05/26/2010 02:50 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Needed: A Progressive Story

In preparing for the 2010 midterm election, we need a progressive summit to prepare a shared narrative and shared positions. Currently, progressive groups are each pulling in a different direction, favoring distinct tactics, promoting their own rationales. True, despite all the talk about a "progressive movement," there is no way to cobble the various progressive groups into one coherent force. However, one can find what political philosophers call "overlapping consensuses." That is, instead of seeking one agreed-upon platform and strategy, progressives should identify selected.

Successful political movements have a narrative that usually takes an historical form. The narrative provides an account of the forces that got us into our current predicament and the rising forces that will save us, and an image of the more perfect union that we are going to reach once we put our shoulders to the wheel.

The most effective narratives follow the same pattern, one that is found in both the Bible and in Marx. Once, we were in a state of grace (the Garden of Eden, the early commune); we sinned (took a bite from the forbidden apple, technological developments advanced a new ruling class); we must atone for our sins (pray, organize); and we will return to nirvana (the Garden of Eden, a stateless commune). Call it the u-turn of the human narrative.

When I recently scoured the major progressive publications and interviewed a few progressive leaders, I could not find a progressive narrative.

Hence, the first task of the progressive movement is to compose a shared narrative. It must include a characterization of who bedevils us: Is it the military-industrial complex? Wall Street? Capitalism? The Christian Right? Or...? Who will save us: A rainbow coalition of minorities, feminists and labor unions? A new third party, à la Nader? A youth movement of the kind that served as the core of the Obama election? Or...? And last but not least: What is the end-state we are aspiring to bring about? What is our shining city?