End of the Conservative Ascendancy

Newt Gingrich Rips Off Ross Douthat, Messes with California

Is it just me, or does this column from today's FT by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich sound an awful lot like the one written a month ago by New York Times conservative columnist Ross Douthat?

Gingrich, like Douthat, uses California as a model for how states shouldn't manage their finances, and, like Douthat, uses Texas as a model for economic and budgeting brilliance. The only difference is that Gingrich avoids the explicit liberal and conservative name-calling that is a hallmark of Douthat's column, but even a cursory read uncovers the implicit partisanship.


California, like so many other states facing budget shortfalls, is a victim of decades of reckless spending and unsustainable budgets. It was not always like this. The Golden State’s government services and public institutions – including its prisons – were models for the country in the 1960s and 1970s. But Californian policymakers stopped planning for the future. The state’s population ballooned from 23m in 1980 to 36m in 2008, and demographics shifted dramatically due to immigration. Roads, schools and prisons built with 1975 in mind are now crumbling and overcrowded.

The narrative that Gingrich again tries to push, that always blue California is about to fall into the Pacific because it loves lefty agendas that offer profligate spending, is historically illiterate. The "Californian policymakers" about which Gingrich writes, who took the top notch services and schools California had in the 1970s and ruined them, were the conservatives who started the Reagan Revolution and the national tax revolt. They passed Proposition 13, essentially destroying the California property tax base.

I'm not going to go into the conservative destruction of California too much more; I wrote plenty about this ridiculous meme when Douthat published a column from the same set of talking points. On a serious policy note, let's just say that I agree with Gingrich that California "needs to rethink its long-term budgeting strategies," but that starts with a sensible tax code that generates the kind of revenue Californians demand, not by messing with the extremely flawed Texas model.

NDN Thoughts on John McCain

Below please find the most recent commentary from NDN Staff on U.S. Sen. John McCain. To keep up with our McCain commentary, visit our blog and add a bookmark to the John McCain feed.

6/25/2008 - The Story of the Race So Far - the Surprising Weakness of John McCain

6/23/2008 - Cillizza looks at Obama, McCain Strategies

6/20/2008 - The Audacity of the Obama Buy

6/17/2008 - McCain Running on Empty

6/13/2008 - Clues About Sen. McCain's Position On Issues of Importance to Hispanics

6/12/2008 - Menendez: On Immigration, McCain "Walked Away."

6/12/2008 - More evidence of an Obama bounce, other thoughts on the fall election

6/10/2008 - McCain's Women's Clinic

6/9/2008 - Americans feel the burn of high energy prices

6/5/2008 - McCain struggling with Hispanics

6/4/2008 - Challenging the Bush legacy in the Middle East

6/3/2008 - McCain's speech tonight

5/30/2008 - Web Video Showing Some Kinks in McCain's Straight Talk

5/29/2008 - McCain to Skip Climate Vote

5/21/2008 - An inconvenient poll -- Obama leads McCain 48-40 in PA

5/20/2008 - Food, energy, and electoral politics

5/19/2008 - McCain and the lobbyists

5/17/2008 - The Bush-McCain attacks on Obama

5/16/2008 - Any time, any place

5/13/2008 - Obama, Democrats rising - the race is going through a structural evolution

5/12/2008 - McCain talks Climate

5/10/2008 - Rasmussen's daily track sees Obama bounce

5/8/2008 - John McCain names his VP choice on the Daily Show

5/7/2008 - McCain gambles on losing strategy

5/7/2008 - The Gas Tax Issue

5/6/2008 - McCain double talk continues!

5/6/2008 - On this primary night where do things stand?

5/5/2008 - McCain can't talk straight!

5/5/2008 - Gas tax policy as character -- updated

5/2/2008 - Obama goes after Clinton on gas tax

5/2/2008 - Dina Titus Shakes up Nevada Congressional Race

5/1/2008 - A Series of TV Ads Launched Against McCain—and they're not coming from Hillary or Obama

5/1/2008 - More on the gas tax

4/30/2008 - Do you need to know how to use a computer to be president?

4/30/2008 - Energy Insanity

4/29/2008 - Candidates talk energy policy

4/28/2008 - Both sides go on to March 4th

4/28/2008 - Obama closing the gap, reinventing politics along the way

4/28/2008 - Fund race and the virtuous cycle

4/28/2008 - The Virtuous Cycle of Participation

4/28/2008 - $55 million and the emergence of "a virtuous cycle of participation"

4/27/2008 - Agreeing with Frank Rich today on the weakness of McCain

4/25/2008 - N.C. GOP's Untouchable

4/22/2008 - NDN round up: In the news, around the blogs

4/22/2008 - An Earth Day Special: NAFTA and the Environment

4/22/2008 - Rob Shapiro: Candidates need to create economic narrative

4/21/2008 - The Candidates on the Economy

4/21/2008 - Monday morning observations

4/21/2008 - Bleak outlook on jobs; U.S. on wrong track

4/17/2008 - A Little, Late

4/17/2008 - The ABC Debates and the Death Throes of Old Media and Old Politics

4/16/2008 - Hispanics, Immigration & McCain

4/9/2008 - Once again Old Man McCain gets it wrong

4/3/2008 - 3 A.M. Ad Update

4/2/2008 - Another 3 A.M. ad?

3/31/2008 - McCain: 624787 (English and Spanish)

3/30/2008 - On immigration the GOP chooses politics over progress

3/30/2008 - Obama surging in the national tracks

3/29/2008 - Clinton willing to go to Denver

3/28/2008 - McCain argues with himself

3/27/2008 - Quick '08 Update

3/27/2008 - It's so over

3/26/2008 - Quick '08 Update

3/26/2008 - Time's Halperin sees something missing on the economy

3/21/2008 - Stephen Colbert calls John McCain a Minotaur in Samantha Powers' presence

3/20/2008 - Old Man McCain

3/20/2008 - Broder on Old Man McCain and his nutty worldview

3/20/2008 - New Issue of Democracy is released

3/19/2008 - Johnny messed up

3/19/2008 - John McCain must hate video

3/18/2008 - Gallup Daily: Democratic Race Still Tight

3/14/2008 - Republicans try to Ward off Corruption

3/10/2008 - Updated NDN Study on Hispanic Electorate

3/10/2008 - Congressional Cameo

3/9/2008 - Clinton, Obama enter the campaign's next phase even in national polls

3/6/2008 - First test for McCain?

3/6/2008 - Looking at the electoral college, 2008

3/6/2008 - Towards Florida and Michigan primaries in June

3/5/2008 - Luring Latinos #9

3/5/2008 - Millennials Makeover the Four Ms of Politics

3/5/2008 - The speeches

3/3/2008 - YouContribute

3/2/2008 - Winning the West

3/1/2008 - Neither rejecting nor denouncing Hagee

3/1/2008 - More incredible numbers out of Texas

2/29/2008 - George Will takes a big shot at McCain

2/29/2008 - Luring Latinos #4

2/28/2008 - Let's Just Say Obama's the Nominee. So, Who's the Running Mate?

2/28/2008 - Recent Survey of the Millennial Vote

2/27/2008 - Tejano Time

2/27/2008 - Steven Pearlstein - Mobilization for Globalization

2/26/2008 - A Broken FEC: McCain's Bane and Blessing

2/26/2008 - New NYTimes poll has Obama leading 54-38

2/22/2008 - Paxson contradicts McCain

2/22/2008 - Will Campaign Finance Rules derail the Straight Talk Express?

2/22/2008 - Rasmussen looks at the electoral college

2/22/2008 - The New Era of Distributed Politics

2/21/2008 - McCain and the Iseman affair

2/21/2008 - The Campaigns Tweet

2/21/2008 - Climate Change and Europe

2/20/2008 - Obama wins, Clinton struggles

2/20/2008 - The Obama surge continues - he leads Gallup by 7

2/17/2008 - Texas Two-Step

2/16/2008 - Saturday roundup - McCain, immigration, the Senate and Superdelegates

2/16/2008 - Yes It Can: The Mash-Up Viral Video Takes Off

2/15/2008 - Quick '08 Update

2/15/2008 - Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to decide nominations...

2/14/2008 - New NDN Study shows Hispanics breaking 3-to-1 Democrat

2/13/2008 - The evolution of the Obama campaign

2/12/2008 - McCain McCan't Message

2/12/2008 - A new meme tonight - time is running out for Senator Clinton

2/12/2008 - Obama the Orator

2/12/2008 - Bush-McCain Republicans

2/10/2008 - The new narrative - Obama surging, McCain struggling

2/10/2008 - McCain's weakness on full display tonight

2/10/2008 - The kiss of death

2/9/2008 - Senator McCain, be careful what you wish for

2/7/2008 - The role of Hispanics tonight

2/6/2008 - Patriotism Through Elections

2/5/2008 - Can McCain bring his party together?

2/5/2008 - Super Tuesday is here

2/5/2008 - February 5th: Here I Go Again

2/4/2008 - Monday am wrap up

2/3/2008 - The Incredible Campaign - Sunday am wrap up

2/2/2008 - The battle for Hispanics is joined

2/2/2008 - Gallup delivers some good news for Clinton

2/1/2008 - Immigration as a wedge issue? Not so fast.

2/1/2008 - 2008 Presidential Money Race

1/30/2008 - Hispanics deliver Florida for McCain

1/29/2008 - Quick '08 Update

1/28/2008 - The delegate battle and this phase of the campaign

1/27/2008 - Would McCain-Kennedy pass in a McCain administration?

1/27/2008 - SC called for Obama, McCain gets Crist endorsement

1/27/2008 - Two good reads this morning

1/26/2008 - The New York Times endorses Clinton and McCain.

1/26/2008 - As the Economy Screams

1/25/2008 - So, what's next?

1/25/2008 - Independents and Millennials Poised to Shake-up the California Primary towards Obama

1/23/2008 - Grading the Candidates' Fiscal Stimulus Plans

1/22/2008 - McCain, SC, and Immigration

1/19/2008 - John McCain's final SC appeal: "Tied Up" and web ads

1/15/2008 - The campaigns go national, onward to Nevada and South Carolina

1/14/2008 - Reflections on a remarkable campaign

1/13/2008 - McCain, Lieberman and control of the Senate

1/9/2008 - It's the Economy, Stupid! (The Sequel)

1/9/2008 - NH Victory Speeches

1/9/2008 - The GOP field and immigration

1/9/2008 - Quite a night

1/8/2008 - John McCain's final IA appeal: only in NH

1/8/2008 - Iowa: The Final Countdown

1/8/2008 - Election Day thoughts from New Hampshire

1/8/2008 - Update: Dixville Notch and Hart's Location results

1/8/2008 - New Hampshire: Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'

1/7/2008 - John McCain's final NH appeal: Better repared

1/7/2008 - USA Today/Gallup NH Poll: Obama 41%, Clinton 28% / McCain 34%, Romney 30%

1/7/2008 - New CNN NH poll has Obama, McCain leading

1/7/2008 - Can Bush make room for the Republican nominee?

1/7/2008 - First in the Nation Primary (Really!)

1/7/2008 - My take so far

1/5/2008 - 2 new polls show Obama with big NH lead

1/4/2008 - Predicting outcomes: Polls versus Betting sites, Part Deux

1/4/2008 - CNN calls it for Huck

1/3/2008 - Predicting outcomes: Polls versus Betting sites

1/1/2008 - Yepsen's take on the new Des Moines Register Poll

2/20/2007 - 1%, 62% and the failure of Tancredoism

2/20/2007 - Can Democrats seize the opportunity the immigration debate offers them?

2/19/2007 - New GOP polls - Huck and McCain rising

2/19/2007 - Quick '08 Update

2/17/2007 - Thoughts on the Presidential race

2/16/2007 - The Globe and Register endorsements

2/14/2007 - The Washington Post weighs in with a great editorial on immigration reform

2/14/2007 - NDN in the News

2/14/2007 - Quick '08 Update

2/7/2007 - Why is Tancredo at 1 percent?

2/2/2007 - The GOP debate over immigration

2/2/2007 - Huckabee, Obama now lead in Iowa

1/30/2007 - EJ Dionne takes on the new GOP Know-Nothings

1/28/2007 - Quick '08 Update

1/20/2007 - Quick '08 Update

1/20/2007 - Signs of Hope on Immigration

1/7/2007 - Immigration, once again, despite huge GOP investment, does not perform for the GOP

1/2/2007 - Quick '08 Update

1/2/2007 - Quick '08 Update

10/16/2007 - McCain employs new tools to reach out

10/11/2007 - Quick '08 Update

9/26/2007 - Quick '08 Update

9/21/2007 - Governor Bill Richardson: 2008 and the Hispanic vote

9/18/2007 - Quick '08 Update

9/4/2007 - Quick '08 Update

8/24/2007 - Quick '08 Update

8/21/2007 - Quick '08 Update

8/17/2007 - Quick '08 Update

8/7/2007 - I agree with EJ - Romney is looking like a very serious candidate now

7/25/2007 - Quick '08 Update

7/20/2007 - Quick '08 Update

7/20/2007 - Quick '08 Update

7/18/2007 - Quick '08 Update

7/14/2007 - Quick '08 Update

7/9/2007 - Quick '08 Update

7/8/2007 - Morning Roundup

7/7/2007 - Quick '08 Update

7/7/2007 - Immigration Reform lives to fight another day

7/6/2007 - Our broken politics

7/2/2007 - Quick '08 Update

6/20/2007 - Political Ads Beginning to Shift Online

6/13/2007 - Romney and the re-invention of our politics

6/6/2007 - Univision proposes first-ever Spanish-language debates

6/5/2007 - Quick '08 Update

6/4/2007 - A call to action: let's pass immigration reform this week

5/31/2007 - Quick '08 Update

5/30/2007 - Quick '08 Update

5/25/2007 - In the immigration debate a clear consensus on a path to citizenship has emerged

5/21/2007 - Quick recap on 2008

5/17/2007 - Must read op-ed

5/16/2007 - McCain sets it straight on immigration stance

5/15/2007 - GOP candidates alter tone on immigration

5/10/2007 - Time to stand with Senators Reid and Kennedy

5/9/2007 - Channel '08

5/8/2007 - Abandoning the GOP

5/4/2007 - Has McCain weakened his position on immigration?

5/4/2007 - The Week That Was 5-4

5/3/2007 - A Party in disarray, a Movement discredited

4/26/2007 - McCain is officially in

4/25/2007 - Rudy believes in bipartisanship

4/24/2007 - Obama, McCain speeches

4/20/2007 - Interesting Fundraising #'s from the Presidential Candidates

4/13/2007 - The Week That Was 4-13 Edition

4/11/2007 - McCain and Obama exchange words

4/11/2007 - John McCain Reaffirms Support for Bush Iraq Plan

4/11/2007 - The appearance of search ads in 2008 campaigns

4/11/2007 - Times weighs in on immigration

4/10/2007 - NDN Press Release: On immigration, Mr. President, we need more than words

4/3/2007 - How Close Did We Get to a Kerry-McCain Ticket?

4/2/2007 - John McCain Leads Coalition of the Delusional

4/2/2007 - Responding to Tancredo

3/30/2007 - Where they stand on Iraq

3/23/2007 - NDN Endorses the STRIVE (Security Through Regularized Immigration and a Vibrant Economy) Act of 2007

3/20/2007 - A New Idea on Health Care

3/15/2007 - The "Straight Talk Express" is Back

2/22/2007 - Restoring habeas corpus

2/20/2007 - The repudiation of the Bush Era, continued

2/13/2007 - McCain fears a repeat of the Tet offensive

2/1/2007 - Is Senator Hagel the new McCain?

1/31/2007 - GOP Senators Scrambling to Block Anti-Surge Resolutions

1/30/2007 - Hillary leads in Ohio

1/24/2007 - The State of the Union is Stronger and Better

1/23/2007 - There's a New Game in Town

1/17/2007 - MoveOn addresses the McCain Doctrine

1/17/2007 - '08 update

1/10/2007 - Republicans abandon their President, and McCain

2/21/2006 - Translating Bushspeak: Surge = Escalation

2/19/2006 - Joint Chiefs: Bush no longer knows what to do

2/19/2006 - New Iraq study shows dramatic rise in violence

2/17/2006 - Powell agrees Bush will not offer a better way forward

2/15/2006 - A better way forward

2/14/2006 - Joint Chiefs No on the "Surge"

1/26/2006 - McCain: Looking Wobbly

1/15/2006 - The immigration battle: much to be proud of, much to do

1/13/2006 - Democrats in very strong position for 2008

1/8/2006 - Quick post-election analysis: Republicans no longer the dominant party

1/7/2006 - John McCain is the big loser tonight

1/1/2006 - El periodico el New York Times dice que el muro fronterizo es una mala idea

10/30/2006 - The Republican strategy on immigration has failed

10/26/2006 - La Estrategia de los Republicanos sobre el Tema de Inmigración ha Fracasado

10/20/2006 - Immigrants: beware the end of habeas corpus

10/19/2006 - Immigration Reform: no greater example of how the GOP has lost its way

10/11/2006 - North Korea: Point/Counterpoint with President Carter and Senator McCain

10/10/2006 - Everyone Hates George Bush's Foreign Policy

10/2/2006 - David Cameron's Online Guide for '08 Candidates

9/12/2006 - NDN statement on immigration reform

7/11/2006 - Tuesday Morning Roundup

Reflections on an Important Year

I end the year with a complex set of thoughts and feelings about the year just passed.   Above all else I feel gratitude, and a sense of accomplishment.   Our democracy worked.  The American people, unhappy with their government, choose a different path.  It was an empowering election, one that allowed a whole new generation of Americans to learn for themselves that in our system of government the people are sovereign.  That at the end of the day our destiny is in our hands.  That it is up to us.  It is a vital lesson that I hope the Americans of the 21st century will take with them for the rest of their lives.  It has been, and will be, true that our nation will only be as great, and good, as the American people fight for and demand.   And this year they demanded more, much more.

The two main American ideological movements saw a year of accelerating change.  The great conservative movement of the late 20th century, a modern political machine that I’ve described elsewhere as an Information Age Tammany Hall, finally in total ideological and political control of our government, so utterly failed at the basics of governing in these past few years that it must cause a total reappraisal of the entire conservative experiment, and brought about an end to what we call the era of conservative ascendancy in American politics.

The progressive movement, on the other hand, is clearly going through a long-overdue modernizing phase and is poised for a period of possible ascendency.  We’ve seen the creation of vital new institutions and institutional capacities like America Votes, Blue Fund, Catalist, Center for American Progress, Change to Win, Copernicus, Democracy Alliance, Democracy Journal, Hispanic Strategy Center, Media Matters, Move On, New Politics Institute and many many blogs like Daily Kos and Talking Points Memo.  These groups joined venerable and still productive progressive institutions like DLC-PPI, Emily's List, NDN and the Sierra Club.  New elected leaders are are also emerging, with Cory Booker, Rahm Emanuel, Stephanie Herseth, Gavin Newsom, Barack Obama, Martin O’Malley, Deval Patrick, Kathleen Sebelius, Eliot Spitzer, Chris Van Hollen and Antonio Villaraigosa adding their modern voices to those of already established leaders like Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Bill Richardson. 

But above all else what is transforming the progressive movement is the return of average people to the core of our politics.  Millions of Americans, disappointed by their government, became politically active in progressive and Democratic politics these last few years.  Their hopes, their labor, their passion and their money fueled the defeat of the conservatives this year.  It is a defining attribute of our age that an array of new technological and media tools are allowing many more Americans to participate in our politics in a more meaningful way, and allowing organizations much greater ability to manage and harness this latent activism for their ends.   In the 21st century Americans will be much less “consumer” and “donor” and much more “participant” or “partner.”  Whether progressive leaders can effectively harness this passion and energy with all these new tools, and whether with the great motivator of the Bush presidency waning our enthusiastic progressive partners will continue to give so much of themselves to the country and our movement, is one of the great questions of the day.  On this matter I am optimistic, for too many people in recent years have directly experienced that their own civic participation - voting, volunteering, contributing, blogging - can change the course of history for them to just walk away from politics.

I also end the year angry and frustrated.  The Bush Administration’s recent clumsy, confused and increasingly pathetic efforts to find a new approach to the great calamity of Iraq serves as a stark reminder of how badly we’ve been governed in this decade, and how much weaker he and his team have left this country than they found it.  We leave the Bush era with very little progress having been made on the extraordinary set of governing challenges facing America at the dawn of the 21st century, and lots of new ones created by their historic mismanagement of our government.  To me, these challenges taken together are the greatest set of challenges America has faced since the waging of WWII and the reconstruction in its aftermath.  Think about what must get done – restoring broad-based prosperity in a more virulent age of globalization, finding a new foreign policy path after the neo-con disaster, tackling the structural budget imbalances left by years of out of control Republican spending and drastic revenue reductions, coming to terms with global climate change and the continued environmental degradation of our planet, completing the standing up of the Department of Homeland Security so it can begin to fulfill its critical mission, restoring the integrity of our political system after years of the most corrupt team to ever run our government, re-imagining our health care system, shoring up a broken pension system, better aligning our immigration system to the needs of our economy – the list goes on.  But any one of these items on the list are big things, and yet we have to do all of them, simultaneously, and do them now – all the while trying to restore the nobility of the American experiment.

I end the year feeling that by tossing the failed conservatives from power, our nation has taken a giant step forward to accepting and meeting the obligations and challenges we face as we head further into the 21st century.  It is only a single step among many that must be taken, and as proud as I am of the role I and the entire NDN family played in this important year, I sense that our most critical battles lie ahead, and that they will be much more difficult than what we have faced in the sad and disappointing Bush years.  But as we’ve heard others say, I say “bring it on.”  

The End of The Conservative Ascendancy

For the past several years, our members and friends have been helping lead a critical strategic conversation in the progressive movement on how to best respond to the remarkable success of the 20th century conservative movement.   We all know the story - the conservatives invested billions of dollars over more than a generation to build a very powerful and modern political movement, one which they used to seize more ideological and political control over Washington than in any time since the 1920s. 

In the fall of last year it was clear that the conservatives were writing a new and terrible chapter of their movement.   Through our analysis grouped in the "meeting the conservative challenge" portion of our site, NDN began laying out an argument that the extraordinary governing failures of the Bush era was calling into question the very nature of the conservative movement itself.  As we wrote in January of this year, in a memo called the "State of Conservative Governance, 2006,"

"Tonight the President reports to the nation on the State of the Union. We will hear soaring rhetoric, powerful words, a President resolute and determined. We will hear of victories, progress, and pride. He will tell a compelling story – and very little of it will be true.

The truly compelling story of this decade is one that Bush doesn’t want told – the rapid and dramatic failure of conservative government. Finally in a position of virtually unchecked power after decades in the political wilderness, modern conservatives have failed quickly and utterly at the most basic responsibilities of governing, leaving our nation weaker and our people less prosperous, less safe and less free.

Seduced by the temptations of power, these movement ideologues also quickly came to believe that the rules of our democracy did not apply to them. The result is one of the farthest-reaching episodes of corruption and criminal investigations into a governing party in our history.

To fully appreciate the State of the Union, we need a deep understanding of the conservative movement and its rise to power. Jumpstarted a little more than fifty years ago by William F. Buckley’s National Review, the conservatives began their long march to power by investing billions of dollars in a modern infrastructure to combat the entrenched position of progressives in government. They used this infrastructure – think tanks, for-profit media, superior and innovative forms of electioneering – to defeat an aging progressive movement, and now have more power than at any time since the 1920s.

In recent years America has learned what life is like under a true conservative government. With near absolute power, conservatives have pursued their agenda with little compromise or input from progressives. The latest chapter of the great conservative story – the Bush years – may have been one of political victories, but it has also been one of disastrous governance. The broad and deep failures of the Bush government should cause all Americans to reappraise the virtue of this grand conservative experiment, recognizing that even after 50 years and untold billions of dollars, they have yet to come up with a true alternative to 20th century progressive government -- which did so much good, for so long. "

Promoting this historical narrative about a needed reappraisal of "the grand conservative experiment" became one of NDN's top message priorities this year.  It is woven through my foreword to the critically acclaimed book, Crashing the Gate, it was at the very center of my June Annual Meeting speech, and is at the core of the narrative behind the work of our affiliate, the New Politics Institute.  We revsited the story in our quick post-election analysis, and in a memo released on the morning of Tuesday's election called "A Day of Reckoning for the Conservative Movement." In this new memo we wrote:

..."The question about conservatism has always been could it mature enough as a governing philosophy to replace 20th century progressivism, and provide America with a true alternative governing approach? I believe the Bush era has answered that question, and the answer is no.  Given the extraordinary failure of conservative government to do the very basics – keeping us safe, fostering broad-based prosperity, protecting our liberties, balancing the books and not breaking the law – I think history will label this 20th century conservatism a success as a critique of 20th century progressivism, but a failure as a governing philosophy.  It never matured into something more than an ivory-tower led and Limbaugh-fed correction to a progressivism that had lost its way.

Despite the many billions spent in building this modern conservative movement, history will label it a grand and remarkable failure.  And I think we will look back at 2006 as the year this most recent period of American history – the conservative ascendancy – ended..."

Reviewing the media from the past few days, it is clear this important narrative has woven itself into the emerging set of major narratives about 2006.  Matt Bai visits it in his new essay in the New York Times magazine; it was front-paged Wednesday on DailyKos; on Thursday a Wall Street Journal blog attacked it; it is at the core of the lead story in the New York Times Week in Review today; Jon Podesta offers his take on the narrative in his must read post-election memo; Jonathan Alter tackles it in his usually elegant fashion in Newsweek; and NPI fellow Joe Trippi, a major architect of this entire argument, makes the case in his very thoughtful essay in the Washington Post today. 

A lot changed this week in America.  One of the most important things that is in the process of changing is the understanding of the moment we are in in American history; and this new understanding, advanced to a great degree by NDN and our allies, should give all progressives optimism that this emerging new era in American history means better days are coming for our movement and the great nation we love. 

Simon Rosenberg's Foreword to Crashing the Gate

When Jerome and Markos asked me to write this foreword, I was both honored and surprised. While we had collaborated, supped, and fought together, we did not approach our political work from the same place. They opposed the Iraq War; I supported it. They were an important part of Howard Dean’s transformative campaign; I admired their work but did not support the governor’s presidential primary run. They are new to the political arena; I’ve been working in national politics and media for twenty years.

But after mulling it over I decided to write this foreword for three reasons.

First, Jerome and Markos share my sense of urgency about creating a new politics for progressives, one suited to the challenges and opportunities of our time. They know that the twentieth-century progressivism that dominated American politics was a tremendous success—it fostered a stable world and a prosperous America, while supporting the labor, civil rights, environmental, women’s rights, consumer, and other social change movements that made our great nation stronger and more just.

When last in control of the federal government, Democrats demonstrated the power of effective, progressive governance. Under President Bill Clinton’s administration, we saw the largest peacetime economic expansion in our nation’s history, producing 22 million new jobs, higher incomes for many Americans, a decline in poverty, and a radical shift in the national budget from historic deficits to unprecedented surpluses. We reformed welfare, embraced the digital revolution and globalization, invested in public schools, expanded health-care coverage to millions more children, and fought for universal, high-quality, affordable health care for every American. Thanks to a tough but compassionate American foreign policy, the world remained at peace, as we worked with our allies to unite people and nations around common challenges. It is a record to be proud of.

But this politics of progress is no longer dominant, having been challenged by an ascendant Republican Party and conservative movement. Democrats controlled much of the federal government for most of the last seventy years of the twentieth century. In recent years, fueled by billions of dollars of investment in a very modern political machine, these Republicans and movement conservatives have seized Washington and displaced the Democrats, and they now have more control than at any time since the 1920s.

Driving the sense of urgency that many feel, is what has happened to America since President Bush and these new conservatives came to power. Guided by an ideological approach to governing developed in a long political exile, modern conservatives are long on sales and marketing and short on effective governance.

At home, they’ve turned record budget surpluses into staggering deficits. The average family has seen its wages decline while shouldering a greater share of the overall tax burden. Personal bankruptcies, health care costs, college tuition, energy bills and the number of uninsured and poor Americans all continue to rise. The president has shorted his signature education reform effort by over $30 billion, leaving millions of children behind. Under this regime, capital and corporations have prospered, but the American people and their government have not.

Meanwhile, these new conservatives ignored warnings about the growing power of Al-Qaeda, leaving America vulnerable to attack. The new Department of Homeland Security has received failing grades, Hurricane Katrina demonstrated the degree to which we are ill-prepared for national emergencies, and Osama bin Laden roams free. They launched a war on Iraq based on lies and were terribly unprepared to finish the job they started. They have unnecessarily cost Americans our prestige around the world, billions of taxpayer dollars, and thousands of lives. The president’s go-it-alone foreign policy has weakened international institutions critical to tackling common global challenges. In this new era America has become less safe.

Of all the ways modern conservatives have let America down, there is perhaps no greater example or more profound moral failure than the manner in which they have so quickly become corrupted by the power they had sought for so long and have had so briefly. As of this writing, the Department of Justice is conducting criminal investigations deep into the Bush administration, the Senate, the House, and the conservative leadership, uncovering breathtaking abuses of power, illegal activity, and corruption.

All of this has weakened our great country, leaving our people less prosperous, less safe, and less free and our government mired in one of the most extraordinary sets of scandals in American history.

Jerome and Markos understand that as proud and patriotic Americans it is their duty to challenge progressives to reject this unacceptable new conservative era. They have, through their blogs, become important leaders in helping America find a new and better path.

My second reason is that Jerome and Markos have been pioneers in helping progressives master new technologies and new media. As they write so effectively, the twentieth-century ways in which we communicated with one another were largely broadcast—centralized television and radio stations beaming out messages to vast audiences. The communications media of this new century are something else entirely—more iterative, more participatory, more transparent, more personal, more honest, more one-to-one, more global, and more democratic. In this technology-driven era, people are less passive consumers and more active participants.

Blogs like MyDD and Daily Kos have helped create and fuel this new politics. Led by regular people, not political insiders, the blogosphere has brought the great debate that is our democracy to millions of citizens hungry for a more meaningful way to participate in our politics. Unprecedented numbers of Americans now plug into a conversation, a community, 24/7/365, from wherever they are—from their offices, their homes, their local libraries. Extrapolating from a report the New Politics Institute released in the summer of 2005, the progressive blogosphere is now reaching more Americans than such progressive stalwarts as the DNC, MoveOn, Air America and the Sierra Club. Daily Kos itself has more readers than the four big left-of-center newsmagazines—The American Prospect, The Nation, The New Republic and the Washington Monthly—combined.

We saw the impact of this new era in the last presidential election cycle. Record numbers of people participated in the political debate, volunteered, contributed money, and voted. As the party of the people, Democrats should understand and embrace the new technologies and media that allow millions of regular people to join our fight.

As with most things connected to the internet and new media, however, this new politics is disruptive, upsetting old arrangements and displacing people invested in the old ways. It is literally “crashing the gate” of the old system, as Jerome and Markos say. And to that I say, “Amen.” For progressives, our essential mission these days is to honor and learn from our proud past, and set about the business of forging a twenty-first-century movement suited to the new challenges and realities. The blogosphere is an essential part of this effort, as it has brought people, passion, innovation, experimentation, and debate back into our politics—necessary ingredients all, if we are to triumph in the years ahead.

My third reason is that I have come to like and admire Jerome and Markos. As concerned Americans, they jumped off the sidelines and plunged into the political arena. They bared their souls, took their lumps, and made their case. They have repeatedly shown courage and grit. We disagree on some important issues, but I recognize leadership when I see it, and these two guys have been vital, important leaders for progressives in a very dark and difficult period for our politics.

At a critical point in my own life I made a similar leap. I was in college during Ronald Reagan’s first term in the White House, and saw the way the conservatives were effectively challenging our approach. I learned a lot about the American people and Democratic politics traveling the country for Michael Dukakis’s presidential campaign in 1988, and spent five years writing and producing television news shows and documentaries in New York. But in late 1991, some friends introduced me to Bill Clinton, then a young, dynamic governor from Arkansas, and my life changed for good. I joined that inspiring campaign and became a part of a modernizing movement—the New Democrats—which helped us win two consecutive presidential elections for the first time in thirty years, and which produced a government that left America better and stronger than before.

My work, since I joined politics full-time in 1992, has been to modernize progressive politics, helping our proud movement adapt to new and changing circumstances. That quest led me to build the organization I run today, NDN, and its think tank, the New Politics Institute. And all these years of success and failure, trial and error, have made me conclude that if we really want to build a modern movement, then progressives of all stripes and flavors, and from all regions of the country, must learn to work together, to tolerate and respect our differences, to debate but not to fight, to understand that we are all playing different positions on the same team.

So in that spirit, I am excited and proud to stand with Jerome and Markos as they offer a provocative early draft of the new history of progressive politics, and I look forward to working with them for many years in our vital efforts to restore the promise of our great nation.

California "Always" Liberal? Ross Douthat Must Be Dreaming

In yesterday's New York Times, conservative columnist Ross Douthat accuses President Obama of "pushing a blue-state agenda during a recession that’s exposed some of the blue-state model’s weaknesses, and some of the red-state model’s strengths."

Asking readers to consider California, which he places against the stellar conservative governance of Texas, Douthat notes:

California, always liberalism's favorite laboratory, was passing global-warming legislation, pouring billions into stem-cell research, and seemed to be negotiating its way toward universal health care.

(his link points to a Time article about Arnold Schwarzenegger's work in this area, who, last I checked, has an R and a 28 percent in state approval rating next to his name)

While California is undoubtedly a national leader in trends of all stripes, understanding the legacy of California governance as being "liberalism's favorite laboratory," couldn't be more wrong. The reasons for California's epic struggles lie, not in the "always liberalism" that Douthat sees, but instead in the Ronald Reagan conservative tax revolt coming home to roost.

In contrast to, say, California's efforts on energy policy, which research shows have created prosperity in the state over the last generation, the tax revolt defining Proposition 13 destroyed a top notch public schools system and, more recently, rendered the state bankrupt. The 1978 ballot initiative, which capped property taxes and mandated a 2/3 rule for the state legislature to pass a budget, has created a structural shortfall in the state budget and a political inability for legislators to craft a solution -- but Douthat doesn't see fit to mention it.

Conservatives love to argue that California has incredibly high tax rates, and, in the case of some specific taxes, that's true. But that's only because Proposition 13 so drastically lowered property taxes as to necessitate raising taxes to compensate for lost revenue. As Ezra Klein, in discussing Robert Samuelson's op-ed on California (which, like Douthat's piece, conspicuously fails to mention Prop 13), notes this morning:

Total state and local taxes take up 11.73 percent of the average Californian's income. The national average is 11.23 percent. And it's been like that for many years:


Far from being "always" liberal, California's electoral votes were supposed to be safe for Reagan's Republicans, giving them a generational lock on the White House. Here again, California was ahead of the nation, this time in discovering that conservatives couldn't govern and is now as deep blue as the Pacific Ocean.

Now that the nation has learned its lesson from eight years of red-state governance under Douthat's vaunted Texas leadership, America followed California, this time for the better, in overwhelmingly rejecting failed conservative governance. Blue-staters (a lot of folks these days) have only had six months on the job after eight years of botched "red-state" governance. It will be a lot longer than that if conservatives like Douthat can't even figure out where they went wrong; Proposition 13 was certainly one of the first places.

Update: Ezra Klein just blogged on Douthat's column as well. He does a nice job taking down the argument that Texas is a good model for anything and the broader red-blue frame that Douthat tries to use.

TODAY: Simon Rosenberg Presents The New Dawn

Please join us Thursday, August 27, at 12:15pm for a presentation of "Dawn of a New Politics" by Simon Rosenberg.

This engaging presentation makes a big argument on how politics is changing in America today, and offers ideas and strategies for how progressives can replicate our 20th century success in this new and dynamic century.

Simon has delivered his presentation "Dawn of a New Politics" all across the country over the past several years: At the DNC in Denver, twice for the House Democratic Caucus, on the Google campus, and recently before members and staff of the DSCC and DAGA, among many other gatherings.

We cordially invite you to join us-- either here in our event space, or via Web cast-- to watch and engage with this revamped presentation.

If you plan to have lunch and watch the presentation at NDN, please RSVP.

If you can't have lunch at NDN, have lunch with NDN by watching live online here.


729 15th St., NW
Washington , DC 20005
United States

Simon Rosenberg Presents: The New Dawn

Please join us Thursday, July 23, at 12:15pm for a presentation of "Dawn of a New Politics" by Simon Rosenberg.

This engaging presentation makes a big argument on how politics is changing in America today, and offers ideas and strategies for how progressives can replicate our 20th century success in this new and dynamic century.

Simon has delivered his presentation "Dawn of a New Politics" all across the country over the past several years: At the DNC in Denver, twice for the House Democratic Caucus, on the Google campus, and recently before members and staff of the DSCC and DAGA, among many other gatherings.

We cordially invite you to join us-- either here in our event space, or via Web cast-- to watch and engage with this revamped presentation.

If you plan on coming to the presentation, please RSVP.

Follow this link to watch the Web cast.


729 15th St., NW
Washington , DC 20005
United States

Independent Means Nonpartisan: Just Another Washington Myth

In Washington perception is often reality and, based on the reported results of two new surveys, one by the New York Times and CBS and the other by the Wall Street Journal and NBC, the perception du jour in DC is that President Barack Obama has lost ground because of public concern with government spending, the deficit, and, perhaps most of all, the General Motors "bailout." The New York Times story on its survey is even headlined, "In poll, Obama is seen as ineffective on the economy.

But a look beneath the headlines to the survey data itself indicates that New York Times writers, or at least their headline writer, may have misread their own poll results. Instead of condemning of the president's handling of the economy, in the New York Times/CBS survey, the public actually approves of it by a greater than twenty-percentage point margin (57% vs. 35%), statistically unchanged since the first weeks of the administration. In the aftermath of the president's recent trip to the Middle East and Europe, his marks in foreign policy have actually risen since May.  And, even in health care reform, a work in progress and a relative soft spot for Obama, voters approve of his performance by 44-percent to 34-percent.

As a result, Obama's overall job approval rating is unchanged over the past month, down slightly since April, and even up marginally since February and March. To the extent that the president's performance rating has fallen, the drop has been almost totally concentrated among Republicans.

What may contribute to the expectation that Obama is standing on shaky ground, or soon will be, is another incorrect inside-the-beltway perception, this one primarily advanced by Republican commentators since the president's election, that America is "conservative," "center right" or at least "centrist." More often than not these pronouncements stem from narrowly focused interpretations of surveys suggesting that the number of "independents" in the electorate is growing and that self-perceived independents represent some amorphous, undifferentiated group of "centrists" who are decisive in U.S. politics.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The large majority (about 80%) of those who tell pollsters they are independents actually "lean" to one or the other of the two parties. Those who lean to the Democrats differ demographically and, even more importantly, behaviorally and attitudinally from those who lean to the GOP. As a result, the electorate is far more partisan than superficial analyses of survey results might suggest. Currently, the Democrats hold a substantial and growing edge over the Republicans among independents who lean toward a party. About six in ten "leaners" now tilt to the Democrats. Coupled with their large lead among those who do identify with a party, the Democrats are clearly operating as the country's decisive majority party.

John P. Avlon, who served on the policy and speech writing teams of Rudy Giuliani's abbreviated 2008 presidential campaign, is only the most recent of those professing the importance of centrist independents. Citing Pew Research Center data, Avlon claimed in an early June Wall Street Journal article that the number of self-identified independents in the electorate has risen sharply since Obama's win last November while the percentage of both Democrats and Republicans has fallen. Because of these post-election shifts, according to Avlon, "independents hold the balance of power in the Obama era."

On the surface, Avlon's description of the Pew data may be accurate. But his characterization of party identification data is shallow and incomplete. Avlon, like most of those who write about the distribution of party identifiers within the US electorate, refers to only three discrete and presumably undifferentiated categories of voters--Republicans, Democrats, and independents.

However, voting behavior analysts affiliated with the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, who first formulated the concept of party identification in the 1950s, recognized early on that those who identify with a particular political party do so with varying degrees of strength, while those who say they are independents may lean toward one or the other of the parties. As a result, the Michigan researchers developed a seven-point scale to more fully capture the actual complexity of party identification. This scale consists of Strong Democrats on one extreme and Strong Republicans on the other. In between the two extremes are Weak Democrats, Independents who lean to the Democrats, Independents who lean to the Republicans and Weak Republicans. In the very center of the scale are Independents who do not lean to either party.

All of this might only be of academic interest were it not for the crucial importance of party identification. Party identification represents a psychological attachment of voters to a political party. While it certainly is not a contractual obligation to support a party, the large majority of Americans vote for the party with which they identify or to which they lean--and they almost always adhere to its positions on issues as well . Political scientists have repeatedly demonstrated that party identification is the single most important factor shaping the choices of individual voters. In the aggregate, these numbers really do matter.  The distribution of party identifiers and leaners is the clearest indicator of the relative strength of the two parties within the U.S. electorate and has now tilted heavily toward the Democrats.

Utilizing the more complete and useful seven-point scale rather than a three-point division paints a far different picture of American voters than the one that Avlon and most of those who report on trends in party identification paint. Based on April 2009 data that is the most recent cited by Pew, here is the overall distribution of party identifiers in the U.S.:

Strong Democrats


Weak Democrats


Democratic Leaning Independents


Non-Leaning Independents


Republican Leaning Independents


Weak Republicans


Strong Republicans


* Table does not total 100% due to rounding

This table makes several points very clear. First, the Democrats are clearly the majority party holding a decisive twenty-percentage point party ID lead over the Republicans (54% to 34%). Second, barely one in ten voters is a non-leaning independent; rather than being the decisive center, non-committed voters actually comprise a small minority of the electorate.

The following table, also using Pew tracking data, displays the distribution of party identification for all election years from 1990 through 2006 and for every year since then. 


Republican/Lean Republican


Democrat/Lean Democrat

Overall Democratic Advantage





























































These results lead to a number of clear and important conclusions about the distribution of party identification across the American electorate during the past two decades.

  • The Democrats have generally held the edge throughout the entire period. But, that advantage was relatively small during the 1990s and the first three election years of this century. The Democratic margin widened a bit in the two years when Bill Clinton won the presidency (1992 and 1996) and 1998, when some voters may have turned against the GOP in reaction to a politically motivated impeachment effort. By contrast, the Republicans reached parity with the Democrats in 1994, the year of the Gingrich revolution that saw the GOP gain control of Congress, and 2002, when the nation rallied to a Republican president in the aftermath of 9/11.
  • The Democratic advantage has sharply and consistently widened since the 2006 midterm elections when that party regained control of Congress. A number of factors--the disastrous George W. Bush presidency, an increasingly diverse electorate, the emergence of the Millennial Generation (young Americans born 1982-2003), the election and continued appeal of Barack Obama--have all undoubtedly contributed to the Democrats' increased party identification lead. Regardless of the relative importance of these and other factors, a greater percentage of American voters now identifies as Democrats or leans Democratic than at any time since Lyndon Johnson's landslide 1964 victory over Barry Goldwater. The Democratic margin over the GOP is larger than at any time since the post-Watergate period of the mid-1970s.
  • The number of completely non-affiliated voters has slightly, but consistently, declined each year since 2006. Rather than becoming more crucial, as writers such as Avlon suggest, unattached independents have actually become less important during past several years.

All of this leaves President Obama and congressional Democrats in strong position as they prepare for the major battles ahead on health care reform and energy--if they have the courage to avoid giving in to incorrect Washington perceptions and, instead, take advantage of the rare opportunity that the American electorate has given them.

The Rise of the European Right

The results of last week’s European election, when combined with the ongoing slide of Gordon Brown’s Labour government, add up to odd to a puzzle. In America this feels like a progressive moment, as Simon outlined in his new presentation. Just as the injuries of industrialisation boosted social reform in the early part of the 20th century, so two decades of over-confidence in the power of markets in the era of globalisation seemed decisively rejected by the 2008 election, and the economic crisis which followed. With the Republicans in a mess, and Obama boldly making the case for universal health care yesterday, the progressive post-crisis bounce seems almost natural. But in Europe—where the recession is, if anything, worse than in America—the right are doing just fine.

Judging by results it would really be fairer to say the right was booming. Silvio Berlusconi won handily in Italy, despite his marital problems. Incumbent conservative government’s in France and Germany more than held their own. While the mainstream centre-left parties tanked in third place or worse, the extreme right made gains too, from the neo-fascist British National Party to the Dutch Party of Freedom. And no one seems to better encompass all this than Britain’s battered Brown, leading a once impregnable Labour party into poll ratings in the teens. Just as capitalism is questioned more deeply than at any time in a generation, Britain will almost certainly elect a conservative Government next year.

So what’s going on? If, as Simon wrote this morning we’re in a hole dug “by years of reckless, ideological and impractical conservative government”, why vote them back in? This week Paul Krugman dubbed Brown Gordon the Unlucky: it was just his bad fortune to be caught standing when the financial music stopped. Just as Bush is blamed in America, so progressives are in Britain. But that doesn’t explain why Brown has suffered while incumbent European conservatives prosper. One might, instead, make the case that 90s-style centre-leftism of the Clinton / Blair mould was too enamoured of the failed market system to deserve credit now. Certainly this was anti-Clintonite case underlay much of the crowing this week over the defeat of Terry Mcaullife in Virginia.

But better, I think, to focus on three points. First, European voters are angry, confused about the cause of their current predicament, and unwilling to believe that the traditional remedies of the left will fix it. Second, they haven’t made much connection between the crisis, the ideology that caused it, and the parties which most closely reflect that ideology in government. For this one should blame the parties of the centre-left themselves, for failing to make the case clearly. Third, in tough time, outsiders are feared: Europe just voted for a range of parties whose central policy is protecting insiders against immigrants.

It’s a combustible mix, with warnings for America. Economic recovery has pushed other priorities down the list, but these European elections certainly warn of the dangers of letting immigration worries fester. The dismal Bush inheritance, meanwhile, has allowed Obama to make a clear link between the recession and his predecessor. But it’s not a memory that will hold forever. European voters, normally more left wing than in the US, didn’t seem inclined to give any post-crisis electoral gift to tired progressives. Nor might American voters in 2010, or 2012. In this, Krugman was right. Obama was partly lucky to pick up the batton at the right time. The lesson of last week is he’ll have to fight doggedly to keep it.

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