- Job-producing government investments in education, technology research, and infrastructure rebuilding.
- Policies for economic fairness, including corporate and individual tax restructuring, that would aim to narrow the obscene and still growing gaps of wealth and income in our society.
- Regulations that would encourage or mandate corporate responsibility in promoting employment, upgrading local communities, and caring for the environment.
In terms of international relations, we can surmise that the progressive vision would call for a foreign policy that is dedicated not to dominating, but to helping meet the needs of, an interconnected global community. It would also entail the corollary principle that a foreign policy based on compassion and generosity, rather than on overriding self-interest, offers the best possible means to ensure America's own national security. Specific reform proposals might include:
- An American leadership role in efforts to effectively address the continuing poverty, conflict and misery that afflict a large part of the world's population.
- Formal rejection of the persisting, but increasingly anachronistic, assumption that, in conflicts among nation states, or between factions within them, might is equivalent to right, and war or other forms of violence can be tolerated as means of conflict resolution.
- Committed participation in international efforts to halt the pending calamities of global climate change.
In defining his own progressive vision, it is probably best that a challenger to the president articulate only general goals of reform, since more specific policy proposals would almost certainly, in the present political climate, be subject to knee-jerk derision. The challenger must take on faith that, because all human beings have at least a latent sense of moral connectedness to others, progressive ideas presented in terms of moral principles and a commitment to the common good can earn not only a fair hearing but, perhaps also, even among many conservatives, a grudging respect of conscience.
In addition to his "prophetic" call to the common good, the progressive challenger would also have to make a factual case for a truth that is often overlooked. It is that history itself demonstrates that an activist government, supported by the people, can in fact work successfully in the general interest. Government, as an institution, is not inherently limited to the pursuit of its own power and domination. In fact, contrary to the words of Ronald Reagan and to widespread popular belief, government is often not the problem, but a solution to the problem. That was notably shown in the past by the vital New Deal direct-employment programs and the enactments of Social Security, the GI Bill, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Civil Rights laws. It was also shown in the case of America's military withdrawal from Vietnam -- an action for which even a non-activist government brought itself into compliance with the will of the people.
The People Themselves Must Drive Transformative Change
Of course, it must be kept in mind that no nomination challenge to the President from the progressive left, no matter how successful, can by itself bring about transformative change. Such a challenge can at best achieve only two preparatory advances: it can motivate the small progressive popular base to mobilize politically; and it can prick the conscience of the conservative popular majority -- whether Democratic, Republican, or Independent -- in a way that leads it to at least perceive the seriousness and good faith of the progressive political and moral vision.
Such steps forward would in themselves represent a magnificent accomplishment. Their effect, however, would be only to lay a foundation for transformative change. As a next step, a political infrastructure would have to be built from which progressive activists could be induced to run for high office, and from which, in time, a progressive congressional majority and president could be elected.
Only a widespread popular movement can create such an infrastructure. People inspired and galvanized by an inspirational voice from the institutional left -- i.e. by a primary challenger to the President from within the Democratic Party -- would then need to lead other Americans to buy into the progressive vision: to see their own society and the world as a human community, and to support and vote into federal office progressive candidates who pledge to serve the common good rather than the narrow interests of power.
As I see it, moving toward a progressive leadership is critical to America's future. The country is currently afflicted by a syndrome of joblessness and social alienation that can be linked directly to a long period of conservative governance focused on economic power and world domination. In my own view, it is only progressives, inspired by the creative wellspring at their moral center, who have the necessary vision to conceive and drive transformative social change in the interest of the common good. That can never be the work of conservatives, who by their nature serve to defend existing interests and beliefs.
At the same time, it should not be forgotten that a proper conservative role in government is also indispensable. That role is not, however, as it has been so markedly in the past two years, simply to block progressive initiatives. It is, instead, to refine them, if needed, to more closely meet the practical requirements of effective implementation. This is a task for which the conservative mindset is far better suited than its inspirationally-based progressive counterpart. In legislating, as in all acts of creation, the vision must come first, but then the forms by which it can be best and most fully realized. It is only by combining the creative powers of progressives and conservatives that transformative change for the common good can be made workable in the real world.