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The Politics of Definition

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Editor’s Note: Earlier this year, John Halpin of the Center for American Progress Action Fund and Ruy Teixeira of CAP and the Century Foundation (and co-author of The Emerging Democratic Majority) undertook research on the state of the Democratic Party and progressive politics in America. Their chief concern: To get to the bottom of the question of why so many Americans don’t have a firm sense of what progressives and the Democratic Party stand for today.

The result of their efforts is this paper, The Politics of Definition: The Real Third Way. The paper can be read in part as a 2006 answer to The Politics of Evasion, the landmark 1989 study by William Galston and Elaine Kamarck, which described a more centrist politics and helped lay the groundwork for Bill Clinton’s ascendancy (and which they updated last year in The Politics of Polarization). Today, Halpin and Teixeira take a different view, and this work represents the authors’ definitive attempt to burrow into the available data and, from them, reach conclusions about what progressives and Democrats need to do to address what they call the “identity gap.” Without giving away the ending, I’ll just say here that their conclusions are similar to my own in my essay Party in Search of a Notion, from the May issue of the Prospect; Halpin and I discovered, quite accidentally at a conference in late March, that we’d been thinking along similar lines.

TAP Online is excited to publish the 18,000-word paper, which will appear exclusively on our site in four parts over the next few days. Part I gives a general description of the political situation today and describes voting blocs that represent progressive and Democratic strengths. Part II, which will be posted next Monday, will examine progressive and Democratic weaknesses. Part III will appear next Wednesday and will discuss the limits of mobilization and of inoculation. Part IV will appear next Friday and describe the way forward.

— Michael Tomasky

The thesis of this report is straightforward. Progressives need to fight for what they believe in — and put the common good at the center of a new progressive vision — as an essential strategy for political growth and majority building. This is no longer a wishful sentiment by out-of-power activists, but a political and electoral imperative for all concerned progressives.

Read the full report here.

To speak with our experts on this topic, please contact:

Print: Katie Peters (economy, education, poverty, Half in Ten Education Fund, women's issues)
202.741.6285 or kpeters@americanprogress.org

Print: Tom Caiazza (foreign policy, health care, LGBT issues, gun-violence prevention, the National Security Agency)
202.481.7141 or tcaiazza@americanprogress.org

Print: Chelsea Kiene (energy and environment, Legal Progress, higher education)
202.478.5328 or ckiene@americanprogress.org

Spanish-language and ethnic media: Tanya Arditi
202.741.6258 or tarditi@americanprogress.org

TV: Rachel Rosen
202.483.2675 or rrosen@americanprogress.org

Radio: Chelsea Kiene
202.478.5328 or ckiene@americanprogress.org