Editor's Note

Editors' Note

For a country so young, America is fascinated with history and its less distinguished cousin, nostalgia. From the blockbuster Ken Burns series "The War" airing on endless loop on PBS to the Tony Award-winning "Jersey Boys" that recreates the doo-wop of…

By Kenneth Baer and Andrei Cherny

For a country so young, America is fascinated with history and its less distinguished cousin, nostalgia. From the blockbuster Ken Burns series “The War” airing on endless loop on PBS to the Tony Award-winning “Jersey Boys” that recreates the doo-wop of the 1950s, the past obsesses our nation.

Of course, a fascination with one’s history can be paralyzing; too much
pining for the “good ol’ days” instead of bringing about progress today
is stultifying. That’s why Democracy rigorously searches for new ideas, pushing progressives not to be satisfied with the past but to find solutions to the tough problems of the present and the future. Yet, as Mark Twain reportedly said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” There is a continuity to human achievements as well as failures, a past from which we cannot only learn, but gain inspiration.

In this issue, we have a series of articles that do just that.
Matthew Dallek, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for
Scholars, reclaims the lessons of civil defense during World War II to
construct a progressive approach to homeland security today. Peniel
Joseph–a professor of African and Afro-American studies at Brandeis
University–places three distinct strands of the civil rights movement
into the larger struggle for American democracy. And veteran journalist
Jim Sleeper explores the life of labor leader Al Shanker to assess the
prospects for his brand of “tough liberalism” today.

Interpreting history correctly is the focus of another group of
articles that puncture the fatuous myths and misreadings of our past
peddled by conservatives. While President George Bush and his allies
invoke the legacy of Vietnam to support the continuing war in Iraq,
Steven Simon from the Council on Foreign Relations and the Naval War
College’s Jonathan Stevenson argue that they are drawing exactly the
wrong lesson from the conflict. In fact, the history of the Vietnam War
teaches us that an immediate, controlled withdrawal, on America’s
terms, is preferable to being run out of a country broken and
beleaguered. Other supporters of the war in Iraq, specifically
neoconservatives, view the conflict as part of a “World War IV” against
Islamofascism. Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of the Woodrow Wilson School
at Princeton University, demolishes this construct and puts forward a
positive, liberal internationalist alternative to replace it. And,
while the right has demonized George McGovern as a shorthand for
everything they see wrong with the left, journalist Rick Perlstein
revisits the election of 1972 to explain how McGovern’s loss has been
misinterpreted, and what that means for progressive strategy today.

To balance these looks into the past, New York Law School Professor
Beth Noveck explores how new technologies–like Wikipedia and
open-source programming–can profoundly change governance; political
scientist Thomas Schaller explains the movement to regulate “public
bads”; Harvard professor and former assistant secretary of Health and
Human Services Mary Jo Bane assesses the faith-based initiatives of the
early Bush years; NYU Law Professor Aziz Huq examines the long,
bipartisan trend of centralization of power in the presidency;
co-editor Andrei Cherny takes a look at the current war over the “war
on terror”; and Sierra Club President Carl Pope examines the future of
the environmental movement.

One final note about our own journal’s history: In recognition of our first full year of publication, Democracy has been selected as a finalist for a 2007 Utne Independent Press Award in the category of Best New Publication. “Your hard work consistently surprised, informed, challenged, and entertained us during a year when some of the best journalism and writing in memory was produced off the mainstream’s radar,” the award organizers wrote to us. Winners will be announced at the beginning of 2008. We can truly say it’s an honor just being nominated.

Kenneth Baer and Andrei Cherny are the founders of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.

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