21st Century Agenda for America

Ten Days that Shook the World: Jan 26 to Feb. 4

It’s late Monday night before the Super Tuesday election and I’m reflecting back on the most extraordinary 10 days of politics that I have ever experienced -- 10 days, to borrow a phrase from John Reed, that could shake the world.

Only 10 days ago we watched the South Carolina primary, seen as a do-or-die moment for the Obama campaign. That Saturday January 26th primary was being held only a week after the Nevada Caucuses that Hillary won, a week that was marked by negative campaigning and the constant talk about the impact of race in the pending vote.

Obama had to win and win he did – big. The 55 percent landslide vote for him (versus Clinton 27) was decisive, but just as important was his victory speech. He delivered by all accounts an extraordinary speech that touched almost everyone who viewed it – and millions could via web video and YouTube. That speech beautifully framed the themes that he would continue to articulate for the next 10 days, as he continued to gain momentum day by day.

It’s worth briefly remembering the major developments each day, lest we forget how fast this all took place. The speed is jaw-dropping, but not inexplicable. This speed is part of the new politics of our hyper-connected world. Ten days in 1919 revolutionary Russia with barely any telegraph lines is one thing. Ten days in our over-mediated internet world is another.

Sunday: The Caroline Kennedy New York Times editorial that started the meme of JFK comparisons. It was the critical crack in the dam that started the whole outpouring of Northeast liberal support.

Monday: Senator Edward Kennedy’s endorsement at American University was jammed with ecstatic young people. The Kennedy meme gets turbo-charged, and the establishment Democratic pols who had held fast out of respect for Hillary begin to break ranks.

Overshadowed in all this is President Bush’s State of the Union address, which is countered by Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, (who the next day endorses Obama in the heartland), and Barack himself who does a web video response that catches a viral wave in YouTube and tops the charts as the most popular video 24 hours later (now at more than 1 million views).

Tuesday: The Florida primary is held amid a lot of acrimony for Democrats. The national party had said no delegate would be seated because of the state party pushing the primary to the front of the line. The Democratic candidates agree not to campaign there, but Hillary decides to go down to Florida for a victory party since the names are still on the ballot and, in fact, she comes out on top. All night CNN and other TV stations display the results and confuse the audience. Obama supporters seethe at what they consider dirty tactics.

Wednesday: The Edwards bombshell drops. After telling everyone that he was in the race til the convention, John Edwards decides to abruptly pull out before Super Tuesday. The great sorting process begins for former Edwards supporters, but more to the point, for the progressive wing of the Democratic party. They must figure out which of the remaining two will best carry out the progressive cause. MoveOn decides to hold an unprecedented “election” of its members to see whether a two-thirds majority will endorse.

Thursday: The morning does not start well for the Clintons. The New York Times publishes an above-the-fold front page article on former President Clinton’s shady dealings with the authoritarian leader of Kazakhstan, Nazarbayev. A crack team of Times reporters nails down the story of how a buddy of Bill’s is able to secure a lucrative uranium deal against all odds shortly after Bill and Buddy visit Kazakhstan for a sumptuous banquet with the strongman, who Clinton praises. The buddy makes a killing when the price of uranium skyrockets, and then proceeds to donate more than $130 million to Clinton’s charitable foundation. For many Times readers the whole deal reeks, and is reminiscent of the bad old days of Whitewater.

Hillary has her own bad media day when ABC News digs up old video tapes of her time serving on the board of directors of Wal-Mart, between 1986 and 1992. They show her remaining silent as the company waged a battle against any efforts to unionize the Wal-Mart workers.

By the evening, the Democratic Debate takes place in Hollywood, in none other than Kodak theater, the site of the academy awards. The stars come out for this one too, (though substantially less decked out). California, and the rest of the nation really tune in as the two candidates pretty much debate to a draw, but the newcomer Obama benefits more from two hours straight in the national media sun.

Friday: MoveOn does endorse, after 70 percent of members who vote choose Obama. This commits the powerful 3.2 million member organization to put its online organizational machine into overdrive.

The online money story starts to really make the rounds. Obama raised $32 million in the month of January, more than any presidential candidate has ever raised in a month during competitive primaries. But the real kicker is that $28 million of it came online, and 90 percent of those online donations were less than $100, meaning the campaign can come back to those people time and time again before they max out at the $2300 cap. Clinton meanwhile, declined to say what she raised, though it came out later that she raised only $13 million in the same period. In other words, Obama raised almost $20 million more than her.

Saturday: Time Magazine comes out with a cover story for the coming week on “Why Young Voters Care Again, and Why Their Vote Matters.” The text reads like an infomercial for Obama, who clearly garners the vast majority of Millennial Generation support. So Time ensures that in doctors and dentists offices across America this week, the talk among patients will be about these kids and why they love Obama.

Sunday: The Los Angeles Times comes out with a glowing endorsement of Obama, to join the San Francisco Chronicle, Sacramento Bee, and San Jose Mercury News. To top it off, Maria Shriver, first lady to popular Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, surprises the Obama camp by showing up to a big rally of women in LA and endorsing Barack.

Monday: Polls are now showing the critical state of California as a virtual dead heat. This is an extraordinary shift in fortunes. In the summer. Clinton led everyone by 30 percent, by December she still held a solid 12 percent lead.

Some national polls even put Obama ahead of Clinton. Again, this an extraordinary shift in fortunes. As of only Jan 20th, Gallop had Hillary 20 points ahead of Obama; by Feb 2nd she was only 2 points ahead – statistically tied.

By Monday night, when I am writing this, on west coast time near midnight, an incredible YouTube video tells the story. The Barack Obama Music Video, created only about 48 hours earlier by a group of popular young musicians, passes the mark of 1 million views. The title is appropriately called: Yes We Can.

If you have not watched it, do so. It explains, as much as anything, what it is about Obama that many people clearly love.

I don’t know exactly what the Tuesday elections will bring in terms of final results. But I do know that we have crossed a threshold of American politics where we are in uncharted turf. It’s very possible that what will come out of this primary will be very powerful indeed. It may well shake up American politics, and roll through the November election, and yes, it might just shake up the world.

We’re all spectators to what is now unfolding, but we’re also all actors. Whatever comes next is up to us.

Let’s see what the next 10 days will bring.

And please vote. Thanks.

Peter Leyden

Director of the New Politics Institute

Report from Israel 2 - The Bush Legacy in the Middle East

As some may recall I just returned from a 10 day foreign trip, including 6 days in Israel. There I spoke at a major policy conference and met with Israeli journalists, policy makers, elected officials, entrepreneurs and other civic leaders. All in all it was a remarkable trip.

I offered up some initial thoughts soon after arriving in Jerusalem. Since I returned I've been thinking a lot about the trip, and have watched as the people of Gaza spilled into Egypt and the Winograd Commission issued its report. I've come away from the trip with a profound sense that the Bush era has made the Middle East more radical, less stable, more anti-American and anti-Israeli. The policies of the Bush Administration have left our ally, Israel, in a much weaker position than they found it.

4 key points:

The Iraq War is directly responsible for the rise of Iran as a regional power. The Iraq War removed Iran's greatest regional rival, placed an Iranian-influenced Shiite-led government in the heart of the region and paved the way for Iran's current regional ascension, which includes much more robust support for Hezbollah and Hamas. The chaos which has ensued in Iraq will also no doubt create an entire new generation of trained radicals who will be haunting the region for years to come. And the failure of our policy in Iraq has made it much more difficult to rally domestic and world opinion against the prospect of a nuclear Iran, a development hat simply must be seen as one of the greatest security threats in the world today and one that is an existential threat to Israel.

As readers of this blog know I have been obsessed for years about what Bush and company believed would happen in the region if America put in charge of Iraq Shia political parties whose leaders left the country during their war with Iran, and lived and sided with Iran in its war against Saddam. Did we not understand the history of the regional Sunni-Shiite struggle? How could democracy flourish there, particularly without any real plan for investing in and nurturing Iraqi civil society? How could the first Shiite-led Arab government in the Middle East become anything but a threat to the region's Sunni populations, Sunni governments and an ally of Iran?

After the initial success of the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2002, George Bush had many choices on how to proceed to bring about a more peaceful and prosperous world, and further riding the world of security threats. At a strategic and operational level, it is now clear, for the interests of both Israel and the United States, that the decision to invade Iraq, the lack of a serious plan to bring about post-invasion regional security, the lack of a serious plan for investment in Iraqi civil society, has been a disaster and left the region much more unstable and dangerous than before.

The epic failure of Bush's democratization agenda as a regional strategy. Prior to going to Israel, I had believed that the President's "democratization" agenda was just a rhetorical facade for Western audiences to put a more pleasant face on his more imperial designs. But in Israel I learned that Bush and his foreign policy team actually believed in this agenda, and worked to carry it out in the region. They met with Arab heads of state, and told them that is was a new day and that they needed to open up their closed societies. They promoted elections in Iraq, which of course elected Shiite parties close to Iran and anathema to the region's Sunnis. And most consequentially, over the objection of the Israeli government, the Bush Administration allowed the participation of the terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah in elections in the Palestinian Authority and Lebanon without insisting that they give up their arms, recognize Israel's right to exist or renounce the killing of innocent civilians. Both Hamas and Hezbollah did well in their elections, and have now gained a degree of local, regional and international legitimacy - and political power - long denied them. The immediate impact was to plunge Lebanon into further political chaos, split the government of the PA into two and strengthen Iran's regional influence.

Again, what were they thinking?

As in Iraq, the Bush Administration seemed to believe that democracy itself had magical powers, that it was the act of electing a democratic leader which would bring about peaceful societies. But this idea is an extraordinary misreading of history. Hitler gained power through democratic elections. Chavez and Putin today, two of the world's most powerful autocrats, were elected. Fidel Castro is elected every few years in Cuba, getting, remarkably, all the votes cast. Elections themselves have never been sufficient to create open societies. The American formula, used so effectively to help bring modern and open societies to ever more of the world, was always more complex. It required free markets, personal liberty, the rule of law and yes democratic representation. Applying tried and true formula to the Middle East would have required Hamas and Hezbollah to renounce terror, recognize Israel, and demilitarize as a condition for participation in their elections. There can be no rule of law, no personal freedom if one of the major political parties in a nation keeps a private and well-funded private militia.

Bush's democratization agenda has become a joke in the Middle East. Israelis I spoke to saw it as a wildly naïve, dangerous concept and policy. This simplistic view of what builds complex, functioning, civil societies undermined both realistic planning for the peace in Iraq and the Arab-Israeli peace process. For it is harder to see today how meaningful peace can be brought to Israel and Palestine with he fanatics of the Hamas having control in Gaza and a newfound global legitimacy. Sunni Arabs have not exactly been inspired by the aftermath of our democratizing efforts in Iraq, which among other things strengthened the regional hand of Iran and the Shiites.

And, of course, once Hamas and Hezbollah had strong electoral showings, as many had predicted, the Bush Administration announced they would not work with these newly elected groups, further making the Bush call for democratization a hallow and cyniical one.

So also damaged in the Bush era is the whole idea of free and open societies themselves, as his loony vision of "democratization" has been instrumental in bringing further chaos and instability to an already troubled region. It will be vital that the next President, of whichever Party, restores the tried and true - and hard - vision of what it takes to build pluralistic, democratic and free nations.

The failure to lead the world in lessening its dependence on oil. There can be no doubt that the world's dependence on oil is itself becoming a grave security threat. We know the global environmental challenge a carbon-based economy offers. But we also have to come to terms with oil how many of the oil producing nations themselves - Venezuela, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia - are becoming the main funders and purveyors of regional and global instability. And perversely, as the price of oil rises with the perception of global instability, these nations now have a national interest in maintaining or increasing the instability which fuels their economies and is the source of their regional and global power.

Hamas and Hezbollah are funded with Iranian oil money. Al Qaeda's start up capital came from a wealthy Saudi family, made rich by their relationship with the Saudi Royal family. Oil money funds the Madrassas which are radicalizing young Muslims around the world. Oil money is keeping dictators in power, preventing the modernization of many nations.

It is simply impossible to be for Israel and for a peaceful Middle East without also being for an enormous global effort to wean the world its debilitating addiction to oil. The Bush Administration's lack of leadership on climate change has in of itself strengthened the hand of the world's emerging petro-dictators, and lengthened their time of influence and power.

Bush's actions and rhetoric have made tens of millions of Europeans and Arabs much more anti-US and anti-Israeli. For many, the collective impact of the Axis of Evil war on terror language towards Muslims, the botched Iraq War, the lack of a commitment to lasting Arab-Israeli peace, the closeness of Bush and the Israeli government, and the sheer unpopularity of Bush himself has weakened the Israeli cause across the world, including in the United States. The Israelis are now seen not just aligned with the United States but one of the world's most unpopular and belligerent leaders. The UN may have once equated Zionism with racism, but now the world is essentially equating Zionism with Bushism, something that may be much more damaging for Israel than the infamous UN Resolution.

In my several days in Britain I was able to learn first hand how anti-Israeli many British elites have become. It was something I didn't expect, as it was a Brit almost a century ago who cleared the way for the early Israeli state, and Israel is the only nation in the entire Middle Eastern region which looks anything like a Western pluralistic democracy.

To sum up my trip to Israel left me excited about what a wonderful nation Israel has become, and worried about the worsening political situation around it. I have no doubt from my trip that the people of Israel are ready to accept a free and open Palestinian state, one that accepts Israel's right to exist, and one that does not launch attacks from across what we all hope will be a peaceful border. But years of historic and extraordinary failures of the Bush Administration have made the realization of a peaceful Middle East and a two state solution much more difficult, leading me to conclude that this American Administration has weakened our ally Israel and done damage to the hope of peace in the Middle East.

Clinton ad: "Falling Through"

Hillary Clinton's new ad "Falling Through" focuses solely on the economy and her proposals to fix the problem. As she says in her debates, it's not about putting a band-aid on the problem.

For more information on NDN's coverage of the 2008 Presidential election, click here.

Google.org Now Moving on Five 21st Century Challenges

At the end of last week, the leaders of Google.org, the philanthropic arm of Google, finally announced the five areas that they will focus their money and attention in the coming years. In the language that we use around NDN and the New Politics Institute, the areas are five 21st century challenges that the old politics of the 20th century has ignored but that the new politics of this century needs to address.

I sat in on the conference call they held with Larry Brilliant, the head of Google.org, and he outlined the plan to take an initial $25 million and support organizations or invest in companies in each of these five spaces. They are:

  • “Developing renewable energy cheaper than coal.” This is the holy grail of the green tech world, and Google is going to help make this happen as fast as possible.
  • “Accelerate the commercialization of plug-in electric vehicles.” Which ties into the first one, because once the electric grid is running off clean energy, then the plug-ins leverage that same clean energy source.
  • “Fuel the Growth of Small and Medium-sized enterprises in the developing world.” This fills the gap between the World-Bank level infrastructure projects, and the Grameen Bank micro-loan space. In between, there are the bulk of job-producing small business which need capital and resources too.
  • “Inform and Empower to Improve Public Services.” This leverages one of Google’s core competencies of aggregating good information and getting it into the hands of those who can make for change. It can involve simple things like getting the information of results about kid’s schools in rural areas to the authorities and international agencies who might be able to help.
  • Predict and Prevent.” This is all about getting early warning system in place to detect the outbreaks of any pandemics that might arise, like Bird Flu. This stems from Brilliant’s personal interest in this area.

I know Brilliant from pre-Google days, and his personal story is a fascinating one, one that I laid out in a lengthy magazine-length interview earlier this decade. In short, Brilliant was part of the team the helped eradicate smallpox in the 1970s, a daunting 20th century challenge that we definitively solved.

Onto this century’s challenges….

Peter Leyden
Director of the New Politics Institute

Obama on Community Colleges and Infrastructure

Here's a quick video of Senator Obama discussing community colleges and investing in infrastructure. Apologies in advance for the sideways video and the video quality - I took this with my digital camera. Also, please don't judge me for not having a steady hand.

On the economy, staying focused on the big picture and struggling American families

David Leonhardt of the Times today has an excellent piece today comparing the 1992 Bush Recession to what might be end up being called the 2008 Bush Recession. As he notes what makes this coming slowdown/recession different from 1992 is that in the Bush era the middle class was already in what might be called a recession despite record GDP and productivity growth and very strong corporate profits and a soaring stock market. Even before this slowdown the typical family's income had dropped by over a $1,000 after gaining more than $7,000 in the Clinton era; wages have been flat; and the number of those in poverty, without health insurance and struggling with high levels of debt had increased.

At NDN we agree with the sentiment of some in the piece that the critical thing for policymakers is to focus on offering a new economic agenda that makes this new age of globalization work for all Americans. The most important impact of a stimulus will be to show the American people that their government, after 7 years of ignoring their increasing struggle, is watching their backs, and working to help them and their families once again prosper. But it would be unfortunate if the stimulus debate ended up distracting our political leaders from focusing on the much larger and more difficult challenge of restroring broad-based prosperity in our new economic age.

It is also important for our leaders to realize that the American people's concerns about the economy was sky high long before this recent downturn. As this analysis of the 2006 exit polls shows, there is a strong argument that concerns about the economy drove the outcome of the 2006 Congressional elections much more than the Iraq War. Political and economic elites have been very slow to recognize these pre-slowdown economic realities because for those on the upper end have had a remarkable decade. Their incomes increased, their assets soared, their taxes were significantly reduced. I know from my travels that few American elites were intuitively sympathetic to the middle class struggle of the Bush era because for them things were getting better, much better. And now that the economy is slowing, and their friends on Wall Street are getting fearful of the future, it is essential that the governing class in the United States not accept a $100 billion stimulus as an adequate response the economic challenges of our day. Much more must be done. And offering this new economic strategy that makes globalization work for all Americans is what our Globalization Initiative has been focusing on for the past several years.

The GOP field and immigration

So, the two candidates to win on the GOP side so far? McCain, Huckabee.  Both have been relentlessly attacked, mostly by Mitt Romney, for their "liberal" positions on immigration.  Yet they won, and today both seem better positioned to win the nomination than Mitt, or certainly more than the other immigration demagogues in the field, Fred Thompson and Tom Tancredo. 

How can all those arguing that immigration is the make or break issue in the election explain this? One explanation from the NH exits is that it is a 2nd tier issue, and trails far behind the economy, national security and health care - and leadership and character - as issues of great concern to the American people.  

Once again, immigration has not delivered for the GOP, even in a well-funded Republican primary.

And if Arizona Senator McCain wins the nomination it will give the GOP a candidate who has been a nationally recognized leader on immigration reform.  His presence will also the GOP a shot at contesting the Hispanic vote that has turned so hard against them in recent years, and may make the task of a Democratic win much tougher as he could make the all important region of the Southwest harder to bring back into the Democratic camp.

Election Day thoughts from New Hampshire

It is a very warm and pretty day here in New Hampshire. Turnout in this small state, just 2 Congressional districts all in all, should be very high. Everyone will be watching to see who votes. In Iowa, two-thirds of everyone who voted did so for a Democrat. Obama, Clinton and Edwards all got more votes than Huckabee. In NH, it is much easier for independents to vote in either party's primary, making another big lopsided Democratic vote possible again.

In many ways this intensity gap is the biggest story of the campaign. The Democratic field has outraised the GOP field by over a hundred million dollars. Participation in Iowa shattered, blew apart, any reasonable projections. Democrats are a political cycle ahead of the GOP, re-orienting their politics around the new internet model we've discussed so often here, allowing them to build much larger campaigns and take advantage of the huge cry for change that is ringing out across America. All of this should have the Republicans very worried about what might happen in 2008.

Remember the Democrats won 2006 by about 53-46, one of the best showings of the Democratic Party in a national vote in the last 100 years. In all the generic head to head polls, pitting a generic Democrat against a generic Republican, Democrats lead by 10 points or so, with most results coming in mid 40s for the Ds to the mid 30s for the Rs. The country has lost confidence in the modern GOP and is giving Democrats a shot, and many, many people are excited about what the Democrats are doing. As I wrote yesterday, the narrative out of the Bloomberg camp is that neither party is getting it done, ready to lead. So far the American people simply don't agree.

In addition to seeing an old friend yesteday, Ambassador George Bruno, and talking to other friends and reporters, I went to two events last night - Hillary in Salem and Barack in Concord. Everything I saw and heard confirmed the narrative playing out in the media today - that Barack Obama is transforming this campaign and that he and John McCain appear poised for victory (click here for my initial take yesterday and review quotes of mine in the Boston Globe and the San Francisco Chronicle this morning). I don't want to raise expectations but I wouldn't be surprised to see Obama win by 15-20 percent today. Incredibly he received 16 of the 23 votes from the two first in the state in the first in the nation primary (see below). With Barack's strength in South Carolina, the Nevada Caucus a week from Saturday is turning into one of the last places Obamamo might be stopped.

I am going to write more later about the events and my impressions of the candidates, but for now I summarize by saying that the Democratic nomination has become Barack Obama's to lose, and on the Republican side it still seems hard to see who has the political strength to win their nomination. McCain may come out of New Hampshire with momentum, but he is a far from perfect candidte, with little organization and money, and is deeply distrusted by major and important elements of the GOP coalition. A low 30s showing in NH does not make a nominee. With Romney and Paul's money, as well as Huckabee's grass roots appeal, the GOP campaign may take a long time to resolve itself.

Update: The Post's Dan Balz has a very good analysis of where the race stands today.

The Bloomberg fantasy

As a native New Yorker I have a great deal of respect for Mike Bloomberg. Though I haven't lived in New York since I left to go to New Hampshire for Bill Cinton in 1992, my friends there all say the city has improved a great deal and credit the Mayor. So let's give him that. The problem for his nascent run at the Presidency is that is simply the wrong year for him and what he thinks he might be able to do for the country. I offer to two primary reasons:

1) The math of a 3rd party candidacy is very tough. Even if he can get on the ballots of all 50 states, the electoral math is almost insurmountable. Consider that to get to a plurality, 34%, he would have to keep both major parties to a total of just 66%, or 33% each. Doing this would require both two major parties to get a lower vote than they have ever gotten since the GOP was founded in the 1850s (I'm sure there are scenerios that his team has crafted that show him winning without a plurality but they all seem far-fetched).

This kind of scenerio would require the functional collapse of both major political parties for him to win. Is that possible in 2008? It's possible, as national polls show one of the two parties, the GOP, consistently in the low to mid 30s. The problem for the Bloomberg scenerio is that a collapse of the Democratic Party seems implausible as the Democrats are in a stronger position today than they have been in at least a generation.

Let's review the numbers. In 2006 Democrats received a higher national vote total - 53% - than they had received since at least 1982, and was one of its highest national vote totals in the last 100 years of politics. Party ID and the Presidential/Congressional generic polls show consistently very high numbers, in the mid to high 40s. Democrats are raising more money across the board than any time in its history. They are using new and powerful tools that allow them to reach and engage many more people very effectively. Their agenda is in synch with the country right now. They have a good Presidential field, and are will likely produce a nominee who can keep the party itself together and prevent a slippage from its mid 40 standing right now. All in all in the Democratic brand is very strong right now by any historic measure.

So what Bloomberg is looking at is a race where the Democrats start in the mid 40s, and appear likely to stay there, and the GOP is at 33 or so. This leaves Bloomberg with an available pool of about 20 percent of the electorate. Winning would require him to win all those voters and somehow knock the Democrats down 10 points nationally, into the mid 30s. All of this seems very unlikely, even if he was a charismatic candidate capable of exciting millons of people.

2) His connection to Bush. I don't really know how Bloomberg can overcome his GOP affiliation. He has raised millions of dollars for GOP candidates, and was instrumental in putting on the 2004 Convention that re-elected Bush. There is a strong argument to be made that he did more to re-elect Bush than anyone else in American in 2004. The simple truth of this is something that be exploited easily with paid media, and significantly undermine his "independent" positioning in an election that will be one longer intense repudiation of the Bush era.

Much more will be written about his potential candidacy, but I think the idea of a Bloomberg presidency is a fantasy. If he runs he will likely do what Perot did in 1992 and weaken the GOP, help elect the Democrats (1992 ended 43 Clinton, 38 Bush, 19 Perot) and take himself out of contention for being a potential interesting VP candidate for the Democrats. 

On Obama, Race and The End of The Southern Strategy

For the past several years NDN has been making an argument that for progressives to succeed in the coming century they would have to build a new majority coalition very different from the one FDR built in the 20th century. The nation has changed a great deal since the mid-20th century, as we’ve become more Southern and Western, suburban and exurban, Hispanic and Asian, immigrant and Spanish-speaking, more millennial and aging boomer and more digital age in our life and work habits than industrial age. 21st century progressive success would require building our politics around these new demographic realities.

Looking at the leadership of the Democratic Party today, there is cause for optimism on this score. The four leading Presidential candidates includes a mixed race Senator of African descent, an accomplished and powerful woman, a border state governor of Mexican descent and a populist from the new South. Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi represent areas west of the Rockies. Taken together these leaders represent a very different kind of politics, a 21st century politics, for the Democrats.

But of all these great changes the one that may be most important today is the growth of what we call the “minority” population. When I was born in 1963 the country was almost 89 percent white, 10.5 percent African-American and less than 1 percent other. The racial construct of America was, and had been for over hundreds of years, a white-black, majority-minority construct, and for most of our history had been a pernicious and exploitive one. Of course the Civil Rights Movement (particularly the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act) began to change our understanding of race around the time of my birth, but it was the Immigration Act of 1965 that changed the face of America. That act changed who would enter America, reorienting our new immigrant pool from Europe, as it had been for over 300 years, to Latin America and Asia. And America changed.

As the chart below shows, today America is 66 percent white and 33 percent "minority". While the African-American population has grown a bit, most of that increase has come from the recent historic wave of Asian and Hispanic immigrants. In my half a lifetime the “minority” population in the United States has tripled. When I was born one of out ten people walking around America were non-white. Today it is one out of three.


I think it is safe to say that America is going through the most profound demographic transformation in its long history. If current trends continue, America will be majority minority in my lifetime or soon thereafter. In a single lifetime we will have gone from a country made up largely of white Europeans to one that looks much more like the rest of the world.

If Senator Obama becomes the Democratic nominee this profound change will become something we all begin to discuss openly. Today the nation is having a big conversation about this change - whether it understands it or not - through our ongoing debate over immigration. While this debate has seen some of the most awful racist rhetoric and imagery since the days of Willie Horton, what should leave us all optimistic is that only 15 percent of the country is truly alarmed about the new wave of immigrants arriving in America. Consistently about 60 percent of the country says we need to leave all the undocumenteds here, indicating a pragmatic acceptance of the changes happening around our people and their families. Once again the uncommon wisdom of the common people appears to be prevailing here, and it is my hope, perhaps my prayer, that if Obama is the nominee American can begin to have a healthy and constructive discussion of our new population rather than what we have seen to date.

My final observation this morning is a point we focus on in our recent magazine article, The 50 Year Strategy. This election is the first post-Southern Strategy election since its early emergence in 1964. The Southern Strategy was the strategy used by Conservatives and the GOP to use race and other means to cleave the South from the Democrats. This strategy – welfare queens, Willie Horton, Reagan Democrats, tough on crime, an aggressive redistricting approach in 1990 – of course worked. It flipped the South (a base Democratic region since Thomas Jefferson’s day) to the GOP, giving them majorities in Congress and the Presidency. 20th century math and demography and politics dictated that without the South one could not have a majority in the US. But the arrival of a “new politics” of the 21st century – driven to a great degree by the new demographic realities of America - has changed this calculation, and has thankfully rendered the Southern Strategy and all its tools a relic of the 20th century. As Tom Schaller has noted, today the Democrats control both Houses of Congress without having a majority of southern Congressional seats, something never before achieved by the party of Jefferson, Jackson and Lyndon Johnson.

In our article we lay out what might become the next great majority strategy, one yet unnamed, that we believe may be used by the Democrats to build a durable 21st century majority. It will be built upon an America described above, and will embrace the new diversity of 21st century America at its core. At a strategic level, resistance to the new demographic reality is futile, which is why GOP leaders like George Bush, Ken Mehlman and even the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page (here and here) have railed against the GOP’s approach to immigration. They rightly understand that positioning their party against this new demography of America may render them as much a 20th century relic as the Southern Strategy itself.

Liberating American politics from the pernicious era of the Southern Strategy should be one the highest strategic priorities for left-of-center politics. Last night a powerful and thoughtful man emerged on the national stage who deeply understands - and is himself the embodiment of - the moral and political imperative of moving beyond this disappointing age. He appears to be summoning the courage, the vision, and the conviction to usher in a whole new – and better – era of politics for America. At its core this new politics will embrace diversity and difference rather than exploit it; at its core this new politics will be defined by hope and tolerance not fear and Tancredoism; at its core this new politics of tolerance is not just a requirement for a more just America here at home, but is a requirement if America is to reassert itself abroad in the much more globalized, multi-polar, interconnected, and open world of the 21st century.

And of course the arrival of this new post-Southern Strategy age of American politics will be accelerated by the extraordinary level of political participation of Millennials, the largest generation in American history, whose life experiences and values are much more Obama than Nixon.

Whatever happens in this campaign, the arrival of Barack Obama and his politics is a welcome development for our nation struggling to find its way in a new and challenging day.

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