Apparently the "big idea" in Matt Bai's new book is that all this work on improving the infrastructure of progressive politics won't work unless progressives also bring to bear some new ideas. This seems like a good time to link once again to Jon Chait's case against new ideas which, I think, thoroughly demolished the notion that new ideas are really integral to political success. Matt Stoller's rhetorical question is also a good one: "What about caring about ideas because ideas are, you know, good things to care about? What about caring about ideas because good ideas can promote justice, tolerance, and a better world?"

Right. I think it's worth saying that there's a real danger here in policy terms. Just as all happy families are alike, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, there are about a million different ways drastic new policy initiatives can make things worse. If you say to yourself, "okay, we need a big new idea" and then start thinking about the merits of various big new ideas there's a decent chance that you'll settle on a very bad idea. My guess is that this is part of the problem with things like the "concert of democracies" scheme -- it seems to people that there ought to be some new ideas, so they came up with this one because it's a new idea rather than because it's a good idea.

Obviously, in politics you need to have ideas of some sort. But there are some perfectly good old ideas out there. Progressive taxation, universal health care, public provision for retirement, and the U.N. Charter are all perfectly good ideas. Sometimes we just need to apply an old idea like emissions regulations to a new area like carbon dioxide. Sometimes a good old idea needs a new level of commitment plus some tweaking -- I'd put the Non-Proliferation Treaty in this category. Practical politicians, of course, have an interest in making their ideas appear exciting, but that's different from saying that it's actually necessary to be constantly trying to devise non-circular wheels just for fun.

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