[T]he most significant liberal think tank in recent years has been the Center for American Progress, founded in 2003 by the former Bill Clinton chief of staff (and current Hillary Clinton campaign chair) John Podesta as his party’s answer to the conservative Heritage Foundation. CAP has done a lot of innovative policy work, especially on universal preschool and health care, but it was always less of a research organization than a shadow government for an opposition in exile. When Obama was elected, roughly a third of CAP’s staff went into his administration. CAP was founded in an era when few liberals were of the opinion that the system itself was broken: If you just found slightly better Democrats, elected them to office and put smarter policies in their hands, they believed, the country would return to the prosperity of the 1990s. Liberal Washington was not equipped, when the financial crisis broke, to tender a holistic analysis of what was ailing the economy.And this:
In June of 2015, Felicia Joy Wong was in her car, awaiting with some apprehension the economic address that would officially open Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. The speech was being staged at the F.D.R. memorial on New York City’s Roosevelt Island, and though Wong is a political operative of atypical modesty — she describes herself as a former schoolteacher whose accession to minor power has been entirely accidental — she had taken the choice of venue as auspicious. Wong runs the Roosevelt Institute, a small think tank (for lack of a better term) that originated in trusts established to promote the legacies of Franklin and Eleanor. Its chief economist, the Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, indirectly coined the Occupy movement’s enduring slogan (“We are the 99 percent”), and Stiglitz and Wong each saw the election as an opportunity to channel Occupy energy into national politics. The country was perhaps ready once again, they believed, for what F.D.R. called “bold, persistent experimentation” in our economic affairs. Two of Wong’s senior staff members had gone to the island for the event, but she herself bowed out, claiming the duties of a part-time suburban soccer coach and mom.
In the car, Wong heard the candidate say: “The middle class needs more growth and more fairness. Growth and fairness go together. For lasting prosperity, you can’t have one without the other.”
Oh, my God, Wong thought, I can’t believe she just said that. Each time she repeated this story to me, she narrowed her eyes toward an imaginary car radio and pointed in disbelief.
“Prosperity can’t be just for C.E.O.s and hedge-fund managers,” the candidate continued. “Democracy can’t just be for the billionaires and corporations.”
Oh, my God, Wong thought again, I can’t believe she just said that. It may have been political boilerplate, but Wong thrilled to it. Her incredulity had yielded to pleasure and admiration. Republicans, the candidate went on, “pledge to wipe out tough rules on Wall Street, rather than rein in the banks that are still too risky, courting future failures.”...
In 2009, a political scientist named Andrew Rich, known for writing about the “war of ideas,” was drafted to reinvent the Roosevelt Institute as a place for the radical thinking that postcrisis politics seemed to require. Roosevelt at the time was an ad hoc collection of spare progressive parts, including the upkeep of the F.D.R. Library in Hyde Park, N.Y. Rich believed that if you weren’t in Washington, and you weren’t beholden to the party apparatus, and if you got the right people — people who were too idiosyncratic or rough-hewn for academia, or academics who wanted to be politically relevant but needed help with finding an audience for their work — you could create a new kind of institution on a looser, livelier model.
At that moment of upheaval and administration dithering, financial reform was the new Roosevelt’s obvious first priority. Rich brought on Stiglitz and Mike Konczal, whose pseudonymous financial-crisis blog had a cult following among progressives. In 2010, the organization held a conference that prominently featured Elizabeth Warren, then early in her career as a public figure. While Warren worked on the TARP oversight panel, she needed somewhere to park her aide-de-camp, Dan Geldon, to help draft the details of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that was being set up on the basis of her ideas. He served as a fellow, and he and Warren maintain close ties to Roosevelt. Warren insisted I come into her office, though she was late to a vote, so she could tell me how enormously enthusiastic she was about Roosevelt’s work: “It’s a new voice in American political discourse. Their message is, We can do better than this! They’re bringing fundamental optimism back to the center of American life..
When Wong took over in 2012, she continued to recruit staff members and fellows who were at once nonaligned and well connected: to the A.F.T. and S.E.I.U., Demos, MoveOn, the Clintons. By January 2015, Wong had decided, along with her communications director, Marcus Mrowka, and her vice president of research and policy, Nell Abernathy, to prepare for the coming election by creating a full-dress economic agenda that would be there for the candidates’ taking. “Rewriting the Rules” got funding from the Ford Foundation, whose decision last year to refocus around the issue of inequality was influenced by Roosevelt, and whose president, Darren Walker, effused to me about Wong as an “incandescent leader” for the progressive movement. While written by Stiglitz, the paper was worked out in consultation with labor officials, academics, congressional staff members and — unusually for a think tank — advocates from places like Color of Change, Naral and the Black Civic Engagement Fund.