Here’s an editorial going out later today in the name of the Center for Kentucky Progress. Preliminary version was posted on dKos, for some feedback. Here you go:
The Coming Progressive Tide
I spent most of my childhood vacations at Murrell’s Inlet, a sleepy vacation spot south of Myrtle Beach. In addition to bait and groceries, one of the supplies you always picked up at the all-purpose corner market was a tide chart. I learned, early on, how to read that chart, because many vacation activities — fishing and crabbing, swimming at the beach, taking the boat down the channel — were tied to the tides. “We’ll go when the tide changes” was a familiar response when I asked to do something.
I also learned, as I got older, to read the tides while out on the boat. (If you didn’t learn, you risked being stuck in the mud when the tide turned.) One phenomenon we loved to show “newbies” was the bobber versus sinker trick. At just the right time, you could float a bobber on top of the water and it would show the tide going one direction. Then you would take a second line, weight it with a sinker, put it in near the first, and watch in amazement as the two lines moved in opposite directions. In reality, the tide had already started turning, but under the water’s surface; on the surface it looked as if things were as they had been.
This, I think, is an accurate metaphor for what is happening in this country right now. For decades, the conservative political philosophy has been ascendant. It currently controls the White House, the Senate, and the House, and may very well soon control the Supreme Court. Yet, at this moment of triumph for the conservative movement, I believe that under the surface the tide has already turned.
There is a growing sense of discontent with the direction of the country, and not just from the left. Citizens across the political spectrum are beginning to feel that our government, and our country, is not working. We are supposedly the greatest nation on the planet, and yet we lag behind most other developed nations in education, health care, infrastructure, and basic services. We have become the largest debtor nation on the planet, and the federal deficits have hamstrung our ability to think big and act decisively.
The right has chanted their mantra of “less government, lower taxes” for years, and once in power, they have been true to their word. Since 1980, with a brief respite during the Clinton years, we have seen unending cuts in both government revenue and government expectations. Today, citizens are looking around, and they don’t like what they see. They don’t like the two-class nation we have become. They don’t like a government that functions poorly, or not at all. And they don’t like a system that abandons the poor, the powerless, and the weak.
It is time to stop talking about “big” or “small” government. For some time, I have been speaking and writing about “effective government,” and this seems to strike a chord. We need a government that figures out the problems, figures out a way to deal with them, asks all its citizens to share in the sacrifice, and then deals with the problems effectively. We need a government that invests in all its citizens, not just the richer of the two classes. We need a government that leads, not a government that cowers in the corner, afraid of angering its “base.”
That government is coming. The country is turning, with growing speed, from a far right philosophy to a progressive one. From young and old, left and right, we are hearing calls for healthcare coverage, and education reform, and sustainable growth. Governments that make a difference are highlighted, and programs that work are applauded. Beginning in next year’s elections, we will begin to see the tide turn at the polls, as well.
I began writing this some weeks ago, before Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. After a week of watching and reading, just like all of us, I now believe that this unparalleled national tragedy will only accelerate the tidal change. Americans have watched, with growing horror and disgust, the end result of the far right agenda: a government incapable of dealing with something that isn’t a tax cut. The anger will not soon cool. A new wave of citizen candidates determined to make government actually serve the people, and a greater wave of voters determined to elect them, will sweep the “government is the problem” crowd from office.
The bobber line is still moving inland, but the sinker line is the truth. The tide is turning, has turned, and the conservative movement will soon be left behind, mired in the mud it created. The progressive tide is coming.
Bruce Maples is the Policy Director for the Center for Kentucky Progress, a non-partisan progressive think tank located in Louisville, Kentucky. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.