THE BLOG
10/23/2007 09:20 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Prescription for Progressive Politics: I am a "PreAmbler", Will you Join?


I have either participated directly, or heard about, Progressive Political organizations' struggles to to articulate the principles that define them and animate their programs, plans and strategies. Frustration with designing a statement of principles often leads to substitution of programs and strategies and calling those "principles".

By contrast, the radical righties all have more-or-less the same mission that guides their machinations: to foster conservative principles, free enterprise, traditional American values, a strong national defense, and so on. Note that these have little to do with results, more to do with process.

I suggest a solution, a statement of principles we can all support and that communicates what a progressive political program is all about. As you will see, the words are completely original.

The Constitution is a contract among the people and the states about how they would operate together. The Preamble to the Constitution, then, can be read as what an organization would call its "Mission Statement".

"We, the people of the United States, in order to:
-"form a more perfect union,"
-"establish justice",
-"ensure domestic tranquillity",
-"provide for the common defense",
-"promote the general welfare, AND
-"to ensure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity"
do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America.

Before some readers become diaphoretic over words or phrases they think could be dangerous (e.g., that "ensure domestic tranquillity" could justify illegal wiretapping), let me point out the key word that makes all of this work: "AND".

In a contract that provides a list of obligations or conditions, as in this one, look very carefully for an "AND", or an "OR", as the string is ending. If that conjunction is "OR", it means that any one of those obligations or conditions may be met to the exclusion of the others. If, on the other hand, it is "AND", as it is here, it means that ALL of the conditions must be met together, that one cannot be completely sacrificed for the other.

"Justice" and "liberty", therefore, are a necessary part of ensuring domestic tranquility and providing a common defense. Indeed, "justice" must be part of "liberty" and conversely. Consider that my liberty (to use my property as I choose, or not to pay taxes for government services) intrudes upon your justice (not to have toxic waste migrate to your land, or for all of us to receive government services). That tension produces both justice and liberty as they can be practiced together. "For our posterity" requires appropriate stewardship of human, natural and financial resources so that the "blessings of liberty" are not only "for ourselves". "Promoting the general welfare" becomes subject to those limitations.

From the Preamble, a hidden truth emerges: the Founders (those who "ordained and established" this Constitution) were progressives. They committed themselves to justice and liberty and the general welfare and to future generations as well as the common functions of government, ensuring domestic tranquility and providing a common defense. None are dominant, and thus we deal with the "creative tensions" required to deliver on all.

I propose, therefore, the Preamble as the "Mission Statement" for progressive organizations, and individuals, not only because it captures the major elements of a society to which we can aspire, but also because we all learned it in the 5th, and 8th, and 11th grades. True, it was not immediately clear in the 5th grade that "posterity" meant you (or, actually, what it meant at all) but the words connect both to our individual childhoods and our collective consciousness as a nation, and thus the leap to embracing these principles is less than it would be by new alternatives. Moreover, the radical rightwing have tried to steal the Constitution as theirs by distorting the meaning of individual sections, and the Preamble puts the whole into context.

I am a Preambler; will you join me?