On the mortgage crisis, immigration and the need for a new economic strategy for America

Paul Krugman has a very good column today that puts the emerging home mortgage crisis in sharper relief - 10 million homes effected, $400 billion in potential losses. A staggering outcome. I've called it a Bush era financial market equivalent of Katrina - an extraordinary failure of government to meet its basic responsibilities.

And as Krugman suggests, it is important for progressives to use this crisis to highlight the difference in economic and governing philosophies between our world and theirs. But what is most important is for Democrats next year is not to allow the urgency of dealing with the mortgage crisis to get in the way of a much needed process to develop a much broader strategy for the American economy that addesses the already difficult struggle of too many Americans. While the Bush era produced strong GDP and productivity growth, record corporate profits and a high-flying market, the median income of a typical family actually declined; more are now without health insurance, more are in poverty and too many with dangerous levels of debt. The failure of immigration reform has left 5 percent of our workforce undocumented, dragging down wages and working conditions for all American workers. And Bush took our nation's vast wealth and invested it only in one great project - Iraq - which has, shall we say, not delivered the return we all had hoped.

Rahm Emanuel is right that the economy is going to be a dominant issue next year. Our recent poll like most others show the incredible concerns Americans have about their current and future prospects. But like most things in governing, the question is what are we are going to about it all? It is our belief that our leaders need to generate a 21st economic strategy that is comensurate with the size of the struggle Americans feel in their daily lives. Our Globalization Initiative has set forth a 3 part plan, one that calls for a reform of our energy and health care policies, promotes innovation throughout our new "idea-based" economy, and invests in our people and in our infrastructure. This plan will take years and hundreds of billions of dollars to implement. But I think at this point we have little choice other than to offer a plan of big and bold ambition, and then fight with everything we have to get it done over the next few years. Our heritage and philosophy - and the needs of the American people - demand no less.

Offering up such a modern and 21st century agenda will also help solve one of the country's other great challenges - how to best create an immigration system that meets the needs of our modern economy and does so in a way that is consistent with our values. The fear some Democrats have about the immigration debate should be taken seriously. Even though Comprehensive Immigration Reform has broad and deep support with the American people, it would be much more effective to package the issue in with this broader agenda to show that we are addressing the economic concerns of all American workers not just those of undocumented immigrants. To us at NDN the single best way to counter the nativist chants from the other side is offer a bold and ambitious economic agenda that includes aggressive support for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

The enforcement-only approach to immigration reform is simply bad policy and bad politics. It won't actually fix the immigration system. It has been tried by Republicans for the last few years and gotten them very little in return. It will deeply anger the fastest-growing part of the American electorate, Hispanics, and I believe is deeply inconsistent with core progressive values. It connotes fear and cowardice rather than strength and strong leadership. It is the very opposite of tough - as it appears to be all about politics and not about problem solving. Which is why we oppose the legislative manifestation of this idea, the Shuler bill.

Getting our politics to work again after the terribly disapointing age of Bush will require bold and resolute leadership, and a commitment to many years of tough and difficult battles ahead. But once one enters the political arena, that my friends is the job, and this is no time to allow fear to continue to triumph over hope, and no time for us to walk away from the tough battles the American people are expecting us to fight on their behalf.