Editor's Note

Editor's Note

Michael Tomasky introduces Issue #23.

By Michael Tomasky

As we head toward 2012, we think of course of the election, but another huge moment looms on the political calendar that may be only marginally less important: The Supreme Court will decide the future of the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA). While Court outcomes are sometimes surprising, and while there’s enough recent case history on the Commerce Clause to suggest that some justices might not take ideologically predictable positions, there is still little reason to be optimistic.

Exactly why is the question. Much has been written on the question of the Roberts Court’s stark turn to starboard, but I can promise you that you haven’t read an analysis quite like Jedediah Purdy’s. We know the Supreme Court is increasingly radical, but Purdy, a professor at Duke University Law School and a distinguished author, shows the exact nature of the radicalism, and his answer is alarming. We are in an era of neo-Lochner-ism, he writes, with reference to the (in)famous Supreme Court decision of 1905 that gave private enterprise free rein to operate with little or no government oversight and that inaugurated a long period of economic libertarianism on the Court. But how we got there—through which exact legal theories and constructions—gives Purdy’s piece its force and originality, and drops some clues about how the Court might find on the ACA.

We continue our “First Principles” series, this time looking at foreign policy. We asked five distinguished experts to consider some of the major challenges America will face in the foreign policy realm in the coming years: grand strategy, democracy promotion, how to speak to the increasingly connected and aware people of the developing world, when to intervene militarily, and adjusting to a “Copernican” international system. Every piece is fresh and provocative, and as a group they succeed marvelously in laying out principles on which a progressive internationalist foreign policy should proceed.

Jared Bernstein was Joe Biden’s chief economic adviser from the start of the Obama Administration until he left in April. He’s long been one of Washington’s leading progressive economists, but now, having done his time inside the beast’s belly, he brings badly needed perspective to our current budget debate. In this issue, he cuts through the smoke on one of the most misunderstood concepts—and misunderstood to the detriment of the broader progressive agenda—in our discourse today: debt. Our obsession with deficits and debt is outsized and misplaced, Bernstein argues; indeed, debt, he insists rightly and powerfully, can be good. We hope our friends on the Hill (and in the West Wing where Jared once toiled) pay special attention to Bernstein’s essay.

The WikiLeaks document drop of last year sent the State Department into a tizzy, and with good reason. But Jonathan Spalter, a former national security official in the Clinton Administration, asks a provocative question on the anniversary of the WikiLeaks release: What if Foggy Bottom, to the extent practicable, embraced open-source technology and engaged in a new kind of diplomacy? Spalter’s arresting piece challenges many decades-old assumptions and timeworn practices in the diplomatic realm and bracingly points the way toward a new kind of global engagement.

Elsewhere, William Galston and Lawrence Mishel continue their exchange on the economy and innovation. The book review section includes an eclectic mix: Mark Schmitt on the current, drippy mania for a third party in the United States; Andrew Exum on the soldier’s private pain; Tara McKelvey on a pair of recent books on secrecy and our national security apparatus; Christopher Byrd on the continuing relevance of Alfred Kazin; and, taking us back to health-care reform, Lawrence R. Jacobs on why progressives should be bullish on the ACA.

Presidential campaign years tend to bring out the worst in our discourse. At Democracy, we still entertain the hope that serious ideas matter even—especially—during silly season. Thank you, as always, for reading.

Michael Tomasky is the editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.

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