Speaking Truth to Power

Jun 3, 2011Andrew Rich

“It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”
-Franklin D. Roosevelt, Address to Oglethorpe University, May, 1932

A blog post published earlier today on Naked Capitalism raises an interesting question – what exactly is the Roosevelt legacy? For us at the Roosevelt Institute, we believe it is based in engaging in dialogue and promoting progressive people and ideas. It is also about encouraging young people to get involved in public service and public policy debates.

When deficit hawks seized control of the budget debate in 2009, students from our Campus Network expressed serious interest in proving that their progressive vision for America’s future -- originally captured in the Blueprint for the Millennial America -- was not only innovative, but also achievable from a fiscal perspective.

With that in mind, our organization, in consultation with our board of directors, agreed that our Campus Network should participate in a program sponsored by the Peterson Foundation to develop a budget plan. Other participating organizations included the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), Center for American Progress (CAP), Bipartisan Policy Center, American Enterprise Institute, and Heritage Foundation.

By way of background, our Campus Network is a student created and run think tank that formed as the Roosevelt Institution in 2005 and merged with the Roosevelt Institute in 2007. It is currently made up of some 10,000 students and young professionals at more than 80 campus chapters across the country. It was the only student-based organization asked to participate.

The Campus Network employed its Think 2040 engagement model -- which asks students to outline their shared vision for the future before figuring out which policies to push -- to drive the creation of the plan. A number of our fellows, including Bo Cutter, Jeff Madrick, and Mark Schmitt served as advisors. Some 3,000 students participated in the rigorous development process. While some of the ideas fit clearly into the wheelhouse of what many consider acceptable progressive thought, we recognize that other ideas might not correspond as neatly with that space. By design, the students who developed the plan represented a wide swath of the ideological spectrum. We were heartened, though not surprised, to find that the next generation of leaders has a decidedly progressive inclination.

But regardless of what you might think of any particular policy in this document, we encourage anyone -- progressive, moderate or conservative -- to read this impressive and rigorous piece of work. It not only represents the unfiltered and untainted voice of the Millennial generation, it is also a powerful contribution to the current budget debate that can stand up in any forum.

As for the source of the funding, our hope is that more full-throated progressive funders would support similar efforts. We, of course, would gladly participate in such programs, although the outcomes, no matter who sponsored it, will not change. The Roosevelt Institute supports an open exchange of ideas, and it has and always will maintain its support from individuals and organizations that understand and are respectful of our core values and intellectual independence. That’s why Franklin Roosevelt had his Brains Trust and Kitchen Cabinet. It’s what was intended when the Institute was founded. And it is the legacy we are committed to carrying forward.

Andrew Rich is the President and CEO of the Roosevelt Institute.

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