New Progressive Politics

Simon Rosenberg on Al Gore in the Financial Times

Simon was quoted in today's Financial Times article "Oscars Add Lustre to the Idea of a Gore Candidacy:"

“If you go to the west coast the big issue is not Iraq – as it is in Washington – but global warming,” said Simon Rosenberg, the head of the New Democratic Network, in Washington. “The Oscar ­ceremonies offered the spectacle of an exuberant repudiation of the Bush years. It is hard to think of a better platform for Mr Gore’s public profile.”

The challenge of our times

I sent this out to our members today.  Thoughts, as always, are welcome.

The challenge of our times

When I look back at what progressivism accomplished in the 20th century, I feel a tremendous sense of pride. 

Consider what our movement and its leaders accomplished.  Abroad, we defeated fascism, were instrumental in the triumph over communist totalitarianism, and constructed an international system based on FDR’s vision of a United Nations, bringing unprecedented liberty and prosperity to the people of the world.  At home, we rescued America from its greatest economic crisis, the depression, created Social Security and Medicare, and spearheaded the civil rights, consumer, labor, women’s and environmental movements that have helped make America not just great, but good.  And when last in power, progressives oversaw the greatest economic expansion in our history.

Our challenge today, as the heirs to that inspiring legacy, is to build a 21st Century progressivism as great, and as good, as the progressivism of the century just passed.  At NDN, we believe that to replicate this 20th century success in our new century, our movement and its leaders must understand and master the three transformations that are creating an emergent, “new politics” of the 21st century.  To succeed today we must:

  1. Offer a governing agenda that tackles the challenges of our time. 

  2. Excel at using the new media and technology tools that are changing the way the people of the world communicate with one another. 

  3. Speak to, and engage, the new and more complex American population, so different today than when the last durable majority coalition was built 70 years ago. 

Helping progressives forge this new agenda, master these new communications tools and speak to the new people of America is what NDN and its network across the country is all about.  Together, we are imagining and building a 21st century progressivism, a progressivism that can be as visionary, strong and successful as the movement that did so much for so many in the 20th century. 

In the coming weeks I will be laying out, in detail, the specifics of what NDN is doing to help progressives build this modern movement.  I hope you will find our vision, our strategy, our team, and our network compelling, and that you will once again join us in our important work.  I know of no more important work we could be doing, and no group of people better equipped to get it done. 

Thank you.

A big, big night for Al Gore

Man, could have Gore had a better night last night? What a remarkable achievement.  I'm still a little overwhelmed by what happened.  But a big, big congratulations to him and the whole Inconvenient Truth team.  For those of us in the advocacy business full time they have given us an awful lot to think about, be inspired by and to learn from. 

I was quoted in a story in Sunday's Washington Post about our former Vice President.  You can find it here.

Thoughts about Al this morning?

Simon in Ellen Goodman's Piece "The Perils of Cyberbaggage"

From nationally syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman:

The Perils of Cyberbaggage
Posted on Feb 21, 2007
By Ellen Goodman

BOSTON—I suppose you could describe these two women as cybertrailblazers. But their cybertrails, alas, followed them from a checkered past, not to the glorious future. And the blaze they created was a bit more like a flameout.

Bloggers Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan came in from the heady environment of the blogosphere to the more staid climate of presidential politics, to work for John Edwards.

The political cyberspace where they were known as Pandagon and Shakespeare’s Sister is usually described with euphemisms such as raucous and freewheeling. On that terrain, no weasel wordsmiths need apply. You win attention with controversy and get hits with an over-the-top persona and a vivid vocabulary. A campaign, on the other hand, no matter how much it wants netroots, is, well, controversy-averse.

Marcotte’s blog style was described by Time magazine as “issues-based but not above snark and a healthy dose of profanity.” McEwan describes herself as a “firebrand” opponent of theocracy: “I am, however, vulgar. And I am trash-talking.”

I doubt these descriptions were in their job interviews with the Edwards campaign, but it didn’t take long for a conservative watchdog to glean through the 24/7 postings of the two bloggers and come up with the sort of sound bites that leave teeth marks on a campaign. There was McEwan’s description of Bush’s “wingnut Christofascist base.” There was Marcotte’s slam on the Catholic prohibition on birth control as a way to force women to “bear more tithing Catholics.” Within days, the two women resigned from the campaign and returned to the briar patch of their blogs.

This may be the first certifiable staff flameout of the 2008 campaign. But it’s also about a clash between two cultures and two languages.

We are living now in both the blogosphere and the mainstream. One is ironic and edgy, challenging and partisan. The other is cautious and modulated. Marcotte’s and McEwan’s fate raises the question about whether it’s possible to move from the world of AnkleBitingPundits to presidential politics without every word sticking to your shoe.

We already know that in the digital world, the past is never past. As Simon Rosenberg of NDN, a progressive advocacy group bridging these two worlds, says, “All of us are going to be living every moment of our past lives. People are living with things they did and said in their youths in a way they never did before.”

President Bush once famously said, “When I was young, I did a lot of foolish things.” Bill Clinton said he smoked marijuana but didn’t inhale. Barack Obama admitted doing “a little blow.” But we didn’t have postings of the partying George, the smoking Bill or the snorting Barack.

These days politicians are one “macaca” away from videotaped disaster. If you don’t believe it, see Rudy Giuliani as a drag queen flirting with Donald Trump on YouTube.

Meanwhile, the cybertrail doesn’t just track bloggers. Five million college students use Facebook. When Bob Corker was running for the Senate, voters in Tennessee were treated to his daughter kissing a girl on Facebook. California Rep. Brian Bilbray’s underage daughter Briana posted a picture of herself on MySpace with a cooler of Miller High Life.

Postings come down but never really disappear. They sit, like land mines, in the digital archives.

Last year, a college administrator in Boston sent out a campuswide warning: “Digital Dirt May Hurt.” But how many students working on their grade point average think that an employer may also be checking their booty calls and keg parties? Will recruiters get the joke when they see Bill Frist’s son Jonathan in Facebook claiming membership in a group where there were “No Jews Allowed. Just Kidding. No seriously’’?

“The culture is going to be confronting this,” says Rosenberg. “Can you have youthful indiscretions? Can you evolve, grow up? In recent years the culture has been more forgiving of youthful indiscretions. Will it continue?’’ Which culture will decide?

I have no fear for Shakespeare’s Sister or Pandagon, who are both up and writing with great energy. But as Marcotte has written, “even the more even-keeled bloggers are likely to have something in their archives that could be taken out of context and bandied about on the cable news networks.” It will be a loss if only the most buttoned-up bloggers can make the transition from uncompromising critic to campaign staff or even candidate.

As for young people who are increasingly on the Internet side of this cultural divide? Parents, it’s 11 p.m. Do you know where on the Internet your children are—and what they are doing to mess up their résumé? Follow the cybertrail.

Fighting Misinformation in this Out-of-Control World

One of the beauties, and the dangers, of the new wide open world of the people-powered, bottom-up internet is that it’s out of anybody’s control. Politics,  which has long been about control from the center, has to radically adapt to this new reality.

There’s a whole argument that this trend ultimately benefits progressives, since conservatives have long prided themselves on their highly organized, highly controlled, highly packaged political campaigns that won’t work anymore. Progressives, on the other hand, are much more used to the art of herding cats.

Anyway, there is a bottom-up tool that helps combat the persistent false rumors and misinformation that so easily arise on the internet. It’s, which does about as good a job as can be done in chasing down urban legends and other wild viral  email chains.

Someone recently pointed out the page that has to do with misinformation about the political issue of Immigration. It’s worth checking it out as an example of where to look the next time some progressive is  swift-boated.

Peter Leyden   

The repudiation of the Bush Era, continued

There is a central dynamic in American politics today, one that is driving everything else - the enthusiastic repudiation of Bush era ideology and politics by leaders of both parties.   It is my belief that the failings of the Bush era, historic by any standard, will haunt by conservatism and the Republican Party for many years to come.  And as we head into 2008, it will be very difficult for the Republican Presidentials to distance themselves from this disapointing era, particularly the man who has been their primary enabled, John McCain.

To see how hard this is going to be for McCain, check out this tortured excerpt from an AP piece, via CNN:

BLUFFTON, South Carolina (AP) -- Republican presidential candidate John McCain said Monday the war in Iraq has been mismanaged for years and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will be remembered as one of the worst in history.

"We are paying a very heavy price for the mismanagement -- that's the kindest word I can give you -- of Donald Rumsfeld, of this war," the Arizona senator said.

"The price is very, very heavy and I regret it enormously." McCain told an overflow crowd of more than 800 at a retirement community near Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.

McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, complained that Rumsfeld never put enough troops on the ground to succeed in Iraq.

"I think that Donald Rumsfeld will go down in history as one of the worst secretaries of defense in history," McCain said to applause.

The comments were in sharp contrast to McCain's statement when Rumsfeld resigned in November, and failed to address the reality that President Bush is the commander in chief.

"While Secretary Rumsfeld and I have had our differences, he deserves Americans' respect and gratitude for his many years of public service," McCain said last year when Rumsfeld stepped down.

My guess is that by the end of this year the Republican Presidential Primary will be a race to distance one self from Bush himself, and not just his politics.  Of course this won't be pretty or easy, and makes the GOP path to the White House in 2008 a hard one.

Oh, about those Sunni extremists....

In recent days the Administration has brought to our attention how Iranian operatives, the Quds Force, are aiding Shiite militias in Iraq.  You can see Tim Russert question Tony Snow about this here

But what about Pakistan? Their intelligence services have long aided the Taliban, and appear to be doing so again.  The Times has a major story today about how Bin Laden and Al Qaeda are regrouping, and regaining some of their former operational strength from a new base camp in Pakistan.  Another story details how a recent bombing in Iran was likely to have come from operatives based in Pakistan.   As I wrote yesterday, there have been many stories in recent months about Sunni insurgents inside Iraq, some allied with Al Qaeda and some not, have been receiving financial support from Sunnis in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East.  These insurgents, of course, have killed many more people in Iraq than the Shiite militias, and are considered far more dangerous. 

Why is all this activity by Sunni extremists equally troubling to our government as what is happening with the Quds Force? In our current desire to isolate Shiite Iran, are we looking the other way on the growing strength of radical Sunni elements in the Middle East? Are we shooting for some kind of balance, believing the Shiites have a grown a little too powerful, so we need to let the Sunnis regroup? But aren't these radicals the same ones who attacked us on 9/11, are the ones who we are surging to subdue, and whose growing power requires more troops in Afghanistan?  

As those in Congress, of both parties, who have been bravely fighting the President these last few weeks look to their next act, my hope is that their goal is to create a new strategy for the Middle East that makes sense of all this.  While focusing on troop levels is important, our goal should be to force a big conversation about a new strategy, one that now must deal with this very new dynamic unleashed by our actions, the growing regional struggle for power between the Sunnis and Shiites.  Redeploying the troops is a tactic - but what is the strategy?

Repudiating the Bush Era

US politics 2007 is being driven by one central force - the ongoing and deepening repudiation of the Bush Era, its politics and ideology.  It is as if we have to struggle, each day, to toss off the language, the arguments, the reality of this disapointing era, as Bush and his team desperately try to stop the ongoing assault on their governing construct and world view. 

Look at what has happened in recent weeks, and how the media is handling it all.  A majority of Congress, including prominent Republicans, rebuke the President on Iraq.  The Post frontpages a story about how our vets aren't getting the medical treatment they deserve.  The Times runs yet another story about how Iran isn't going away, and that any plan that we may have for the future of the Middle East must involve them. The Administration cuts a deal with another one of his Axes of Evil, North Korea, and then is pummled by the right, particularly by their own former UN Ambassador.  Today Russert destroyed Tony Snow on the inept stage management of the this week's version of its "Iran is the enemy" campaign, and on the same show, Senator Hagel, a likely Republican Presidential candidate, suggests all this Iran talk is a diversion to keep people's attention from the troubles in Iraq and the Iraq votes this week.  Libby's defense is that Bush and his team scapegoated him to save Rove.  A recent NIE rejected the Administration's assertion that Iran was driving the violence in Iraq, and a Pentagon Inspector General report concluded that Doug Feith, a leader of the neocon faction inside the Administration, created an alternative intelligence process in the runup to the Iraq War that systemically, well, how should we say? Lied.....

It is remarkable how far they've fallen. They have become literally un-believable.  In his interview on Russert this morning, Tony Snow kept saying things that didn't make any sense.  So why is Iran different from North Korea? Or from Russia during the Cold War? We can talk to them but not to Iran.  No real answer for that one.  He refered to our need to take on the enemy in Iraq.  But who exactly is this enemy Tony, and who exactly are our troops fighting there? And Tony why do we scream bloody murder about possible aid by Iran of the more radical Shiite elements in Iraq, but say nothing when our Sunni "allies" in the region help fund groups who are killing many more people, and more Americans, than the Shiites groups are? And why do we stay silent when a regional Sunni television station, currently aided by the Egyptian government, broadcasts segments glorifying the killing of Shiites and Americans? Or stay silent when the Pakistani Intelligence Services, who like the increasingly famous Iranian Quds force, are an integral part of their government, aids the Taliban, the group that housed and aided the 9/11 terrorists? 

Essentially their answer to everything now is that we have to win the war, pulling the troops out will lead to regional chaos and that we need to support the troops.  The ground they have to work from has gotten so small.  But even this one core argument isn't what it was, and has lost a great deal of its potency.  In listening to Snow this morning describe what would happen if we pulled out the troops - Al Qaeda growing in strength, regional actors moving into a failed state, extremists empowered - it sounded as if he was describing Iraq today, as it already is.  And the stories in recent days about the lack of adequate care for troops returning home, rotations being shortened, shortages of critical body and vehicular armor on the ground in Iraq, Generals warning that the Army is on the verge of breaking - and then, even the Administration's claim that they are supporting the troops begins to falls apart.  Once that happens they will have no ground left to stand on. 

It is now clear that the Administration is also in the proces of losing the battle for ideological control of the country.  Their arguments, words, frames, constructs, no longer make sense.  What happened in Congress on Friday and Saturday was just another manifestation of the main dynamic driving American politics today, the repudiation of Bush era politics and governing philosophy.  We are moving on to a new era, slowly, more slowly than is good for the country, but we are moving on.  

A final hearty congratulations to the Congressional leaders of both parties who are doing the hard work of making Bush and his allies history.  This is tough stuff, and as I sit here tonight I admit I am a little amazed at what Senator Reid and Speaker Pelosi pulled off this week.  It was no easy thing, but it also showed that there are many tough but important battles ahead.

The reinvention of politics, 2007 edition

A flurry of stories this morning about how the big changes in media and technology are once again transforming politics.  EJ Dionne writes his Friday column on Obama, Clinton and the internet; the Post reports this morning on the exlosion of Obama on Facebook, and the arrival of social networking sites as a major new organizing tool; and a new national syndicated Media General story on the "MySpace Primary."  In here you will insights from NDN, and one our NPI fellows, Joe Trippi. 

To stay on top of the latest about the emergence of a new politics, follow this blog and visit our NPI site at

I've been thinking a lot these last few days about the speed in which these tools are being deployed this cycle.  It has begun to remind me a little of 2003, when the hyper competition and money of a Presidential primary campaign caused incredible experimentation with the new set of tools available in 2003.   Led by Joe Trippi, the Dean campaign became the leader in imagining and implementing a new model.  It is clear that this same competition, the same passionate interest by average people, the same money is now going to produce an explosion of experimentation and a very fast reinvention of our politics around a new set of tools available in 2007.  There is no way to know what all this bring, and what our politics will look like next year.  But we do know that the able deployment of all these tools is now an essential ingredient for success in the early politics of the 21st century.  There is no going back. 

For fun, I republish an essay I wrote in late 2003, when all of us were marvelling about the reinvention of our politics, 2003 style:

Some Thoughts on the Internet, Politics & Participation

Posted by Simon on in December 2003

First, thanks to all who’ve been posting on the blog. We are enjoying the passion and intensity of the back and forth and want to encourage all to keep it up. The issues being discussed are essential and worthy of a spirited debate. Over time we will attempt to respond to questions being raised in a thoughtful, honest way.

You can also look back through the blog to find postings on issues that will give you a better sense our positive vision for the country. Few organizations on the Democratic side have worked harder this year – or spent more money – advocating for a better agenda for America.

Third, recently on the blog there has been an interesting discussion of the role of the Internet in politics. Several posts referred to the Internet as simply a new tool to distribute a message.

I don't agree.

Howard Dean's campaign is using the Internet – as well as non-net-tools – to organize his campaign in a fundamentally new way. Having worked on two successful presidential primary campaigns from the earliest days – Dukakis and Clinton – I can tell you that the Dean campaign is a fundamentally different animal than anything has come before. I believe the reason he has surged from nothing to frontrunner is his campaign’s innovative creation of a new and better model for how one builds a modern political campaign. It is interactive, participatory, respectful of its audience and thoroughly modern.

In the broadcast era of politics, which lasted from 1960 to 2002, a candidate had a "message" which was then broadcast out through TV, radio, print, mail, etc. to passive political couch potatoes. Crafting a message in this system was paramount for without it, there was nothing to sell to folks.

In the new model candidates can have direct one-to-one iterative relationships with their supporters. The idea of a "message" in this model becomes something much different. For what citizens now expect is not to be fed something fully developed - a message - but they expect to be able to participate in the development of the value system and community of the campaign itself.

Think of the difference between your experience watching TV and being online. With TV you sit. With the Internet you engage. One is passive, the other active. If you believe all this, it helps explain why Dean is succeeding this time. It wasn't just the boost he got from being anti-war. It is that he is clearly a work in progress, not fully formed as a candidate, and there is a sense that by engaging with him over your computer from wherever you sit that you are engaged in building a value system, a candidate and a community. Simply, with Dean, there is something for everyone to do. You can be part of building something, not just consuming it.

What has changed now is the expectation of the voter/activist/consumer. They will come to expect greater intimacy, greater engagement, greater choice, and greater community in their politics. The medium is the message now, and the message is participation. Those who do not understand this new moment and will be left behind the gazelles using the new model to leapfrog old models.

That's why NDN is promoting the lessons of 2003 and its change-leaders: Dean, Meetup, MoveOn, the DNC's datamart, and the bloggers. For the sake of those who want to build a new and better progressive politics – the core mission of the New Democrats for close to 20 years – we have to help lead our side to make the leap from the top-down industrial/broadcast era into the more distributed, citizen-led politics of the Internet Age.

So yes, the Internet is a tool, but Dean is using it in a new way that is transforming politics. This is not the first time new tools have created a fundamentally different reality Consider the atomic bomb. The automobile. The airplane. Television. Guns. Radio. The telephone. Air conditioning. Electricity. All tools. Yet their arrival did not bring a marginal change, as in a better way to hammer a nail. Their arrival fundamentally altered the world so that we have a world that is pre-atomic bomb and post-atomic bomb, pre- and post-tv, etc. I agree with those who have written that tactics without vision and values is not enough. But today the flip side is true as well. Increasingly the voters are hungry for more than a spoon-fed "message." They want what we should want them to want – to play an active role in the life of their nation, and to not accept the gospel of the thirty-second spot and the sound bite. The Internet once again makes this possible, and this is good for our politics, our party and our country.

The shifting norms of video advertising

A couple articles in the New York Times in the last couple days show how the world of advertising applied to motion media or video  is morphing. Today a story talks about the “surprising” fact that a decent proportion of people with Digital Video Recorders like Tivo do not skip ads. They make a big point about  a recent Nielsen Company report that shows that 42 percent of those who watch their programs at a time-shifted time, do, in fact, watch the commercials. The general assumption is that the percentage of those who watch ads is much lower, like very few. However, as Simon points out elsewhere on this blog, that number is more a creature of the transition to new habits. For 40 years people watched TV with ads and those habits will not change overnight. But change they will as the new options become easier and more ingrained in new habits.

The second story is about some of the new ways that video on the web is being supported by advertising. The piece does an overview of the various ways, and specific companies, that are spreading the wealth of advertising revenues to bottom-up content creators. Right now all the attention goes to YouTube videos, but in that system the creators get nothing except fame. A competing company called Revver, actually attaches the ads to viral video, and give the creators of the content as cut of the revenue that is generated.

Anyhow, taking these two stories together, you see two trends coming together. The demise (albeit slower than expected transitional demise) of the old system of 30-second ads on traditional TV. And the rise of new forms of ads attached to video on the web. At some point in the next five years, a new system of advertising attached to video content will emerge, and more clarity will come.

Peter Leyden  

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