Now that the Congress is in its August recess , it is time to take stock of where we stand and set a course toward the 2006 elections. Bush's main political objectives—Social Security and tax cuts—were stopped, but the White House got its climate-changing energy bill and CAFTA treaty approved. Oh, and then, of course, there is Bolton's recess appointment. From where I sit, it appears that the main reasons for Bush being slowed down are the downward spiral of the Iraq occupation and the ability of Dems to exhibit a wee bit of backbone. In other words, a severe infusion of negative feedback from Bush's policies and a willingness for Democrats to act as the opposition party they are.
In the coming 14 months Dems will need much more of both. More precisely, Dems will need a new agenda that confronts our major threats and that understands how to make our economy work for the middle class again. Above all, it will have to be a strategy, not just a set of independent policies.
Regular readers to the site will know that I see energy insecurity, fiscal imbalances, global warming, and ecosystem depletion as the major threats facing the nation. Energy insecurity is driving a massively dysfunctional foreign policy. Our budget and trade deficits have created a speculative housing bubble (or froth, either one) that the Economist claims is more imbalanced than the lead-up to the 1929 crash. Global warming is accellerating rapidly, causing more storm damage, harming agriculture, and spreading disease. Ecosystem depletion is now so bad that two-thirds of the world's natural capital is being consumed unsustainably, leaving less and less for a growing global population
The passage of the energy bill makes the task of creating a bold new agenda much easier. Dems can now let go of their half-hearted efforts at energy efficiency, geared toward influencing the now passed energy bill, and start thinking about an energy strategy as part of a new economic agenda.
The traditional energy debate has been about how to make the current energy infrastructure of America better. A recent panel discussion  by the Sierra Club and the U.S. Green building council reveals that there is a better way, a way that can power the economy while conserving more energy. Instead of making our energy infrastructure better, we need to build our communities more intelligently. That's because sprawl, by its very nature, sucks gas.
The findings show that shifting to higher-density, new urbanist communities reduces energy consumption more than 28 percent. The reason is something called "location efficiency." By creating neighborhoods where people can meet most of their day-to-day needs by walking and by locating comfortable mass transit stops in town centers, vehicle use drops dramatically.
For new developments and urban infill, maximizing location efficiency is going to be relatively easy, and an increasing number of Americans are attracted to such neo-traditional towns and revitalized neighborhoods. The harder part is converting sprawl into higer-density, new-urban communities.
But not for long. Peter Calthorpe, one of the leaders of the new urbanist movement, has designed an alternative model  for turning perhaps the most iconic and grievous element of suburban sprawl—the intersection of two major arterials—into higher-density, walkable neighborhoods. You know the kind: eight lanes across; strip malls, box stores, gas stations, or shopping malls on the corners.
By transforming the traffic flow in these areas, prioritizing rapid transit, and re-creating walkable, pedestrian-friendly streetscapes, Calthorpe has perhaps solved one of the most sticky problems facing America's economic development: How to transform inefficient suburban sprawl into healthy, location efficient, higher density neighborhoods.
Combined with a massive committment to ending our use of oil as a transportation fuel, outlined by my favorite green-tech engineers at the Rocky Mountain Institute  (and funded by the Pentagon), and taking only 25 years, America can be placed on a path of housing-driven, high-tech growth that renews the American dream while ending our energy insecurity.
Combined with a tax shift  —reducing taxes on wages and increasing taxes on resource waste and extreme wealth—America will be reducing the threats we face, growing the size and prosperity of the middle class, and creating an engine of innovation that will ensure our nation's economic and political independence for generations.