Barack Obama

Statement & Backgrounder from NDN on Tomorrow's White House Meeting on Immigration Reform

This morning, Andres and I released the statement below on tomorrow's meeting at the White House with President Obama and key Members of Congress on immigration reform.

NDN applauds President Obama and the White House for bringing together congressional leaders tomorrow to discuss how to best fix our nation's broken immigration system. Given all that is in front of the White House this summer, the meeting is an encouraging sign that the President and his team are starting a process which we hope will end in passage of Comprehensive Immigration Reform by Congress later this year.

There can be no doubt that conditions for significant movement on immigration reform this year have become more favorable. Senator Reid has made it clear he will introduce a bill this fall, and believes he has the votes for passage. Speaker Pelosi and House Majority Leader Hoyer now both identify immigration reform as one of their highest legislative priorities. An overwhelming majority of Americans want action taken to fix the broken immigration system now and support the Comprehensive Immigration Reform legislative approach. Some polls even show support for reform for increasing this year. There is a broad and deep bipartisan coalition ready to work on a common-sense bill, and a pro-reform President is riding high in the polls, with sufficient standing to sheperd an immigration bill through Congress.

As favorable as the conditions are today, they are likely to improve this fall. The right time for the President and Congress to move on immigration reform will be in the days and weeks following Sonia Sotomayor taking her seat on the Supreme Court, when the pride many will feel about the appointment of the first Latina will still be fresh in the public's mind, reminding all of the extraordinary and growing accomplishments of America's largest, and fastest-growing, minority.

While the road to passing Comprehensive Immigration Reform will not be an easy one, with strong leadership, progress this year is within Washington's grasp. Tomorrow's White House meeting is an important step of the many needed steps required for passage this year.

We also offer the following commentary, analysis and video, including video of Andres and I at a June 16 event on immigration reform. 

NDN Forum Immigration Reform: Politics, Public Opinion and Legislative Prospects, video camera Simon Rosenberg and Andres Ramirez, 6/16/09. Please click here for video of Simon Rosenberg's presentation; please click here for video of Andres Ramirez' presentation.

Making the Case for Passing Comprehensive Immigration Reform This Year (PDF), Simon Rosenberg, 6/16/09 - Rosenberg lays out the basic foundation for why Congress must pass comprehensive immigration reform. This summary is a good introduction for those wanting to learn the fundamentals of this issue.

Recent Polling on Immigration Reform, Benenson Strategy Group, 6/2/09 - Since a previous America's Voice poll in November, Pete Brodnitz of the Benenson Stratagey Group finds that support for comprehensive reform has been stable (and high), but increasing numbers of voters see the economic benefit of passing comprehensive immigration reform. The poll is consistent with NDN polling by Bendixen & Associates in its affirmation of overwhelming public support for immigration reform.

Making the Case: 7 Reasons Why Congress Should Pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform this Year, Huffington Post, Simon Rosenberg, 4/30/09 - Rosenberg argues that the answer to whether Congress can pass reform this year is "yes."

The GOP's Impossible Dream: Republicans Can't Win Without Latino Support in Millennial Era, Mike Hais, 6/10/09 - NDN Fellow Hais writes that on his Web site, Nate Silver recently raised the possibility that the Republican Party could more effectively compete in the 2012 and 2016 elections by turning its back on Hispanics and attempting to maximize the support of white voters in enough 2008 Midwestern and Southern blue states to flip them red. The Republican Party rode similar exclusionary strategies to dominance of U.S. politics during most of the past four decades. But America has entered a new era.

Latinos Vote in 2008: Analysis of U.S. Presidential Exit Polls (PDF), Andres Ramirez, 1/18/09 - Ramirez provides an overview of the Hispanic electorate in key states from the 2008 presidential election. The analysis concludes that Hispanics participated in record numbers in this election cycle, increasing their turnout from the 2004 election;  Hispanics significantly shifted towards the Democratic nominee in 2008, reversing trends from the 2000 and 2004 presidential election cycles; Hispanics played a key role in Obama’s victory in Colorado, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico; Hispanics are poised to make other states competitive in future elections; and if these trends continue, the national map will continue to get harder for Republicans.

National Survey of Hispanic Voters on Immigration Policy, Bendixen & Associates, 5/18/09 - Bendixen & Associates conducted a poll for America's Voice that comprehensively documents Hispanic voters' view on immigration policy. 

NDN Backgrounder on Judge Sotomayor and Our Changing Demography, Melissa Merz, 5/26/09 - In response to President Barack Obama's nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to serve on the Supreme Court, Merz compiles key NDN commentary and analysis on the great demographic changes taking place in America today.

In Weekly Address, President Explains New Consumer Protections

In his weekly YouTube address, President Obama talks about all the new consumer protections and financial regulations he introduced this week, and highlights especially the Consumer Financial Protection Agency.  As Obama described it, the new agency is "charged with just one job: looking out for the interests of ordinary Americans in the financial system."

Joe Nocera commented on the new regulations in a column this week, and took a relatively dim view of the President's plans, saying the President doesn't come close to what F.D.R. accomplished as he fought the Great Depression:

Wall Street hated the reforms, of course, but Roosevelt didn’t care. Wall Street and the financial industry had engaged in practices they shouldn’t have, and had helped lead the country into the Great Depression. Those practices had to be stopped. To the president, that’s all that mattered...

Rather, the Obama plan is little more than an attempt to stick some new regulatory fingers into a very leaky financial dam rather than rebuild the dam itself. Without question, the latter would be more difficult, more contentious and probably more expensive. But it would also have more lasting value.

Paul Krugman painted a slightly more generous picture, who says Obama's new regulations close many important loopholes, but don't go far enough.

But don't take my word for it, watch Obama give his address here:

Drezner on Russia, Iran, and US Interests

Yesterday on, the Tufts Fletcher School’s Daniel Drezner wrote about the problems Russia is causing itself by being seen to meddle in Iran’s internal politics (in stark contrast to Obama's smart response).  Basically, he picks up on an Andrew Sullivan blog in which Iranians seem to believe that something like a Russian Coup is actually happening, and that the Russians are now very concerned about this and trying to backtrack, likely unsuccessfully.

I also think Drezner’s right on in terms of where things are headed, which is now in stark contrast to where the situation was just a couple days ago. Until recently, Obama was accurate in saying that there was little difference in terms of policy outcomes between an Ahmadinejad and Mousavi win (and he was certainly right to say it, so as to not pronounce an American favorite, thereby handicapping that person). Now, as Drezner rights, the situation in Iran is at a fundamentally different point (my emphasis):

I'm pretty sure a Rubicon has been crossed in Iran that can't be uncrossed.  This isn't 1999 and 2003 -- too many days have passed with the Khamenei regime on the defensive.  The regime as it existed for the past twenty years -- hemmed-in democracy combined with clerical rule -- is not going to be able to continue.  With the largest protests of the past week scheduled for tomorrow, I think this ends in one of two ways:  the removal of Ahmadinejad and Khamenei from power, or bloodshed on a scale that we cannot comprehend. 

Actually, come to think of it, those two outcomes are not mutually exclusive.  

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.

Obama and Realism, Continued

Yesterday on the NDN Blog, Simon, Sam, Dan, and I wrote quite a bit about Obama’s foreign policy philosophy, and I’d like to present a couple more takes on the subject. First, TNR’s Peter Scoblic applauds the Obama Administration’s response to Iran, and their ability to craft a middle ground between realism and idealism:

I don't accept the suggestion that if one is not an idealist, one is necessarily a cold-blooded realist. Although there are certainly those who believe that the internal affairs of other countries are irrelevant or unimportant, it is possible to care about human rights while questioning America's ability to influence the internal affairs of other countries and while doubting that our values and our interests are always synonymous. The United States has other priorities as well. Thus one can be skeptical of the efficacy and wisdom of diplomatic and military pressure in the name of human rights without being amoral. Moreover, although realism may be "cold," its ideological opposite, which puts the nature of regimes at the center of our foreign policy, is even more problematic. In this view, one espoused chiefly by conservatives and neoconservatives, the fact that a regime is good or evil becomes not simply a moral observation but a strategic guide. Idealism's concern with regimes, in other words, can rapidly deteriorate into a dangerous Manichaeism.

I think it is possible to have a foreign policy that harbors no illusions about the nature of enemy regimes, but that recognizes our limited capacity to change those regimes and therefore our need to engage them. I think it is possible to have a moral foreign policy that is not moralist. But how, exactly, do we pursue our idealist instincts without sabotaging the security of the United States and our allies? How can we be appropriately self-interested without being utterly selfish? These are the questions we're wrestling with right now. At first glance, the answers may seem to differ only in balance and degree. (Does one speak loudly and decry the evil of the mullah-cracy in order to support the protestors, or does one hold back, recognizing that interference could backfire not only against Mousavi's backers but against American interests more broadly?) But these are not simply tactical questions…they are the manifestations of fundamentally different worldviews, which is to say they represent different assessments of our strategic priorities and our capabilities.

Also, Stephen Walt over at convincingly rejects Andrew Sullivan’s call for Western governments to refuse to acknowledge Ahmadinejad as president of Iran, asking how far we would have to apply that standard. He is also (not surprisingly) pleased with Obama’s response to Iran:

Obama's measured response to the events in Iran strikes me as more sensible: we can and should deplore the abuses of basic rights and the democratic process, while making it clear that the United States is not interfering and remaining open to the possibility of constructive dialogue. Given our long and troubled history with Iran (which includes active support for groups seeking to overthrow the current government), any sense that we are now trying to back Moussavi is likely to backfire. Trying to steer this one from Washington won’t advance our interests or those of the reformists.  

Here's a hypothetical question for you to ponder. Which world would you prefer: 1) a world where Ahmadinejad remains in power, but Iran formally reaffirms that it will not develop nuclear weapons, ratifies and implements the Additional Protocol of the NPT, comes clean to our satisfaction about past violations (including the so-called "alleged studies"), permits highly intrusive inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities, and ends support for Hamas and Hezbollah as part of a "grand bargain" with the West; or 2) a world where Mir Hussein Mousavi -- who was the Ayatollah Khomeini's prime minister from 1981 to 1989 -- wins a new election but then doesn't alter Iran's activities at all? 

This is hypothetical, of course, and almost certainly does not reflect the likely policy alternatives. But your choice of which world you'd prefer probably reveals a lot about how you conceive of the national interest, and the degree to which you think foreign policy should emphasize concrete security achievements on the one hand, or normative preferences on the other.

Finally, I hesitate to even link to this, but Robert Kagan embarrassed himself this morning in the Washington Post. Jonathan Chait at TNR does a fine job of dismantling his argument.

How Do We Define the Obama Doctrine?

This morning on the NDN Blog and the Huffington Post, Simon laid out an argument, to which he urged me to respond, concluding that, due to the rapidly changing nature of the global landscape, the “rise of the rest,” and the ability of America’s very unique new president to speak directly to the world’s peoples, Barack Obama will not be able to be a realist, and will instead have to base his foreign policy on the politics of global aspiration.

Simon’s argument is powerful, and the points he makes about the changing global landscape are on the mark. Obama does indeed have a unique ability to communicate to the world’s peoples, both from a personal and technological standpoint, that is unparalleled. But if Obama is not a realist, what is he?

I would argue that he is certainly not a foreign policy liberal and certainly not a neo-liberal (indisputably the ideological predecessor to neo-conservatism). We will not see an emphasis on democracy promotion as a panacea, and I doubt very much that Obama advisers will be heard calling America “the indispensible nation.”

Rather, much like his domestic policy, Obama’s foreign policy defies labels.

In his almost six months in office, Obama has crafted a middle road, one that has America’s interests at heart, but defines American interests more broadly. It rejects the easily caricatured cynical realism of Kissinger and the narrow realism of Scowcroft/Baker. As Simon argues, he embraces the so called “rise of the rest,” which is not necessarily contrary to American interests – more markets for our goods, greater stability, and fewer failed states all work in our favor.

While Obama often speaks about ideals, we have not seen him subordinate them to interests. In this, Obama has already been the consummate realist – avoiding Carter-esque handwringing about human rights in China, rebuffing Israel – our democratic ally – on settlements, and, most recently, offering very cautious comments on Iran that have sought to avoid pro-democracy pontificating, while still noting that self-determination is a universal value.

The moment that Obama faces and the challenges that come with it, from terrorism, to global poverty, to the rise of new powers, demand this middle road that Obama is walking. America will use diplomacy, alleviate poverty, disease, and strife, and build international institutions all because these serve the American interests that Obama will redefine. He can talk about values, but it will come with the historical knowledge that some of our most disastrous foreign policy moments have come out of liberalism, and that blindly insisting on liberal ideals will, in many cases, backfire.

I’d imagine that, over the next few years, we will find that Obama’s foreign policy will be something that looks like a realism of a more liberal variety, just as Obama’s brand of pragmatism is progressive. And just as a term like pragmatic progressive barely serves as a good descriptor of the Obama domestic policy, nor will whatever term emerges like “liberal realist” be a good descriptor of Obama’s foreign policy. Suffice it to say that the great challenge for this man, in this moment, is to bring America closer to the rest of the world, and the world closer to America, than either has been in a long time – in a manner that serves America’s interests. And he might just be able to do it.


The GOP's Impossible Dream: Republicans Can't Win Without Latino Support in Millennial Era

Note: This essay is the first in a new series that I will be contrubuting to NDN. The essays will examine important and interesting data from available public surveys and surveys commissioned by NDN and its affiliates. Themes and analysis will include attitudes toward race and ethnicity, the economy, foreign affairs and the Millennial Generation, but will not be limited to those topics. 

In a recent posting on his Web site, Nate Silver raised the possibility that the Republican Party could more effectively compete in the 2012 and 2016 elections by turning its back on Hispanics and attempting to maximize the support of white voters in enough 2008 Midwestern and Southern blue states to flip them red. This would involve positioning the GOP as the non-Latino party by "pursuing an anti-immigrant, anti-NAFTA, 'American First' sort of platform.'" The Republican Party rode similar exclusionary strategies to dominance of U.S. politics during most of the past four decades.

But America has entered a new era. Propelled by the election of its first African-American president, an increasingly non-white and more heavily Latino population, and the emergence of a new, significantly more tolerant generation, the Millennials, America is not the same country, demographically and attitudinally, that it was in the 1960s or even the 1990s. These changes have altered the electoral environment and lessened the usefulness of divisive strategies that were once effective, but may no longer be so.

Superficially, a non-Latino strategy might seem more plausible than anything else the GOP has attempted since the election of Barack Obama. After offering significant support to George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, Hispanics have recently become a solidly Democratic group. Republicans may have little to lose in not courting them in the next election or two. Nationally, Hispanics voted for Barack Obama over John McCain by more than 2:1 (67% vs. 31%). They supported Democratic House candidates last year by an even greater margin (68% vs. 29%). Pew surveys indicate that four times as many Hispanics identify as Democrats than Republicans (62% vs. 15%).

Adopting a non-Hispanic strategy would certainly be compatible with strategies the GOP has been utilizing for decades. From the "Southern strategy" of Richard Nixon and Kevin Phillips in the late 1960s, through the "wedge issues" used by Lee Atwater in the 1980s, to Karl Rove's "base politics" in this decade, the Republicans effectively took advantage of white middle and working class fears of the "other" -- African-Americans, gays, feminists -- who could be positioned as being outside the American mainstream. Applying this approach to Latinos would only be doing what came naturally for the GOP during the past 40 years.

But, while ethnically exclusionary strategies may offer the possibility of short-term relief, they do little to resolve the deep difficulties now facing the Republican Party. The ethnic composition of the United States is far different now than it was in the 1960s when the GOP began to separate white southerners (and like-minded white working class voters in other regions) from their long attachment to the Democratic Party. Four decades ago, 90 percent of Americans were white, and virtually all of the remainder were African-American. Hispanics were a negligible factor within the population and the electorate. Since then, the percentage of non-Hispanic whites in America has fallen to two-thirds. Hispanics now comprise about 15 percent of the population and just under 10 percent of the electorate. Moreover, Hispanics are a relatively young demographic. Even if no additional Latinos migrate to the United States, their importance will continue to increase as older whites pass from the scene.

It is this rise in the Hispanic population that prompted Silver to offer his suggested non-Latino strategy to the Republicans in the first place. But Silver's plan, which he facetiously calls "Operation Gringo," would require the GOP to pull off a rare political balancing act or "thread the needle" to use his term. In order to compensate for expected losses in the increasingly Latino Southwestern states of Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and, without John McCain on their ticket, Arizona, Republicans would have to win states like Pennsylvania and Michigan that they have not carried in decades. They would have to do this while not, at the same time, losing Florida and possibly Texas with their own large Hispanic electorates.

Moreover, while it is true that Hispanics are not distributed evenly across the country, Silver concedes "there are Hispanics everywhere now." Latinos were decisive in Obama's wins in closely divided "gringo territories" such as Indiana, North Carolina, and Nebraska's second congressional district and the growth rate of Hispanics is greatest in "nontraditional" areas like the South and Prairie states. This means that "America first" campaigning may ultimately have the effect of hurting Republicans even in some of the "white" states where it was intended to help.

However, the biggest barrier in running against Hispanics is that American attitudes on ethnicity have changed significantly over the past four decades. A new Pew survey indicates that Americans have become less hostile toward immigrants and more positive about policies designed to incorporate immigrants, even undocumented immigrants, into American society.

The number favoring a policy that would allow illegal immigrants (Pew's term) currently in the country to gain citizenship if they pass background checks, pay fines and have jobs has increased from 58 percent to 63 percent since 2007. While 73 percent do agree that America should restrict and control people coming to live in here more than we do now, that number is down from 80 percent in 2002 and 82 percent in 1994. Finally, support for free trade agreements like NAFTA has risen from 34 percent in 2003 and 40 percent in 2007 to 44 percent now.

The Pew findings are confirmed by the findings of a survey recently released by Pete Brodnitz of the Benenson Strategy Group. That study indicated that, across party lines, virtually all Americans (86%) favor the passage by Congress of comprehensive immigration reform when they are given full details of that plan.

Leading the way in these increasingly tolerant attitudes is the Millennial Generation (Americans born 1982-2003). Only a third of Millennials (35% vs. 55% for older generations) believe that the growing number of immigrants threatens traditional American values. Just 58 percent of Millennials (compared with 77% of older generations) agrees that the United States should increase restrictions on those coming to live in America. A large majority of Millennials (71% in contrast to 62% of older Americans) favors a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. And, 61-percent of Millennials favor free trade agreements such as NAFTA in contrast to just 40 percent of older generations.

To date America has only seen the tip of the Millennial iceberg. In 2008, just 41 percent of them were eligible to vote and they comprised only 17 percent of the electorate. By 2012, more than 60 percent of Millennials will be of voting age and they will be a quarter of the electorate. In 2020, when the youngest Millennials will be able to vote, they will make up more than a third of the electorate. Over the next decade, this will make the ethnically tolerant attitudes of the Millennial Generation the rule rather than the exception in American politics.

At this early point in the Millennial era, Republicans remain most open to the intolerance and immigrant bashing of ethnically exclusionary strategies. Pew indicates the number of Democrats and independents who favor a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants is up 11 points and 3 points respectively since 2007. By contrast, the number of Republicans who favor that policy is down by six points. In the end, a non-Hispanic approach by Republicans would amount to a continuation of Karl Rove's base strategy. As the Republican base continues to diminish in the Millennial Era, that strategy will be a recipe for disaster for the GOP, certainly in the long term, and very likely in the short run as well.

Flu crisis brought U.S., Mexico together

This was originally published as an op-ed in the June 7 Houston Chronicle.

Presidential summits have a well-deserved reputation for being much talk and much less action. President Barack Obama’s April 16 summit in Mexico City with that country’s president, Felipe Calderon, certainly had its share of high-flown, friendly sounding rhetoric.

“Today … we have confirmed the determination of both governments to consolidate the very, very close contacts and links that join and bring together Mexico and the United States,” President Calderon offered. “I see this visit … as an opportunity to launch a new era of cooperation and partnership between our two countries,” President Obama responded.

And then, just seven days later, that rhetoric was put to a real test. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Mexican citizens were thought to be sick with a new epidemic flu, and dozens or even hundreds were thought to be already dead. The disease seemed to have almost immediately spread to the United States — including at least one member of President Obama’s traveling party in Mexico. Within days, Mexico City was effectively shut down and newspapers in both countries — and around the world — blared the possible arrival of a major new pandemic influenza with the potential to kill millions around the world.

And in the face of mounting hysteria, the response of both Mexico and the United States was an almost perfect display of the cooperation and partnership the presidents had loftily promised.

As the H1N1 virus broke out, some countries hastily canceled flights to Mexico and some halted trade. Not the United States. When some in this country called for shutting the border, President Obama forcefully rejected the idea and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano called it “pointless.” This decision not only made practical sense — since the virus had already jumped to the United States, closing the border would have done nothing more than wreak economic havoc on both economies — but the symbolism carried great weight in Mexico. After all, just a year ago the United States was talking about building a wall between the countries. All three Mexican political parties, in a rare demonstration of agreement, applauded the Obama administration’s response.

Mexico did its part to act responsibly. Rather than hiding its problem or refusing to accept outside help out of a misplaced sense of “dignidad,” or the fear of exposing holes in its public health system, Mexico did not hesitate to immediately ask the United States for material support. The Mexican authorities worked closely with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and their Canadian counterparts, sending them suspected samples for testing that went beyond Mexico’s capabilities. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that the United States would send 400,000 regimens of antivirals to Mexico. Dr. Richard Besser of the CDC reported that 34 CDC staff were in the field in five locations in Mexico. The CDC helped Mexico build a lab capability to do diagnosis and confirmation of the H1N1 virus in Mexico itself — a major step that allowed faster confirmation and response, and a shorter path to identifying risk factors.

In short, officials in both countries cooperated closely without the crippling lack of trust that has frustrated our joint efforts in the past, and that we still find to an extent in law enforcement and narcotics matters.

Now that the immediate threat of a killer pandemic has receded (the CDC recently dropped the advisory against unnecessary travel to Mexico, though a recent death and more infections and school closings in New York and elsewhere suggest the danger is not past), it is possible to look back on these events of the past month and see true signs of a new, stable and confident relationship between the United States and Mexico.

In fairness, of course, Obama and Calderon did not wave a wand and create this new relationship. They have benefited from nearly 20 years of close cooperation — from Bush 41 and Carlos Salinas to Clinton and Ernesto Zedillo, and then to Bush 43 and Vicente Fox — that started with the negotiation of NAFTA. Setting aside the lingering public unease over NAFTA’s economic impact, it’s plain that NAFTA did one thing very well: It helped cement a mindset of shared responsibility and institutional frameworks that promote open exchanges between our governments. Notably, of course, President Obama is no longer talking of renegotiating NAFTA.

Presidents Obama and Calderon are both mature, thoughtful leaders, and they have fully embraced this 20-year evolution and may yet bring it to a new level — truly a “new era of cooperation and partnership.” How they and their governments handled the brief but intense H1N1 public hysteria tells us a lot about how we can expect them to develop their own personal relationship, and that of our countries, in the years ahead.

Next up, perhaps, is an issue that touches deep emotional chords in both nations: immigration, and the fate of the millions of Mexican “illegals” living in the United States. Comprehensive immigration reform is an urgent political need; but maneuvering through the political backlash that progress will unleash will require the skilled management and cooperation we showed during the H1N1 scare.

In August, the three leaders of North America — Mexico, Canada, United States — will meet in what has now become a once-yearly North American Summit. President Obama deserves credit for seeing the value of these meetings, which started during the time of his predecessor George Bush. The flu tested our relationships — and found them strong. Now, on to new challenges.

Obama's Weekly Address Focuses on Health Care Reform

In his address this week, President Barack Obama focused on one of the two major reform measures currently being debated in Congress: Health Care. Facing dual challenges of cutting costs and expanding coverage, Obama had this to say about the necessity of health care reform:

I'm talking about the families I've met whose spiraling premiums and out-of-pocket expenses are pushing them into bankruptcy or forcing them to go without the check-ups or prescriptions they need.  Business owners who fear they’ll be forced to choose between keeping their doors open or covering their workers.  Americans who rightly worry that the ballooning costs of Medicare and Medicaid could lead to fiscal catastrophe down the road.

Simply put, the status quo is broken.  We cannot continue this way.  If we do nothing, everyone’s health care will be put in jeopardy.  Within a decade, we’ll spend one dollar out of every five we earn on health care – and we’ll keep getting less for our money.

That’s why fixing what’s wrong with our health care system is no longer a luxury we hope to achieve – it’s a necessity we cannot postpone any longer.

Watch the whole thing for yourself:

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