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  • Counterpoint: In Summation- The Future of the Social Safety Net, by E. Kilgore and K. Rachlis
    Feb 26, 2014

    The American Prospect/Democratic Strategist forum, "The Future of the Social Safety Net: Progressive Perspectives on the the New Deal/Great Society Entitlement Programs," has concluded with seven initial essays and three rejoinders. We are proud of this forum, the first we know of to convince left-of-center thinkers to debate one another on this subject without “the enemy is listening” distractions caused by conservative proposals to ravage the safety net.  The debate covered a lot of ground and exposed areas of agreement (the need for an economic growth and healthcare cost containment strategy that will eliminate the entitlements vs. discretionary investments dilemma) and disagreement (whether means-tested reductions in entitlement spending are essential or inimical to a broader progressive economic and social agenda). 

    Our overriding objectives in holding this forum were to foster empirically-based civil conversations among progressives on these subjects and to separate substantive from political strategy arguments.  We achieved mixed results; recriminations over past battles recurred on both sides of the centrist/liberal barrier, and strategic and substantive arguments continued to co-exist without sufficient differentiation. But it represented a start and perhaps a model for the essential intra-progressive debates we need to have on a broad range of issues once the loyalties associated with the Obama administration have become less central.

    We’re not pleased that the forum didn’t spend much time on means-tested entitlements like Medicaid, CHIP, SNAP, TANF and the Obamacare subsidies, focusing as it did on “middle-class” entitlements and discretionary investments. Still, the forum moved toward a more global view of liberal priorities separate from particular budget fights. 

    Above all, we hope the forum stimulates similar discussions among a more diverse community of progressives with a congruent set of ground rules encouraging clarity and civility.  As the 2016 presidential election approaches and progressives again rise up from their defensive haunches and define what they stand for, honest and even fearless conversations about priorities will become critical.  Let’s keep talking. 

    About the Author

    Ed Kilgore is managing editor of The Democratic Strategist and the principal blogger for Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Progressive Policy institute. Earlier, he worked for three governors and a U.S. Senator.

    Kit Rachlis is the editor-in-chief of The American Prospect. He has served as editor-in-chief of the L.A. Weekly, senior projects editor at the Los Angeles Times, and editor-in-chief of Los Angelesmagazine.  


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