a healthy debate about civic renewal

I believe that current forms of politics are, in general, too manipulative. Americans recognize that they are being focus-grouped, polled, canvassed, frightened, divided, titillated, and provoked; and they don’t like it. They want opportunities to share ideas and develop solutions.

However, when we ask why citizens have been sidelined and what to do about it, we offer various answers that reflect our political views. That’s fine; there are many valid “flavors” of civic renewal. Nothing would be more useful than a competition or debate among political parties and candidates who vied to put “citizens back at the center.”


A libertarian version might favor vouchers so that citizens could create and run their own schools. It might recommend allowing residents of urban neighborhoods to form associations that could purchase their own municipal services. And it would strive to remove regulations on nonprofit organizations.

A cultural-conservative version might strive to reduce the influence of courts and the federal government so that citizens would be more involved at the local level in debates about, for example, teaching evolution. This version would support civic education that emphasizes patriotism, knowledge of the Constitution, service, and responsibility. It would recognize military service, including ROTC and the National Guard, as forms of civic participation. And it might favor public funding for faith-based social services.

A progressive version might favor unions, community development corporations, land trusts, co-ops, and other alternative economic institutions that encourage popular participation. It would emphasize electoral reform and “alternative” (i.e., non-commercial) media. This progressive version would support civic education that emphasizes critical thinking, political skills, and social justice.

A deliberative version would be resolutely neutral about ideology but might support investing public funds in public deliberation (both online and face-to-face), granting power to citizens’ advisory panels, and providing civic education that emphasizes deliberative skills.