Rick Perlstein, Henry Farell, Matt Yglesias, and Kevin Drum are all asking the same thing: What is the next big idea that can help re-brand the Democratic Party as genuinely progressive, without sounding like a rehash of populism-past?
Here’s my pick: Balance of Power.
American democracy was based on a concept of “separation of powers“:
as colonies of Britain, the founding fathers felt that the American states had suffered an abuse of the broad power of the monarchy. The British crown could both create laws and enforce them according to its own whims. As a remedy, the American Constitution limits the powers of the federal government through several means, but in particular by dividing up the power of the government among three competing branches of government. Each branch checks the actions of the others and balances their powers in some way.
Today it is not the power of an absolute monarch that worries people (even if we do live under a Bush dynasty), but the rise of corporate power. I suggest the concept of “balance of power” as a means of securing the bulwark of democracy from the encroachment of coporate interests.
A whole range of social and progressive issues could fall under this rubric: campaign finance reform, regulatory oversight over industry, protecting environmental legislation, and even policies that protect ordinary people from the whims of market forces.
It isn’t about attacking free trade, or about “big government,” it is about strengthening our core institutions and values as a nation. There is nothing that says that true democracy need lead to European style democratic socialism, and so it avoids the fault lines of traditional progressive discourse.
It should appeal to libertarians (who want less government) as well as progressives (who want more) because true democracy will mean that they can fight this out in the political sphere, rather than the doublespeak we get from politicians now who say they want less government, but then give us more. It should also appeal to Red State voters who feel that their interests aren’t being heard. And it should appeal to religious voters who worry about moral values.
The only people it won’t appeal to are those footing the bill in Washington D.C., so I doubt the Democrats will ever adopt such a “big idea.” Not for real anyway. But maybe the idea will catch on anyway… We just need someone besides Ralph Nader to be saying it.