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The Radical Center: The Future of American Politics Paperback – October 8, 2002
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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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Here's my recommendation: Buy TWO copies of this book. Keep one, pass one on to someone you know who is in a position of power and influence -- senator, representative, newspaper editor, state legislator, and the like.
This book is *loaded* with common sense. It is absolutely not a political spin manual, a manifesto for revolution, or a ponderous think tank "blue sky" prescription for curing all the ills of the world. This book has three simple focal points and they are powerful:
1) More Americans identify themselves as Independents than as either Republicans or Democrats, and the way is open for a new "radical centrist" choice of leadership;
2) The original social contract that placed highly educated experts in charge of everything (government, corporations, even non-profits), taking care of the largely ignorant masses, is *history*. The people are smart, the people are connected, and the people want *choices* rather than ideologically-contrived menus.
3) Young adults are the key to the future and will decide the next few major elections, but only (a huge caveat) if leaders of vision and charisma can come forth with truthful options grounded in reality--the authors are carefully critical of political "triangulation" that seeks to manufacture false representations of common interest, only to betray those the moment after election.
The bottom line in this book is that the artificial trade-offs imposed on the people by menu- and elite-driven party politics are no longer acceptable nor enforceable, and the opportunity now presents itself for the voting public to remake the government from the outside in.
They focus on the core segments and core values that make America great: the market with its liberty; the state with its equality of opportunity; and the community (including religions) with its solidarity and nurturing of civic virtues.
Among the core negatives they identify where citizens could and should be free to choose rather than accept imposed combinations, are:
1) Elections tied to rigid political parties that have veto rights over candidates, and selections that allow minority winners where more than two candidates split the majority vote.
2) Pension and health care programs tied to organizations rather than individuals--trapping individuals and constraining innovation.
3) Educational systems tied to mass conformity rather than individual customization--with gross inequalities across counties and states because property taxes fund education, rather than a national normalized program with equal investments for every child.
4) Tax systems tied to loopholes, patronage, and earnings, rather than to consumption and savings (tax breaks for savings).
5) Immigration policies tied to old needs for low-skilled labor instead of new needs for high-skilled labor and the protection of the nation from dilution, disease, and excess demands on our tax-payer funded safety nets.
There are many other gems in this well-written and self-effacing book. The authors come across as very sensible, very devoted to America and its values, and very much ahead of the curve.
They conclude that major renovations of our society usually result from a combination of three factors: an external shock to the system; the emergence of new political alliances, and the availability of compelling new ideas for social reform.
They specifically note that an obstacle to innovation is the lack of a well-formed political worldview among both the new generation of young voters, and the new elites (most of whom have eschewed politics).
While they say that realignments are not excepted in the next presidential or congressional cycle, but rather over the next ten to twenty five years, I believe they underestimate the power of the Internet and self-organizing groups such as represented by the Cultural Creatives.
I hope the authors consider launching a "Journal of Citizen Governance" and a web-site where citizens' can self-organize, because unlike the cultural creatives and the imaginative individuals who focus in niche areas, these two authors have finally "cracked the code" in a common sense manner that anyone can understand and anyone can act upon.
This is a unique and seminal work that could influence the future of national, state, and local politics, and hence the future of the Nation. This is *very* well done.