OP-EDS

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October 28, 2003

Center for American Progress helps Democrats

The Democratic Party is still adrift. With neither a guiding force nor a leading individual, the party is traveling in opposite directions, deepening the divisions already apparent. Pro-choice factionalists were dealt a defeat this week when the Senate outlawed so-called "partial-birth abortions." Peace Democrats are constantly flummoxed by the President's aggressive foreign policy. And Democrats concerned with Medicare are walking a tight line between making demands and needing to be on the "winning side" with the current Republican-authored bill (lest they face an aging public next election under criticism that they were "anti-senior").

Amid the cacophony, there is emerging a singular voice from a new organization: the Center for American Progress (CFAP). The CFAP is a think tank founded by John Podesta, the former chief of staff of Bill Clinton's White House. Designed to come up with new policy ideas for progressive movements, a vocal progressive think tank is long overdue. Conservatives have long relied upon think tanks like the Heritage Foundation to supply them with new ideas (like privatizing Social Security), and the progressive movement needs to be able to compete, instead of simply relying on old programs and initiatives to incite excitement among the electorate.

Conservative think tanks also provide Republican lawmakers with an invaluable service of focusing members of the entire party on single issues during short periods of time. This helps to promote discipline within the party, which is important because of the diverse membership of the GOP. Weekly meetings of top staff for members of Congress, as well as the White House, give Republicans a chance to focus on not just the issues of the week, but also the words and phrases. The GOP rhetoric is so well disciplined that often press releases use similar rhetoric, presenting a unified front to the public.

Similarly, the Democratic Party must adapt to these changing conditions in the political arena. It is necessary that Democrats understand the importance of the Center, and use it. On the Center's website (www.centerforamericanprogress.com), there are "talking points" (brief statements for progressives to advocate or attack with), columns written by CFAP staff, and most importantly, reports and analyses of major issues written from a progressive perspective. All of these things will allow progressives to develop a common front consisting of collective rhetoric and a unified ideological core of beliefs.

The major risk is that the Center goes unused. Democratic constituencies like unions, women's rights advocates, environmentalists, and teachers have rarely coordinated to accomplish major goals that lie outside of their immediate interest areas. The Center for American Progress is the first real opportunity for those factions to unite behind a common rhetoric and front. Democratic elected officials also need the Center's efforts and unify behind its common progressive goals.

The Democratic Party is in a bit of trouble right now. Nationally, the Republicans are solidifying their double-digit majority in the House of Representatives, and it is likely to remain (because of the makeup of the Congressional districts) for upwards of a decade. To beat back the conservative tide that the GOP is pressing upon the nation, the Democratic Party, and those who seek to accomplish change through its members and in its name, must listen with an open mind to this group of individuals who are dedicated to preserving and advancing the progressive movement's dedication to responsible governance.