Repudiating the Bush Era

The power of the youth vote last night

Much will be written about this over the next few days, and we will be releasing some of our work on young voters later this morning. But one thing to keep in mind is that young people were a major factor last night in a state that is much older than most and when college campus had not yet returned from winter break.

Be sure to check out our recent magazine article, The 50 Year Strategy, which makes the case that this new generation of young Americans will be the core of a new progressive majority. After last night it sure looks like this day may be coming sooner than we all expected.

Reflecting on the success of Daily Kos and the netroots

In a post yesterday Markos reflects upon his site traffic since he began his blog in 2002. It is a remarkable post, as you can watch his traffic grow from month to month, to the point today where DailyKos has 16m pageviews a month, or 500-600k a day.

I first met Markos in the summer of 2003. The ever thoughtful writer Garance Franke-Ruta introduced us. At the time his early blog was getting 800k or so pageviews a month. By the time he spoke at a conference we did in SF in late 2003 it was 2m a month. By the time of our Annual Meeting in 2004, where Markos made what I believe was his first public appearance in Washington, it was 5m a month. And by the time Crashing the Gate was released in March of 2006 it was up to 22m a month (click here to read my foreword to CTG). Today the site traffic has leveled off to a still daunting 16m a month, and Markos has helped inspire many to get off the sidelines and into the arena, including Gina Cooper, the founder and visionary behind Netroots Nation (formerly YearlyKos), the most important annual gathering of emerging progressive leaders in the country.

The rise of sites like Daily Kos and the netroots has been one of the most significant developments in American politics in the early part of the 21st century. My friendship with Markos and his colleague Jerome Armstrong has been among the most rewarding and interesting of my long career in media and politics. The success of Daily Kos and other such blogs should leave no doubt that progressives and their allies the Democrats are in the midst of building a new and more competitive culture and movement, one much more suited to the emerging challenges of the 21st century than ever before. As Matt Bai rightly points out in his new book, this new movement is new, emergent, experimental and has made plenty of mistakes. But could any start up be any other way? While the 1990s in Silicon Valley gave us stinkers like, it also created enduring and powerful companies that are still redefing our lives today. Periods of great institutional entrepreneurship and reinvention are by nature messy things. This period of progressive reinvention is no different.

For I can no think of no time of all my years in politics that what we know as left of center politics is as vibrant, innovative, dynamic, open and nascently strategic as it is today. With control of Congress and perhaps the Presidency in 2009, we will also see if this movement is ready to lead America at one of its most challenging junctures in its history (see our recent essay The 50 Year Strategy for more on this).

No matter where we go together next year I end this one with a hearty salute to the millions of Americans who have "gotten into the game" in recent years - giving money, volunteering, blogging, commenting, reading, engaging and voting in unprecedented numbers. At the end of the day it is my hope, my belief, perhaps my prayer that these new technology tools that have allowed private citizens like Markos - and millions more - to enter the great American debate in new and powerful ways will end leading the renewal of our mighty but wounded democracy in the years ahead, providing the ultimate antidote to the imperial age of Bush. While leaders like Markos have gotten plenty of attention, the power of blogs like Daily Kos is that they have become vehicles for millions to be connected to and participate in our democracy like never before, making our politics - I hope - ever more one "of the people, by the people, for the people." And for all this I end this year excited and hopeful about our nation and our politics in the critical year ahead.

Happy New Year....

Bush Another Hoover?

Simon and I made the case in a current Mother Jones magazine article that the 2008 election may well be like 1932. Among other things, Bush has the potential to do what Hoover did – tarnish the conservative brand for a generation or more.

Some have pushed-back that on the economic front Bush can’t be compared to Hoover, who was the steward of the biggest economic catastrophe in the nation’s history, The Great Depression.

But economist Joseph Stiglitz attempts to make the case of the enormity of the Bush economic catastrophe in the December issue of Vanity Fair magazine. We may not have to dig out of another Great Depression (thank goodness), but Bush’s economic legacy is going to be very bad. That legacy will include:

"…a tax code that has become hideously biased in favor of the rich; a national debt that will probably have grown 70 percent by the time this president leaves Washington; a swelling cascade of mortgage defaults; a record near-$850 billion trade deficit; oil prices that are higher than they have ever been; and a dollar so weak that for an American to buy a cup of coffee in London or Paris—or even the Yukon—becomes a venture in high finance.

And it gets worse. After almost seven years of this president, the United States is less prepared than ever to face the future. We have not been educating enough engineers and scientists, people with the skills we will need to compete with China and India. We have not been investing in the kinds of basic research that made us the technological powerhouse of the late 20th century. And although the president now understands—or so he says—that we must begin to wean ourselves from oil and coal, we have on his watch become more deeply dependent on both.

Up to now, the conventional wisdom has been that Herbert Hoover, whose policies aggravated the Great Depression, is the odds-on claimant for the mantle “worst president” when it comes to stewardship of the American economy. Once Franklin Roosevelt assumed office and reversed Hoover’s policies, the country began to recover. The economic effects of Bush’s presidency are more insidious than those of Hoover, harder to reverse, and likely to be longer-lasting. There is no threat of America’s being displaced from its position as the world’s richest economy. But our grandchildren will still be living with, and struggling with, the economic consequences of Mr. Bush.”

The piece is well worth reading, though I do think Stiglitz goes a bit too far in criticizing our economic prospects. Many fundamentals are still in place that should allow the American economy to kick back into shape and sustain a long boom of economic growth that spreads prosperity far more widely. But that’s the fodder for another post.

Peter Leyden
Director of the New Politics Institute

Al Gore: "We will act."

 Al Gore gave a very important speech today in Oslo. It may be the most important speech yet given in our new century. You can read the whole thing on his site. I excerpt a portion I found most compelling:

We must abandon the conceit that individual, isolated, private actions are the answer. They can and do help. But they will not take us far enough without collective action. At the same time, we must ensure that in mobilizing globally, we do not invite the establishment of ideological conformity and a new lock-step “ism.”

That means adopting principles, values, laws, and treaties that release creativity and initiative at every level of society in multifold responses originating concurrently and spontaneously.

This new consciousness requires expanding the possibilities inherent in all humanity. The innovators who will devise a new way to harness the sun’s energy for pennies or invent an engine that’s carbon negative may live in Lagos or Mumbai or Montevideo. We must ensure that entrepreneurs and inventors everywhere on the globe have the chance to change the world.

When we unite for a moral purpose that is manifestly good and true, the spiritual energy unleashed can transform us. The generation that defeated fascism throughout the world in the 1940s found, in rising to meet their awesome challenge, that they had gained the moral authority and long-term vision to launch the Marshall Plan, the United Nations, and a new level of global cooperation and foresight that unified Europe and facilitated the emergence of democracy and prosperity in Germany, Japan, Italy and much of the world. One of their visionary leaders said, “It is time we steered by the stars and not by the lights of every passing ship.”

In the last year of that war, you gave the Peace Prize to a man from my hometown of 2000 people, Carthage, Tennessee. Cordell Hull was described by Franklin Roosevelt as the “Father of the United Nations.” He was an inspiration and hero to my own father, who followed Hull in the Congress and the U.S. Senate and in his commitment to world peace and global cooperation.

My parents spoke often of Hull, always in tones of reverence and admiration. Eight weeks ago, when you announced this prize, the deepest emotion I felt was when I saw the headline in my hometown paper that simply noted I had won the same prize that Cordell Hull had won. In that moment, I knew what my father and mother would have felt were they alive.

Just as Hull’s generation found moral authority in rising to solve the world crisis caused by fascism, so too can we find our greatest opportunity in rising to solve the climate crisis. In the Kanji characters used in both Chinese and Japanese, “crisis” is written with two symbols, the first meaning “danger,” the second “opportunity.” By facing and removing the danger of the climate crisis, we have the opportunity to gain the moral authority and vision to vastly increase our own capacity to solve other crises that have been too long ignored.

We must understand the connections between the climate crisis and the afflictions of poverty, hunger, HIV-Aids and other pandemics. As these problems are linked, so too must be their solutions. We must begin by making the common rescue of the global environment the central organizing principle of the world community.

Fifteen years ago, I made that case at the “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro. Ten years ago, I presented it in Kyoto. This week, I will urge the delegates in Bali to adopt a bold mandate for a treaty that establishes a universal global cap on emissions and uses the market in emissions trading to efficiently allocate resources to the most effective opportunities for speedy reductions.

This treaty should be ratified and brought into effect everywhere in the world by the beginning of 2010 – two years sooner than presently contemplated. The pace of our response must be accelerated to match the accelerating pace of the crisis itself.

Heads of state should meet early next year to review what was accomplished in Bali and take personal responsibility for addressing this crisis. It is not unreasonable to ask, given the gravity of our circumstances, that these heads of state meet every three months until the treaty is completed.

We also need a moratorium on the construction of any new generating facility that burns coal without the capacity to safely trap and store carbon dioxide.

And most important of all, we need to put a price on carbon -- with a CO2 tax that is then rebated back to the people, progressively, according to the laws of each nation, in ways that shift the burden of taxation from employment to pollution. This is by far the most effective and simplest way to accelerate solutions to this crisis.

The world needs an alliance – especially of those nations that weigh heaviest in the scales where earth is in the balance. I salute Europe and Japan for the steps they’ve taken in recent years to meet the challenge, and the new government in Australia, which has made solving the climate crisis its first priority.

But the outcome will be decisively influenced by two nations that are now failing to do enough: the United States and China. While India is also growing fast in importance, it should be absolutely clear that it is the two largest CO2 emitters — most of all, my own country –– that will need to make the boldest moves, or stand accountable before history for their failure to act.

Both countries should stop using the other’s behavior as an excuse for stalemate and instead develop an agenda for mutual survival in a shared global environment.

These are the last few years of decision, but they can be the first years of a bright and hopeful future if we do what we must. No one should believe a solution will be found without effort, without cost, without change. Let us acknowledge that if we wish to redeem squandered time and speak again with moral authority, then these are the hard truths:

The way ahead is difficult. The outer boundary of what we currently believe is feasible is still far short of what we actually must do. Moreover, between here and there, across the unknown, falls the shadow.

That is just another way of saying that we have to expand the boundaries of what is possible. In the words of the Spanish poet, Antonio Machado, “Pathwalker, there is no path. You must make the path as you walk.”

We are standing at the most fateful fork in that path. So I want to end as I began, with a vision of two futures – each a palpable possibility – and with a prayer that we will see with vivid clarity the necessity of choosing between those two futures, and the urgency of making the right choice now.

The great Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen, wrote, “One of these days, the younger generation will come knocking at my door.”

The future is knocking at our door right now. Make no mistake, the next generation will ask us one of two questions. Either they will ask: “What were you thinking; why didn’t you act?”

Or they will ask instead: “How did you find the moral courage to rise and successfully resolve a crisis that so many said was impossible to solve?”

We have everything we need to get started, save perhaps political will, but political will is a renewable resource.

So let us renew it, and say together: “We have a purpose. We are many. For this purpose we will rise, and we will act.”

Valerie Wilson's book comes out tomorrow

This long awaited book makes it debut tomorrow.  Let the debate begin, again. 

The great Rovian failure

When Karl Rove announced his resignation this week I'm pretty sure he did not expect the media to so swiftly declare his tenure a failure, and to start serious speculation that the great accomplishment of this "genius" was to give progressives an historic opening to advance their agenda.

Several examples today.  The Post frontpages a story that looks at the Rovian politicization of the Administration, which many, including NDN, believe went way beyond what was permissible or just (for years we've been calling the modern conservative machine an Information Age Tammany Hall).  Andrew Kohut looks at how much more progressive the nation has become, and Frank Rich wonderfully deconstructs Rove in his weekly column today. 

We weighed in on Rove with this piece earlier this week, and of course have been exploring this subject for the last several years.  A collection of our essays can be found in our Meeting the Conservative Challenge section.  A particularly worthy read is this essay, the Democratic Opportunity, which ran in the Politico in April and lays out what progressives and Democrats must to do to seize the opportunity Bush and Rove have given us.

Pick up Matt Bai's "The Argument" today

This month a new book arrives from an old friend, Matt Bai, the talented New York Times Magazine writer. The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics - like everything Matt writes - is a good read, insightful, full of ideas big and small, and certainly worth picking up and making it one of your end of summer books.

The Argument takes an in-depth look at a process that NDN and its family have been at the center of these last few years: the re-invention and modernization of progressive politics. It is perhaps one of the most important and least understood stories in American politics today.

Whatever the short-term electoral outcomes of this decade in American politics, it will be remembered as one where the progressive movement, so dominant in the 20th century, shook off a generation-long period of drift and began to do what was necessary to take on a very powerful and modern conservative politics. The reasons for this are many: changes in campaign finance law, the Iraq War, the manifest failures of Bush and the conservatives to govern, even while they accrued more and more power. Today the progressive movement is much more 21st century than 20th, and is better able to play on the modern battlefield of today's politics. We've seen the creation of many new institutions: the Democracy Alliance, Media Matters, Center for American Progress, Center for Progressive Leadership, Democracy Journal, Catalist, America Votes; a whole new slew of internet-based players in the emergent "netroots" like MoveOn, DailyKos, Talking Points Memo, MyDD and the Huffington Post; and we've seen the emergence of a whole new set of leaders from Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Howard Dean, Markos Moulitsas, Rahm Emanuel, Andy Stern and Rob Stein.

Perhaps most importantly, all the new tools we have at our disposal today have made it easier for millions of Americans to partner with us in this critical effort to offer America a better path. Their arrival has brought more passion, more debate, more resources and is creating an entire new generation of leaders capable of serving the nation for years to come.

What Matt's book points out is that this process is still in its infancy, or in a start-up phase; and as such, it is in a very messy and emergent state. Overall Matt's assessment of all this, and of the people involved in this effort, is a little rougher than I would have liked, but that's the business we are in. But if Matt is correct in his assessment - and for this you should read the book - it means that there is much more for all of us to do in the coming days. Our work in building this modern progressive movement is far from finished. That is very exciting to me.

Looking ahead it is important to realize how much American politics has changed in the last few years. Just two years ago Bush and the conservatives were triumphiant. They had greater ideological control of the government than any time in the last 75 years. The progressives and Democrats appeared weak, in retreat, and unable to adapt to modern realities. But then the conservatives collapsed. Democrats won an historic victory in 2006. All measures of Party strength show the Democrats in the strongest shape they've been since before Reagan's election in 1980. The movement's infrastructure has become much more robust and modern. Progressives are way ahead in adopting a whole new set of 21st century tools to engage the Americans of today. Critical emergent constituencies - the new Millennial generation and Hispanics - are moving deeply into the progressive camp. And Democratic leaders are slowly re-orienting the debate and our government around the daunting array of 21st century challenges, many ignored by the conservatives in recent years, and many made much tougher to manage because of the conservatives' many mistakes.

So yes, Matt is right: there is work left undone. But left of center politics is so much more exciting, so much more passionate, so much more entreprenurial than its been since I joined it 20 years ago. We also have more wind at our back than at any time in the last political generation, and for all of this, I remain optimistic that this movement of ours, as imperfect as it is, is poised to take the reins and lead America with confidence and grace to meet the emerging challenges of our new century.

More on the role of independents in 2006

As some of you may remember, I wrote an essay after the election called "the role of independents in the 2006 elections has been overstated."  An excerpt:

The early storyline then is that the shift from 2004 to 2006 came about from how independents swung.  They did swing 17 points, from 48R/49D to 39R/57D.  But a far greater shift happened inside the two parties, where there was an 8 point shift within the Democratic electorate, and a 4 point shift inside the Republican electorate, or a total of a 12 point shift. The Democratic vote went from 89/11 to 93/7, and the Republican vote 93/6 to 91/8.   

While less in percentage terms this 12 point shift happened in what is 3/4 quarters of the electorate, and this 18 point shift happened in what is 1/4 of the electorate.   So this means a far greater number of votes shifted in the last two years between and among the parties than shifted with independents - meaning that Democrats owe their victory much more to gains with Democratic and Republican partisans than they do to the gains they made with independent voters. 

This reduced role for independents was evident even in 2004.  John Kerry did what every Democrat was told was necessary to do win the Presidency - he won independents - and yet he still lost the election.  Why? Because the Rove machine pushed the percentage of the electorate that was Republican to an all time high, 37%, equalling the Democratic share, and they kept 93% of these Republicans.  Kerry while winning independents, only won 89% of Democrats.  This difference - between Rove's 93 and Kerry's 89 within their own parties - cost Kerry the election. 

Over at OpenLeft, Chris Bowers revisits this analysis, and offers a slightly different cut:

By now, we have all heard about how the great Independent swing toward Democrats from 2004 to 2006 was the key to Democratic victory. This is something many of us saw coming for quite some time, and we even dubbed it the "Indycrat" phenomenon. The first article I saw on this was a June 2005 post by Jerome Armstrong. During the rest of that year, it was a topic that was discussed other places like Donkey Rising, Survey USA and many other election focused outlets.

However, at Yearly Kos I briefly chatted with Simon Rosenberg who asked me to look into whether, from 2004 to 2006, Democrats received a greater vote swing from self-identified Democrats or from self-identified Independents.  The reason he asked me to do that is because he believed Democrats actually received more of a boost from self-identifying Dems than they did from self-identifying Independents. While I was skeptical of this at first, I just looked into it now, at it appears Simon was right. Comparing 2004 and 2006 exit polls, here is the estimated swing Democrats received according to partisan self-identification:

Overall Dem vote increase: 5.15%
Growth from Dem's: 2.41%
Growth from Ind's:  2.08%
Growth from Rep's: 0.66%

No matter how you slice it, the 2006 elections were decided much more by the behavior of partisans than independents, who have shrunk to a mere 26% of the electorate.  What has happened in recent years is that the extreme partisanship of President Bush has forced people to take sides, and the number of independents in the electorate has shrunk, their role becoming much less significant.  For a while this all worked for Bush, but as the recent Pew Center Study showed, the electorate has tipped to the Democrats, going from 43-43 in 2002, to 50-35 Democrat/Republican today.  A remarkable shift.  In 2006 Democrats got 52 or 53 percent of the vote, the Party's highest performance since 1982, and one of its ten best showings in the last 50 elections. 

It is safe to say that today Democrats have more wind at their backs then they have since 1982, a long 24 years.  While it is no guarentee of future success, it is critical to note that we are experiencing the most favorable environment Democrats have seen in a generation, and that this environment has come about from both Republican losses and Democratic gains.  Whether this becomes a structural shift in public opinion is up to the Democrats and their leaders.  Certainly the opportunity is there, and all this explains why early polls showing Bloomberg doing much more damage to the Republicans than the Democrats.  The country is much more Democratic today, and that support is strong and holding.  There just isn't a lot of room left over for an independent bid.  What has become loosened - Ds, Rs and Is - has swung to the Democrats. 

For more on all this, check out my recent essay in the Politico, called the Democratic Opportunity.  More post-election analysis from NDN can be found here.

"Base to Bush: It's Over"

Conservative author and commentator Byron York weighs in today with a true must read.  It starts:

Let's say you're a Republican president, a bit more than midway through your second term. You're scrambling to salvage what you can of a deeply unpopular war, you're facing a line of subpoenas from Democrats in Congress and your poll ratings are in the basement. What do you do?

You estrange the very Republicans whose backing you need the most.

That's precisely what President Bush has managed to accomplish during the two big political developments of recent weeks: the commutation of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's prison sentence and the defeat of comprehensive immigration reform. But the president's problems with the GOP base go beyond those awkward headlines. Republicans aren't mad at Bush for the same reasons that Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and the devotees of are; there's no new anti-Bush consensus among left and right. No, conservatives are unhappy because the president allied himself with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) over an immigration deal that leaned too far toward amnesty for illegal immigrants. They're unhappy because Bush has shown little interest in fiscal responsibility and limited government. And they're unhappy, above all, because he hasn't won the war in Iraq.

All of this has left Republicans saying, at least among themselves, something blunt and devastating: It's over.

"Bush fatigue has set in," declares one plugged-in GOP activist.

"We're ready for a new president," says a former state Republican Party official in the South.

"There was affection," opines a conservative strategist based well beyond the Beltway, "but now they're in divorce court."

Read the rest here in today's Post. 

Joe Wilson blasts Bush on Libby commutation

Former Ambassador Joe Wilson takes Bush to task on CNN for commuting Scooter Libby's sentence. Check out the video below:

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