Election years have a way of focusing the mind, especially when they coincide with the end of a presidency as productive and polarizing as Barack Obama’s. The accomplishments and failures of the outgoing administration are tallied up and argued over; the possibilities and perils of the next one inspire talk of new visions and grander ambitions.
We at Democracy are not immune to this national tendency of stock-taking and slate-cleaning. And, as we prepare to celebrate our ten-year anniversary in 2016, we submit that a journal like ours is never more essential than in times like these. If the need for good ideas is never satisfied in an ever-evolving democracy, then that need is especially acute in an election year, when the sound bite and the gaffe all but colonize the discourse.
So, without further ado, we present “16 for ’16.” Eight years ago, we asked more than 600 policymakers, academics, thinkers, writers, and activists for their one big idea. We presented some of the most intriguing responses in a symposium called “What’s Next?” in our Spring 2008 issue. As we begin 2016, we believe a new iteration of that project is in order. America will soon be electing a new President and Congress, as well as governors, state legislators, and mayors. What specific, tangible, and forward-looking proposals can we offer to the next generation of progressive leaders?
We asked a broad range of experts to give us their ideas—not grandiose plans for world peace but specific and practical ideas targeted at solving one real-world problem. We received too many excellent proposals to include in these pages. The ones we feature here each address, in creative and surprising ways, a major public problem that we face. The subjects run the gamut: our collapsing infrastructure, Wall Street short-termism, the mounting costs of caring for our veterans, the tragedy of mass incarceration, the disorganization of our national-security apparatus, and more.
As we enter the final year of the Obama era, progressives need to revive the spirit that animated the movement eight years ago in the waning months of the Bush era. Much work has been done since—but there is so much more to do. That conversation starts here.