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April 30, 2005

What We Stand For #2
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Progressives stand for the victory of hope over fear.

NOT hope over experience. (That’s the idea that after the Iraq war, then the Euros will come around and send troops to be shot up by insurgents. Or that this time, calling the North Koreans names will make them drop the nukes.)

But for the very American sentiment that no one ever got anywhere worth getting by cowering inside, listening for the approach of terrorist feet and stimulating the economy by shopping on line.

Hope over fear means a worldview that acknowledges the importance of fighting AGAINST extremist ideologies, but puts that fight in the context of working and struggling FOR better futures for ourselves and others.

I could go on in that vein forever -- and it wouldn’t hurt progressives if we did more of that -- but for the purposes of this blog, I’ll suppress the ex-speechwriter in me and think a little bit about what that ought to imply for policy.

GWOT/GWOE -- at the risk of sounding Pollyannaish, thie fight against Islamic extremism is not the only thing happening in the world today.  Nor is it the only possible existential threat to our way of life (the Chinese economy, for example, or the spread of weapons of mass destruction, or global warming).  Progressives should say how we will fight the fight smarter and better, and without compromising core American values in the process.  But the more we let our entire international worldview be defined by this, the more we are on territory conservatives have marked out and own.  (see under: 2004 elections)

Global economy: Speaking of the global economy, I'll say again that progressives have got to get engaged in sorting out steps that will restore American eminence in technological innovation and product creation (whether the product is software or autos), significantly smooth the way for American workers who get hurt in the turbulence and transition (not $300 community-college credits), and help the poorest countries get their products into the world economy and lift their living standards along with ours.  Sounds like a fantasy, you say?  The reason for that is a lack of serious policy discussion.  Progressives need to define our goals for the 21st-century economy, and then take the discussion out of the clouds.  Jeff Sach's latest gig, lifting African countries out of poverty one demo village at a time, is a great example of how to re-invigorate non-ideological discussion around these issues.  Let's see what really works.

International institutions: Hope over fear means reminding our fellow-citizens why it was that the US pushed to found the UN almost 60 years ago, and why it still serves our interest. But it also means believing that we can work with others to make the UN and all the multilateral organizations new and relevant for a new century. Suzanne's agenda for UN reform? Have the IMF sell gold to fund debt relief? Convert the World Bank to grants-only, combined with new commitments in funding? This is where we ought to be debating really big ideas – and, importantly, looking across borders to build consensus on ideas that really work before alliances form around ideas that will disadvantage us.

Non-proliferation: In the years since the atom was split, we've had more successes in preventing weapons' spread through negotiation and the creation of international rules than through the use and threat of force.  Neither will do it alone.

Our neighbors to the South:  whatever happened to that wonderful new relationship, full of new ideas, that Presidents Bush and Fox were supposed to create? How is it that the U.S. Secretary of State now flies around South America, besieged by the two-bit Hugo Chavez?

You get the idea.  Hope over fear is just a framing device, but it's a useful way of re-examining bad habits US foreign policy has sunk into -- and then drawing the nation's attention to how we might get better results.

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Our readers made some thoughtful comments about Michael’s installment #1, putting into words a vague feeling I had: too much emphasis on probity for its own sake just gets you in trouble. Remember how Newt Gingrich got hoisted on his own “doing things differently” petard. And how often we recall W.’s call for a "humble nation" during the ’00 campaign.

Progressives don't have to blather about being humble, but it's still good advice.

Praktike came up with the crispest formulation: we have to deal with Russia, China, Cuba, too. And we will.


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Very good post. I agree.

Very much related to the dichotomy of fear vs. hope is the dichotomy of competition vs. cooperation. The Republican Party is the party of excessive competition. They believe in the "us vs. them" approach to everything. Every person that does not agree with the Republican party line is one of "them" and must be maligned and discredited. This is their approach to everything and it produces fear in the land.

Democrats must be for cooperation. We believe that we should think of "all of us together." We must take care of the poor and unfortunate. We must build community. This is one big reason why we are fighting to keep Social Security as an insurance program.

You know, I don't really like hope versus fear. I think as a framing device, fear wins. It's because hope has this kind of "idealism" vibe. By definition, it's the kind of stuff that you can only think about when everything else is okay. There's something about it that is a step higher up on the old mazlo's hierarchy. It's what "might" be true, versus what "probably is" true. It's not as practical as fear. People don't invest in hope out of mere pragmatism. They do invest in fear out of pragmatism: "better safe than sorry". People worry more than they celebrate. I just don't think hope versus fear works as a *frame*.

Optimism is slightly better than hope. Vision is better yet. Responsibility, accountability, competence, justice, "thinking ahead", planning. Those are all better. Hope is just kinda fluffy.

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