THE NEW PROGRESSIVISM….E.J. Dionne ponders the mission of the Democratic Party today and offers up this quote from Franklin Roosevelt:

“The issue of government has always been whether individual men and women will have to serve some system of government of economics ? or whether a system of government and economics exists to serve individual men and women.”

….Government’s task, Roosevelt argued, was to intervene “not to hamper individualism but to protect it” by helping the less powerful confront economic difficulties and abuses of the system by the powerful.

Whatever message Democrats come up with, they will continue to lose ground and be untrue to what’s best in their tradition if they fail to stand up for this affirmative government role in enhancing both individual liberty and self-sufficiency.

Dionne’s inspiration for this idea is a package of stories in the latest issue of the Washington Monthly. Its theme is simple: protecting people against corporate abuse is a longtime progressive mission, but Democrats need to figure out ways to do this that empower individuals to fight back, rather than relying solely on centralized federal agencies and ever increasing government regulation.

The basic idea is outlined by editor Paul Glastris, and there are four companion pieces that offer specific examples of what we’re talking about:

  • Robert Gordon and Derek Douglas propose a few simple rules that could allow consumers to get their household debt under control and prevent credit card companies from ripping them off.

  • Zachary Roth says that parents who want ESPN but don’t want MTV shouldn’t be forced to get them both. The answer is to force cable companies to offer every customer the right to choose ? and pay for ? only the channels they want.

  • Karen Kornbluh takes a page from one of Tony Blair’s most successful programs and recommends a simple way to give working parents a better way of managing both work and family.

  • Yours truly suggests that since banks and credit card issuers are the ones responsible for most identity theft, why is it that the victims are the ones who usually pay the price? Why not force the credit industry to pay instead?

The point of this package of articles isn’t to offer some sort of grand vision for liberals. Rather, it’s to re-introduce a thread of progressivism that’s been largely overlooked in recent years: namely that although using government agencies to protect people is both worthy and necessary, sometimes it’s more effective to give ordinary people the means to protect themselves.

A link to the entire package is here. Check it out.

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