(written in Syracuse, NY:) I think that the left desperately needs new policy ideas and new philosophical foundations–and so far both are notably absent in the 2004 campaign. For a long time, I have been worried that the Democratic nominee (whoever he might be) would run an essentially “conservative” campaign, promising to be a better steward of old Democratic institutions: Social Security, Medicare, labor unions, “progressive” public schools, and the United Nations. Unfortunately, these institutions don’t just need increased funding; they also need to be fundamentally rethought. So far, we have heard no serious proposals for such change from anyone on the Democratic side. Three months ago, it looked as if Bush was a prohibitive favorite to win, so Democrats had the incentive to develop new visions and new directions. They failed to do so. Now it appears that John Kerry can win the presidency if the economy continues to sputter and if he plays conventional hardball politics better than the incumbent. That kind of campaign may win the White House, but it will not generate new policies or broad new ideas; and if Kerry wins, he will have no mandate other than to preserve what is left of FDR’s welfare state and the multinational organizations that were founded in the same era.
Political candidates are not the only ones who develop new political visions. In 2004, the most exciting new participants in the political debate have been independent bloggers. But the major bloggers on the left–people like Josh Marshall, Calpundit’s Kevin Drum, and Markos Moulitsas Z?niga of the Daily Kos–strike me as strictly tactical thinkers. That is, they assume that the goal is to defeat George W. Bush, and they look for ways to score points against him. He is hypocritical one day, misguided the next. I thoroughly agree, yet I don’t see any basis for a new direction in American politics. Their strategy is to make the president look bad, elect a replacement, and hope that he comes up with new ideas. If there are more creative leftish thinkers in the “blogosphere,” I don’t know who they are. This void suggests to me that the left is weak today because of a lack of tough and creative thinking, not because good “progressive” ideas are being suppressed by the mass media.