Here in this summer of 2009, progressives, alongside a coalescing majority of Americans, are again looking toward the future with optimism. So many possibilities that had seemed foreclosed for so long are suddenly open to us. Will America achieve universal health care, a rational energy policy, an economy in which workers get their fair share of the bounty? Can a new way of dealing with the rest of the world bring better results, for the United States and for the world?
The articles and reviews in this issue of Democracy are held together by a theme: building this future by learning the right lessons from the past. This happened, I will confess, more by accident than by design. But perhaps it’s not an accident after all–when smart writers consider the future, they necessarily look to the past for instruction.
Leslie Gelb, a member of our Editorial Committee and an esteemed former New York Times columnist, painstakingly retraces the role the agenda-setting media played in helping (more often than not) the previous administration make its case for war against Iraq. Michael Lind examines an important aspect of the New Deal legacy–the utility capitalism model–that is often overlooked and which we would do well to study. Marcy Darnovsky, a leading expert on the politics of human biotechnology, gives an honest accounting of errors made by the progressive science community during the Bush era. David Callahan looks at how liberalism came up short in recent years by not discussing economic rapacity in values terms. And Joshua Kurlantzick scrutinizes the ways in which Western policies on global hunger have sometimes shortchanged struggling nations–and shows how we can do better.
Likewise, in the books section, the noted journalist Ronald Brownstein re-reviews, if you will, the passel of books from just a few years ago predicting a nascent conservative majority in America: How’d that work out? Jonathan Rauch takes a longer view, surveying the intellectual history of American conservatism and examining how it veered so far off course. Legal scholars Aziz Huq and Eric Lane consider the question of the Supreme Court and find that even ideologically hostile courts have been surprisingly docile when faced with new political realities. Jonathan Stevenson surveys piracy on the high seas and shows there are lessons to be learned from the 1720s. Sarah Mendelson argues that President Obama’s human rights success will hinge on how well he grapples with the abuses of his predecessor. And finally, in this summer marking the twentieth anniversary of the momentous events leading to the liberation of Eastern Europe, I look at the role liberal values played in those events–and might yet play again in the Middle East.
Finally, two housekeeping announcements. We’re proud to note that Steven Rattner, a member of our Board of Advisors, has become the Obama Administration’s auto czar (and is, alas, now a former board member). We don’t envy him the job, but if anyone can do it, it’s Steven. We thank him for all he’s done to help Democracy thrive.
And second, I’m pleased to announce that this is my first issue as editor. It’s a great privilege, and I’m deeply grateful to the journal’s founders for placing their faith in me. I aim to justify that faith, and I hope this is the first issue of many.