Democracy: A Journal of Ideas (DAJI)

Democracy: A Journal of Ideas (DAJI)


A quarterly publication of progressive politics and culture, Democracy: A Journal of Ideas (DAJI) was founded in 2006 by Kenneth Baer and Andrei Cherny. Baer’s resumé also includes stints as a speechwriter for Vice President Al Gore in the 1990s, Deputy Director of Speechwriting for the Gore-Lieberman Democratic presidential ticket in 2000, and Associate Director for Communications and Strategic Planning at the White House Office of Management and Budget, under President Barack Obama, from 2009-12. Cherny, for his part, was a senior speechwriter for Al Gore in 1997-98, a member of the Democratic National Committee’s Platform Committee in 2000, speechwriting director and policy adviser for presidential candidate John Kerry in 2003-04, and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in 2011-12.

DAJI‘s mission is “to build a vibrant and vital progressivism for the twenty-first century that builds on the movement’s proud history, is true to its central values, and is relevant to present times.” It does not publish policy papers, but strives instead to present “breakthrough thinking on the concepts and approaches that respond to the central transformations of our time.” These include “the breakdown of the ladder of upward mobility; the promise and problems of an information-based, globalized economy; new national security threats which cross old boundaries and defy old assumptions from jihadist terrorism and nuclear proliferation to climate change, pandemics, and poverty; and a society where people work and live in new and different ways.”

In DAJI‘s inaugural issue (Summer 2006), the editors wrote that their objective was to counter the “conservative ideas [that] have dominated our national discourse for most of a generation,” and to “rejuvenate progressivism and send it back on the march with bold ambition to change America and the world for the better.”

The publisher of DAJI is Bernard Schwartz, a lifelong Democrat and a major donor to Democratic Party figures, especially Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton. Schwartz served for 34 years as board chairman and CEO of Loral Corporation and its successor, Loral Space & Communications, formed in 1996.

Michael Tomasky has been the editor of DAJI since March 2009, replacing Kenneth Baer when the latter went to work for the Obama White House. DAJI‘s Editorial Advisory Committee includes such notables as Robert Abernethy, Melody Barnes, William Budinger, E.J. Dionne, Christopher Edley, Ezekiel Emanuel, William Galston, Leslie Gelb, Nick Hanauer, Elaine Kamarck, Karen Kornbluh, Eric Liu, Robert Reich, Cristina Rodríguez, Isabel Sawhill, Bernard Schwartz, Theda Skocpol, Anne-Marie Slaughter, and Sean Wilentz.

Below are some representative samples of DAJI articles that were published in 2016:

* A piece titled “Islam And Liberalism” features a roundtable discussion that explores the question of how “the progressive roots within Islam” can “be strengthened.” Among the participants are Keith Ellison, a U.S. congressman from Minnesota, and Ani Zonneveld, the founder and president of Muslims for Progressive Values. At one point in the discussion, Ellison notes sardonically that while “all the people who dragged my [black] people from Africa … were fine Christians,” Islam, by contrast, represents a genuine “haven” and “refuge” that stands for “tolerance,” “inclusion,” and “justice against oppression.” Similarly, Zonneveld declares that Islam is “really rooted in social justice and egalitarianism.”

* “A Threat, Not a Theory” advocates a raise in the minimum wage nationwide, stating: “The claim that if wages go up, jobs go down isn’t a description of reality at all. Nor … does it reflect legitimate economics. It is a negotiating strategy. It is a scam, a con job, a threat—more precisely, it is an intimidation tactic masquerading as a legitimate economic theory.” (Emphases in original)

* An article titled “Will Democrats Finally Align with Racial Justice?” claims that “the destructive relationship between institutional racism and the criminal justice system is the great moral and political crisis facing American society.” It condemns the “draconian policies that led to mass incarceration” of black people, and describes “the criminal justice system’s status quo” as being “both unsupportable and immoral.”

* “The Rent Is Still Too Damn High” calls for “a broader redistribution of resources at the federal level,” so as to provide “additional funding” with which to “address the affordable housing crisis.”

* “The Mounting Threats of Climate Change” asserts that “climate change … has emerged as a pressing foreign policy and national security challenge.” The underlying premise is that human industrial activity has been a major contributor to “extreme droughts, heat waves, floods, and other natural disasters” that “have triggered humanitarian crises and mass migrations, exacerbating poverty, accelerating conflict, and wreaking havoc from the Middle East and Africa to Asia, the Amazon, and the Arctic.”

* Arguing that “the excessively lengthy incarceration of offenders—yes, even for violent crimes—is counterproductive, costly, and inhumane,” a Winter 2016 article by Marc Mauer states that “Congress and state legislative bodies should establish an upper limit of 20 years in prison as a maximum penalty, except in unusual cases such as a serial rapist who has not been amenable to treatment in prison or a mass murderer.” To justify this position, Mauer writes that life sentences “ruin families and tear apart communities”; “deprive the person of the chance to turn his or her life around”; and “exacerbate the dramatic racial and ethnic disparities that have defined the phenomenon of mass incarceration,” given that “nearly two-thirds of the people serving life in prison are African-American or Latino.” The article also makes an economic case for limiting prison sentences, claiming that “the cost of imprisoning an elderly offender is double that of a young offender, largely due to high health-care costs.” “Given that public-safety resources are finite,” says Mauer, “incarcerating aging prisoners inevitably diverts resources from preschool programs, substance abuse treatments, and mental health interventions that all produce demonstrated and substantial crime-reduction benefits.”

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