President's Message, Summer 2016
When I began writing these messages, I made a silent promise that this would be a politics-free zone. Having watched the Republican and Democratic national conventions, however, and listened to the political surround sound that now penetrates our daily lives, I find it hard to contain my dismay and—yes—my sadness.
I think about the values that oriented my, and many of your, career choices. I worry about the dissolution of civil discourse, the disrespect that overtakes and nullifies serious dialogue, the disparagement of individuals and social groups, the media distortions and our compromised party system and its stalwarts. And I try to refrain from wondering whether in this parched season of our souls, reason can possibly prevail.
I reflect on the Foundation programs I had the privilege to oversee in governance and public policy, human rights and social justice, and international affairs. Humility always imposed a degree of restraint on the hopeful ambition that drove our work. We did the best that we could to apply the resources at hand to the social, political and economic issues that defined the times, encouraged by post-Cold War hope of a better world.
Did we make some progress? Clearly, yes. But looking back from the place we find ourselves in today, I ask myself whether we made sufficient and sustainable progress; whether we addressed the issues in a systemic, transformational way; whether we enlarged the community of like-minded or, in the end, were dialoguing largely among ourselves.
When I left the Foundation 20 years ago, I made two suggestions: First, that the Foundation undertake an in-depth study of the unintended and long-term consequences of its work. In particular, I had in mind the project on the Future of the Welfare State that culminated in the Clinton era welfare reforms, after oscillating between progressive and conservative worldviews of what constituted the common good.
Second, concerned with the polarized and misinforming media debates on public policy (mild when compared to current TV and radio coverage), I suggested a regularly-scheduled, simultaneous TV, radio and internet broadcast hosted by a respected interlocutor who would interview national and community leaders in a reasoned way about critical current issues. Both, I thought, might help break the mold in which we were then cast. I raise this not to promote my own old ideas, but to initiate a forum for our collective reflections.
In closing, I need to confess: In this primary season I felt—and I still feel—the Bern. I believe we need a small “r” revolution to revamp our politics, limit the corrupting influence of money and encourage a tide of restless young people to engage at all levels of our political system.
We need to protect our democracy from the immediate threat that years of divisive and interest politics have created, and we have a consequential need to reform the way in which we govern ourselves going forward. So, I am going to spend the next 100 days knocking on doors and making calls and periodically donating $27 for progressive candidates—and for Hillary—up and down the ballot box. That’s the next essential step in the political revolution.
You see, despite the momentary despair, some ambitious hope remains. It’s part of the DNA.
It’s also a way to honor the colleagues whose deaths I too often acknowledge here, this time Alison Bernstein and Peter Geithner, two wonderfully unique people who shared a commitment to peace and social justice.