NDN Blog

Waking up from their long slumber

There is mounting evidence that the Bush team is waking up to the economic and fiscal reality of our day.  Recently Secretrary Paulson acknowledged that declining wages was an issue, a reversal from his Senate testimony a few months before.  And now, as James writes below, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke makes a very compelling case that the current wave of globalization is making it much tougher to create broad-based prosperity here and around the world. 

This slow awakening is a first step to creating a national conversation about what to do about it.  But as they wake to this critical reality, they will also have to wake to the other things that have gone on on their watch - reduced revenue for the federal government coupled with radical increase in spending, no strategy for dealing with the fiscal realities of the retirement of the baby boom, a declining dollar and a soaring current account deficit, the overleveraging of the American consumer, rising health care, energy, pension and college costs, and a rise in poverty. 

The fiscal and economic challenges facing America are significant.  Until recently the governing party's response was in essence "stay the course" - more tax breaks for the wealthiest among us.  It is a politically and morally bankrupt course, and one for the good of the nation must be ended.  The waking of Paulson and Bernanke is a good sign we are headed, eventually, towards a better path. 

They are in serious trouble

A front page Post piece this morning was devastating for the Administration.  In plain simple language it made the case that Bush was finally recognizing that our work in Iraq was in serious trouble, and if anything was much likely to worsen this fall. 

Also likely to worsen this fall is the economy.  Some say slowdown, some say recession.  Whatever happens, it is happening now, and will likely worsen as we approach November. 

It has been my belief for a long time that elections are fought primarily on peace and prosperity.  The sober reality for Republicans now is that on the two most salient issues facing the nation, the Middle East and broadly shared prosperity, their record has been dismal; and conditions are more likely than not to get a whole lot worse before the elections.  And there is very little Bush and company can do about it. 

Which is why this is shaping up not to be an anti-incumbent year, but an anti-Republican one.  All polling shows that people believe the nation is headed in the wrong direction and appropriately blame those in power, which in this case are the Republicans.  Few Democratic incumbents are endangered in Congress or in Gubernatorial races.  Meanwhile many Republican seats are in serious jeopordy in the Senate, the House and in Statehouses.  If it was an anti-incumbent year more Democrats would be in trouble.  They aren't. 

The tide has turned hard against the Republican Party.  And it is about to get a whole lot worse. 

Arnold launches his Spanish-language campaign

Adding to Tim's post about Arnold's innovative use of SMS, today the Gov showed the use of another new tool - Spanish language media.  While it is not a particularly noteworthy piece of media, he is showing up in Spanish.  From our vantage point this seems like a pretty smart thing to do, as as much as 1/4 of the California electorate is Hispanic, and perhaps as much as half of that - as much as 12 % of the electorate - prefers Spanish. 

Good to be back

Returned last night from two weeks away.   Caitlin and our three kids went on a tour of California, spending a week at Lake Tahoe, a few days in Monterey and ending with beach time in La Jolla.  The weather was great, seeing friends always comforting, and the time with our young family so important. 

Of course a lot happened in these last few weeks.  Castro became ill, Lamont won the CT primary, and a cease fire is being tried in Lebanon.  We awake this morning with the news that global diplomatic efforts to bring peace to the region are failing, as the Europeans are balking at providing troops for the proposed peacekeeping forces.  

It is good to be back, and it was great to be away, but this new diplomatic failure is a grim morning reminder of how much work we all have to do.  The Bush era has ignored some important challenges - health care, the retirement of the baby boom, declining wages, global climate change - and created many more.  The mess in the Middle East today cries out for a grand vision, subtle diplomacy and broad international cooperation for a sustained period of time.  In the old days, creating this new process would be America's job.  In today's world, in the Bush era, in an era of diminished American influence, it is hard to see how we all get to where we need to go in Lebanon and the region. 

The morning after

With many days of discussion ahead, I offer a quick take on the meaning of Lamont’s win last night:

1. Those running too close to Bush and his government could pay a heavy price this fall. Joe Lieberman has been one of the most public defenders of Bush and his failed government, even attacking other Democrats who challenged Bush. Two-thirds of the American people want a new direction. Candidates credibly offering a new path will have the upper hand this fall.

2. In this new era, partisanship is a virtue. The conservatives rise to power, and their utter failure to govern responsibly or effectively, requires a new progressive politics of confrontation, not accommodation. This new politics may be uncomfortable to those used to an America governed by Democrats and progressive values, but for our politics and values to triumph progressives must and are learning how to resist “cutting deals,” working to “get things done” on terms set by an irresponsible governing majority.

This is not an ideological development in progressive politics, but a pragmatic one. Senator Lieberman never understood this, constantly seeing this discussion through an outdated and inappropriate ideological prism. Of course there is room for someone with Senator Lieberman’s view on the War, for example. He was after all endorsed by virtually ever major institution in the Democratic family. There is a growing, and necessary, intolerance, however, of progressive leaders unwilling to take on Bush and his failed government head on – and this was the battleground in this election, whether the Senator understood it or not.

I have great sympathy for those wishing our politics could be more genteel, where both sides could come together to work things out for the common good. But we live in a different time, and our the rising partisanship in the Democratic Party is a necessary, pragmatic and I believe virtuous response to the circumstances we face today at the dawn of the 21st century.

3. A new 21st century politics is emerging. As NDN and its affiliate NPI have been saying for some time, new governing challenges, new ways of communication and a changing American people are rapidly creating a new politics unfamiliar to those of us who grew up in 20th century American politics. Political success in the future will derive from a leader’s mastery not just of a compelling and effective governing agenda, but of “new 21st century tools” to get one’s message out more effectively and the engagement of vital new citizens who are yearning to be part of – and ultimately will change – our politics.

4. Senator Lieberman should end his re-election bid. There are many reasons he should bring his campaign to an end, but in this entry I site one above all - performance. From the beginning of this race the Senator has seemed to be conducting a campaign for a different era, a different conversation and a different time. Given his stature, losing a Democratic Primary to an unknown opponent is a political failure of great magnitude. I have offered my advice and my critique of what has been a terrible campaign on this blog for the past several weeks. Given the scale of the mistakes he has made so far, and how out of touch with the state he has become, why should anyone believe he will figure out to do something seldom done in history – win as an independent after losing a primary?

It is time, my good friend. Senator Lieberman, it is time. Time to end this part of your remarkable career with dignity, grace and honor. You had a great run, made a great contribution, and done a lot of good. But it is time to move on.

Update

Given the interest on this issue, i wanted to point to some previous blogs during the Primary campaign. I wrote about Senator Lieberman's three main missteps last week, and earlier in the month had offered my advice on his campaign. I also posted some comments on a perceptive article by Ruth Marcus. I hope this helps understand where I am coming from on this. Simon.

The Connecticut race

A whole lot is going to be written about what happened in Connecticut.  Whether Lamont wins or not, we know that a major national politician has been seriously challenged by a newcomer.  How did we get to this point? I think there were three critical moments in this race which left the door open for Lamont to make his remarkable run:

1. Lieberman attacks other Democrats over Iraq.  Last year the Senator choose to publically chastise other Democrats for challenging the President over our failing policy in Iraq.  Many, including me, thought this was way over the top.  The Administration used the Lieberman lines against other Democrats for weeks.  What is critical here is that Joe went after Democrats not for our policy choices, but for even wanting to have a debate over whether Iraq was working or not.   Understanding this part of the story is essential, for the anger towards Joe has always been more about his defending a failed President against other Democrats than it has been his stance on the Iraq War itself. 

2. Lieberman ignores and discounts his opposition.  In a period that lasted from last year to until a few months ago, Lieberman, in a very dangerous move, essentially told those who were unhappy with him to pound sand. His first ad of the campaign told voters that even though they disagreed with him on the War, there were many other things they did agree on - the message there being I know you are unhappy with me but too bad.  And what is incredible is that he used his own money to remind the voters of the state why they were angry with him! 

During this time the inchoate anger towards him for betraying those that brought him to office was buttressed by this incredible arrogance and self-righteousness.  Remember a third of the country was against the War when it happened; meaning that perhaps half of all Connecticut voters were against the War when it happened; meaning that more than half of all Democratic voters were against the War when it happened three years ago.  Today more than three-fourths of the state believe the President is doing a bad job, and that the War is a failure.  To tell voters that on the issue they most care about that they are wrong, and I know better isn't principle, as Joe has asserted, its arrogance.  Particularly when it is clear the voters are right on this one.  The President and the War are a disaster. 

During this long period many tried to intervene and help the Senator.  His path was simple here - just make it clear that though you are sticking to your guns on Iraq, you want to listen to the concerns of those who are concerned and unhappy about the War.  Sit with folks who are angry.  Listen.  Attack the President in your ads, and in your speeches for Katrina, for a declining middle class, for the high levels of corruption in Washington, for the estate tax, etc.  If the main attack against you is that you are too close to Bush make it clear you think he is doing a bad job - something two thirds of the country agrees with you on. 

None of this happened.  Millions of dollars and countless days were spent on messages to the voters of Connecticut that nothing to do with what was on their mind - why is our Democratic Senator seemingly so uninterested in what Democrats think and believe, why is he defending a War that seems like such a disaster, and why is he so close to Bush?  This campaign will go down as one of the worst of modern times. 

3.  Lieberman goes independent.  So Democrats are wondering whether you a Democrat any more and whats the answer? File as an independent, essentially proving that the opposition's attacks on you were right.  This was the most important moment in the campaign, and the one that if Joe loses, I believe, is the main reason why.  Prior to going independent, Joe was up by 20 points in the polls and in command of the race.  Lamont was still ill-defined, and Joe plenty of money to take control of the dialogue and the race itself.  All were waiting to see what Joe would do with this stronger than expected challenge.  He choose to cut and run, and not stand and fight.   

Within weeks of this decision the race shifted dramatically.  20 points in some polls, 30 in others.  Shifts of this magnitude can only happen with extraordinary external events.   In this race one of those extraordinary external events happened - a popular and respected Senator had proven that his critics were right - he no longer cared about being a Democrat.  He was going independent, leaving his Party.  And that is the reason this decision to go independent was so fateful.  It reinforced the essential concern Democrats in the state had.  And it was the kind of bad decision that causes even people like Joe Lieberman to lose an election. 

Final thoughts.  Joe Lieberman is my friend, and a mentor of mine.  He is a remarkable man, a good leader and one of the smartest people I know.  It has been personally very painful for me to watch this political trainwreck over the past year.  I offered my advice, weighed in when asked, tried to help, but not suprisingly, there was very little interest from the Senator and his people in what folks like me had to say.  They never really believed it was going to be a race until it was too late.   

While I believe there are larger lessons here for the Party about our passion, our principles, our ideology, the rise of the netroots etc, I think first and foremost the story of the Connecticut race is one of a good man who had lost touch with the people that brought him to office; and the main lesson is that candidates who get too close to Bush and his failed government this fall could pay a terrible price. 

But of course all of us will have more to say about this in the days ahead.  Very interested in your thoughts. 

Democrats call for Strategic Redeployment in Iraq

Congressional Democrats are working to put their stamp on this election.  Last week they offered their New Direction agenda and a well-done video companion. Yesterday they offered a plan for strategic redeployment of our troops in Iraq, a plan clearly inspired by CAP's foreign policy work. 

After the election we will look back at this decision to embrace "strategic redeployment" as one of the most critical decisions of the year.  I argued against it on a recent television appearance.  We know the Bush plan isn't working.  That staying the course when the course is failing isn't a good plan.  But is this strategic redeployment a better option? Or just an option? Whether this is good politics or not, are we ready to fight for this option on the world stage if we win back one of the Chambers? Are we ready to take responsibility at this moment for what will happen in Iraq when our troops begin to leave, as instability in the Middle East rises and the Iraqi Sunnis ask us to stay?

I wrote last week that I worried that the events in Lebanon had rendered obsolete the Democrats Iraq frame.  After reading the Democrats Iraqi letter I still feel that way.  That doesn't mean Democratic leaders aren't right about Iraq.  It just means that Democrats have now joined this debate in a very specific way, in a time of profound transformation and confrontation in the Middle East, and will have to stand and defend a position that somehow seems a little more spring than fall. 

Morning Roundup

In a recurring theme of this blog, it seems remarkable how on the sidelines of world affairs America sits today.  Tom Friedman hit this point hard on Meet the Press yesterday.  Brent Scowcroft in a Washington Post op-ed lays out a multi-pronged strategy for bringing peace to the Middle East.  While imaginable for the American government, its diplomatic maturity and complexity is unimaginable for the current "yo Blair" administration, one that has a hard time talking to the opposition party in its home country let alone adversaries aboard. 

Where the battle in Lebanon takes us next is hard to know.  Certainly the death of innocents yesterday - whether hezbollah used them as shields or not - has altered the game.  I have been very sympathetic to Israel's actions, believing that it was time to let Iran understand the consequences of their flouting of the international community.  Remember that in the early days of the Lebanon battle Sunni Arab states rallied to Israel's cause, pleased by the bloodying of the Shiite's nose. Perhaps Israel's actions have backfired now, causing a rallying for Hezbollah and the extremists.  But the current rise of Iran and Shiite extremists cannot be tolerated.  This didnt work out as well as it needed to.  Something else must be tried. 

But what is America's role in all this? Can we possibly take on Iranian-backed extremists, given our investment in Iraq's Shiite-led government? Can we suggest the coming to power, through elections, of extremist political parties with militias in Palestine and Lebanon, is a problem given that these elections were brought about with American urging? Can Bush publically state that rising oil prices are fueling global instability and needs to be tackled head on?

At a time of great global turmoil, America sits on the sidelines, without the credibility, resources, imagination or will to make a difference.  And the sidelining of America, in of itself, is contributing to global insecurity and instability. 

For more be sure to read Noah Feldman's excellent essay in yesterday's New York Times, and Henry Kissinger's op-ed in today's Post.   For more on these matters from NDN see here and here. 

An interesting piece on how Jane Harman handled her primary

McJoan from Dailykos has a very good piece on how Cong. Jane Harman successfully handled her recent primary challenge, and the differences with the way Lieberman has handled his.   There are many important lessons here for those trying to master the new politics of our new century. 

Times endorses Lamont

In what is going to be a long-talked about event, this morning the New York Times endorsed Ned Lamont.  The editorial is thought provoking and challenging.  And though I am supporting Joe, I think most of it is dead-on. 

I just got back from an extended trip to California to build support for our mas que un partido campaign, so haven't had a lot of time to blog.  But this editorial demands a robust discussion, and I hope to do my part in the days ahead.  Let's start by reviewing a memo I wrote to Joe some weeks ago, which mirrors a great deal of the advice I had been offering him and his people since last year. 

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