New Progressive Politics

Senate Republicans Block Ethics and Lobbying Reform Bill

Yesterday, Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) inserted a "poison pill" amendment into the bipartisan supported Senate version of the lobbying and ethics reform bill, making immediate passage virtually impossible.  And Majority Leader Harry Reid is livid:

"It's as obvious as the sun coming up somewhere in this world that they tried to kill this bill," a furious Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said last night in an interview. "And all 21 Republican senators up for reelection are going to have to explain how they brought down the most significant reform ever to come before this Congress. They brought this baby down."

A New Global Moveon

As I have said many times before at the New Politics Institute website, the most fundamental shift going on in our world today is the shift to the global. It plays out in the economy through globalization. In security and defense, via the new enemy of global terrorists. And in the mounting pressure of climate change, a global problem if ever there was one.

And so it should come as no surprise that politics is morphing to these new global realities – in fits and starts, to be sure, but inexorably. It will be one of the defining stories of the next decade.

And so here’s another sign of the shift: the beginning of a global, in the form of The analogy to Moveon is not just in passing. One of the half-dozen founders is Eli Pariser, the executive director of Moveon.

They have just launched their first Moveon-like campaign, but this time in explicitly connecting up citizens from around the world.  Their objective this time is the same: shifting U.S. policy towards the Iraq war. So global citizens are using new tools of the internet to do their part to move the ball of American politics. This is a development worth watching.

Instead of me describing what they are, check out some of their mission statement:

As major new challenges like climate change and escalating religious conflict threaten our common future, people from around the world are coming together to take global politics into their own hands. (Our name means "Voice" or "Song" in several languages including Hindi, Urdu and Farsi) is a community of global citizens who take action on the major issues facing the world today. Our aim is to ensure that the views and values of the world’s people -- and not just political elites and unaccountable corporations -- shape global decisions. members are taking action for a more just and peaceful world and a vision of globalization with a human face.

In our inter-connected world, the actions of political leaders and corporations are having a profound impact on all of us. To match the power and reach of global leaders and borderless corporations, members are building a powerful movement of citizens without borders. As citizens without borders, we might not have the resources of governments, corporations or the media, but working together we can bring together millions of people around the world and make global public opinion really count on major global issues like poverty, climate change, human rights and global security.

Using the latest technology, empowers ordinary people from every corner of the globe to directly contact key global decision-makers, corporations and the media. By signing up to receive updates from, members receive emails and text messages alerting them to new campaigns and opportunities to act online and offline, and to make a real difference on pressing global issues.

If interested, go to the site. One of the most striking things when you arrive is to see the language options. English is just one option of many….

Peter Leyden

Dan Balz on Obama and Hillary

You may think you've read it already when it comes to analysis of Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, but Dan Balz has an excellent take in today's WAPO:

Democrats moved a step closer yesterday to what shapes up as one of the most historic and compelling contests ever for their party's presidential nomination, a study in contrasting styles and candidacies in which race and gender play central roles in the competition.

At center stage stand Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, who set up his presidential exploratory committee yesterday, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, who is set to make clear her intentions soon. Never has a party begun a nomination contest with its two most celebrated candidates a woman and an African American.

New NPI Report on "Viral Video in Politics"

The New Politics Institute has launched a new series called "Re-imagining Video" that will explore the many ways the old world of traditional television is transfroming, particularly with the arrival of video online. This media transformation is going to have a profound impact on politics, which still depends heavily on 30-second TV ads.

The first installment in the series is called: "Viral Video in Politics: Creating Compelling Video that Moves." It was written by NPI's newest fellow, Julie Bergman Sender, a long-time Hollywood producer who has created some of the most memorable political viral video in the last couple years. She might be best known for creating the Will Ferrell impersonation of Bush on his ranch in the 2004 Presidential election cycle.

To give you a bit more of a sense of the new series, as well as Julie and her initial piece, I include the preface I wrote to the report:   

In the 1964 presidential election, an experimental one-minute television ad that only aired once changed politics forever.  That ad was “Daisy” and it featured  a little girl in a field plucking the petals off a daisy and counting, before her voice morphed into the voice of a man in a countdown that ended with the explosion of a nuclear bomb and the tagline: “Vote for President Johnson, the stakes are too high for you to stay home.”

Call it “the mushroom cloud moment” for those with any foresight in politics. In its one airing “Daisy” showed the emotional power of television and how it could be effectively harnessed for politics. All politics adapted to the thirty-second television commercial, and television advertising defined how politics was played for the next forty years. 

In the recent 2006 midterm elections we had our own political “ah-ha” moment that came via the conduit of YouTube and other viral video outlets. Call it “the macaca moment.” It came in the form of a jittery digital video of Republican Senator George Allen on the campaign trail talking directly into a camera held by SR Sidarth, a young Indian-American campaign worker for Allen’s opponent. In this video Allen taunted Sidarth, welcoming him to the “real America,” and calling him “macaca,” an offensive term to many.

That one gaffe ricocheted around the internet, and was picked up in the mainstream media, tripping up Allen’s previously high-flying campaign, contributing to his eventual defeat. But more importantly, “the macaca moment” showed this nascent viral video medium’s game-changing impact. Emotionally powerful, visually complex video has finally arrived on the internet – and it’s moving fast. Those in politics will need to hustle to keep up with it.

This urgency is particularly important today, because the forty-year reign of broadcast and cable television thirty-second ads is coming to a close. Among other things, the spread of digital video recorders (DVRs) like TiVo allows an increasing chunk of Americans to skip ads altogether. By the 2008 election roughly one-third of all American households will have DVRs, and the percentage of likely voters with them will be even higher. 

Understanding video also requires understanding how people are accessing video. NPI Fellow Tim Chambers tells us that “by the 2008 election, more than 90 percent of the mobile phones used in the U.S. will be internet-enabled…by 2011, 24 million U.S. cellular subscribers and customers will be paying for some form of TV/video content and services on their mobile devices.” At that point mobile video services combined would have more than 3 million more users than the largest cable operator in the U.S. does today.

The New Politics Institute is committed to helping progressives understand this dramatic shift in the media landscape caused by, among other things, the emergence of viral video, and devise new political strategies that take advantage of it. This report is the first of a series of them in the coming year that will keep abreast of this rapidly changing space. We’re calling the series “Re-imagining Video.”

Our first guide to this new world of video on the internet is Julie Bergman Sender, a longtime Hollywood film producer and progressive activist, who is also NPI’s most recent new fellow. Julie has been innovating in the viral video space since the run-up to the 2004 election. She was one of the key creators behind actor Will Ferrell’s now famous 2004 viral video impersonation of George Bush. She was also the producer of one of the most effective viral videos of the 2006 election, with Hollywood female stars coyly talking about their first time – voting.

In this piece, Julie talks about her professional experiences in using the best practices of Hollywood and a focus on compelling narrative to create political video for viral distribution on the internet and beyond.  Her creative and practical insight should serve as a roadmap to all progressive groups and organizations as they begin to take advantage of this powerful new communications tool. 

The next few years will be much like the aftermath of that 1964 media bombshell. Let the new thinking begin.

Peter Leyden

Director of the New Politics Institute

Seeing the present from the perspective of the future

Before getting deeply involved in politics, I worked for Global Business Network, a company that helped corporations, foundations and governments think long-term, often through a tool called “scenario planning.” This is a process that helps a group look more rigorously what might happen in the next 10 to 20 years in order to build more robust strategies for the present. It’s a powerful tool that is used by many of the top corporations in the world and some savvy governments (including US agencies) that, for instance, have to make huge investments that will play out over decades.

The pop version of this process is to write out a scenario, a narrative that gets the reader to some point in the future, in order to provoke better thinking in the present. This weekend, the San Francisco Chronicle published a long scenario written from the perspective of someone in 2027 that puts the Bush years in context, and partly talks about the politics that came out of it in the following decades. It’s very much from a netroots, people-powered politics perspective, rather than an inside DC one. It’s worth a read just to muse on one possibility…

Peter Leyden

Debate returns to Washington

Having been in Washington now for 14 years, I have come to truly value the slow, deliberative nature of Congress.  People with diverse views are forced to come together to hash out a common way forward.  Tolerance, acceptance of difference is at the core of such a system, and required to make it work.  Of course we've had little of that in the Bush years.  Congress has acted as an irresponsible, braindead, corrupt, rubber stamp, allowing all sorts of nutty things to go on with little discussion, debate and oversight.  Committees did not meet.  Hearings weren't held.  The opposition party was dismissed rather than engaged.  This culture that allowed ideology to trump discourse, and debate to be seen as dissent, was one of the major reasons the Republicans went off track these past few years. 

We are already seeing the return of an engaged, deliberative Congress.  It will happen in big ways - the Reid/Pelosi challenge to the President on Iraq - an it will happen in many small ways, but the most dramatic and public way will be in Senator Joe Biden's four weeks of hearings on America's Middle East policy that start Tuesday.  The Senator plans to use his new power to help us better understand what to do; to engage the public in a vital debate about our future; to search, debate, discuss, discover; to call Administration officials to account for their words and actions; to admit that we do not know the best path, and want to, together, as Americans, find a better way. 

These hearings will be vital, important, difficult.  I can't wait for them to start, and welcome the return of messiness to our democracy.

Time Magazine's Validation of the New Politics

Peter Leyden, the Director of our New Politics Institute, just sent this out. It's definitely worth a read as we all take a look back at how new tools transformed politics in the past year.


The last year ended on a high note for the New Politics Institute, when Time magazine bestowed its prestigious Person of the Year Award not to a person, but to the bottom-up trend we have been tracking for the last 18 months. For those who missed it, Time’s Person of the Year is “You,” meaning all the people using the new tools and new media of the web to energize our society, our economy, and yes, our politics.

NPI is the only think tank dedicated to showing how these new tools and new media are transforming politics. We have been on that case from the beginning, inspired by one of our founding fellows, Markos Moulitsas, whose Daily Kos blog is the most popular progressive blog in the country. See his in-depth video interview where he gives a wonderful introduction and overview of the blog scene. We have held events in Washington, DC on the topic, and developed a groundbreaking report comparing the very different progressive and conservative blogospheres. And our recent 2006 Tools Campaign led off with a terrific memo on how progressives should Engage the Blogs.

The NPI website is also filled with written reports and video of events and talks that explore many other new tools and media. Check out the highlighted video off the front page on an event we held on Capital Hill in December, where we reviewed “The Next Wave of Tools for Progressive Politics,” including a big up-and-comer, Mobile Media. And besides tools, NPI analyzes the changing demographics of America that affect the changing media landscape, and ultimately profoundly effect politics. We have done some pioneering work in understanding the Millennial Generation, those young people born in the 1980s and 1990s who are masters of these new tools and who are starting to make their mark on politics.

If anything overshadowed the political impact of the blogs in 2006, it was the explosion of viral video on YouTube and similar sites. Millions went online and watched the "macaca video" of Senator George Allen taunting a Virginia honor student, and using what many consider a racial slur. In the weeks that followed, Allen went from a shoo-in for reelection to losing to Jim Webb by the narrowest of margins. Understanding the opportunities of this new type of video distribution needs to be a top priority for progressives. That's why next week NPI is launching a major paper on producing video for internet distribution, as the first paper in our "Re-imagining Video" series.

Time magazine’s validation at the end of the year reminds us that much of what happens next in progressive politics is up to "You." Time Managing Editor Richard Stengel wrote that some people denigrate this bottom-up era as an amateur hour. He continues: “But America was founded by amateurs. The framers were professional lawyers and military men and bankers, but they were amateur politicians, and that's the way they thought it should be."

We share the sentiment that getting more amateurs, more regular people involved in politics is good for progressives, good for politics, and good for the country. The tools that empower these people are to be celebrated. Time’s piece was a good omen for the coming year.

Dems are Moving for the Wide Open Terrain of Boosting Green Energy

The Washington Post reported today that the Dems are poised to roll back subsidies to the oil industry and plow the money into tax breaks for renewable energy sources right after their 100 hour push. That is a win-win-win strategy that almost can’t go wrong with the public at this point. After years of Republicans outright denying global warming and supporting policies that exacerbate it, the Dems have a rare opportunity to move fast into the wide-open terrain of boosting green energy.

It is also a progressive position that a wide array of Americans increasingly support. Going down this path won’t evoke much controversy. And there is a highly developed body of progressive policies that can be quickly instituted on a national level.

With that in mind, the New York Times also had a great article today showing the consequences of wise progressive policies already instituted in California. A long article in the House&Home section looked at the solar panel craze now happening across California – partly because of landmark legislation passed a year ago. Here’s an excerpt from the story that gives you the gist:

The vogue began in earnest a year ago, when the state legislature approved the California Solar Initiative, one of the most ambitious solar programs in the world. The legislation took effect at the start of this month but was preceded by a stopgap measure with similar terms that ran throughout 2006, offering homeowners a rebate on top of the federal tax credit of up to $2,000 that has been available nationwide since 2006.

The theory was that supplanting the year-to-year incentive programs in place since 1998 with the long-term certainty offered by the initiative’s 10-year, $3.2 billion program of rebates (one-third of which would likely go to homeowners) would stimulate the development of a robust solar sector — which could then be weaned from subsidies as its growing scale brought down prices.

If it works as planned, said J. P. Ross, the policy director for Vote Solar, an organization that advocates for large state-level solar projects, the initiative will stimulate the installation of 3,000 megawatts of solar electrical generating capacity in the state over the next decade. That would be an increase by a factor of more than 20, Mr. Ross said, equivalent to 30 small natural-gas-fired power plants.

Given the enthusiasm homeowners have shown for the initiative, filing nearly twice as many plans for solar systems with the California State Energy Commission in 2006 than in previous years, this goal may not be far-fetched.

Other states are considering the future of their solar programs (several states in the Northeast and the Southwest have less ambitious ones in place, including New York, New Jersey and Connecticut), and they are closely watching California’s.

I might add that Congress could take a close look at what’s happening here and boost the fledgling national solar incentive program and  help spread this kind of change across the country.

Peter Leyden

The Virtual Opening of the 110th Congress

Those who won’t be able to make the actual opening of the 110th Congress can join others in a parallel universe – the online virtual world of Second Life. Sun Microsystems and Clear Ink have sponsored the building of a House of Representatives in the popular online environment. The floor is reminiscent of the actual floor and any of the more than 2 million residents can gather there to debate issues and interact with actual politicians who venture in. Rep. George Miller, for one, will be there at noon EST on Thursday, January 4th.

If this all seems a bit strange, check out the short video of a person scoping out the building ahead of time. And read up more about this on wikipedia. Or, if so moved, go to Second Life and enter the world yourself. It’s free, and relatively easy to do. And, in the long run, this kind of environment is one that many people in politics are going to have to become familiar with, if not master. Check out these numbers of the numbers of people involved in a place that did not exist little more than a year ago.

Total Residents: 2,323,516
Logged In Last 60 Days: 844,310
US$ Spent in the Last 24 hours: $969,587

Peter Leyden

What’s Next for 2007: The Beginning of a New Progressive Era?

I was asked over the break to give my sense of the next big story to emerge in 2007 by the team. WorldChanging is a networked community and group blog that is connecting the dots between all the developments going on in the world right now that point to a new kind of global system that will work in the 21st century, particularly in regards to people living in balance with the environment.

Their view spans many different sectors, of which politics and government is only one. And they asked many of the people they respect in many different fields to make their predictions on “What’s Next.” My contribution, directed to their audience, can be seen on their site here, and the list of other essays are here. The text of my essay follows:

The next area for the world-changing juggernaut to hit will be politics and government. The short answer is that American politics is entering a transformative period that is roughly analogous to a handful of other periods in American history – namely the earlier progressive eras. Think the first two decades of the last century – from Teddy Roosevelt to Woodrow Wilson. Or think about the New Deal transformation with FDR in the 1930s and 40s. We’re in the beginning of another one of those progressive political reinventions right now.

What happened then, and is happening now, is that fundamental economic and social restructuring gets to the point where the old politics don’t work, particularly conservative formulas that look backward. The new world’s new challenges go unsolved, and problems build to the breaking point – then a new politics begins. These periods have been characterized by a burst of progressive politics – an innovative, forward-thinking, people-powered politics. These progressive reinventions can last a couple decades but at the end of the process new models for politics and government are established and pretty much work for a long run.

The 2006 election marked the end of the most recent conservative era, one that ran for 25 years from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush. The American people made a fundamental repudiation of the modern conservative formula. Think Hoover. The conservative brand is going to languish for a long time.

Now everyone is starting to look around for the progressive alternative. Not old-style progressivism, but a new 21st century version. And true to the WorldChanging mantra, the signs of the new progressive politics are all around us. This year California blazed a trail with landmark laws to aggressively take on climate change. Even Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger should be seen for what he is – a new kind of progressive Republican. Then both Houses of Congress flipped to the Democrats, as well as state houses and legislatures across the so-called red heartland. And now the talk is of Obama and Gore shaking up the 2008 presidential race with big, bold, world-changing ideas. Hang on for what will be a tumultuous year in politics and government.

Peter Leyden

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