Editor's Note

Editor's Note

Michael Tomasky introduces Issue #14.

By Michael Tomasky

The Obama Administration is still young in this autumn of 2009, and, whatever it can be denounced for at this point, no one can say it’s not trying. Indeed, the more standard rebuke is that the new president is trying to do too much.

That might be so. But as we start to inch toward the Administration’s second year, by which time it should start getting to the issues beyond the immediate crises present last January 20, consider this thought. Barack Obama said repeatedly on the campaign trail that his job as president would be to bring America into the twenty-first century. That means a lot of things, but one thing it surely means is making the United States a more innovative society.

We see reports in the popular media about this or that clever new technology available to people in Japan or Estonia (Estonia?!), and we know that we’re behind other nations. But we don’t know exactly why. And we don’t know just what the federal government should do to foster more innovation and encourage private-sector modernization.

This special issue of Democracy answers those questions by making a case for an aggressive federal role in spurring innovation across a number of fronts, from education to the post-manufacturing economic sector. And we show specifically why and how other governments are zooming past us. Innovation isn’t magic–it happens, in part, because governments create the conditions in which innovative people and companies can thrive.

Our package, underwritten by a generous grant from the Intel Corporation, appears in coordination with a major conference on innovation economics that is scheduled to take place in Washington just after Thanksgiving. All this activity should put this vital issue squarely before policymakers as they catch their breath after a manic first year and start doing longer-term thinking.

Elsewhere in the issue, we offer a wide-ranging buffet. The big global
environmental summit in Copenhagen will take place around the same time as the innovation conference. With that crucial world meeting in mind, the Progressive Policy Institute’s Edward Gresser argues that international agencies have in fact performed much good in recent decades–except when it comes to the condition of the planet we all happen to occupy. He puts forward a proposal for a new global environmental regulatory body with real teeth. It’s a much-needed and very creative idea.

In the books section, E.J. Dionne Jr., the distinguished columnist and chairman of our editorial committee, uses the new book on liberalism’s future by the also-distinguished Alan Wolfe to conjure up a new vision of his own. Berlin-based writer Joshua Hammer looks at Europe–specifically, the question of Muslim immigration and assimilation, or lack thereof, as described by a prominent conservative writer. Dayo Olopade, a Bernard L. Schwartz Fellow at the New America Foundation, dissects the global culture war over women’s reproductive freedom (again, or lack thereof). Literary critic Scott McLemee reviews a book about books–four books that were important documents of the Cold War when they were published–and asks which side is winning the ongoing historical battle over the domestic Cold War today. The philosopher Hilary Bok examines the newly unearthed undergraduate thesis of a then-devout John Rawls (who’d lost his religion by the time of his more famous works) and contemplates the degree to which religious concerns animated his secular work. And Princeton scholar Julian E. Zelizer ponders an all too timely question: What on earth can be done about the nearly dysfunctional U.S. Senate?

And finally, Associate Editor Ethan Porter offers an interesting perspective on the financial crisis as a spiritual crisis–and puts forward a prescription that may surprise you.

A little something for every taste, we hope. Dig in.

–Michael Tomasky

Michael Tomasky is the editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas and a special correspondent for The Daily Beast.

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