Three decades ago, conservative ideologues at The Heritage Foundation produced a primer for the "Reagan Revolution" titled "Mandate for Leadership." It offered a blueprint for the newly elected Reagan administration, as well as an overarching philosophy of governance. In reality, that philosophy was against the role of government and in favor of markets, by which they meant large corporations. Philosopher-philanthropist George Soros has called this approach "market fundamentalism;" others have labeled it neo-liberalism. Today, that overarching framework is bankrupt.
Domestically, we are facing the worst economic crisis in decades, and international respect for America has declined as we continue to make critical errors in Iraq, Afghanistan and Middle East. During last November's election, the American people voted for a fundamental change in our nation's policies, both at home and abroad. The level of dissatisfaction -- even repugnance -- about what the last eight years have wrought is ever more pronounced.
We can't allow tens of millions of Americans to remain mired in poverty, unsupported by well-paying jobs and essential benefits. In order to prevent this economic cycle from continuing, we must make sure all Americans have decent, affordable housing in supportive neighborhoods and put an end to homelessness. We need to provide good and affordable health care for the 47 million of our fellow citizens who lack it. We need an education systemâK-12 and beyondâthat prepares our children for the changes of the 21st Century. We need to stop bailing out banks, large corporations and wealth-holders and focus on the needs of working- and middle-class Americans. We need to repair or replace our bridges, roads, levees, sewers and schools, to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. The list goes on and on. All this will require a fair tax system and a democratic process that involves us all as voters and activists.
Just as neo-liberalism guided our government on the domestic front since the Reagan years, neo-conservatism has been the dominant conservative framework for foreign policy. Under the most recent Bush administration, this overarching doctrine shunned multilateralism and international law. The United States is taking on the role of "global cop," and our policy officials assumed that we know best how to advance democracy and prosperity abroad. Iraq, Afghanistan and many other foreign policy disasters have proven that this is the wrong approach.
To improve our foreign relations, we first need to withdraw from our occupation of Iraq in a responsible manner. We need to use our influence to create justice and peace for all people in the Middle East. We need an international collaboration on climate policy. We need to take the lead in eliminating nuclear weapons from all nations. We need to treat other nations with respect. We need a powerful human rights agenda, abroad and at home.
There are high hopes and expectations for the Obama administration. Facing daunting problems of similar magnitude, Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal brought bold change to the United States, thanks to creative organizing from grassroots organizations, unions and others. Today, fundamental change is again possible, but only if strong coalitions of citizen groups pursue a bold agenda that presses the new administration for real "change we can believe in." This is our mandate.
Chester Hartman, an associate fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Policy Studies.