Simon Rosenberg's Foreword to Crashing the Gate

Publish Date: 
Tuesday, March 7, 2006

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.