DENVER — Monday’s best attended panel by far was “The Contest: Progressives vs. Conservatives,” featuring Paul Krugman, Arianna Huffington, John Podesta and David Sirota. Each spoke for seven minutes. Highlights include:
Podesta announced he is working with Mark Green and tapping the resources at the Center for American Progress to write a progressive version of The Heritage Foundation’s 1981 “Mandate for Leadership.” Just as the Mandate was intended to be a blueprint for Ronald Reagan’s first administration, Podesta’s book is also intended to be a guide for Barack Obama to transform every federal department.
Huffington, founder of the liberal Huffington Post, stressed that the “right vs. left” framework marginalizes progressive ideas. She argued that what were once left-wing positions are now mainstream. Allowing the debate to be framed as “right vs. left” makes it harder for the left to own the center.
Krugman, the liberal New York Times columnist, made the case that America was never a conservative nation. He claimed Americans love Social Security and Medicare and they are going to love government-run health care, too. Krugman predicted that the left would win strong majorities in the House and Senate and would win the White House. But, in order to secure their new majority, they must do “something” with government to “fundamentally change people’s lives.” For Krugman, he hoped that “something” would be health care and that Obama would make it his first priority.
The most impassioned of the speakers, political journalist and author Sirota said that Democrats are not doing enough to harness the mood for change in the country. He said there are two big issues Democrats hate to talk about, but must if they are going to be successful: immigration and trade. Sirota said he did not support the Minuteman Project’s preferred policy solutions for our border with Mexico, but that he did agree with the group that corporate America had conspired with government to weaken our nation’s borders. He then made the same case on trade, arguing that Democrats must reject free trade entirely if they want to capture the populist sentiment in the country. Sirota’s model Democrat is Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who won on a protectionist populist platform. Sirota hopes all Democrats will follow his model.