Editor's Note

Editors' Note

By Kenneth Baer and Andrei Cherny

We introduced our first issue—and this entire project—by arguing that ideas mattered in public life, and that in a changing world progressives needed to offer new thinking. We expected the concepts we put forward would be controversial; what we didn’t expect was controversy about the idea of ideas. In discussing Democracy, Ronald Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times wrote that what mattered is not ideas, but power. Maureen Dowd of the New York Times wrote about Democracy’s launch event at the National Press Club, arguing that big ideas can be dangerous–and that progressives should chase them at their peril. And many bloggers and pundits contended that progressives didn’t need to introduce ground-breaking notions at all, since the better approach is to judge and respond to societal challenges on a case-by-case basis.

But the fact is that ideas have driven American politics since the founding of the Republic. They have shaped our electoral landscape and transformed our government—for good and bad. If progressives are to respond to the failure of conservativism, they need to be ready to offer the country a governing philosophy and agenda that can speak to the big changes facing America and the world. So, in this second issue of Democracy, we continue our work.

This fall marks two unforgettable anniversaries. One year ago, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Elaine Kamarck writes in this issue that, as we confront global climate change, Katrina may in fact be a harbinger of disasters to come—and that the federal government must adapt to this new reality.

And five years after the attacks of September 11, G. John Ikenberry argues that America’s problems maneuvering abroad aren’t just the product of President George W. Bush’s bungling, but of a deeper “security trap”—and offers a way to escape it. Joseph Nye, Jr.—the father of “soft power”—revisits his theory and argues that what’s needed is not solely hard or soft power, but “smart power.” Joining Ikenberry and Nye in the critical debate about a progressive foreign policy in the post-9/11 age are two articles in our new, regular “Responses” section: Peter Beinart answering Michael Lind’s review of his book The Good Fight, and Anatol Lieven critiquing Michael Signer’s (and other progressive thinkers’) idealist vision of America’s role in the world. Zeroing in on two critical regions of the world, Naazneen Barma and Ely Ratner lay out the ideological challenge that China presents the West, and Dennis Ross assesses the Middle East post-Ariel Sharon and in light of this summer’s conflicts.

On the domestic front, Karen Kornbluh puts forward a new approach to social insurance that responds to the contemporary realities of the American family and work life, and Joel Kotkin charts a path for reinvigorating American cities as the engines of middle-class mobility. William Galston makes the case for the centrality of freedom in progressive thought; James Galbraith looks at how democracy takes root; and Theda Skocpol explores whether a program like the G.I. Bill—which did so much to invigorate and broaden American democracy—can ever happen again.

We hope that, through our website and in our pages, we can have a debate not just about the importance of ideas, but also about the important ideas that will shape our nation and the world for years to come.

Kenneth Baer and Andrei Cherny are co-editors of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas

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