This bold book proposes to take American politics in a totally new direction--away from "our rigid two-party cartel" of Republicans and Democrats, and toward a centrism that currently doesn't exist in an electoral sense. "Our nation's politics are dominated by two feuding dinosaurs that have outlived the world in which they evolved," write Ted Halstead and Michael Lind. Both men are affiliated with the New America Foundation, and Lind is the provocative author of The Next American Nation
and Vietnam: The Necessary War
. They believe the ongoing technological revolution will transform American politics in fundamental ways, and most of The Radical Center
advocates specific shifts across a range of issues. The result is a mishmash that isn't so much a set of new ideas as a blend of existing ones. Halstead and Lind want to enact private-school choice for students and parents (a conservative idea), for instance, and also to equalize funding by essentially abolishing the states' role in education (something that might appeal to liberals). Their goal, they say, is to increase personal choices where possible and minimize class inequalities where feasible.
Much of The Radical Center reads like a wonk's fantasy; Halstead and Lind identify policy problems everywhere they look--from voting rights to health care--and suggest solutions with the confidence of technocrats who believe they can remake the world. What they produce is a grab bag that will simultaneously fascinate and frustrate readers who start off ensconced on either the right or left of the political spectrum. How many people will favor both their idea of abolishing all corporate income taxes as well as their notion of implementing a new nationwide tax on consumption? But that's the point: Halstead and Lind try to forge a new politics that takes the best parts of today's left and right and abandons the rest as so much dead weight. The Radical Center is at once jarring and invigorating; readers willing to engage with it will wrestle with hard questions. Many may come away persuaded by large parts of Halstead and Lind's argument. And if the whole project sounds a tad ambitious, there's a reason: "Major political change in the United States, in short, tends to be revolutionary, not evolutionary." If that's true, then consider The Radical Center a manifesto for a new age that's right around the corner. --John Miller
From Publishers Weekly
The U.S. is in crisis, contend Halstead and Lind (Vietnam: The Necessary War; etc.). While revolutions in information technology and biotechnology are fundamentally reshaping the American economy and society, the two major political parties remain stuck within old ideas and policies. More and more Americans have become alienated from the political status quo and yearn for change, say Halstead and Lind (director and senior fellow, respectively, of the think-tank New America Foundation). In this subtle, clear, and provocative work, they offer a comprehensive blueprint for such change. America has succeeded by adapting to new circumstances while maintaining, albeit imperfectly, a balance among its three constituent parts: the market, government and community. All of the authors' wide-ranging reforms aim at strengthening these spheres. If the new economy is typified by high turnover of employees, employer-based health insurance makes little sense. Better would be mandatory individually funded health insurance, with government provision for the truly needy. So, too, should Social Security be replaced by individual retirement accounts, as the graying of America makes the current generational transfer of funds more and more tenuous and contentious. To confront growing inequality in the U.S., the authors believe, all Americans should be given $6,000 at birth as a means of assuring true equal opportunity and a stake in the system; k-12 education should be funded equally on a per pupil basis by the federal government rather than relying on highly unequal property taxes or regressive state and local sales taxes. Politically, new electoral processes should open up the system to new parties and candidates. There is something here for everyone to cheer or jeer, but in carefully tying together their myriad reforms, the authors present a remarkably coherent vision for the renewal of America. Agent, Kris Dahl, ICM. (Sept. 18)Forecast: The authors will promote this book in N.Y. and D.C., and thanks to Lind's reputation as someone who defies the usual right-left split, it should get attention on the news talk shows and from the pundits.
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