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Podesta: Progressive Politics Will Cure U.S. Ills

Next week, the Democrats will convene in Denver for the party's national convention. In one speech after another, they will try to convince the American people that they've got the cure for what ails them.

One person who says he has a cure is John Podesta, a former chief of staff in President Clinton's White House. He now heads the Washington, D.C., think tank Center for American Progress and is an adviser to Barack Obama's campaign. He tells NPR's Robert Siegel that America needs to return to progressive politics, such as community activism, reformed immigration laws and a stronger, smarter government.

Podesta makes that argument in a new book released this week, The Power of Progress: How America's Progressives Can (Once Again) Save Our Economy, Our Climate and Our Country.

Podesta says progressive politics can be traced back to the turn of the last century, when "activists, citizens, politicians, thinkers came together during the first Gilded Age and really created a spirit of reform, created a sense of experimentation aimed at trying to create a more fair society."

Today, he says, we're in the second Gilded Age, and those lessons from the Teddy Roosevelt era could be applied to the global problems the U.S. faces today.

"We need to empower people in cities and states to solve problems," he says. "But that focus on the common good and on providing opportunity for everyone has been lost, in my view, in the last seven years. And we need to return to it."

In The Power of Progress, Podesta writes that laws should be reformed to allow illegal immigrants to become legal. He also writes that the U.S. needs stronger security at the borders and tougher penalties for employers who hire unlawful immigrants.

"I think that requiring people to come out of the gray and out of the shadows of our economy and register or face deportation, and putting some real muscle behind that, is a way of bridging the gap between more conservative and more liberal elements in our democratic politics," Podesta says.

As for whether Podesta will run Obama's transition into the White House if he wins the presidential race, Podesta says: "I'm trying to give him some advice on that, but that advice will remain private."

Disclosure: John Podesta's brother is a lobbyist who has contributed money to NPR.

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