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Issue No. 52 (March 2004) -- Mark Satin, Editor

Ignore the Noise!

an excerpt from editor Mark Satin's new book
Radical Middle: The Politics We Need Now

Turn off The O'Reilly Factor. Take Al Franken's book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them back to the bookstore. It can be satisfying to think of our political opponents as unprincipled and corrupt, and a threat to democracy and decency, but what kind of dialogue are we creating? And what kind of world do we expect to come from that?

Most Americans aren't nearly as polarized as the media suggest. Most of us aren't at some mushy middle point either. Talk -- really sit down and talk -- with your neighbors, colleagues, friends, and here is what you'll find:

There is a hunger in this country for a new kind of politics.

There is a hunger for a politics that can take us beyond the usual venomous blame games in Washington, D.C.

There is a hunger for a politics that appreciates the genuine and often very reasonable concerns of the left and right, and builds on them toward something new.

There is a hunger for a politics that's idealistic but without illusions, a politics that dares to suggest real solutions to our biggest problems but doesn't lose touch with the often harsh facts on the ground.

There is a hunger for a politics that expresses us as we really are -- practical and visionary, mature and imaginative, sensible and creative, all at once.

Our politics today doesn't express either our practical, grounded side or our visionary, creative side.

It is all about the short term, not the long term. It is all about blaming others for our problems, not about turning our problems into opportunities by addressing them in the forthright, imaginative ways you know we can.

The recent Democratic presidential debates don't augur well for a different kind of politics, or a positive future. If the candidates agree about anything, it's that our problems all stem from -- the Republicans! And, of course, the Republicans take the opposite view.

Even the usual opponents of politics-as-usual seem more interested in bashing cartoon enemies than crafting a better future. Michael Moore's current left-wing bestseller, Dude, Where's My Country?, is devoted to blaming a diabolical economic elite for nearly everything wrong with this country and the world. It preaches a sort of proletarian, or hippie, McCarthyism: if you wear wing-tip shoes, you're suspect.

Meanwhile, Laura Ingraham's current right-wing bestseller, Shut Up and Sing, blames an arrogant cultural elite for everything that's gone wrong. Her book includes uncomplimentary color pictures of the evil ones -- people like Ramsey Clark and Madonna -- so when you lose interest in the staccato prose you can stare at the photos and work up some hate.

What is a good person to do? Ignore the noise.

In real life, you don't have to be a hard-left militant or hard-right militant to change the world. There's a third alternative now to politics as usual -- radical middle politics.

In this book I'll tell you about that emerging new politics and sensibility. And I'll show you that, if you share this perspective, you are not alone.

Again and again in these pages, you'll discover that many Americans want us to move away from the politics of us-against-them, and toward a politics that combines the best of the left and the right, and goes beyond them.

More than two centuries ago, Benjamin Franklin wanted us to invent a uniquely American politics that served ordinary people by creatively borrowing from all points of view. It's not too late for us to listen to him.

Many nonpartisan or post-partisan Americans are asking basic questions, now, that can move us toward a new and more relevant politics. Here are four I've put front and center in this book:

-- How can we give ourselves more choices in life?

-- How can we give everyone a fair start in life?

-- How can we maximize our potential as human beings?

-- How can we be of use to the developing world?

At the radical middle, we're not only asking these questions. We're proposing concrete answers -- practical solutions to the most pressing issues of our time.

For example, with just a little bit of cleverness and imagination, and a willingness to borrow, humbly, from neoliberals, neopopulists, neoconservatives, and transformationalists alike, we can make ourselves energy independent within 10 years.

We can create a universal health care system that's preventive, and, affordable, and not government-run.

We can provide affirmative action for all economically disadvantaged Americans.

We can create corporations we'd actually enjoy working for.

We can make globalization work for everyone.

We can keep terrorists away from our shores -- and at the same time come to passionate grip with the causes of terrorism.

I've woven these ideas and more into this book. But I also tell you how millions of us have begun actually working for the mature, creative, 21st century America these ideas foreshadow.

For example: we're figuring out how to bring our radical middle values into our workplaces. We're getting involved in neighborhood groups that emphasize collaborative problem solving. We're pushing professional associations and national citizen groups to the radical middle.

Some national groups are there already. Take Environmental Defense. It is one of our most principled environmental advocacy groups, and employs more scientists than any other. At the same time, it's one of the few environmental groups that's willing to work proudly and openly with major corporations like McDonald's and FedEx, as well as with governments and community groups. As a result, it's come under heavy fire from the political left. Also as a result, it's often able to forge "radical middle" solutions that work for everyone.

Or take Ashoka. Like many nonprofits, it sends money to developing countries. But it sends money not to poor people, or governments, or other nonprofits, but to "social entrepreneurs" -- teachers and doctors and activists and other individuals who've come up with innovative ideas for how to serve their societies. And it doesn't just send money. It gives its recruits great training and consulting, and puts them in touch with each other, and keeps up with them for years. Is Ashoka a charity or a unique sort of business venture? The best answer is both. It is a radical middle development model.

In this book, I steer you to over 50 such groups. And I won't consider this book a success unless you're tempted to join one.

You'll soon see that this book is a bit more personal than most political books. Radical middle politics comes from the heart as well as the head, and I saw no reason to disguise that.

You'll find fewer references to sources here than you'll find in most political books, but don't let that fool you. This book draws on over a thousand published sources. To keep it uncluttered and short, I've avoided footnotes, but you can Google up most of my sources based on information in the text. And my most important sources and the most pertinent groups are always listed (annotated, even) in the "Resources" section at the end of each chapter.

I hope you'll take advantage of these listings to learn more. This book is about where we're going (knock on wood), not the same old same old. It is meant to be a beginning, not an end.

Washington, D.C.
January 5, 2004


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