Might believers in modernity — whether "liberal" or "conservative" — find ways to break free of the doctrinal rigidity that has been imposed on us by fanatics of both the so-called Left and the so-called Right?
One approach may be to form coalitions that agree to promote — boldly and openly — a dozen consensus agenda items, and refuse to be drawn into other fights. Is it possible to negotiate a list of desiderata that all modernist defenders of the Enlightenment might stand behind? Something that John McCain, William F. Buckley and George Will might sign, alongside Gary Wills, Jared Diamond and Al Gore?
Here's one example. Let's call it an "Alliance for a Modern World."
We in the Alliance for a Modern World stand for the following:
Accountability must apply to all public officials, including those who are charged with protecting us. Secrecy is easily rationalized and abused; those claiming to need it must bear a burden of reasonable proof. All secrets should decay and eventually fall under public scrutiny.
Specific Proposal: Create the long-delayed office of Inspector General of the United States, heading a nonpartisan uniformed service, subsuming all departmental inspectors-general, with power to view all secrets and sue for declassification when they are deemed inappropriate.
In Congress, the provisions of the Contract with America should apply to the goose, as to the gander. We will reward bipartisanship, open negotiation, fiscal care, independent thought and legislative clarity. We will look harshly on ideological extremism, pork barrel spending, party-enforced rigidity, and the catering to narrow elites, foreign or domestic.
Specific Proposal: Create a commission of retired members of Congress to evaluate and help restore checks promised under the Contract and other reforms. Independently investigate whether small groups — in the US or overseas — have systematically benefited from patterns of public policy.
We urge that nonpartisan and carefully verified science once again take its place as an important factor in helping to determine public policy.
Specific Proposal: Re-establish Congressional scientific advisory offices that are clearly free of political influence. If those advisory groups declare that a particular topic merits urgent action, we will push for Congress and the President to act with all deliberate speed, fully aware that many problems may be approached with a mix of either "left-handed" or "right-handed" solutions.
We deplore politicization of the US Intelligence community and Officer Corps.
Specific Proposal: A commission of retired officers, appointed by former Presidents, shall report publicly upon detecting any patterns of political meddling.
We look with worry upon a consolidation of mass media in the hands of a few corporations. Likewise, the technical processes of registering and voting should be absolutely transparent, with no private companies operating proprietary systems outside of public scrutiny.
Specific Proposal: Establish a commission with Grand Jury powers to evaluate all recent accusations of electoral fraud, and to recommend systems with clarity and open audit trails.
We believe small business is the engine of innovation and a vibrant economy, and motivated workers provide its thrust.
Specific Proposal: Reforms that energize small business should get priority over those that benefit narrow elites, who can afford to lobby for themselves. We further support a minimum wage that allows the working poor to strive within reach of escaping poverty. We explicitly link these two goals, so that an alliance of moderate liberals and moderate conservatives can together achieve great good for those in America who are striving to get ahead.
We deplore the way that certain topics have become so radicalized that no compromise appears possible. Polarization over (for example) abortion and gun control has stymied the American genius at coming up with good ideas and pragmatic, incremental improvements. Members of the Alliance refuse adamantly to allow the Alliance to be dragged into taking sides on these matters.
Specific Proposal: We support efforts to create forums where sincere people may discuss the following, without harrassment by extreme radicals:
How to reduce the tragic effects of illicit or ill-controlled firearms, while addressing all legitimate concerns of gun owners.
How to steadily reduce the number of abortions taking place, while preserving the woman's sovereign decision-making power during non-viable phases. Over the long run, we encourage efforts that apply respectful scrutiny by both science and ethics to the transition from fertilized cell to infant, so that discussion may replace violent opinion.
How to respect the rights of those who wish to engage in unharmful, non-traditional relationships, without trampling on the feelings of those who wish to maintain conventional decorum and their own sense of sanctity.
Above all, members of the Alliance express their faith in the elevating power of education and informed argument among citizens of good will. We will oppose any effort, by any group, to impose strict "party line" sets of beliefs.
America was made by agile people, capable of adapting to new times. So, this very declaration may change, with time.
We do not need manifestos. America needs active minds.
This proposal was only an example. I could have included several other consensus projects — e.g., a united effort by moderates to end gerrymandering in every state, simultaneously. But the details of such an alliance cannot and should not be set by any one person. Consensus is the key point. Consensus among men and women — citizens — of good will, agreeing to unite over a dozen or so key issues so that confidence and open mindedness resume their role in American political life.
I am in no position to propel this endeavor, or any like it. I have a family to feed and a living to make. All I can hope is that these thoughts join the maelstrom and perhaps help others to gather theirs.
Good luck to us all.
Copyright © 2004 by David Brin. All rights reserved.
"Alliance for a Modern World" (published in full here) is one modest proposal among several that might help foster practical trends in politics for the 21st Century. Its basic concept — abandon the old Left-Right axis and speak up for modernity — is further discussed in "The Real Culture War."
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