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Next-Century Progressivism

John D. Podesta discusses his new book, The Power of Progress, at a Center for American Progress Action Fund event.

 (CAPAF)
(CAPAF)

America today is in the midst of “a second Gilded Age” of increasing income disparity and declining standards of living for working Americans, writes John Podesta in his new book, The Power of Progress, which he discussed at a Center for American Progress Action Fund event this week. He built on this idea at the event, saying that the country needs a new alliance of progressives on the model of Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt to bring it into a new era of prosperity, and that nothing but a new wave of progressivism can combat the growing idea that government is incapable of working with people, and restore people’s faith in the country’s ability to change.

Podesta describes his grandparents as “penniless immigrants,” and his parents as blue-collar workers, yet he became chief of staff to a president. “That’s an extraordinary journey,” he said, “but I think it’s also an ordinary one,” because millions of immigrants succeeded in an America “built around a core set of values that progressives brought to the table.”

Progressive ideas are needed now more than ever, Podesta emphasized, since “eight years of a failed conservative experiment” saw family incomes drop, unemployment rise, millions more Americans fall into poverty, and personal debts hit all time highs.

The progressive platform Podesta outlined is focused on supporting working Americans, providing equality of opportunity for all, attacking concentrations of wealth, promoting human rights internationally, and working with other countries to extend peace and prosperity across the world. Progressivism is first and foremost a practical tradition of politics, and progressives are willing to try new and different policies to achieve its ends. Indeed, Podesta said, restless pragmatism is critical to the success of the progressive movement.

Podesta also layed out some ideas for a basic progressive plan for the next president. Progressives “see energy transformation, from high-carbon to low-carbon based…not only as meeting the challenge on energy and climate, but as a central element of what the president’s next economic policy should be.” A new clean energy program could, with a $100 billion investment from the next Congress, create 2 million new jobs and establish American leadership in the field.

Podesta also sees an opening for a “new coalition” on health care; it’s a juncture where the business community and labor share common goals—a very different landscape than existed in 1993 when business and industry largely stood by health insurance companies as President Clinton tried to reform the health care system. These two priorities—energy and health care—are the key crises of the moment, Podesta said, and progressivism is uniquely positioned to address them.