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Pragmatic ideas on policy

I’m no policy wonk. But I’ll admit to a certain thrill in reading “Change for America: A Progressive Blueprint for the 44th President” (Basic Books: 666 pp., $24.95 paper), a policy casebook edited by New York City’s former elected public advocate (and current Air America president) Mark Green and onetime Clinton White House staffer Michele Jolin.

Published to coincide with the inauguration of Barack Obama as president, “Change for America” offers a comprehensive, even overwhelming, series of initiatives and analyses focusing on four areas of executive branch government: the White House’s inner workings, economic policy, domestic policy and national security policy. Featuring contributions by, among others, Henry Cisneros, James Lee Witt, Sandy Berger and John Podesta, the 56 essays here argue for returning responsibility to government, for restoring accountability and transparency.

If this sounds like a reaction to the last eight years, that’s part of Green and Jolin’s agenda; indeed, one of the problems with the book is an overdependence on Clinton-era functionaries (perhaps not unlike the incoming administration itself).

But “Change for America” is ultimately more forward- than backward-looking, focusing on where we go from here. Its ideas are pragmatic, attuned to the effect of changing demographics on immigration policy and the necessity for engagement in the Middle East.

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And while there’s too much attention paid to the now-moot question of the transition (in essays on the State and the Defense departments, for instance), the book does have the capacity to surprise.

Among the most effective pieces is one by Shaun Casey, a professor at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., who argues in favor of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives; although the office’s activities have been “in large part symbolic and political,” there is value, Casey suggests, in a retooled mission to “fight domestic and global poverty.”

-- David L. Ulin

david.ulin@latimes.com

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