Leftie Super Groups Duke It Out


It's winter 1988. You're president-elect Michael Dukakis, moving on up to the West Wing with high hopes and an eager staff ready to conquer the world—or at least the Beltway. But there are so many causes, so little time. What are you to do?

Never fear, say the bounding think tank heroes of the left: the progressives are here!

Just as the Heritage Foundation did eight years ago with its 3,000-page Mandate for Leadership, numerous leftist policy groups want to shape the formative months of the next administration—preferably a Democratic one—with a suggested agenda of their own. Each wishes an exclusive audience with the Duke. But getting it requires muscling past an equally inventive group of suitors.

One way to seize attention is by speed. The hard-left Institute for Policy Studies flashed by the others to release Winning America: Ideas and Leadership for the 1990s, all 422 progressive pages of it, at the Democratic National Convention. A unified, systematic leftist agenda, Winning America features 38 essays pushing such notions as a massive tax hike on higher-income Americans, federally funded health and child care, a $50-billion defense cut, and the right to a 30-hour work week (without pay reduction).

Challenging IPS in the speed round are the liberal "supply-siders" of the Economic Policy Institute. EPI argues that a new administration should worry more about competitiveness than budget deficits and advocates an aggressive agenda of government tinkering in the name of growth: job training and other "national investments," new taxes on securities, "progressive partnerships" between business, labor, and government—oh, and, incidentally, an income tax "surcharge" on the richest 20 percent of taxpayers. A union-backed think tank counting the likes of MIT's Lester Thurow and Harvard's Robert Reich among its founding scholars, EPI kicked off its campaign for influence with a summer conference called "The First 100 Days."

If variety is a strength, then former New York senatorial candidate Mark Green's Democracy Project hulks over its rivals with Blueprints for America: Transition '89. The as-yet unpublished how-to guide for transforming government agencies into progressive playpens features a diverse contributor list—ranging from arms controllers to arms freezers, from social programmers to socialists. Other smorgasbord setups include the Center for National Policy's "governance project," due out in early 1989, and the raging moderates of American Agenda, who want influence regardless of which party wins.

In spite of their efforts, however, champions of the American left may find Heritage's 1980 agenda-setting hard to duplicate. After all, many of its ideas—including supply-side economics and SDI—were really new. Old leftist ideas costumed in new progressive finery may thrill true believers, but the Duke's pragmacrats, presumably all grown up now, may not be so easily captivated.