Barack Obama

Race and 21st Century America

Senator Obama will give a major address today on race. Somehow this feels like one of those defining moments in a campaign, where a candidate must rise to a powerful challenge to his or her candidacy. Successful candidates seize this moments. Failed candidates don't.

For this campaign, and this candidate this issue of race is one of the defining issues of our times. In my recent essay On Obama, Race and the End of the Southern Strategy I talk about all the demographic changes happening in America today, and write:

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 (click it for a larger version), 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.

Given our nation's shameful racial history, building a national narrative, and a politics, around these powerful new demographic realities is one of the most urgent governing challenges facing our nation's leaders at the dawn of this new century. As the nation changes, and becomes more "intolerant of intolerance," there simply is no way to lead this new America, at this time, in this century, without getting this defining development of our day right.

NDN has been at the forefront these past 3 years in pushing back on manifestations of the anarchronistic - and morally unacceptable - politics of racial resentment that defined American politics in the latter half of the 20th century, the era of the Southern Strategy. And I am proud of that to no end. But now the end of the conservative ascendency in 2006, the current debate over immigration, the emergence of the Democrat's historically diverse field in 2008 is giving the country a chance to redefine our national conversation about race, to move beyond an era of racism to an era that celebrates and embraces our diversity, and lives up to that powerful American prayer of "e pluribus unum."

As I wrote in my Obama and Race essay, redefining race is a prerequisite for any post-Southern Strategy progressive majority. Moving beyond an era of racial resentment is not just the right thing to do, but as I argue it is a necessity for progressives if they hope to build a durable governing majority in this much more racially diverse - and much more tolerant - America of the 21st century. Which is why the mixed signals on race and tolerance coming from the Clinton campaign is not just morally questionable, but also dangerous for the long-term interests of the progressive movement itself.

This is the challenge and moment Senator Obama faces today. To talk about what is universal rather than specific, to embrace the inspirational principles on which this great nation was founded, to help the nation move beyond a shameful period in its history, to make it clear that he believes that as a nation, and as a world that "we are all in this together." Let us hope that he seizes this important moment and helps usher in a new and better politics for our nation.

Update: The speech was simply amazing. Read it here. We will have video links in a bit. I remain deeply proud of Barack Obama, his courage, his eloquence and his abiding faith in us and this great nation.

Update II: Video of the speech is below:

Hitting 50 percent, Obama strengthens his case

Today Senator Obama opened up a significant lead in the two daily tracks, Rasmussen and Gallup, hitting 50 percent in each.

Earlier this week I speculated Senator Obama might climb this high, and if he did, his case that he is winning and that Senator Clinton is losing the election would become very persuasive to those remaining superdelegates. Obama is now at 50% in the polls, has won more delegates, votes and states, and has raised more money and has a far superior organization. He appears to be, by all important measures, winning the race for the nomination.

One of the last remaining arguments the Clinton campaign has used is that she has won more important states than Senator Obama. But this argument is not persuasive on many levels. Using Chris Cillizza's analysis of the ten most important swing general states, for example, Obama comes out ahead. Of the ten in his list, Florida is unresolved, Obama has won 5 outright (CO, IA, MN, VA, WI), won the delegates in another (NV) and Senator Clinton has won 3 (NH, NM, OH). Additionally, one of her wins, NM, was essentially a tie. No matter how you cut the "important" states it is hard to argue that Senator Clinton has done better in those states that matter most.

What will the media do if Obama manages to catch and pass Senator Clinton with her last remaining area of strength, the superdelegates? Will and can that happen before the April PA primary? I still maintain these next 5 plus weeks before the April PA primary is a dangerous time for Senator Clinton, one where if the current trends continue, we could see a growing chorus for her to end her campaign.

Sunday Update: While Obama's Sat poll numbers dropped a bit, two stories today reinforce the danger that may await Clinton over these next 5 weeks. A major NYTimes look at the superdelegates reports a growing concern about the the Democratic race continuing, and a powerful desire to end it soon, In the 2nd story, Obama picks up more delegates from CA and IA, increasing his lead and adding to his momentum.

Bai on Obama and race

Many came to our Wednesday forum here in DC looking forward to hearing from Matt Bai. But on Wednesday morning, Matt and his wife welcomed their 2nd child into the world, a daughter, and he ended up missing our conference.

For those disapointed in not hearing from Matt you can read an essay he somehow wrote this week that will be appearing in this Sunday's Times Magazine, What's the real racial divide? While I don't know that that I agree with all of it, it is an interesting take on how race is playing out in the Democratic campaign so far.

This is a subject we have written and talked about a great deal at NDN in recent months. For more read my recent essay, On Obama. Race and the End of the Southern Strategy.

Obama now leads in the daily tracks

Just a few days ago Senator Clinton was leading by 4 and 6 points in the two major daily Presidential tracking polls. Now Gallup has Senator Obama up 5 (49-44) and Rasmussen has him up 2 (46-44). Obama has clearly now recovered from his tough week last week and seems to regaining some degree of national momentum. In both polls the movement is two way - he is trending up and she down. It is astonishing how this race continues to change, evolve, mature.

See this post for more on my thoughts about this next phase of the Democratic campaign for President.

Tue Update: Rasmussen now has it 48% Obama 41% Clinton, Gallup 48%-45%.  If Obama breaks 50% later this week with the small momentum he will get from his Mississippi win tonight, he will be able to say to all the undecided superdelegates that he is over 50 percent in the national polls, has won more votes, states and delegates, has raised much more money and has a far superior national organization.  And that given the math the only way she can win is by destroying him and his campaign, something nobody wants. 

So while the campaign moves on to the next round of states, you could see a scenerio developing in this 6 week window before Pennsylvania where elite Democratic opinion decides that he is definitively ahead, that it is dangerous for the party to prolong the fight and pressure mounts on Senator Clinton to fold.  For her campaign Obama's rebound in the national polls is a dangerous development, and one she is going to have address quickly or risk having this race slip from her grasp before we get to the Keystone State.


Clinton, Obama enter the campaign's next phase even in national polls

Starting a week ago Friday Senator Clinton surged in the national polls, erased a sizable Obama lead, won more votes in OH and TX, and raced ahead of Senator Obama by between 4 and 6 points. Both daily tracks, Gallup and Rasmussen, and now Newsweek, have the race changing again, finding the candidates within a point of one another either way. Clinton's surge has come to an end, and the race now appears tied as we enter this next phase of the campaign.

Update: As hard as it is to come to terms with, it sure appears that the Democratic race will continue through early June. 3 more months. Following Mississippi this Tuesday is PA on April 22nd, Indiana and North Carolina on May 6th, West Virginia on May 13th, KY and OR on May 20th, MT and SD on June 3rd and Puerto Rico on June 7th. My hope is that a deal can be struck to let FL and MI hold primaries in that early June window so at least all the voting can be wrapped up by then.

We will now be entering a very different phase of the campaign. Fewer states in play, fewer elections, less horserace, more attention to the candidates themselves, their views, their values. The media beast will need to be satiated, and without polls and elections to fill it, we will see a remarkable and complicated dance between and among the President, John McCain and the two Democratic candidates, all focusing much more on national issues - and new developments in international and domestic affairs - taking the current debate to a new and different place. The Democratic nominee may end up being decided by how the two candidates adjust to this changed issue and political environment, which will force them to leave behind their early primary positioning.

The Democratic campaigns are simultaneously having their playing field shrunk and enlarged, as this phase is both happening in many fewer places while going national - if not international - at the same time. It will be interesting to see how each of them decide to deploy their massive networks of support in this period - what exactly are all those millions of Obama and Clinton people in the early primary states suppossed to do now?

The first phase of the Democratic nomination for President ended this week. It ends with the two candidates tied in national polls and Obama ahead in delegates, votes, money and organization. But amazingly this next phase, one that will take us through June, is a little longer than the 8 week window that took us from Iowa to Texas. So much happened in the last 8 weeks. It is incredible to think we have another phase of even greater length about to begin. There will no doubt be many twists and turns along the way in what is clearly a very different phase in the race to the Democratic nomination.

Sunday update: Gallup's daily track is picking up addiitonal movement for Obama, and now has the Illinois Senator up 48%-46%, a net change of 6 points towards Obama just in the last few days. Rasmussen isn't showing the same movement and has it unchanged from yesterday. So time will tell if Gallup is picking up something new or things are just bouncing around within margin of error. But we do know now that the powerful Clinton surge has ended and we move on to a new phase in the race.

Clinton Rising, Part 3

After a week of gains by Senator Clinton, my two daily tracks, Gallup and Rasmussen, have the race stabilizing, and arriving in about the same place - her up 4 and 6. Will be interesting to see how the WY and MS elections effect the national polls. 

$55 million and the emergence of "a virtuous cycle of participation"

Travis touches on this issue in his post, but on this day that Barack Obama announced that he raised $11m more last month than any candidate in the history of politics, I wanted to revisit this theme again. For the story here is not just about money, but the emergence of a new 21st century people-driven politics.

Pete and I talk about the emergence of what we call a "new politics" in our "50 Year Strategy" essay, and in a piece I wrote right before Super Tuesday I talked about the explosion of money, voting and volunteering all coming together in "a virtuous cycle of participation."

Here is the heart of it:

A Virtuous Cycle of Participation - Finally, Obama has one very powerful advantage in these final days that is hard to see and evaluate - the power of his virtual community across the country. We saw the power of this community with the truly extraordinary amount of money it raised for him in January. But equally important in these final days will be the virtual door knocking these millions of people will be doing - emails to their address books, actions on MySpace, Facebook and other social networking sites, text messages sent to friends, viral videos linked too, and comments left on blogs, newspapers and call in radio shows. It is no exaggeration to say that this million or so impassioned Obama supporters will reach tens of millions of voters in highly personal ways in the next few days, providing a messaging and personal validation of Obama that may be equal in weight to the final round of TV ads, free media and traditional grassroots methods.

All the way back in 2003, I wrote an essay about this new era of participation in politics that argued the new Dean campaign model was changing the way we had to imagine what a Presidential campaign was all about. In the 20th century, a Presidential campaign was about 30 second spots, tarmac hits and 200 kids in a headquarters. In the 21st century, the race for the Presidency would be about ten million people going to work each day, wired into the campaign through the campaign's site, through email, sms, social networking sites etc acting as full partners in the fight not just passive couch potatoes to be persuaded.

This is a very different model of politics. One begun by Dean but being taken to a whole other level by Obama. It puts people and their passion for a better nation at the core of politics. When used correctly, it creates a virtuous cycle of participation, where more and more people engage, take an action and bring others in, creating a self-perpetuating and dynamic network of support. It is also why the endorsements of entities with large, active virtual communities -, MoveOn - is so meaningful for Obama. He has created an on-line ecosystem that can quickly take advantage of the support of the millions of people now doing politics in this new 21st century way and exponentially grow his dynamic community of change.

The Democratic Party is one entire Presidential cycle ahead of the Republicans in adopting this new model, and I will argue it is simply not possible for the Republican nominee to catch up this year. Too much experimentation, too much trial and error goes into inventing this new model for it to be easily and quickly adapted. It has to be invented, not adapted. I'm sure the GOP will catch up over time, but this year year the only GOP candidate who has taken this new model seriously has been Ron Paul - and they have paid the price. Obama raised almost as much money in January of this year as John McCain raised in all of 2007. Democrats are raising much more money across the board, seeing historic levels of voter turnout, increased Party registrations and millions more working along side with the campaigns - all of which is creating an extraordinary virtuous cycle of participation that continues to grow the number getting engaged in politics as never before. While there can be little doubt that anger towards Bush and disapointment with his government is a driving force behind this, the key takeaway is that the adoption of this new politics by Democrats allowed the Party to take advantage of this tidal wave in unprecedented ways, and will be one of the Democratic Party's most significant advantages going into the fall elections.

Much attention has been given to the money raised by this Obama network. Much more needs to be given to the power of it to deliver message, provide personal validation to friends, neighbors, colleagues and peers in ways so powerful, and ways never seen before in American history. I have no doubt that it has been the campaign's ability to foster and channel the passion of his supporters - creating a vrituous cycle of particpation - into an unprecedented national network - helping amplify and reinforce the power of Obama's argument - that is playing a critical role in Obama's closing the gap with Clinton in these final exciting and dramatic days before Super Tuesday.

Looking at the electoral college, 2008

Markos does an excellent write up of a new 50 state SUSA poll that looks at how the electoral college would fall, today. Both Clinton and Obama grind out narrow wins over McCain, but what is most interesting is the different paths each might use to win.

Update: Markos has more.

More on the Canadian intervention in the American election

Should the Senate Foreign Relations Committee ask the Canadian PM to come to DC and explain the Canadian governments intervention in an American election?

It sure appears that the multiple leaks out of the Canadian government were targeted to tank Barack Obama. The GOP in Washington would much prefer to run against Senator Clinton, and these leaks appear to be an effort by conservatives in Canada to help their ideological cousins in the US by hurting Obama at a critical point in the election.

Josh Marshall has new information showing definitively that the Canadian leaks were designed to hurt Obama. New news accounts show the Clinton camp had similar conversations with the Canadians as the Obama camp - but only the Obama conversations were leaked. What makes this particularly gauling is that Senator Clinton has been much more critical of NAFTA than the junior Senator from Illinois.

So, Senator Biden, what to make of all this?

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