't just be a change in party. For Democrats to win long-term, they will need to communicate that the difference between Democrats and Republicans is more than a stance on the war, but an ideological clash over whose interests should drive politics and policy, and what the role of government should be in our lives.
Electoral victories are short-lived unless they lead to a fundamental rethinking in the consciousness of people about what kind of government they want. That's where progressives come in.
Hurricane Katrina, the quality of our schools, stagnant wages, an energy crisis that we will surely see again, the skyrocketing cost of higher education, a nation in which 47 million are uninsured, including an increasing number of middle-income earners -- all of these issues are connected. Republicans have failed to address them, resulting in electoral backlash, because their very philosophy of governing prohibits them from addressing them.
This is primarily because they hate the notion of government, and because they have chosen to align their interests with big business.
Their excuse? The benefits will trickle down.
The result? Thriving big business leading to an overall expansion of the economy but no benefits for the average American, whose wages are stagnating, whose future is insecure, and who is being overwhelmed by the increased prices of everything from gas to tuition, and who otherwise hasn't been adequately compensated for his contribution to the increased bottom lines of multi-national corporations.
Progressives have the answers here. The response of Democrats shouldn't be to pick a Chinese/Greek diner (pick your cuisine) menu of public policies to advance. We did that during the Clinton years. The result was that people loved Clinton himself, but didn't understand that the improvement in their living standards was the result of a philosophy: government is a good thing, a positive thing, not the enemy, not something that should shrink until it's small enough for Grover Norquist to drown in a bathtub.
We've all heard the milquetoast DLC approach, which refuses to acknowledge Americans' broad dissatisfaction with the economy, increased economic insecurity and anxiety, and the middle-class squeeze.
That approach denies that there's a problem because corporate interests have driven our politics and driven our middle-class to the breaking point, without a government to respond because it doesn't believe in responding.
That approach denies any wholesale connection of our failures in education, economic, and health care policy and instead offer some piecemeal proposals that could get broad support.
Such an approach will not lead to a fundamental victory in the war of ideas. President Clinton was successful at staying in office, but because the consciousness of people wasn't changed the governing philosophy of Grover Norquist -- that corporations need help and direct intervention but people don't -- won out.
That's why Republicans took over Congress and have won up until yesterday. This is the right moment for the progressive movement to succeed by leveraging electoral victories into a shift in public consciousness that reasserts that we need government. Not big government. But, as Governor Mario Cuomo put it to me, "just the government we need."
Q: What will you be contributing to your panel discussion that will help Take Back America participants advance a progressive vision in their communities?
ABS: I will be speaking at the opening plenary on many of the issues described above. It comes down to policies that have made it increasingly difficult for working Americans to achieve, and hold onto a middle-class standard of living.
The middle-class framework - that nearly all Americans are united by economic anxiety, and that our nation is rapidly becoming one of the wealthy and everyone else, and that the best evidence is the disappearance of our middle class â€“ resonates with people.
It resonates when you frame policy from the perspective of people's aspirations, and restoration of the American Dream, and not by their fears.
We need to transcend the single-issue paradigm â€“ we can't just talk about health care, just talk about education, just talk about labor policy â€“ we must talk about all of these policies as examples of a larger failure to create policy that actually improves people's lives.
But at the same time, we can only create the momentum and will to address these issues - health care, higher education - if we understand them explicitly as middle-class issues â€“ this is issues for both the current squeezed middle class and people struggling to work their way into the middle class â€“ and not solely issues impacting the poorest Americans.
Q: Beyond your own panel, what event at Take Back America are you most excited about?
ABS: There's a lot of be excited about at this conference. I think the session on building a youth movement is very important. We need to be bringing the voices of young people into the policy debate. I turned 30 this year, so that's no longer a self-interested thing to say.
I believe that one of the most critical challenges facing the progressive movement is creating a pipeline dedicated to supporting and guiding talented young people into the field of public policy.
DMI is trying to tackle part of that challenge through our new DMI Scholars program. We need to build on that and work with the broader youth movement(s) organizing.
I also think the session on "Katrina's Clarion Call" will be very compelling. The disastrous human response to the natural disaster gets at the heart of the role government can and should play in people's lives and in supporting our communities.
It's deeply upsetting that it takes something like Hurricane Katrina to force us to confront the desperate, entrenched poverty that exists in America today â€“ but it would be downright tragic if we still failed to address these pressing issues in spite of what we see on the Gulf Coast.
Plus, my good friend and colleague Rinku Sen is on that panel and she always has something valuable and insightful to say.
I'll be eager to join in this and all the activities. I learned of TBA only this morning, but will show up and check it out.
Campaign Begins to Stop Congressâ€™ Brazen Violation of the Constitution
In letters to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid the newly formed national organization Friends of the Article V Convention declared its challenge to Congress. â€œThe time has come to stop playing games with the U.S. Constitution and respect the rights of Americans,â€ said FOAVC founder and National Press Secretary Joel S. Hirschhorn, a former senior congressional staffer.
FOAVC told Pelosi and Reid that Congress has a legal obligation to call a convention and that it is initiating a national campaign to build public pressure on Congress for a convention. "The one and only requirement specified in Article V for a convention is that two-thirds of state legislatures apply for a convention. With over 500 applications from all 50 states on record with the Congress that sole requirement has been more than met. Congress has never passed any law to expand or further specify requirements for an Article V convention, meaning the language in Article V prevails,â€ said FOAVC.
â€œCongress has cheated Americans by not obeying Article V of the Constitution. Members of Congress are violating their oath of office to faithfully obey the Constitution,â€ said Hirschhorn, â€œand we must hold them accountable.â€
â€œMembers of Congress seem more effective as lawbreakers than lawmakers,â€ added California congressional candidate Byron De Lear and an FOAVC founder. â€œIf Congress can silently and unilaterally ignore or veto one part of the Constitution, then it can disobey any part of it,â€ said De Lear.
Thomas E. Brennan, former Chief Justice, State of Michigan, and an FOAVC founder has said publicly that a convention â€œis necessary, desirable, and feasible.â€ The convention option â€œis to be taken seriouslyâ€¦it is not a joke, nor an illusion. It would bring a new, responsible dimension to American politics,â€ said Brennan.
â€œOperating outside the control of the federal government convention delegates could, like members of Congress, consider any constitutional amendments they deem necessary to address unresolved national problems â€“ and thatâ€™s what frightens politicians,â€ noted Hirschhorn.
De Lear said, â€œCongress canâ€™t have it both ways. Give Americans its first Article V convention or propose a constitutional amendment to remove the convention option.â€ FOAVC reminded Pelosi and Reid that Abraham Lincoln and Dwight D. Eisenhower supported use of the convention option. â€œSadly, no current Democratic or Republican presidential candidate has done likewise, especially mavericks like Dennis Kucinich, Mike Gravel and â€˜champion of the Constitutionâ€™ Ron Paul,â€ noted De Lear.
The non-partisan FOAVC at www.foavc.org urges Americans and state legislatures to demand that Congress obey the Constitution, respect statesâ€™ rights, and announce the first Article V convention. FOAVC does not support any specific constitutional amendment, though it invites groups advocating specific reforms that might be achieved through amendments to become Affiliate Members.
Look forward to returning to these posts and following the discussions. We, Stephanie and Bill Hamm, are very interested in the views thus far expressed.
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