In This Review

The Plan: Big Ideas for America
The Plan: Big Ideas for America
By Rahm Emanuel and Bruce Reed
PublicAffairs, 2006, 224 pp

Washington, write Emanuel and Reed, is divided between Hacks and Wonks. Wonks focus on policy; Hacks want to win. What the country, and especially the Democratic Party, now need, they claim, is a synthesis of both: people with good policy ideas who know how to win elections. This insight does not exactly dazzle with its originality, nor will readers be surprised that the authors modestly suggest that this wondrous synthesis is precisely what they themselves embody -- but let all that pass. The book's real importance is as a guide to the thinking of two bright, centrist Democrats whose views will be carefully reviewed as the party prepares for 2008. The most important big idea in the book is that Democrats should stop defending the New Deal and instead concentrate on recasting it for a more mobile society. Portable pensions and health care are two of the cornerstones of this vision. Less hopeful is an idea that the authors appear to set great store by: a compulsory period of three months of national service and training for all Americans under 25. Wonks will observe that the time is too short to teach anything useful and that while the cost would be high, the real benefits would be few. Hacks will wonder whether even a short-term, nonmilitary draft is really the proposal best calculated to build widespread support among younger voters.