In association with the Roosevelt Institute, New York
On November 8 and 9, the UCD Clinton Institute for American Studies hosted a conference, “Progressivism in America: Past, Present and Future.” Organised in partnership with the Roosevelt Institute, a leading think tank located in New York, the conference discussed the challenges facing the progressive movement in the United States and explored potential solutions to policy challenges such as health care, climate change, rising inequality and terrorism, as well as the consequences of the emergence of the Tea Party. The conference began with a video message from former President William J. Clinton, who praised the work of the Clinton Institute and expressed his support for the aims of the conference. Speakers included Joseph Stiglitz (Video), the Nobel Prize-winning economist, prominent journalists such as E.J. Dionne, , Jonathan Alter, and Fintan O’Toole (Video) and distinguished historians such as Alan Brinkley and Lisa McGirr. Panel topics included the history of progressivism; contemporary policy challenges; foreign policy; future prospects; and the view from Ireland and Europe.(Video) Several themes emerged from these discussions. One was the need to remain faithful to the spirit and values of the tradition established by Theodore Roosevelt, his cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt and other progressive political leaders while also developing a new set of policies and strategies that are relevant to contemporary challenges and which can facilitate the progressive agenda.
This lead to a second theme: the limits imposed by the American political system – which was designed to inhibit rapid change – and by the increasing radicalism of the Republican Party, which has come to see any kind of compromise with Democrats as a betrayal of conservative ideals, regardless of the content.(Video) These factors underscored a third theme, the pragmatism of the Clinton and Obama administrations, both of which pursued progressive agendas but faced ferocious opposition from conservatives. As a result, each faced numerous setbacks and even substantial victories, such as the passage of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, or the health care reform bill, were less progressive than many had hoped. Hence, a fourth theme of the conference was the reality that implementing progressive policies depends upon winning political battles in Washington DC and at the state and local levels, as Republicans have made it clear that they will resist any progressive change, even if it might be to their political benefit, as in the case of immigration reform. Most of the participants were optimistic about the future, citing demographic trends and policy challenges that favour progressive priorities. However, many speakers also cautioned that any substantial changes would be slow in coming, given the structural and partisan challenges facing progressives.