Changing conservatives

41jagbfwokl_sl500_aa240_Change is starting to break out all over America. Obama is, of course, both the message and messenger of this spirit. But one can see the earliest shoots of change all over the country -- from the environment to urban regeneration to new ways of thinking about the market and capitalism. Even the brains in the Republican party are starting to realize that they have to change to remain relevant. In Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win The Working Class and Save The American Dream, Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam argue that the Republican party needs to recognize the anxiety of contemporary working class Americans and shape its policy to rewarding hard work and the traditional values of the family.

Grand New Party is essential reading and needs to be consumed by all Democrats who think they have a lock on innovation -- especially those on the left who understand that elections are won by explaining economic realities in cultural terms. I agree with Douthat and Salam about restoring "the dignity to work" with a renewed focus on teaching and craftsmanship (shades of Richard Sennett's The Craftsman here). And I think they are right to argue that George W. Bush grasped the idiom of American politics was "essentially moral and religious" but utterly failed to come through with any of his promises to his working class supporters.

The Democratics need to beware of becoming marginalized on the two (prosperous) coasts -- the vapid, self-congratulatory party of Ariana Huffington, the Daily Kos and East Coast limo liberals. We all know that the great weakness of Obama -- an utterly coastal character -- is his failure to understand the cultural values middle America (Hilary for VP?). Quoting Kevin Phillips' classic work The Emerging Republican Majority, Douthat and Salam remind us that all great popular and progressive movements in American history have originated in the South and the West -- from Jefferson to Jackson to Bryan to Roosevelt.

So what will be the next popular, progressive movement arising in the American heartland? Quoting Crevecoeur's 1784 Letters From An American Farmer, Douthat and Salam believe that it will once again be a movement embracing the ideal of industriousness. "The promise of American life" now lies with technology -- technological change allowing the American working class to "recapture some the bracing independence of America's earliest days." It's open-source labor networking, telecommuting and e-learning, they argue, that can once again make America's working class self-reliant. Might Web 3.0 save America?