Here are the right questions: How can we move back to a full-employment economy with good jobs and rising middle-class incomes? How can we restore American leadership for peace and prosperity and leave our children and grandchildren a brighter future? What do Americans need government to do to achieve these goals? How are we doing now, compared with our own history and expectations? How are we doing compared with the competition from other nations? As you'll see, there remains a lot of space for a real, productive debate, areas in which both Democrats and Republicans could contribute to bipartisan solutions that actually get our country back in the future business.
In a positive political environment, liberals and conservatives could learn from each other and advance the public interest. Liberals want to use the government to solve problems and are usually eager to experiment, believing, like Robert Browning's Andrea del Sarto, that "a man's reach should exceed his grasp." True conservatives are more cautious, reminding us that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Liberals believe that government can solve social problems, or at least mitigate them. Conservatives believe culture, including a strong work ethic and stable families, matters more. Progressives believe they can advance liberal goals in a way that reinforces positive cultural norms and avoids "too good to be true" options. Libertarians caution against the potential of even well-conceived government initiatives to restrict individual liberty. In the end, we will need to take into account all of these perspectives to reboot and rebalance our economy. Today, our process is too tilted in favor of powerful private interests over the public interest, in favor of short-term financial gains over long-term employment and income growth, in favor of consumption over investment, in favor of pushing more of our national income up to the top 1 percent over increasing the incomes of the middle class and giving poor people a chance to work their way into it.
The only people who have taken themselves out of this needed debate are the anti-government ideologues. They already have the answers, and the fact that the evidence doesn't support them is irrelevant. The inevitable consequence of their policies is to push the pedal to the metal of the most destructive trends of the last thirty years, to increase inequality and instability, and to forfeit the future.
Excerpt from Back To Work, Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy, by Bill Clinton, Knopf, 2011, p.36.