From the Center for American Progress - The Progress Report
Fifteen years ago, then-Governor and candidate for President, Bill Clinton, articulated a unifying vision for America and its role in the world. Delivered in three historic addresses at Georgetown University, Clinton's call for a "New Covenant" outlined a vision invested in the common good. "I believe with all my heart," Clinton said, "that the only way we can hold this country together and move boldly into the future is to do it together with a new covenant...a solemn agreement between the people and their government to provide opportunity for everybody, inspire responsibility throughout our society and restore a sense of community to our great nation." Over the course of his eight years as president, Clinton delivered the nation its longest economic expansion in history, created over 21 million new jobs, moved from record deficits to record surplus, increased home ownership, lowered poverty rates, strengthened environmental protections, and promoted strong international alliances and partnerships that promoted peace, prosperity, and democracy across the globe. Today, Clinton returns to Georgetown University to commemorate that successful vision and to deliver an address at the "Securing the Common Good" conference. Led by the Center for American Progress, the conference aims to unite and motivate progressives around a simple philosophical argument that should inform our politics: progressives seek to secure the common good.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN?: Common good progressivism does not mean that everybody will be the same or receive the same material benefits. Rather, it simply means that people should start from a level playing field and have a reasonable chance to improve their stations in life. American Progress Senior Fellow John Halpin and Joint Fellow Ruy Teixeira explained, "Securing the common good means putting the public interest above narrow self-interest and group demands; working to achieve social and economic conditions that benefit everyone; promoting a personal, governmental and corporate ethic of responsibility and service to others; creating a more open and honest governmental structure that relies upon an engaged and participatory citizenry; and doing more to meet our common responsibilities to aid the disadvantaged, protect our natural resources, and provide opportunities rather than burdens for future generations." That philosophy enjoys a deep, rich tradition in American history. Thomas Jefferson, in his first inaugural address to the nation, said Americans living within our constitutional framework should "arrange themselves under the will of the law, and unite in common efforts for the common good." Political leaders from James Madison (whose guidance to secure the public good from dangerous factions remains valuable today) to Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt have used principles of common good progressivism to shape their notions of government and craft some of our countries most important and lasting policies. And, faith leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. have drawn on the principle of common good to guide people towards more thoughtful consideration of their own actions and values.
A PHILOSOPHY THAT HASN'T WORKED: Six years ago, President George W. Bush entered office with the mantra of "compassionate conservatism." Bush's proclaimed governing philosophy soon exposed its true core: a heavy dose of conservatism with hardly a faint whiff of compassion. Instead of instilling a sense of common good and sacrifice after the attacks of 9/11, Bush has instead promoted the concept of self-reliance by enacting tax cut after tax cut. â€œNothing is more important in the face of a war than cutting taxes,â€ declared former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX). The New York Times wrote that soldiers on the battlefield "quietly raise a question for political leaders: if America is truly on a war footing, why is so little sacrifice asked of the nation at large?" "Compassionate conservatism" has spawned a government of corruption, cronyism, and greed. It has turned a blind eye to a greater moral responsibility on the part of political leaders, instead placing crass political gains over core ethical principles. Most recently, former White House deputy for faith-based initiatives, David Kuo, revealed that the White House never put much money or muscle behind Bush's
"compassionate conservatism."A BREAK FROM INDIVIDUALISM: The right's morally bankrupt philosophy -- which the wordsmiths have dubbed the "ownership society" -- focuses heavily on individualism, negates the role of the helping hand of government, and leaves many Americans owning more burdens and fewer opportunities. The results have been painful: poverty rates are climbing, 46 million Americans lack health insurance, college tuition is skyrocketing; meanwhile, the richest one percent own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined and corporate profits -- particularly those of oil companies -- are at a record high. "After years of conservative dominance defined by rampant individualism, corruption and greed in American life, the public is ready for a higher national purpose and a greater sense of service and duty to something eyond self-interest alone." Halpin argued that common good is "a core value that we think organizes the entire political agenda for progressives." A progressive
vision of the common good stands in stark contrast to the "you are on your own" mantra of the right. Government must pursue policies that benefit everyone. It must ensure that opportunities are abundant and that even those who have been left out and left behind can get the help they need to succeed.
WHAT DOES A COMMON GOOD AGENDA LOOK LIKE?: A recent research study sponsored by the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress finds that American voters are increasingly worried about rising materialism, self-interest, and unethical behavior in our society. Seventy-one
percent of voters strongly agree that Americans are too materialistic. Sixty-eight
percent believe that government "should uphold the basic decency and dignity of all and take greater steps to help the poor and disadvantaged in America." Halpin and Teixeira have broadly outlined the contours of a common good agenda. They identify the following features: robust universal programs that expand opportunity and provide a true safety net in times of need, a 21st-century public infrastructure, a targeted populism that recognizes the ways in which corporate and power elites are unfairly enriching themselves, greater democratic control over globalization, and expanded opportunities for average families to save and build wealth. The research study found 72 percent of voters strongly agree that strengthening our economy over the long-term requires helping low-income families by providing a living wage, affordable health care, and adequate educational opportunities to help them get back on their feet.