Can you think of a time in this century,” asked a Democratic party activist, “when the Democrats were in worse shape than they are now?” “Yes,” I answered, “the 1920s.” One would have to go back to the uninspired Democratic presidential candidacies of James Cox in 1920 and John W. Davis in 1924 to find a period in which intellectuals were as cut off from Democratic party politics as they’ve been in the eighties. The separation is so severe that even after a decade of being shut out of the White House, the Democratic National Committee hasn’t been able to tap the intellectual talent to create a policy arm for the party.
A new quarterly journal, the American Prospect, edited by Paul Starr, the prizewinning Princeton sociologist, and Robert Kuttner, the widely respected economic journalist, tries to narrow the gap. The editors, both of whom were associated with the magazine Working Papers, a 1970s attempt to create a left-liberal counterpart to the Public Interest, seem likely to be more successful this time. Working Papers was divided against itself, caught between New Left nostrums that required the dismantling of “corporate liberalism” and a desire to make welfare-state programs work more effectively. But the Reagan years quashed that dilemma and the American Prospect is free to deal with the political realities....
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