Progressive Policy Institute

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The Progressive Policy Institute (PPI, http://www.ppionline.org/ ) is a think-tank associated with the DLC, dedicated to promoting "third-way" policies. They hold that traditional left-right disputes are based in the industrial era, and that a technology-based economy makes them obsolete. They do work on social policy, education, health care, the environment, trade, and technology issues.

But PPI focuses primarily on the following areas:

  • Education. In particular, they run the Eduwonk weblog which focuses on education policy.
  • Market- and technology-based approaches to environmental and other problems.

PPI is a project of the Third Way Foundation, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. (1)

Will Marshall is the current president of the Third Way Foundation and of PPI, and Al From is the foundation’s chairman. Other directors and officers are Linda Peek, Charles Alston, Christopher Gabrielli, William Budinger, and Helen Milby. PPI executive director is Chuck Alston, and Robert Atkinson is the institute’s vice president. PPI Staff include Steven Nider and James Blaker (national security issues), Will Marshall and Steven Nider (foreign policy), Robert Atkinson and Paul Weinstein (economic policy), and Edward Gresser (trade). PPI operates on an annual budget approaching $3 million. Seymour Martin Lipset, a leading neoconservative political sociologist, was a PPI board member, according to a 2002 report by Capital Research Center.

Origins and History

Since PPI’s inception in 1989, founders Will Marshall and Al From have advocated for a “third way” in the political debate that consists of free market principles that largely echo the right wing platform, which makes its organizational name choice misleading. Indeed, one of its five strategies includes “confronting global disorder by building enduring new international structures of economic and political freedom.”

What is the “Third Way”? The core principles of the “third way movement” are set forth in the DLC/PPI’s The New Progressive Declaration: A Political Philosophy for the Information Age. As the New Democrats explain, the enduring progressive values must be adapted to the information age. Which translates into policy recommendations that are very close to the compassionate conservatism articulated by candidate George W. Bush: uncompromising support for free market and free trade economics, a strong military with a global presence, an end to the politics of entitlement, rejection of affirmative action, and an embrace of competitive enterprise while at the same time rejecting a key role for government in development policy. Expressing the opinion of many progressive Democrats, Robert Kuttner, editor of the American Prospect, wrote that the political approach of the PPI and the DLC amounts to “splitting the difference with a Republican administration.”

The PPI publishes reports and documents that bolster the Democratic Leadership Council’s positions, including the DLC’s support for the invasion of Iraq and a more confrontational approach to relations with North Korea and Iran. Although the institute largely reflects the neoconservative positions on foreign and military policy, it has a more favorable view of multilateralism as a principle of foreign policy and rejects the argument that a missile defense system is necessary for U.S. national security.

In October 2003 PPI published its blueprint for a new security policy titled Progressive Internationalism: A Democratic National Security Strategy. The contributing authors to Progressive Internationalism were: Ronald D. Asmus, German Marshall Fund of the United States; James R. Blaker, Progressive Policy Institute; Kurt Campell, Center for Strategic and International Studies; Gregory Craig, Williams & Connelly; Larry Diamond, Hoover Institution; Michele A. Flournoy, Center for Strategic and International Studies; Philip H. Gordon, Brookings Institution; Edward Gresser, Progressive Policy Institute; Bob Kerrey, New School University; Will Marshall, Progressive Policy Institute; Michael McFaul, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Steven Nider, Progressive Policy Institute; Kenneth M. Pollack, Saban Center for Middle East Policy; and Jeremy Rosner, Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner Research, Inc.

Using language that mirrors that of the neoconservative Project for the New American Century (PNAC), in October 2003 PPI hailed the “tough-minded internationalism” of past Democratic presidents such as Harry Truman. Like PNAC, which warned of the present danger in its founding documents, the Progressive Policy Institute declared that “America is threatened once again” and needs assertive individuals committed to strong leadership. Its observation--“like the cold war, the struggle we face today is likely to last not years but decades”--mirrors both neoconservative and Bush administration national security assessments. In its words, PPI endorsed the invasion of Iraq, “because the previous policy of containment was failing,” and Saddam Hussein’s government was “undermining both collective security and international law.”

Like PNAC and the Bush administration, the Progressive Policy Institute has a vision of national security that extends to fostering democracy and freedom around the world in “the belief that America can best defend itself by building a world safe for individual liberty and democracy.” It’s likely that PNAC itself would heartily agree with PPI’s criticism of those who complain that “the Bush administration has been too radical in recasting America’s national security strategy.” In fact, in assessing the Bush administration’s foreign policy agenda, the institute stated, “we believe it has not been ambitious enough or imaginative enough.”

The statement, according to the PPI media release, “takes issue with left-wing activists who routinely call for deep cuts in military spending, reflexively oppose the use of force, and embrace an anti-trade, anti-globalization agenda that would damage the U.S. economy and condemn developing nations to perpetual poverty.” According to the report, "Progressive internationalism occupies the vital center between the neo-imperial right and the non-interventionist left, between a view that assumes that our might always makes us right and one that assumes that because America is strong it must be wrong."

PPI President Will Marshall said that the progressive internationalism strategy draws “a sharp distinction between this mainstream Democratic strategy for national security and the far left's vision of America's role in the world. In this document we take issue with those who begrudge the kind of defense spending that we think is necessary to meet our needs, both at home and abroad; with folks who seem to reflexively oppose the use of force; and who seem incapable of taking America's side in international disputes.”

“We also argue,” said Marshall, “that a strong international leadership should not be equated with a kind of toothless multilateralism that puts the quest for consensus above the hard and risky business of grappling with chaos, of dealing with real conflicts, and confronting real enemies and aggressors. And we warn against an anti-globalization agenda that not only hurts our economy but that condemns developing countries in the world to poverty. So, however troubling the Bush record is, we think that the pacifist and protectionist left offers no viable alternative.”

The neoconservative leanings of the PPI are evident in the writings of the contributing authors to Progressive Internationalism. In a March 9, 2004 essay, Ronald Asmus and Michael McFaul assert that “a bipartisan consensus is emerging in America about the need to bring greater freedom and democracy to the Greater Middle East.” Having signed on to the neocon agenda of invading Iraq, based on false claims about Iraq’s stockpiles of WMDs, the liberal hawks after the invasion also became among the most vocal advocates of the regional political restructuring plans of such neocon institutes as the American Enterprise Institute and the Project for the New American Century. Asmus and McFaul call for a ten-fold budget increase for the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a quasi-governmental “democracy-promotion” institute that was established as a neoconservative political project in 1983. Despite their proposal that Middle Easterners themselves take charge of the region’s democratization and restructuring, Asmus and McFaul say that NED should work closely with business and labor in this political project of overhauling the greater Middle East and argue that “nothing would set back the democratic cause in the region more than a premature American disengagement from Iraq, where a critical democratic transition is now underway.” They also advocate that NATO assume a role in Iraq.

Both in articles in the DLC’s Blueprint and in media interviews, PPI President Will Marshall has struck out at Democrats who have either opposed the Iraq invasion or who call for the U.S. to pull out before it is commonly agreed that the “liberation” of Iraq is, as President Bush declared on May 1, 2003, “mission accomplished.” On the “They Said It” part of its website, the Republican Party highlights Marshall telling the Los Angeles Times: “You hear way too much from the Democrats in this race about turning over the whole mess to the U.N. Well, that's not credible and most people know it. It doesn't have the power to achieve the only outcome we can accept.”

In a January 2004 article titled “Stay and Win in Iraq,” Marshall takes a blithely nationalist view of body counts in a war in which all but a small fraction of the dead are Iraqi civilians. “Coalition forces still face daily attacks but the body count tilts massively in their favor,” boasts Marshall, a leading voice for the liberal hawks in the United States.

Funding

PPI is part of the Third Way Foundation (whose chairman is Al From), and describes itself as a “nonprofit corporation” (emphasis added). Between 2000 and 2002, the Foundation received $225,000 from The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, one of major top right-wing foundations.


The DLC and its closely associated Progressive Policy Institute are the recipient of grants from many Fortune 500 firms as well from such right-wing foundations as the Bradley Foundation. Corporate contributors to the Progressive Policy Institute include AT&T Foundation, Eastman Kodak Charitable Trust, Prudential Foundation, Georgia-Pacific Foundation, Chevron, and Amoco Foundation. (3) The Third Way Foundation, which is an umbrella group for the New Democrats of the DLC, receives funding from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Howard Gilman Foundation, Ameritech Foundation, and General Mills Foundation. According to a magazine report, the DLC counts on funding from Bank One, Citigroup, Dow Chemical, DuPont, General Electric, Health Insurance Corporation, Merrill Lynch, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, Occidental Petroleum, and Raytheon.

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