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With the passage of the deplorable tax cut and the conversion of Sen. Jim Jeffords, we've concluded phase one of the reign of George II. So far, the conservatives are riding high. Most of the recent news has centered on their initiatives and ultimate triumphs, with little positive coverage of the Democrats and even less about progressives. We're caught up in a strong conservative current.

This situation brings to mind the dangerous surf conditions that you sometimes encounter when swimming in the Pacific. Riptides--powerful transient currents--suddenly appear and begin to pull you out to sea. The initial reaction is to panic and fight against them. This is the worst response because it saps your energy and can result in drowning. The best recovery is to relax and drift with the current until a big wave shows up. You then catch it and bodysurf back in.

At the moment, progressives are caught in a conservative riptide. In response we tend to panic--to flail about and sap our energy. The optimal response would be to watch for big waves and ride them out of the sphere of conservative influence. There are several such waves (or national issues) that progressives could utilize to disrupt the conservative riptide if they are clever.

The first is the economy. The coming recession will send a shock throughout an administration that hasn't developed any economic strategy beyond cutting taxes (a.k.a. "Brother George's magic elixir"). Progressives can use this period of negative growth to point out that tax cuts--primarily aimed at the rich--are not the solution. Instead, we need to reinstate the social safety net and initiate a national jobs program.

The second big wave is energy. The Bush administration doesn't understand that skyrocketing energy costs will contribute to the recession by increasing prices and further reducing productivity. (For example, this summer California expects that businesses will be closed one out of every five working days due to blackouts.) The progressive response should be to construct a realistic alternative energy plan--one that relies upon price caps, conservation and challenging America's "live for today" lifestyle.

The third is the environment. The convergence of the energy crisis and the resulting threats to the environment presents an opportunity for progressives to form a much stronger alliance with environmentalists and advocate a sane, job-creating national energy policy.

This combination of a faltering economy, rising energy costs and a growing threat to the environment gives progressives the three best opportunities to challenge the Republican agenda. But there are also others.

The fourth wave is the proposed National Missile Defense (NMD) system. This proposal destabilizes the network of non-proliferation agreements and threatens to initiate a new arms race. Our allies don't like it, fearing that NMD is actually an offensive weapon that will permit American armed might to attack anywhere in the world. Progressives can use this reaction to stop the NMD and challenge the entire program of increased military spending.

The fifth is globalization. Globalization is inevitable, but it is wrong-headed to interpret it in purely economic terms--the expansion of the global marketplace. Globalization can also be seen as a burgeoning realization worldwide that we are members of an interdependent global community and environment. Progressives can seize on this new awareness as an opportunity to unite labor unions, environmentalists and social justice advocates in an international push for decent jobs and humane living conditions.

The sixth is the realization that the Bush administration has substituted "leave no child untested" in place of a commitment to "leave no child behind." The use of this slogan symbolizes an administration that is more about appearances than substance. This transparent vapidity offers progressives an opportunity to formulate an alternative, comprehensive education (and child welfare) program that could do some real good.

As always, I welcome your feedback ([email protected]).

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