21st Century Agenda for America

Climate Change and Europe

Traveling in Europe, last week, I got a first hand impression of the urgency with which Europeans view the climate change issue. While climate change is just now breaking through as an important political concern in the US, in Europe it is a mainstream concern, popping up in advertising in the London Tube, on television in France and in speeches across the continent. Europeans are--after years of wringing their hands--optimistic if not ecstatic that with the three leading US presidential candidates, Obama, Clinton and McCain all favoring major action on climate change, the US will again engage on this issue.

At the ULI Europe conference in Paris, former UK chief scientist, David King spoke about the multi-billion dollar investments, the UK is making in flood and drainage control in anticipation of erratic weather and a new billion dollar private-public fund to develop technologies to combat climate change. The author of the forthcoming book, The Hot Topic, King, like others I spoke with, is optimistic that the US is now poised to reassume a leadership role. Some of the points he raises are indeed alarming. The summer size of the Arctic ice cap is now a fraction of what it was a mere 20 years ago. Seeing the thousands of square miles of former summer ice that are now open water on a map brings the magnitude of warming home. While the melting of the northern ice cap is alarming, since the ice is formed from ocean water, it is unlikely to have the devastating impact of the melting of the Greenland Ice Shelf which would send land-trapped water flowing into the ocean, raising sea levels by many meters, but that too is accelerating. Were the shelf to melt, some of the largest cities in the world, among them New York, but also many of the megacities of Asia would become uninhabitable. What King's work shows is that even at current levels of carbon dioxide production, there is a 20% chance of disaster. Major action is needed to reverse far worse odds. Thus the importance of the US again showing leadership on this issue.

Key members of the environmental community such as Michael Jacobs, Gordon Brown's special advisor on climate change whom I met with at 10 Downing Street, view US engagement as critical to a globally integrated approach to reducing emissions. The European cap and trade system which got off to a rocky start is, nonetheless now up and running and central to European climate change policy. Trading of carbon permits has created about five thousand financial jobs in London, according to one knowledgeable observer. Environmentalists I spoke with suggested a number of ways that a US system such as the ones proposed for California, the Northeast and, even for the US as a whole in the Warner Lieberman legislation, might learn from the European example. For example, they stressed the importance of auctioning off credits-as opposed to handing them out to polluters--and imposing tight limits. Both Senators Obama and Clinton support the 80% reduction by 2050 and full auctioning of credits recommended by the environmental community.

European environmentalists also support outright mandates and a carbon tax of the type recently endorsed by Vice President Gore.

In coming months, I am excited to be leading NDN's Green project to create a policy framework to combat climate change and working with the NDN community, the emerging clean technology community and other stakeholders to achieve real results. Please email me at mmoynihan@ndn.org with your ideas and suggestions.

The other thing one notices visiting Europe after a hiatus, is the comparative absence of sprawl. With high speed rail now ubiquitous on the continent and gas about twice the price here in the States, the spawl gap between Europe and the US could not be more striking. The Eurostar linking Paris and London now makes the trip in just over two hours. Traveling from Paris to Nice or Bordeaux, once an eight hour tip, is now a two hour blur. Paris has municipal mountain bikes for rent using a credit card at stands across the city. The first half hour is free. In cafes, waiters print out receipts using a handheld printer at your table rather than walking back to a cash register. Half size smart cars from Mercedes that one can easily park and maneuver are the rage.

One is reminded that while the US has been preoccupied with the Iraq war over the last eight years, Europe has been investing and advancing. Nothing stands still and, if the US is to regain its leadership position, it must again discover the future.



Saturday roundup - McCain, immigration, the Senate and Superdelegates

Some am thoughts at this exciting time:

Picking a Democratic Nominee - I may be niave, but somehow I think the current process will end up picking a nominee without the Democratic Party having to do extrarordinary things. If one candidate emerges by mid-March as stronger than the other, the pressure on the weaker one to get out will be so great that the race could just end. The Superdelegates will begin to break towards the stronger one, ratifying the will of the voters. A deal with be struck to seat Florida and Michigan. Markos proposes a 50/50 split - not a bad idea. But we agree with Bob Kerrey these states should not have a voice in picking the nominee, and that the rules are the rules. In this year of all years - when we've seen unprecedented citizen involvement in politics - it is critical that the Party of the People not once again become the Party of the Smoke Filled Room.

For more on the history of how Democrats ended up with this crazy system read the Post's Ruth Marcus's excellent overview.

But of course this puts all eyes on the March 4th states of Ohio and Texas. If Obama wins both these states, or perhaps even one of them, I think he will win the nomination. If that night somehow Hillary ends up winning the night, either by winning one and drawing in another or winning both, she could be back in this thing. This next period - with 2 debates - Wisconsin. Ohio and Texas is for all the marbles. And with Clinton holding large leads in both the big March 4th states, the drama is can Barack - with his financial edge and the power of his personal appearances - catch up? For those of political junkies, the upcoming rallies, speeches and debates are going to be must sees CSpaners as both Obama and Clinton understand the make or break importance of these critical states and will giving it their all.

The Hispanic Vote so far - If you haven't read it, check out NDN's new study on the Hispanic Vote in 2008. It has some dramatic results, and all sorts of bad news for John McCain and the GOP. If you want to see the study's author in person, come to our event this Wed in DC featuring Joe Trippi, Amy Walter of Hotline and Andres Ramirez, the director of Hispanic Programs at NDN.

Will McCain quit the Senate? - Josh Marshall has been asking the question. I think McCain will quit the Senate and run his campaign from Arizona, right in the middle of the hugely important swing region of the Southwest. For McCain being in DC will complicate his life and make it even less likely he wins. The Democrats will use the Senate to tie him down, interrupt his fundraisers, make him take tough votes. He will have to work much more closely with the very failed Washington GOP, which has given him a recession, a declining middle class, the worst foreign policy mistake in American history, unprecedented levels of corruption and cronyism, and no progress on key issues like climate change, health care and immigration. The more tied McCain is to this era of American history the less likely he is to win, and my guess is that by mid-March he will be trailing the Democratic frontrunner by high single digits or more. So he will have to go, to change the dynamic of what may very wll be a losing campaign. And besides Arizona is a good place to retire to.

The interesting question is if McCain quits the Senate what will Barack do? Running for President from Washington is no easy thing, particularly in this year of "change."

McCain, Hispanics and Immigration - I've gotten questions from the press this week about McCain and immigration, suggesting that given his leadership on immigration reform won't he be able to get back to Bush numbers with Hispanics, and put the heavily Hispanic swing states - AZ, CO, FL, NM and NV - out of play for the Democrats.

There is no question that McCain was a leader on immigration reform. But in 2007 when his bill was brought back up by the a newly elected Democratic Senate (it passed a GOP controlled Senate in 2006) McCain was nowhere to be found. Spooked by his early primary stumbles, McCain distanced himself from his own bill, and forced Democrats to negotiate with GOP leaders like John Kyl who had opposed the bill in 2006. The end result of McCain's betrayal of his own bill was without the bill's author, the bill collapsed and progress on fixing our broken immigration system stopped. In a recent interview on Meet the Press, McCain even suggested he would no longer vote for his bill if it came up.

So can McCain claw his way back with Hispanics, given how far his Party has fallen with them? Perhaps, but given his betrayal on this critical issue, his connection to the deeply unpopular Bush, his lack of any real plan for universal health coverage and his strong support of the war (Hispanics are and have been more against the war than the public at large), I think the decision McCain made to walk from his own bill in 2007 to appease GOP primary voters managed to both get him nothing with the anti-immigrant wing of his own Party while at the same time tossing away any chance he had of getting his necessary share with Hispanic voters in 2008.

Update: MSNBC's First Read has a must read account of a conference call today with Harold Ickes of the Clinton campaign, where, among other things, he makes the case for why the election results in Florida and Michigan need to be counted even though as a member of the DNC he voted to strip them of their delegates thus nullifying the results of their elections.

Update 2: TNR's Jonathan Cohn also condems the Clinton Florida and Michigan play, and Josh Marshall captures the anger many feel at the recent wave of Clintonian threats to play games with the system.

Obama on Infrastructure

Crisscrossing Wisconsin today in advance of what may be his next primary win next Tuesday, Barack Obama delivered what aides billed as a major economic policy address. Most notable about the speech following a tour of a GM assembly plant in Janesville--a venue loaded with meaning given the huge losses just announced by GM--was Obama's support for a $60 billion National Infrastructure Bank to rebuild America's infrastructure and his support for a $150 billion energy and technology investment plan to create five million jobs in the new green economy.

Against the backdrop of an economy in turmoil, Obama's message of creating the conditions for long term economic revival was refreshing. The bi-partisan stimulus package signed today to forestall or blunt a recession is certainly needed. However, short term relief is no substitute for the long term leadership needed to get America moving again and to ensure that benefits of globalization flow to all Americans.

The Bush Administration has focused exclusively for seven years on short term appearances at the expense of long term economic growth. Lost has been any sense of vision or leadership for the future. In November, in a paper I authored for NDN on rebuilding America's infrastucture, I offered support for the Dodd-Hagel legislation to create a National Infrastructure Bank and a new Green Act to green the federal government. Obama's support for a bank along the lines suggested by Dodd and Hagel and his $150 billion plan to invest in new energy technologies--like a similar plan proposed by Senator Clinton--is the sort of bold stroke needed to set America on a path of future growth.

A growing consensus is emerging among venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, politicians and increasingly the public that the green economy will be central to America's economic future--this at a time when the once far off dangers of global warming are coming home--as hurricanes rage and the summer ice line of the Artic continues its alarming retreat.

Money and energy are now pouring into efforts to halt climate change and create a post carbon economy. The changes will be profound and overwhelmingly positive--quiet, exhaust free electric cars, a smart and more decentralized electric grid--and new modes of living. As a new NDN Fellow and director of a new green project, I am going to be exploring these issues in coming months. Nothing could be more exciting for me and it is exciting to hear that Senator Obama views building the green economy as central to his economic agenda.

The evolution of the Obama campaign

A lot of the initial chattering commentary over night has referenced Obama's incredible speech in front of 17,000 people in Madison last night. How you can see him growing, evolving, reaching, summoning even more, all right in front of us. That part of the emerging drama of this race is tracking the maturation of the most moving and remarkable public speaker America has seen in a very long time.

Last night he added a whole very compelling riff on McCain, and as I've written, it may turn out that McCain is one of the worst candidates the GOP could have fielded this year. But the most important new part of the speech was his discussion of the economy, of the middle class struggle, something that the campaign has had a very hard time taking to the same level as the rest of his stump. Given how important the economy is this year, it is remarkable how far Senator Obama has come given that his economic messaging has been less than it should be. But later this morning he is giving what the campaign is billing as a "major" new economic speech. For those tracking the evolution of the good Senator from Illinois, this speech - which I think was previewed a little last night - will be an important moment in assessing his continued growth.

He also appears to be in the process of successfully addressing one of his other weaknesses - Latinos. He broke 40% last night in both MD and VA, and actually won Latinos in Virginia. The real test of his new efforts in the Hispanic community will of course come in Texas on March 4th, where both campaigns are already on the air with Spanish language ads (scroll below to listen and watch). Obama doesn't need to win Latinos to win Texas, he just needs to get close, something he did last night, and did in both Arizona and Colorado. As Andres wrote last night, the Clinton campaign is very aware of the centrality of the Hispanic vote as her primetime event last night was very very Hispanic focused.

Of all the stats the one that stood out to me most this morning - and that should be terrifying GOP strategists - was that Senator Obama won more votes in Virginia than all the Republican candidates combined. Yes, Virginia, a state Democrats have not won in a general election since 1964. As Senator Obama has been saying, "something is happening out there." One of the most interesting trends to watch is how the recent Obama surge not only put him ahead of Clinton but of McCain as well.

Finally, while I loved his speech last night, my favorite line is the one from last week "we are the ones we've been waiting for." The campaign took the line and turned it into an incredible video which you can watch from the link.

Update: The Post's Jonathan Weisman has a good piece looking at whether the formidable Clinton triad - women, traditional Dems, Hispanics - broke apart last night.


Senator McCain, be careful what you wish for

I hope John McCain knows what he has gotten himself into. He is inheriting a Republican Party in a weaker state than it has been since before Ronald Reagan was elected President; a conservative movement that has become intellectually bankrupt and discredited; years of disasterous Republican goverance has left him a wildly unpopular war, a declining middle class, a weakening economy, an unraveling of the housing market and an extraordinary legacy of mismanagement, cronyism and corruption; an incumbent Administration which will continue to be big drag on his own candidacy, and, as Dick Cheney demonstrated yesterday, are unlikely to give him the room he needs to establish himself.

Three stories today highlight the difficult environment McCain is inheriting:

From today's Times -

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Friday that many Europeans were confused about NATO's security mission in Afghanistan, and that they did not support the alliance effort because they opposed the American-led invasion of Iraq.

"I worry that for many Europeans the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan are confused," Mr. Gates said as he flew here to deliver an address at an international security conference.

"I think that they combine the two," he added. "Many of them, I think, have a problem with our involvement in Iraq and project that to Afghanistan, and do not understand the very different - for them - the very different kind of threat."

The comments were the first in which Mr. Gates had explicitly linked European antipathy to American policy in Iraq with the reason large segments of the public here do not support the NATO operation in Afghanistan.

Mr. Gates's assessment was an unusually candid acknowledgment from a senior member of President Bush's cabinet that the war in Iraq had exacted a direct and significant political cost, even among Washington's closest allies.

In a piece about Mexican President Felipe Calderon's US visit, also from the Times:

In the interview, Mr. Calderón argued that the only way the Americas could remain competitive in a world where China and Europe were emerging as major powers once again is to integrate the economies in the Western Hemisphere. He warned that the United States was losing influence.

"What is clear to me is that in Latin America, and in the world, for some reason the United States has been losing friends, and it seems to me it should do everything possible to reach out to the few friends it has left."

From the AP there is this new data, coming just days after the President addressed the nation:

Bush reached his lowest approval rating in The Associated Press-Ipsos poll on Friday as only 30 percent said they like the job he is doing, including an all-time low in his support by Republicans.

There should be little doubt that managing this environment would be incredibly difficult for any Republican nominee. But by the choices he has made and the way he has conducted his politics in the Senate, it is clear McCain is a candidate who has taken this bad situation and made it much worse. For he is in the remarkable position of being both tied to a terribly unpopular President and through his past actions have made it almost impossible to imagine how he can unite his own Party. A Post headline today about the CPAC conference this week captures it all:

"History and Necessity Unite Bush, McCain: Old Rivals Need Each Other to Unify GOP and Maintain the President's Iraq Policy."

There is a media narrative that McCain will be a strong GOP general election candidate. But the McCain of 2008 is not the McCain of 2000. In the intervening years McCain has aged a great deal. His Party's governance has weakened America at home and done great damage to our standing in the world. He is now closely tied to the most unpopular President America has seen in the last 50 years. He is the primary defender of the worst foreign policy disaster in American history. His clumsy dealings with his own coalition make it hard to see how he unites his Party this year, a political situation more dire than any other example we've seen like this in modern American history. He has no real economic philosophy at a time when making globalization work for all Americans is perhaps our greatest governing challenge. His position on choice will not sit well with swing voters. He flipflopped big time on immigration in this past year, neither satisfying his own base and leaving himself capable of being villified in the Hispanic community, the most energized voting block in America today, and one he needs to win in 2008. His campaign has not adopted the new internet-based model that has been instrumental in driving the Democrat's huge increase in citizen participation - and money - this cycle.

In a year where change is the theme he is the living embodiment of more of the same, of an old politics gone bad.

The task of winning the Presidency in 2008 would have been daunting for any Republican. By his own choices, his beliefs, his decisions, his politics and his age, it sure seems that John McCain is particularly ill-suited to do what will need to be done for his Party this year, and may have been among the worst candidates the Republicans could have fielded in what will be an incredibly consequential political year.

Update: Huckabee blows out McCain in Kansas today.  Further evidence of the trouble McCain is having bringing his Party together. 

Super Tuesday Aftermath: Handicapping the Campaigns according to Four Key Drivers of the New Politics

There are four key drivers of the New Politics that Simon and I elaborated on in our recent magazine piece “The 50 Year Strategy.” These are four disrupters of the old politics that are restructuring how politics is carried out and will continue to be played in the coming decade. The ones we focused on are the new tools, the young Millennial Generation, the rise of Hispanics, and the emergence of a new 21st century agenda. What’s been incredible about this primary season is how fully realized and important they all have become.

One way to look at the success of the Obama and Clinton campaigns, and their relative strengths and weaknesses, is through the lens of their use of this New Politics. This perspective helps explain the results of Super Tuesday, including what happened in California. The boiled down essence is that Obama is ahead in the tools and Millennial categories, but Clinton is way ahead on Hispanics. As for the agenda, Obama is talking more transformation, while Clinton is talking change, through both are close to each other in specific policies, and they are not yet keeping up to their rhetoric with truly 21st century policy shifts. Let me explain a bit more:

Tools: Obama has done a phenomenal job in the new tools category, while Clinton has been solid and at least kept up. The most dramatic measure is in the online money category. Obama raised an unprecedented $32 million in January, $28 million of it online, and most of it based on 275,000 people who had given $100 or less. Clinton only raised $13.5 million in January, though she has raised $7.5 million since Feb. 1st , mostly online. However, Obama has raised another $7 million in just the 36 hours since Super Tuesday.

The other side of the tools is the online organizing and coordinating. Again, Obama has come out ahead, as I have talked about in other posts. He has an extremely active and virally growing network of people actively campaigning for him. This has been boosted in the last week with the endorsement of the 3.2 million member online organization MoveOn. Then there’s new media, such as the use of video. Obama had been masterful in reworking his campaign speeches via video, something again we have posted on. And his user-generated Yes We Can YouTube video is in a league by itself, now with close to 2.5 million views.

One of the best analyses comparing the two campaigns on this front is Micah Sifry’s recent post at techPresident. He frames Obama as the first in a long line of reform candidates like Ted Kennedy and Bill Bradley to have the staying power precisely because of the new tools. It changed the game.

Millennials: Much has been said about the Millennials in other posts, but it’s worth pointing out that turnout of young people under age 30 has been much bigger than in the past years. For example, of the eight states that were also part of Super Tuesday in 2000, seven saw increases in youth turnout, and in some of these states, youth turnout tripled or quadrupled, according to the numbers at CIRCLE, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. (The reason they use comparisons with 2000 and not 2004 is because they are non-partisan and the uncontested Republican race in 2004 led to few exit polls and poor data on the Republican side.)

The Millennials share of all primary voters in 2008 was in the teens, and even high teens, in all but three states. This category of young voters under age 30 as a share of all voters was up by 4 to 6 percentage points in all eight states that had the data for 2000. For example, in California youth went from 10 percent of those voting in 2000 to 14 percent in 2008. In Massachusetts, from 8 percent to 14 percent.

Obama took the youth vote in 10 of the states, with margins in the high 50s, 60s, and even 75 percent. Two of the states where Clinton took the youth vote were because of the high numbers of Hispanics in those states: Arizona and California. Clinton also nudged out Obama by one percent in Massachusetts. A good overview of all these numbers can be found in this PDF at CIRCLE.

Hispanics: This is the category that Clinton dominates and her campaign has to be credited with foresight on seeing how important this constituency is. The Obama campaign, meanwhile, seems to have grossly underestimated their importance and is playing desperate catch-up, though making good strides, particularly among young Latinos.

The Hispanic vote almost alone can explain what happened in California. As discussed elsewhere, Clinton overwhelmingly took the Hispanic vote in California, 69 to 29. In normal states, that margin could be offset by other factors, but in California, Hispanics made up a full 29 percent of the turnout, compared to 16 percent in 2004. In some calculations we made at NPI based on CNN exit polls, we found that if you took out the Latino and "Other" vote (which includes Asians) in California, Clinton and Obama would have been in a dead heat. When you put them back in, Clinton takes almost every age group, including young people. One thing we all learned here: Hispanics really matter.

Agenda: Change has become the mantra of the race, and implied is not just a change in leadership but a change in agenda. My sense is that craving for a new national agenda is more a part of the equation than the media or the campaigns even recognize. Because if you look closely at the specific policy agendas of Obama and Clinton, they are not representing as dramatic a change as their rhetoric suggests. Nor, in my opinion, are they transformational enough for what the country and the world needs to see. That may well be a function of the primary season. Perhaps we will see more ambitious plans once the nominee is settled and the campaign against the Republicans takes place. Or maybe it will have to wait til after the election.

This final piece of the New Politics equation is the least developed right now. It’s the agenda that boldly takes on the array of 21st century challenges and helps transform America and the world. With that in mind, NDN and the New Politics Institute are putting on a special one-day free event on March 12th in DC to explore whether we might be in a transformational moment. We have a great lineup of people who will be taking about the need for change on that plain. Anyone who is interested is invited to come.

Peter Leyden
Director of the New Politics Institute

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