Politics is society’s bread. When done right, it nourishes, providing a modest but substantive anchor to a nation’s smorgasbord of priorities. When it’s neglected, we’re left with the stale, bitter crust of disappointment and disillusionment.
From scratch, to continue the metaphor, the two fundamental ingredients of politics are ideas and rhetoric. Ideas provide the bulk of the dough; effective rhetoric is the rising yeast that expands the promise of national opportunity.
This is an exciting time for any political connoisseur, as recent weeks have seen Democrats return to their storied tradition of effective politics.
Grounded principles are generating innovative policy ideas. Measures on honest government, stem cell research and economic revitalization punctuated an invigorating opening week in Congress. I can’t wait to read legislation from new committee chairs Barney Frank and George Miller in the House and Carl Levin and Barbara Boxer in the Senate. From Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points to Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, progressivism has a rich history in ideas.
We were also recently treated to Sen. Jim Webb’s uplifting call to make real again the promise of America. Sen. Ted Kennedy took to the floor to offer an emotional and morally compelling indictment of those who would keep our working poor tethered to today’s degrading minimum wage.
And last weekend, Sen. Barrack Obama and John Edwards met with the party’s other presidential hopefuls here in Washington to articulate a national vision that calls for today’s corrosive cynicism and plaguing despair to be replaced with a fresh politics of dignity and integrity. From Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms to John F. Kennedy’s “Ask Not,” Democrats have harnessed the power of oratory to soothe a nation’s conscience and rouse its potential.
After suffering through a dozen years of the Republican Atkins agenda, this bread tastes good.
Looking forward to the political agenda of the next two years, it’s clear that major challenges loom. The Democrats owe their new majority in large part to the public’s emphatic dissatisfaction with the war. John Edwards is right: “This is the time for political courage.”
Those who would shuffle their feet with a nonbinding resolution are shirking their responsibility. We are again dependent on real leaders like Jack Murtha and Russ Feingold to ring the alarm bells under the Capital dome. The time for symbolism has passed; the hour of action is upon us.
Unfortunately even the most progressive leaders are susceptible to institutional forces that sow caution and gum up the gears of effective democracy. Politics can’t always be left to the politicians. AU students, with our intellectual motor fueled by a renowned political enthusiasm, have an opportunity to contribute to America’s fine progressive heritage.
AU has a vibrant chapter of the Roosevelt Institution, the premier national student think tank. The national organization is launching a new publication, “25 Ideas,” that will project our dreams of what could be into the arena responsible for realizing those dreams. Every senator and representative, plus scores of state legislators, will receive a compilation of 650-word ideas on reducing our dependence on foreign, harmful and unsustainable energy; building an America that works for working families, and increasing socioeconomic diversity in higher education. It’s time to add your pioneering ideas to the national incubator, that they may inspire unrestricted by convention or institutional torpor.
“We have always been the best when we aim high,” Obama declared Friday, echoing President Kennedy. “We don’t have time to be cynical.” Indeed we are challenged with the patriotic and moral impetus to knead anew the fresh bread of political progress. For bold ideas and soaring words of inspiration, may we not go hungry.
Jacob Shelly is a sophomore in the
School of Public Affairs and a liberal
columnist for The Eagle.