Hosted by: Brookings Institutions

Date: May 29

Discussant: E. J. Dionne, Jr., author of Our Divided American Heart (2012)

Moderater: Thomas E. Mann, Brookings Sr. Fellow

Theme: The imbalance in the contemporary American political system.

E.J. Dionne Jr.’s Presentation This is not a declinist book but aims to AVOID decline by refreshing the American political idea of community. The idea that decline is an economic crisis follows a pattern of blaming economics and THEN a spiritual side. The Tea Party is usthe author’s inspiration. Historically Americans have been torn by our love of individualism and affection for community. The last 40 years have told the American story solely on the individual side.

The Declaration of Independence does not start with “I” but with “We“. The Declaration is a perfect example of the balance between individualism and community. The final paragraph the founders plegde themselves to protect EACH OTHERS liberty. Historically the federal government was not involved in building the nation and the U.S. grew only through argument. Jefferson and Hamilton argued about the establishment of the federal bank. Clay argued in favor of a role for the federal government for internal development and as a manufacturing nation. Clay wanted to separate from Great Britain’s laissez faire policy.

The Constitution is a not a series of chains aimed to keep the nation where it was in the 1700’s. Ironically the radical image of America developed in the Bush and Obama eras. The “interlopers” that are progressives use radical means to restore the original idea of America. The dangers of concentrated economic power are balanced by the federal government, and vice versa.

Where exactly has federal governmnet overreached? The “big” government has not placed chains on the economy. Rather, as government grew upward mobility increased. The rise of radical individualism is a conservative reaction to the failure of W. Bush. He rejects the argument that security leads to less action and risk taking. Security was the underlying theme of the Civil War, scientists make their greatest inventions when they can safely move forward. The first federal health program was established in 1798. The federal Civil War Pension program consumed 37% of the federal budget. The federal Homestead Act allowed many Americans land ownership.

What’s wrong with our politics is that one party wants to destroy the balance of individualism and community. Being an American is a privilege and a responsibility. As a constitutional republic the historical expansion of the democracy: from just whites to african americans, to women.

Balance is found in the younger generations. They form social networks, give service, yet are entrepreneurs and individuals. Thatcher’s statement that “There is no society” is rejected for the reverse argument that there is “No individual without society.” Historically progressives have not tried to create a “monosociety” but were obsessed with empowering local government. Business itself is a vital part of the United States.

One hour of questions follows

Resources: The archived webinar is available at

The book is partially available at

Comment: This book works hard to collect what is going on and define the needs of the future. Unfortunately Dionne has tunnel vision. He misses the communities that have already left the U.S. political system, formed national and international networks and economies to move forward to a future that excludes the media circus and spending frenzy of U.S. politics. Dionne does not see those that have “played it forward” by exiting the resource black hole of American politics to redefine the future through technology and social media. Dionne uses the “traditionally academic” approach to politics to convey an message of hope. That said–the fact that he uses the old publishing/traditional political history/pundit approach to convey the message means that he has missed large groups that already redefine the future.