Millennials

Release of NPI Study on Political Attitudes & Behaviors of Colorado & Florida Millennials

As the Director of the 21st Century America Project, I am proud to announce a new body of work that continues our tradition of tracking the evolving attitudes of the Millennial Generation.  As the largest, most diverse and most progressive generation in American history, we continue to analyze their place in the 21st Century Electorate. 

Today, our sister organization, the New Policy Institute, released two reports by 21st Century America Fellow and Millennial expert Mike Hais.  Both reports examine the results of two polls focusing on the political attitudes and behaviors of Colorado and Florida Millennials. 

Young voters were a key component of the voter coalition that won Colorado and Florida for Barack Obama and the Democrats in 2008. These new reports find that two years later, solid pluralities of Colorado and Florida Millennials (18-29 year olds) intend to vote for Democratic gubernatorial, U.S. Senate, and Congressional candidates in this year’s midterm elections. The Democratic vote intentions of Colorado Millennials are based on the continued identification of a majority of them with the Democratic Party, and of the greatest number as liberal or progressive. Finally, most continue to hold favorable attitudes toward the Democratic Party and to approve of Barack Obama’s performance as president.

At the same time, the extent to which these young Coloradans and Floridians turn out at the polls this fall is a major concern. Political participation, and the extent to which the political parties and other organizations attempt to enhance it, is the overriding issue in Colorado and Florida youth politics in 2010. 

Both report can be found on the New Policy Institute site: http://www.newpolicyinstitute.org/2010/09/report-the-political-attitudes-behavior-of-colorado-and-florida-millennials/.

For additional background, or to learn more about The 21st Century America Project, please visit our homepage: http://ndn.org/programs/21st-century-america-project.

Taking Meg Whitman Seriously

The highly regarded Field Poll has a new poll out this morning which takes an indepth look at the California Governor's race.  It is a must read for any student of politics, particularly the complicated politics of California.

I have come to believe that this race may be the single most important race in the entire country.  If Whitman wins she would be an instant leader to be the Republican Vice Presidential nominee in 2012, or she may even decide to run for President.  If she is on the ticket in 2012 she could help bring a disgruntled national business community firmly into the GOP camp, and potentially put California into play in 2012, a move that could cost the Democrats tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars. 

This poll makes it clear that Whitman has a very real shot of winning this race, not just because of her appeal, argument and money but in how she is building her coalition, a strategy that could be replicated by the national GOP with the right ticket in 2012.  In this poll she is, amazingly, winning among young people (the largest demographic age group in the poll) and trails with Latinos - 20 percent of the statewide electorate - by only 50-39.  She has at that magic 40 percent mark today with Latinos, a percentage often cited by Republican strategists as the threshold number GOPers must win if they are to win national and California elections. In contrast, Democrats received 70% of the Latino vote in the 2006 midterms, and President Obama received 67 percent in 2008.  They received similar numbers with young people in each of the last two elections.

For Jerry Brown getting his numbers up to the recent Democratic performance with these two huge parts of the CA electorate - 67 percent plus in each of the last 2 national elections - appears to be now, perhaps, the single most important strategic goal of his campaign in the months ahead.

If Whitman wins this race in the way she is attempting to win it she will become a powerful leader of a modern, 21st century GOP.  Her victory would signal  that the national GOP has begun to figure out to pick the lock of the very 21st century Obama electoral majority, built to a great degree on the enthusiastic support of young people and Hispanics. 

As I wrote a few weeks ago Whitman would be a perfect VP candidate for Jeb Bush if he were to run and win the GOP nomination.  This ticket, led by the governor and former governor of California and Florida, two of the largest states in the nation, could credible attack the Obama electoral map, whose firewall today is the heavily Latin parts of the country (CA-SW-FL). With the new found weakness of the President in the rustbelt and with VA and NC likely to be unwinnable in 2012, the President and his team will have to mount a very fierce defense of this Latin belt.  If they hold it they can hold the Presidency.  And for the GOP, it is looking like they could actually field a ticket in 2012 which could - emphasize could - win enough of the midwest and the Latin belt to mount a very credible challenge to the President next time around. 

So, it is time now to take Meg Whitman, and her modern campaign, seriously.

Update Thursday AM - Whitman has gone up with billboards in Spanish announcing her opposition to SB1070.  Further evidence of a smart and modern campaign.  And the always sharp Christina Bellantoni of TPM also takes a look at the innovative Whitman effort in CA this morning.

What We Can Learn from the Generational Divide on Immigration

For those who follow NDN's demographic research or the work of our amazing fellows Mike Hais and Morley Winograd, you won't find many surprises in Damien Cave's New York Times piece "A Generation Gap Over Immigration" (aside, of course, from the surprise of having someone actually write on immigration using a generational lens: thank you Damien Cave!)

Inspired by recent polling, which reflects a generational gap in support for AZ SB 1070, as well as larger questions of current and future flow, Cave's interviews and analysis boil down to some of the most basic and obvious generational characteristics:  Millennials' are shaped by the group-centric, diverse worlds in which we were raised, while Boomers, as Cave writes, "came of age in one of the most homogenous moments in our country's history."  Thus, it is hardly surprising that Millennials would be more progressive on an issue like immigration than an older generation. 

In Cave's article, some argue that this divide might slow reform.  I believe, to the contrary, that studying this divide might hold the key to refining a pro-reform message.  We will likely never get Boomers as a whole to Millennials' place of acceptance, but we can more effectively message to this older generation by speaking to their resistance - namely that the America they know and love will change as a consequence of allowing a new group of immigrants to earn citizenship- rather than avoiding the root of their resistance simply because it makes us uncomfortable or angry.

Broken No More?

There is a new breeze blowing through Washington this week. Yes it has hit 70 degrees outside. Spring is in the air, and it has lightened everyone's step a bit. But the real change is what is happening in the governing party and in the Capitol. The people's business is starting to get done.

It has been a remarkable few weeks here in DC. A payroll tax cut for small businesses to help provide a modest boost to the economy was signed into law, passing the Senate with 11 Republican votes. A serious bipartisan immigration reform plan outline was advanced. The final financial regulatory reform package is taking shape. The President offered up a thoughtful vision on how to improve the nation's education system, and is about to pass a major overall and expansion of the college student loan program. The FCC released a powerful vision for the future of broadband and the internet in the US.  Competitive - and what we all hope were fair - elections were conducted in Iraq. And of course, the big one - modernizing and improving our health care system - is close to passage. 

After a fitful first year, the Democrats are learning, however clumsily, to become the governing party. None of the three Democratic leaders - Obama, Reid, Pelosi - have ever been in their position when the Democratic Party was in such a strong position with the public, or had so much power in Washington. Democrats have more seats in Congress and received a higher vote share in 2008 than in any time since the 1960s. Barack Obama was not yet age ten the last time Democrats were in a similar position in DC, and frankly, the years of conservative ascendancy, which kept the Democrats on the defensive and largely out of power, left an entire generation of politicians more used to challenging the power of others than wielding it themselves. And it has shown over the past 14 months.

This new day for Democrats - huge Congressional majorities, a country tempered by failed conservative policies, a significant Party ID advantage, and a powerful and growing majority coalition - is unlike any time we've seen in Washington in at least 40, if not 70 years. The Democrats have clearly needed time to learn how to be a governing party, to align their interests, manage complex legislation, bring along a lot of new staff, Senators, Members of the House, and a young President into a coherent team. It has been a bumpy process - no big surprise - but there are signs this week that this new 21st century Democratic Party is finding its way, learning how to manage the new circumstances, do what is required to move the nation forward.  It is learning how, after the end of the conservative ascendancy, to become a governing party.

In 2007, Peter Leyden and I wrote an article called The 50 Year Strategy, which argued that the failure of conservative politics and the emergence of a "new politics" of the 21st century offered the chance for the progressive movement to build a new and durable progressive era, and usher in a re-alignment in American politics.  I still believe, deeply, that this opportunity is very much present today. With strong leadership and the courage to tackle the nation's most important problems, it is still very much within the center-left's grasp. And in many ways this question - could the Democrats seize the historic opportunity they had to realign politics, and usher in a new era of reform and progress? - has been, and remains the single most important question in American politics today.  This morning, the chances of the Democrats seizing the moment - and the conservatives continuing to make equally historic political miscalculations - seems ever more possible.

Steven Pearlstein has a nice reflection on all this in the Washington Post this morning.

It may not be morning in America just yet, but today it certainly feels a lot more like spring - a time of hope and of possibility - for Washington and for the 21st century center-left.

Update: See our recent report on the changing coalitions of the two political parties to learn more about the current state of the Democratic Party's emerging majority coalition.

Hais, Winograd Pen Roll Call Op-Ed on Health Care Reform, Political Generations

Prolific NDN Fellows Hais and Winograd have a timely op-ed running in the print and on-line editions of Roll Call today.  It begins:

Millennials, Americans younger than 28, provided President Barack Obama most of his popular vote margin over Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008. Millennials are not interested in letting ideological posturing stand in the way of “getting stuff done,” as Obama likes to say, especially in an area as crucial as health care.

Like the members of other generations, almost all millennials (90 percent, according to a Pew Research Center poll in May) believe that it is time that health care is made more accessible and affordable for all Americans. However, only a third of millennials, in contrast to about half of those in older generations, are concerned about the impact of greater governmental involvement in the health care system (36 percent vs. 47 percent). And millennials are far less likely than older generations to prefer once again deferring health care reform to avoid higher taxes or larger deficits.

The fundamental question that Members of Congress from older generations will need to answer during this summer’s health care debate is just how much they want to accomplish as opposed to scoring political points or pursuing ideological agendas.

For the whole piece visit here.   We will be publishing a longer version of the essay later today, so check back this afternoon for more.

Center for the Millennial Era

Led by Fellows Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais, authors of the critically acclaimed book, Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, & The Future of American Politics, NDN continues to be a leading voice on the Millennial Generation – those born between 1982 and 2003 -- and the profound attitudinal shifts of this generation, the largest and most progressive in American history.

New Attitudes for a New Era

President Barack Obama’s signature on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is the clearest signal yet that America has entered a new civic era, very different from the idealist era of the past four decades. As has been the case with all previous realignments or makeovers in our history, this new era will be marked by a far different conception of the role of government and of the way in which public policy is made and judged.

The latest survey results from the Millennial Strategy Program of communication research and consultation firm, Frank N. Magid Associates, demonstrate that the American public fully embraces this new era even as many in the country’s political establishment continue to behave as though the 2008 election never happened.

Conservatives in the media, and virtually everyone on the Republican side of the congressional aisle, amazingly still seem to believe that the country remains "center-right" and is willing to accept an answer to its economic distress that is based on a continuation of the financial and fiscal policies of the past four decades. Many of their counterparts in the liberal media and blogosphere, and some congressional Democrats, are upset that President Obama even deigns to talk to Republicans and are unrealistically disappointed that that the entire Democratic legislative wish list of recent decades has not been fully enacted within the first month of the new Administration. But what both sides fail to fully comprehend is the degree to which public attitudes have shifted. From the perspective of public opinion, America is now a very different country than it was in the 1980s, 1990s, and even what it was before the financial meltdown of last September.

Here are some highlights from the latest results from Magid’s February 2009 survey that clearly document this change and describe the new contours of the public opinion bedrock on which governmental policy will be debated, enacted, and gauged in the coming decades.

  • Governmental activism has replaced a laissez faire approach to societal and economic concerns. By a greater than 2:1 majority, Americans now say they prefer a government that actively tries to solve the problems facing society and the economy rather than one that stays out of society and the economy to the greatest extent possible. (58% vs. 26%). Overwhelming support for an activist approach crosses all demographic and political lines; only Republicans, conservatives, and 2008 McCain voters have any lingering doubts about the matter. In the 1980s and 1990s many, if not most, Americans believed, along with Ronald Reagan, that government was the problem, and not the solution to problems. In 2009, the American people have turned Mr. Reagan's aphorism on its head even as Republicans in Congress and the media continue to preach that very old time religion.
  • Economic equality is a major goal and standard by which to gauge government policy. A majority of the American public now believes that the best policy is to ensure that everyone has at least a basic standard of living and level of income, even if that increases government spending, instead of an approach that lets each person get along economically on their own, even if that means some have more than others (53% vs. 30%). Support for policies that promote economic equality is widespread demographically and politically. Only Republicans and conservatives are opposed. By contrast, in Pew surveys taken in the mid-1990s, only about four in ten Americans endorsed a governmental guarantee of a basic standard of living.
  • Americans favor a foreign policy based on multilateralism. By almost 2:1, Americans agree that the best way to protect our national security is through building strong alliances with other nations rather than by relying primarily on our own military strength (56% vs. 29%). Once again, Republicans and conservatives stand in opposition to all other major demographic and political groups on this matter. And, once again, the American public has clearly moved in a new direction in recent years. Since early 2002, support for relying on military strength for the country's security has fallen by about 15 percentage points while the preference for depending on alliances with other countries has also increased by about the same amount.
  • Pragmatism has replaced ideological purity as the preferred standard for gauging public policy. Half of Americans (49%) say that the best way to judge the correctness of government policies is how well they work. Only a third (31%) believe that the standard should be whether the policies seem to be morally right or wrong. As in other areas, it is only Republicans and conservatives who are out of step with the rest of the public. Clearly, most of the American people, if not many of those inside the Beltway, are ready to say farewell to the ideological gridlock that has characterized U.S. politics for the past 40 years.

These results reflect an almost total shift in the bedrock beliefs of the American people about the purpose of government and the standards for evaluating public policy. Under the heavy influence of the Millennial Generation’s (those born between 1982 and 2003) preference for liberal interventionism in economic matters, activist multilateralism in foreign affairs, and tolerant non-meddling on social issues, the United States has moved squarely into a new civic era.

President Barack Obama intuitively and clearly understands the magnitude of this major change in public opinion. The American people have adopted new attitudes for a new era. It's now time for the Washington political elites to do the same.

Friday Buzz: Judging Judd, Millennial Tremors, More

Simon's commentary on Senator Judd Gregg's surprise withdrawal of his nomination for Commerce Secretary yesterday was featured in the Huffington Post, the Economist, the Guardian, the Washington Post, and the Hill. From the Economist:

Simon Rosenberg, a Democratic strategist, cheers the news because Mr Gregg had opposed a census reform that might have counted more minority voters, and the census is typically under the Department of Commerce's purview (although this would have been changed had Mr Gregg served).

From Michael Tomasky of the Guardian:

So Gregg was mad, apparently, but there's a back story here. Simon Rosenberg of the Democratic-leaning group NDN, and a former Clinton White House staffer, wrote on his blog:

During the Clinton Administration, Judd Gregg fought hard to deny the Commerce Secretary the ability to use the latest techniques to ensure the most accurate Census count. The goal of this effort was to make it harder for the Census to count minorities, young people and the poor, groups the Republicans do not view as part of their coalition.

And from Chris Cillizza's "The Fix" in the Washington Post:

"The longer the Washington Republican Party holds on to old plays from an old political playbook, fighting a popular Democratic President and a whole new set of 21st century political realities, the more likely they are to suffer in the eyes of the American people," predicted Simon Rosenberg, the head of NDN, a progressive think tank.

NDN Fellows Morley Winograd and Mike Hais were also quoted in a great National Journal piece by Ron Brownstein, "Millennial Tremors" (which would also be a sweet name for the 5th sequel). From the National Journal article:

Generational comparisons can simplify, but early indications are that Millennials may balance idealism and pragmatism better than either Baby Boomers (who have favored the former, at times to self-righteous extremes) or Generation X-ers (who have often had trouble rising above self-interest). Morley Winograd and Michael Hais, fellows at the Democratic advocacy group NDN and co-authors of the perceptive book Millennial Makeover, say that Millennials display the group-oriented values of a "civic generation" like the fabled "GI Generation" that surmounted the Depression and won World War II. Civic generations (a phrase originated by authors William Strauss and Neil Howe) tend to favor "inclusive solutions" that "accomplish results without ... ideological argument," Winograd says.

New Rules for a New Era

One week after the inauguration of President Barack Obama, it is clear that his election and ascension to the presidency have moved America from one political era to another. Realignments like these occur about every four decades with the coming of age of a new, large, dynamic generation of young Americans whose political participation is enabled by a new communication technology. The most recent makeover stemmed from the emergence of the "civic" Millennial Generation (born between 1982 to 2003) and their use of social networks. Civic generations, like the Millennials and the GI Generation before it, are group-oriented, cooperative, and pragmatic. Their behavior stands in stark contrast to the individualistic and ideological Baby Boomers, who dominated American politics for the previous 40 years.

Makeovers or realignments change almost everything about U.S. politics -- election results, public policy, and presidential behavior. Apparently not everyone has noticed this change.

Perhaps the sharpest criticism of the Obama transition came from an unexpected quarter -- "progressive activists" and some of their congressional allies. These disappointed critics thought Obama’s cabinet and corps of advisors contained too many Clinton era pragmatists and too few minorities in high positions. Author and New York Times Magazine writer Matt Bai captured the obsolete nature of their complaint perfectly:

"That sound you hear is the last wheezing gasp of boomer-age politics, the cataloging of individuals according to their areas of oppression the endless process of tallying cultural differences rather than aggregating common objectives. It is a political philosophy that probably made sense 30 years ago but that seems sort of baffling at the dawn of the Obama era."

Bai compared those who criticized Obama to liberals of the early 1960s, such as Norman Mailer, who expected John F. Kennedy, as America's first Catholic president, to act like a political "outsider." But even though he is America's first African-American president, Barack Obama is no more an outsider than was JFK. Just like Kennedy, Obama's transition decisions were thoroughly consistent with the civic era we have now entered. And Obama’s behavior during the transition provides clear indicators of how the President will govern and the nation will respond in this civic Millennial era.

Here are just a few of the things to expect:

  • Limited or no use of ideological labels. Unlike his predecessor who consistently described himself as a "compassionate conservative" or Democrats who spent much of the past four decades seeking a label for themselves that would replace the discredited "liberal," Barack Obama never labels himself ideologically or even uses terms such as conservative, moderate, or liberal. As the President said in his inaugural Address, "On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics."
  • Avoiding moral absolutes as the primary standard by which to structure and evaluate policy. In his farewell address to the nation, George W. Bush said, "America must maintain our moral clarity. I have often spoken to you about good and evil . . .. Good and evil are present in this world, and between the two there can be no compromise." In fairness, Bush was referring to global terrorism in his remarks, but the moralistic tone that characterizes idealist eras typified the approach of his Administration in almost all policy areas, especially social issues. President Obama signaled a far different and more pragmatic tone in his inaugural address "What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works."
  • Working across partisan and institutional lines to get things done in the common interest. Obama’s successful campaign put an end to Karl Rove’s "play to the base" strategy that Democrats also attempted at great cost in many of their recent presidential campaigns. Unlike candidates in the idealist era that just ended, Obama ran a truly national campaign and competed in formerly rock-ribbed Republican states. He was rewarded with victories in nine 2004 red states. The same approach continued during the transition with Obama actively courting die-hard Republican Senators like Oklahoma's Tom Coburn over the release of the second half of the TARP funds and the thought leadership of the conservative movement over dinner at George Will’s house the Thursday night before the inaugural. The end result was bipartisan support for Obama's first legislative initiative with six Republicans, some very conservative, voting with Obama, offsetting the eight Democrats, some very liberal, who voted against the President-elect. It was an outcome reminiscent of the bipartisan votes of the 1950s and something that will continue to occur in this civic era.
  • The end of identity politics. Even as Obama appointed the most demographically diverse Cabinet and set of personal advisors of any American President, the Obama team avoided the identity politics trap into which Boomer President Clinton had often fallen. Any mention of ethnicity or lifestyle differences was made from the perspective of unity and what all Americans have in common. As Obama said in his inaugural address: "We know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness . . . We are shaped by every language and culture drawn from every end of this Earth…we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself."
  • A new emphasis on personal and societal responsibility, service, and sacrifice. The ideas that individuals have the responsibility to behave properly to serve their community and nation and to sacrifice for the common good are all key civic era values. President Obama emphasized these values at many points during the transition, personally demonstrating his commitment to making Martin Luther King, Jr., Day a National Day of Service when he and his wife, Michelle, participated in DC area community renovation activities on the day before his inauguration. He returned to these themes throughout his inaugural address: "What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility--a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task. This is the price and the promise of citizenship."

Last November marked the electoral realignment of the United States from an idealist to a civic era. It changed voting patterns and party coalitions for at least the next four decades. But that was only the beginning of the change that has come to America. With the inauguration of Barack Obama as the first president of the new civic era, the rules that guide the behavior of our leaders and eventually all Americans have changed as completely and substantially as have our politics. The nation is fortunate to have as its new leader a President prepared to teach by example how to live by these new rules for a new era.

Mr. President: Bring Us Together

The election of Barack Obama signaled the beginning of a "civic" realignment, produced by the political emergence of America's most recent civic generation, Millennials (born 1982-2003). Civic generations, like the Millennials, react against the efforts of divided idealist generations, like the Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) to advance their own moral causes. Civic generations instead are unified and focused on reenergizing social, political, and governmental institutions and using those institutions to confront and solve pressing national issues left unattended and unresolved during the previous idealist era. The goal of a transition during such realignments has to be to lessen the ideological splits that have divided America during the preceding idealist era and take steps to unify the country so that the new Administration can more effectively deal with the major issues it faces.

Reducing ideological divisions and unifying Americans to achieve important common goals has been a focus of Barack Obama since even before he announced his presidency. It is one of the key reasons his campaign had strong appeal to the emerging civic Millennial Generation, which he carried by a margin of more than 2:1. When CBS’s Steve Croft asked the then-candidate in a pre-election interview what qualified him, a junior senator with limited governmental experience, to be president of the United States, Obama led off his reply by citing his desire and ability to bridge differences and bring people together.

Through Your Actions

One way a civic era president-elect can demonstrate the importance he places on the need for national unity is to name members of the opposition party to his cabinet. The actions of Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, the only two other Presidents to preside over transitions to civic eras, demonstrate how this game should be played.

For all the media commentary on Lincoln's first cabinet, deemed a "Team of Rivals" by Doris Kearns Goodwin, it should be noted that it contained no one from the discredited Democratic Party, even though it did have representatives that spanned the breadth of opinion within the relatively new GOP. However, Lincoln did add a Democrat, Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, to his cabinet less than a year after taking office. Stanton, a strongly pro-Union Northern Democrat, had opposed Lincoln's election and had served as Attorney General in the final months of the Buchanan administration. However, Lincoln’s selection of pro-Union Democrat, Andrew Johnson, as his vice-presidential running mate in his 1864 re-election campaign demonstrates that it’s sometimes possible to take even a good idea too far. FDR appointed two Republicans to his initial cabinet–industrialist William H. Woodin, who as Treasury Secretary helped FDR implement his economic and fiscal program at the outset of the New Deal, and Harold L. Ickes, who served as Interior Secretary throughout the entirety of the Roosevelt administration. Both Woodin and Ickes were progressives who had supported FDR in the 1932 election. While neither was a member of the Republican Old Guard, together they demonstrated Roosevelt's willingness to reach beyond his own party to enlist what today would be called "moderate Republicans" in a unified effort to overcome major national problems.

Reflecting America's changing demographics and social mores, Barack Obama has chosen the most diverse cabinet and set of top advisors of any president in U.S. history. Two members of Obama's larger number of appointees -- Robert Gates and Ray Lahood -- are not Democrats, the same number for which FDR found room. This represents a greater number of members of the a different or opposing party than were present in the Cabinets of any of Obama’s idealist era predecessors.

President-elect Obama’s attempt to include a wide range of political opinion and backgrounds in his Cabinet and White House team has generated criticism from the most ideological members of his party, just as FDR and Lincoln faced such criticism from the extreme partisans of their day. Obama's appointment of many "centrist" cabinet-level officers who previously served in Congress, the Clinton Administration, or as governors suggests to his critics that he is abandoning his pledge to bring about significant change in economic, foreign, and social policy. But as political scientist Ross Baker points out, "In uncertain times, Americans find it much more comforting that the people who are going to be advising the president are steeped in experience. A Cabinet of outsiders would have been very disquieting." And civic realignments like the present one have come at the most uncertain and stressful times in America's history.

Through Your Words

Lincoln and FDR are also renowned for their ability to use their words to rally Americans to a common cause. Both did so at the very outset of their terms. Both of these great civic presidents’ first inaugural addresses addressed the fears of a nation in crisis with rhetoric that has continued to ring through the ages.

Lincoln, in another last-ditch effort to forestall secession, told the South that neither he nor the Republican Party would make any attempt to undo slavery in states where it already existed. But he also reminded the South that, while only its actions could ultimately provoke civil war, his "solemn oath to preserve, protect, and defend" the Constitution would require him to prosecute that war if it came.

Lincoln concluded his address with an appeal to the secessionists to rejoin the Union:

We are not enemies, but friends…Though passion may have strained, it must not break, our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Roosevelt used his inaugural speech to rally the country to the task ahead by telling it, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." He reminded his listeners that at previous dark moments in our national history vigorous leadership joined with a supportive public to win ultimate victory in the nation's trials. Perhaps most important, FDR gave clear recognition that the United States and its people had moved from what we have called an "idealist" era of unrestrained individualism to a "civic" era of unity and common purpose:

If I read the temper of our people correctly, we now realize as we have never realized before our interdependence on each other; that we can not merely take but we must give as well; that if we are to go forward, we must move as a trained and loyal army willing to sacrifice for the good of a common discipline, because without such discipline no progress is made, no leadership becomes effective.

Even before President-elect Obama had a chance to utter similarly comforting and inspiring rhetoric, his inaugural plans came under fire for inviting Pastor Rick Warren, a fundamentalist minister and activist in the passage of California's Proposition 8 outlawing gay marriage, to give the invocation at his inauguration. But the selection of Warren should not have been surprising to careful observers. In his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, Obama signaled his desire to find common ground on divisive social issues such as abortion, gay marriage, and gun control.

By bookending his inaugural with a benediction from Joseph Lowrey, a minister who favors legalizing gay marriage among other liberal causes, Obama has signaled his determination to put an end to the debates over social issues from an idealist era that is ending and enlist all those willing to join his cause to rebuild America’s civic institutions.

For in the end, it is the American people that Barack Obama must rally to his side. It is they who will ultimately decide the effectiveness of his transition as a springboard to a civic era Administration. So far their judgment is overwhelmingly positive. A late December 2008 CNN national survey describes "a love affair between Barack Obama and the American people." That survey indicated that more than eight in 10 Americans (82%) approved of the way Obama was handling his transition, a figure that was up by three percentage points since the beginning of the month. Obama's approval is well above that of either Bill Clinton (67%) or George W. Bush (65%) at that point in their transitions.

More specifically, the poll suggests that the public approves of Obama's Cabinet nominees, with 56 percent saying his appointments have been outstanding or above average. That number is 18 percentage points higher than that given to Bush's appointments and 26 points above that of Clinton's nominees. To quote CNN polling director Keating Holland: "Barack Obama is having a better honeymoon with the American public than any incoming president in the past three decades. He's putting up better numbers, usually by double digits, than Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, or either George Bush on every item traditionally measured in transition polls."

Of course, the final judgment of the Obama presidency by the American people and history will be based on his performance in office starting on January 20. Still, these polling results clearly suggest that Barack Obama has internalized and put into operation the historical transition lessons provided by Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, the presidents who led America's two previous civic realignments. If his inaugural address comes close to matching their first inaugural speeches, President-elect Obama will begin one of the most important administrations in the nation’s history with an enormous reservoir of political and public support that will serve him well in the crucial early days of his Administration.

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