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February 04, 2010

An Endorsement of American Greatness Liberalism
Posted by Michael Cohen

Steve Benen, besides being one of the nicest people on the liberal blogosphere is a pretty insightful guy - and he has a very smart post up today on what he calls American Greatness Liberalism:

It's reasonable to think just about every policy dispute on the American landscape can, and probably should, be reframed to answer the question: how does this position the United States for global competition in the 21st century?

Every major power on the planet offers universal health care to its citizens -- except us. This puts America at a competitive disadvantage, undermines wages, creates job lock, and stunts entrepreneurship. Republicans are satisfied with this, because their goal is to prevent "big government," not position the United States for a competitive future. Are Americans OK with that?

Countries like China intend to create the world strongest system of higher education. Are Americans prepared to let that happen? A variety of rivals are preparing to dominate the next phase of the energy revolution. Will the United States deliberately skip the race and fall behind?

To keep America on top, the government is going to have to make real investments and establish a new foundation for growth. Republicans are staunchly opposed to making those investments and don't see the need for such a foundation.

So, let's have the debate, and take it out of the left-right dynamic and put it the global-competition dynamic. Why not make it the centerpiece of the 2010 elections?

I've long believed it creates an opportunity for American Greatness Liberalism -- progressive ideas, investments, and priorities needed to keep the U.S. on top for the long haul.

It's basically taken for granted in our national debates on American foreign and national security policy that the United States is a global leader, with global interests and even global suasion. Indeed this is one of the key rationales for maintaining such a robust military force. Strength and American power projection capabilities expands American power and influence . . . or so the argument goes.

That same exceptionalist view of American power is completely missing from our debates on domestic policy. In health care; in improving broadband access, in reforming our educational system; in fixing our crumbling infrastructure; in developing a 21st century economy we are falling behind the rest of the world. Yet, we seem more that content to be number 17 in health care; to trail other nations in broadband adoption or simply trumpet pablum like "we have the greatest health care system in the world" - a statement so manifestly untrue, it's laughable. Very rarely it seems is the connection made between our glaring domestic problems and our exceptionalist assumptions of global influence and power.

Sure we have global power projection capabilities, but it we lack an education system that can train workers to compete with Chinese scientists or Indian engineers it's not going to mean a great deal. If millions of Americans are stuck in jobs they can't escape, or are one illness away from bankruptcy or are having their entrepreneurial impulses stifled by a dysfunctional and prohibitively expensive health care system than American power and influence suffers. At worse we become a paper tiger; with a robust military presence in every corner of the globe and an ossifying economy at home.

If America aspires for greatness abroad then it really must begin with greatness at home; but as Steve points out we have a political system that is distorted by one party that believes the only good government is no government and another party that doesn't have the guts to push for the sorts of investments that will spur growth and modernize our economy. Pretty soon the issue will not be about keeping America on top for the long haul; it will be about keeping America competitive in a globalized economy. So far on that account we're failing.

But on the bright side, we've gotten really good at doing counter-insurgency.


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The Democrats need to mention the fact that during the last thirty years of essentially Republican rule that America has gotten weaker economically and upward mobility has shifted downward.

I would say one of the greatest advantages the US has today, which directly affects -- even determines -- its economic and military strength, is its pre-eminence in basic and applied scientific and technological research. And how was this brought about politically? In large part by appealing to international and ideological competition, by funding lots of basic research via the military, even by building domestic infrastructure in the name of national security! Consider that it's the "National Interstate and Defense Highway System."

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