Eulogy for Leonard Salle, delivered May 27:
“Progressive Infrastructure” – Leonard would have wanted me to start with that. That’s what he said – all the time.
I’m Dave Johnson, a Fellow at the Commonweal Institute. Kate asked me to talk about what the Commonweal Institute is, and the contribution Leonard made to the country’s political environment.
Before the Commonweal Institute there was a smaller think tank, grinding away, doing the intellectual work developing a vision for a new approach to progressive politics. That was what I call the Kate and Leonard Institute.
Kate and Leonard saw something that for some reason so many on the progressive side of politics didn’t see – that the conservatives were doing something right. Excuse the pun – Leonard would.
They saw that conservatives were marketing what President Bush would call “conservativitiyism,” and doing it very well. In fact, everywhere you go, you hear the basic marketing message repeated that conservatives are good, and liberals are bad.
And they saw that progressives were marketing … well, they weren’t marketing anything.
So Kate and Leonard founded the Commonweal Institute, to go out and market to the public the idea that Progressive values and a Progressive approach to issues – democracy and community – benefit the public more than a conservative “you’re on your own” approach.
For those who don’t know, the word “Commonweal” means “the common good.” And that’s why Leonard cared so much about this – not for himself, but for the common good.
Kate has described their efforts as being like the little dog that grabs your pantleg in its teeth and won’t let go until you pay attention – and that’s what happened. Over the last several years Kate and Leonard and the rest of us at Commonweal have pounded incessantly on this idea that progressives need to market core progressive values to the public, to start restoring people’s understanding and acceptance of progressives and our ideas.
We said we need to stop looking to every next election, expecting some messiah candidate to show up and lead us out of the wilderness, back to a majority status, and instead think long-term and big-picture. We said we have to stop talking about narrow issues that split us apart, and start talking about the underlying values that tie our issues together.
We said we have to build an infrastructure of progressive organizations to educate and activate the public and to support the efforts of progressive candidates and elected officials. This is what Leonard meant when he would repeat “Progressive Infrastructure” at every opportunity.
And first a few obscure blogs (like mine) picked up on this idea, and then more, and then some more widely read ones started talking about it, and then more. The idea grew. A few months ago a best-selling book came out, Crashing the Gate, reflecting these ideas and referencing the Commonweal Institute. One of the authors spoke at a national event called the Progressive Roundtable, put on by Commonweal Institute. This was a gathering of leaders of progressive organizations from around the country, here to talk about building progressive infrastructure.
Leonard was here to help make that happen and to be part of it.
The other day the Washington Post wrote about Leonard and Commonweal.
Leonard the punster was passionate about Commonweal. He would have died to see Commonweal in the Washington Post.