NDN Blog

NDN: Finishing Strong

As we prepare for the home stretch, I am proud of the contribution NDN and its family and affiliates have made this cycle.  Over the next few weeks I will be writing about the transformation of NDN over these past few years, from a centrist PAC called the New Democrat Network to the advocacy and strategy center now called NDN.  We may no longer have a federal PAC, and be endorsing candidates as we did, but we are making an important contribution to restoring the promise of our great nation, and giving others the tools to also make themselves more effective at this critical time. 

Expect a great deal of activity from NDN and our affiliates these next two months.  We will be focusing on three distinct campaigns: mas que un partido, tools and wages.  The first, conducted by our affiliates, the NDN political fund, is speaking to the hopes of Hispanics through a sustained national Spanish-language media campaign.  NPI's tools campaign is helping progressives learn and use four new tools - cable, search, blogs and Spanish-language media.  Finally, our wages campaign, begun 18 months ago, is working to put declining wages front and center in the national debate. 

Of course there will be more, as there always is, with NDN.  But these three powerful campaigns is how we are closing in this critical year.  Each of them have already made a significant impact, but there is much more we can and must do together. 

Winds of change are blowing, hard

Respected students of Congress, Thomas Mann and Stu Rothenberg, now predict the House will flip to the Democrats.  Polling data is coming out of 2nd and 3rd tier House races showing Democrats leading.  New polls showing Democrats now very competitive in the VA and TN Senate races, ones needed to gain Democrats the Senate.  No incumbent Democrat is trailing in a race for Governor, Senate or House.   It is increasingly looking like a nationalized election against Republican governance. 

But no one should be that suprized.  As we've been writing in this space for close to three years, the central political development in America today is the utter failure of conservative and Republican governance.  Even without the aid of hundreds of millions of dollars of television ads that are about to be launched, the American people have figured out, on their own, that the guys running Washington today have blown it.  Big time.  Bush bet the house on Iraq and huge tax cuts for those with means, and has lost. 

Washington is about to change.  The corrupt, arrogant, ineffective and partisan era of Bush, Cheney, Frist and DeLay is coming to an end.  New people will rise to power.  New issues will be tackled.  A new agenda will be pursued.  Those on the losing side will suffer as those who have come before them have, as many of us have on the progressive side who have stuck it out in DC these past few years. 

For progressives, we now have two important tasks.  First, as we plan our governing agenda, we should focus on a few important things and get them right - bringing a lasting peace to the Middle East, creating greater fiscal integrity, making efforts to restore broad-based prosperity, passing immigration reform.  We should avoid the temptation to do too much, or punish the losing side to too great a degree. 

Second, we should work hard on attaching the words arrogant, corrupt, ineffective, partisan, etc to the Republican and conservative brand.  While I do not have partisan animus to those that have run the country this past few years, I do have incredible American animus towards them.  They have weakened our country.  They have worried about themselves and their power and not about us.  They have run up trillions of debt.  Hurt our prestige.  Left our people poorer.   Not attended to urgent national challenges.  Left people to die in New Orleans. 

We have an obligation to not let them get away with their time in power.  We need to label their movement and their politics for what it has been, and do what we must to prevent this kind of government from returning.   We need to work on finding the words to capture this time, and invest a great deal of energy in defining it for future generations. 

While NDN no longer has a federal PAC and has not been involved in these elections by supporting candidates, I am proud of all that we have done to help bring a new path for the nation, and end this disapointing era.  We have spoken out, aggressively, about these conservative failures; offered a new agenda for the nation; worked hard on two critical issues, immigration and making globalization work for all Americans; we've helped teach progressives how to use a new set of powerful tools to get our message out; we've studied and discussed the changing demographics of the nation, helping progressives imagine and build a new majority coalition around a New America;  we've run cutting edge media campaigns across the nation in English and Spanish, reaching tens of millions with our modern and optimistic message; we've helped create a new whole new way of investing monies into building a modern progressive infrastructure suited to our day, our media and our challenges. 

No matter what happens this fall this period of American history is drawing to a close.  Let us committ ourselves, as a network and community, to ensuring that the next era, whatever it is, restores the great promise of our extraordinary nation.  I am proud of what we've done here at NDN, but remain humbled by all the work that must be done. 

Spike Lee's Katrina documentary is awfully good

I watched the first half of the new Spike Lee HBO documentary last night.  It is powerful, well done, and very evocative.  You can watch it any time on HBO on demand, and I think it is playing again the next few nights.  

It is hard to find the words to describe my feelings about Katrina.  I've spent time in New Orleans.  I know Senators Landrieu and Breaux well, and my wife and even got a little tour of the French Quarter late one night from Senator Landrieu, whose father of course was once mayor of New Orleans.  When Katrina struck I was home, on paternity leave, with our new daughter Kate, so I was watching a lot more TV than I usually do.  And our whole family watched the incredible drama of Katrina unfold. 

The movie reminds all of us, without being clubbing one over the head, that what caused the destruction of New Orleans was not the hurricane itself, but the breaching of the levees sometime after the storm passed.  There is an extraordinary scene where a man is running through downtown New Orleans - which is relatively calm at this point - and says to the camera crew that a levee has broken and water is pouring in.  They seemed suprised, and said they would look into it. 

And then the inaction.  The deaths.  The suffering.  The suffering. 

I wrote at the time that Chertoff should have been fired, and I still can't believe he is in the job.  His inaction killed people.  There is no question,  Killed people.  And all told there are now 4500 dead and missing, a city destroyed, billions spent and not a whole lot to show for it.  It is a shameful and terrible thing, what has happened to New Orleans and her people, and I hope that it haunts Bush and his crew for the rest of their lives. 

At the time all this unfolded NDN was very active.  One of the better pieces we published you can find here.  And we will be having more to say about Katrina and New Orleans in the days ahead. 

On Iraq, Democrats are offering a clear and unified message

A front page Post piece offers a lot to chew on:

"Most Democratic candidates in competitive congressional races are opposed to setting a timetable for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq, rejecting pressure from liberal activists to demand a quick end to the three-year-old military conflict.

Of the 59 Democrats in hotly contested House and Senate races, a majority agree with the Bush administration that it would be unwise to set a specific schedule for troop withdrawal, and only a few are calling for substantial troop reductions to begin this year, according to a Washington Post survey of the campaigns.

The large number of Democrats opposed to a strict timeline for ending the military operations runs contrary to the assertion by President Bush and top Republicans that Democrats want to "cut and run" amid mounting casualties and signs of civil war. At the same time, the decision by many Democrats to refrain from advocating a specific plan for withdrawal complicates their leaders' efforts to convince voters that they offer a clear new direction for the increasingly unpopular war."

Lets look at that last graph.  I agree with the first sentence.  Given how unpopular the war has become, the only strategy Republicans now have is 1) change their position on the war as Chris Shays just did; 2) argue that Democrats would make it worse.  I still believe both from a governing and public opinion standpoint a timetable for withdrawal is not the best option on the table.  So I think those Democrats who are rejecting "strategic redeployment" will be well served this fall, and will make it much harder for the GOP to succeed at their "cut and run" campaign. 

But I do not in any way agree with the 2nd part of the graph.  Democrats have presented a united front - we are unhappy with what is happening in Iraq, and want a new course.  Some want strategic redeployment.  Others don't.  There is no simple solution to what's happening in the Middle East, and we are doing the right thing by forcing a public and spirited debate.  Only from that debate will we settle on the best course.

While we may not agree on the details, the Democratic message is clear and simple - we want a new path in the Middle East, and once in power, will be sitting down with the President to find a new American strategy for success in the troubled region.  This position is both the responsible one, and the clear winner in terms of public opinion. 

For more, see my recent appearance on Fox News Sunday. 

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.


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. 

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