A Liberal Patriot Infrastructure
How to create new intellectual and political networks to advance freedom, equality, and opportunity for all—and combat ideological extremism.
Criticism of bad ideas emanating from either the right or the left is important. The permanent culture war engulfing public discourse—and rising sectarianism in politics based on identity, ideology, and partisanship—is unhealthy for American democracy.
But critiques alone are insufficient for generating sustained support for alternative liberal ideas grounded in reason, common sense, tolerance, pluralism, practical politics, and a belief in equal dignity and rights for all. Americans need better options. Alternative ideas need their own blueprints and support systems to thrive and grow.
So, how should those who are concerned with the current ideological makeup of modern American politics respond? By designing, building, and supporting (with time and resources) their own intellectual and political infrastructure to support a more liberal vision for the country. The primary areas for new investments include:
Values and political philosophy
Often overlooked, values and beliefs provide the glue that holds intellectual and social movements together. People need shared ideals and objectives to keep working together to promote a basic mission for society. If you want people to stop taking up extreme or bad ideas, you need simple and effective alternatives for people to express confidently.
For liberal patriots, this framework is clear:
We believe in equal dignity and rights for all people. We believe in a strong and prosperous America with ample jobs, decent pay, and secure families—in all places. We believe in standing up for America’s economic and security interests in the world and working with other countries to address common challenges on public health, the environment, poverty, and terrorism.
We reject discrimination of any kind. We reject pitting people against one another based on race, gender, or religion. We reject viewing political opponents, and other Americans, as enemies to be defeated rather than as fellow citizens worthy of engaging and debating respectfully. We reject corruption and poor governance, and we favor a government that delivers tangible improvements in the lives of all Americans carried out in an effective and transparent manner.
Our goals for America: Good jobs and decent pay for all people. Financial security and safety for all families. Equal rights and liberties for everyone. Politics focused on solutions and the common good rather than ideological grandstanding.
Step one for a new liberal patriot infrastructure: invest in the projects and institutions dedicated to political education and reasoned debate on these founding pillars of a more liberal approach to politics.
Domestic and international policy development
With values in place, movements need an easy-to-understand agenda that makes belief systems concrete and gives people broad issues to fight for legislatively and at the ballot box.
The key at this stage is to leave out the wonky details and to focus on a few areas that combine into a larger story or narrative about an America that is both strong at home and strong in the world:
Put American workers and businesses first.
America needs public and private investments to create good jobs for people and fuel economic growth, in areas including: infrastructure and technology; clean energy production; health care; higher education; research and development; and domestic manufacturing of vital goods.
Make sure every worker can get a good-paying job and that our businesses have the best educated and most skilled workers in the world.
Build a stronger safety net for American families.
American workers can’t take advantage of new job possibilities without first having financial stability and guaranteed basic living standards.
Make sure every family has affordable health care, decent schools, protection against hardship, and chances to build wealth and a secure retirement.
Stand up for America’s interests in the world.
America needs to take a leading role in world affairs if it wants to succeed. Trade and international economic policies should bolster the position of American workers and businesses, not undermine them. At the same time, we can’t act alone or take on every problem. Issues like pandemics, inequality, and terrorist threats require the U.S. government to figure out joint solutions with others to address common challenges.
Make sure America is safe and secure—and remains the best in the world for jobs, business opportunities, and rights and liberties for all people.
Step two for a new liberal patriot infrastructure: invest in the projects and institutions doing the research, analysis, and communications work necessary to lay out a basic, easy-to-understand agenda combining domestic and international policy.
Day-to-day politics and campaigns
With values and agenda items in hand, those interested in a new liberal patriot network must be ready to jump into the arena of public debate—at the federal and state levels—through day-to-day politics and persuasion efforts.
This requires a clear political strategy for building majorities to back candidates and issue campaigns committed to a “strong at home, strong in the world” perspective. Liberals must understand and meet voters where they are in terms of their desires and goals. If voters care more about jobs, health care, and public safety than other issues, then those are the issues that should be promoted every day. If voters want a more respectful and less combative form of politics, then that’s what candidates and campaigns should provide. If voters just want to be left alone and know that problems will be taken care of, then that’s what elected officials and government agencies must ensure.
Win over more people. Win more seats in state houses and Congress. Deliver results.
Step three for a new liberal patriot infrastructure: invest in the projects and institutions that take political strategy seriously, care about persuasion, and put forth candidates dedicated to helping middle-class families and voters of all races, in all places.
Politics doesn’t have to be constant back and forth fighting over bad ideas and unending grievances. Politics can advance good ideas and values that produce real improvements to people’s lives and strengthen America overall. Liberal patriots now need to build and strengthen the systems capable of promoting these ideas and getting them passed into law.