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National Service and National Pride: Obama/Powell Initiative Is Down Payment to Millennials

Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais are fellows of NDN and the New Policy Institute and co-authors of Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics (Rutgers University Press: 2008), named one of the 10 favorite books of New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic Michiko Kakutani in 2008.

The selection of former Secretary of State Colin Powell to announce the Obama Administration's national service initiative, "Renew America Together" (USAService.org), is much more than a smart political move. It’s a perfect down payment on the promises Obama made to his most ardent supporters, the Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003).

The support of young voters was decisive in Obama's narrow nomination victory over Hillary Clinton and their 2:1 margin for him over John McCain accounted for 80 percent of his nearly nine million national popular vote lead last November. By giving Powell this important and visible role, Obama simultaneously burnishes his bipartisan credentials and demonstrates his understanding that the United States has moved to a new era dominated by the outlook of a new generation determined to make America a stronger and more unified country.

Millennials are of an archetype labeled "civic" by the seminal generational theorists William Strauss and Neil Howe. Like all other civic generations throughout American history, Millennials are defined by their strong desire to advance the welfare of the entire group and, by extension, all of society. The willingness of Millennials to help make things better was reflected in their enthusiastic reaction to Obama’s call during the campaign for a program aimed at young people that would help them pay for college in exchange for two years of public service, either in the military or one of the federal civilian service organizations. While the financial concerns of a generation heavily burdened by educational debt may have partially accounted for the loud applause this idea always generated, there is far more to it than self-interest.

A 2004 Harvard University Institute of Politics survey indicated that 85 percent of college-age Millennials considers public service an effective way to solve problems facing the country. A virtually unanimous 94 percent say that volunteer activity is effective in dealing with challenges in their local community.

Millennials have already clearly demonstrated their strong willingness to put these attitudes into action by participating in service programs in large numbers. In 2004, 80 percent of high school students, all of whom were Millennials, participated in community service activities. This contrasts with only 27 percent of high school students, all whom were members of the much more individualistic Generation X, that did so in 1984. Stemming from the virtually total public service participation of Millennials, by 2006 more than a quarter of those who volunteered for one of the federal government's National Service organizations (26 percent) were 16-24 year olds. That was twice the contribution of young people in 1989, when all of those in the 16-24 year old cohort were Gen-Xers.

But this won't be the first time that a civic generation has rallied to the service of America. And, it won't be the first time that a grateful country has rewarded this service. After the GI Generation great-grandparents of today's Millennials helped to defeat the Axis in World War II, the Servicemen's Readjustment Act, better known as the GI Bill of Rights, sent millions of returning veterans to college. This was not only a just reward for a job well done; it was also excellent public policy. By exponentially increasing the number of American college graduates and the size of the country's middle class, it paved the way for the long period of post-war growth that made the last half of the 20th century the American Century. If history is any guide, the Millennial Generation will follow in the footsteps of the GI Generation and through its dedication to public service will leave America an even stronger country than the one they inherited.

Thursday New Tools Feature: Phoning It In

As I mentioned in a New Tools update this Monday, President-elect Barack Obama's decision to include a participatory text-messaging component to the Neighborhood Inaugural Ball shows that, better than most politicians today, he understands the evolving relationship between Americans and their mobile devices.

However, text messaging is only a part of the developing mobile landscape. A few new studies this week emphasize the growing importance of mobile devices in Americans' media consumption habits. One from the Cisco Visual Networking Index finds that a higher percentage of consumers in the United States watch video on their mobile phones than in any other country -- a whopping 23%.

Another report, this one from Ad Mob, documents a dramatic increase in the use of mobile phones to access WiFi networks.

Eight percent of total ad requests within Ad Mob's U.S. network came from WiFi networks, up from three percent in August.

Typically, users can access WiFi in the home, office or hotspots where personal computers are presumably present and available. Yet the results suggest that users are opting for their cell phones and are potentially more engaged with their handset than the PC.

The emergence of WiFi-capable phones, combined with ever-increasing WiFi penetration, means that more and more mobile users are able to access high-quality media on their devices. It also means that mobile phones are increasingly becoming the go-to devices for mobile internet access; for example, when I went abroad over the holidays, I brought my iPhone with me but left the laptop at home, a phenomenon which is becoming increasingly common.   

Finally, just for fun (and to see just how far mobile technology has come in a few short years), check out LG's new Watch Phone, unveiled at CES 2009 this week:


A touch-screen phone with 3G and Bluetooth capables, the watch also takes pictures and records video. I'm not sure I would rock one at this point, but only because I don't have enough yellow outerwear to go with it.

For more on why mobile phones and web video matter in politics today, and how to use mobile technology and video to message more effectively, check out our New Politics Institute papers, Go Mobile Now and Reimagine Video.

It's a Brand New Ballgame: Presidential Transitions in a Civic Era

Almost before the echoes of Barack Obama's Grant Park victory speech had died away, pundits and the blogosphere began to keep score about the effectiveness of his transition. In a way, a presidential transition is like a political spring training that gives the incoming manager and his team a chance to prepare and set the tone for what amounts to a four-year long regular season. Every transition presents opportunities for an incoming Administration to put together a game plan to deliver hardball policy ideas to give the new team an early lead in the beginning of the regular season. One danger the new team faces during the transitional pre-season is being suckered by the other side into playing for keeps before opening day. With President-elect Obama’s Cabinet and White House policy team largely in place, and the maneuvering over various economic bailout options mostly behind us, it’s time for some preseason analysis of the management decisions the Obama team has made.

This upcoming season is a particularly important one to get ready for because the new president is taking office during a political realignment. Realignments are rare events in U.S. politics, occurring only about once every four decades; the 2008 realignment is only the sixth in American electoral history. During and after a realignment, the old political truths–and the standards for judging presidential transitions–that appeared axiomatic during the preceding era no longer apply and the President-elect has to manage the process with an acute sensitivity to what the times demand.

As we indicated in our book, Millennial Makeover: MySpace, You Tube and the Future of American Politics, all political realignments are produced by the coming of age of a large, dynamic generation and the emergence of a new communication technology that effectively mobilizes the rising generation. All realignments give American politics an extreme makeover. However, because they are caused by different types of generations, either "idealist" or "civic," not all realignments are the same. Consequently, the standards for judging the success or failure of a presidential transition vary from one type of realignment to another.

Idealist generations, like the Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), whose coming-of-age produced a realignment centered on Richard Nixon’s “law and order” campaign of 1968, try to impose their own personal morality on the country through the political process. Political debate in eras dominated by idealist generations often tends to focus on social or moral issues, not economic or foreign policy concerns. Because idealist generations are highly divided, ideological, and uncompromising, during these types of realignments, the most successful transitions are those that advance the ideological goals of the new president and his winning team.

The current realignment however, is a "civic" realignment, produced by the political emergence of America's newest civic generation, Millennials (born 1982-2003). Civic generations react against the efforts of divided idealist generations to advance their own moral causes. They expect their team to unify the country, focus on reenergizing 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 transition efforts of President-elect Obama should be measured against this set of expectations, not those of an idealist era like the one just ended.

Honest Abe's and FDR's Transition Lessons for Barack Obama

Previous civic realignments occurred in 1860 with the election of Abraham Lincoln and in 1932, when the Millennials' civic generation great grandparents, the GI Generation, put Franklin Roosevelt in the White House. It's no coincidence that these civic presidents, along with George Washington, top all lists of our greatest presidents. All three led the United States in resolving deep crises by inspiring and guiding new civic generations and creating, revitalizing, and expanding the country's civic institutions. It is this high historical standard that will set the bar for history’s evaluation of Obama’s presidency, making his preparation for the new season all the more challenging.

An incoming president during a civic realignment must avoid exacerbating the national crisis that he will soon inherit but also avoid being tied to the failed policies of the outgoing Administration. So far, President-elect Obama has been able to maneuver through this political thicket as deftly as Lincoln and FDR did after their own realigning elections.

Southern states began seceding from the Union within days of Lincoln's election. Lincoln attempted to reassure the South that he would do nothing to tamper with slavery in states where it already existed, but he could not keep secessionist states in the Union without acceding to their demands to permit slavery in new territories. That would have required him to reject his own principles and those of his Republican Party, something he was unable and unwilling to do.

The outgoing Democratic President, James Buchanan, argued that secession was unconstitutional, but also that he had no power to prevent it. Consequently, he did virtually nothing when the seceding states took control of federal institutions throughout the South and blockaded Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor. Lincoln waited until South Carolina actually fired on Fort Sumter before he announced his intention to use military force to relieve the federal garrison there. Not being precipitous or overly anxious made it easier for Lincoln to prepare for, rally, and lead the country in the war that followed.

The transition between the Administrations of Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt was far more strained. In contrast to Buchanan, Hoover made a number of post-election attempts to persuade or, in the view of pro-FDR historians, entrap Roosevelt into endorsing Hoover's monetary and fiscal policies. Hoover presented to FDR an offer to share power in the public interest, but what he really wanted Roosevelt to do was commit to killing the New Deal before it even started. In letters to conservative Republican senators, Hoover said that if the president-elect agreed to what Hoover wanted, "he will have ratified the whole major program of the Republican administration; that is it means the abandonment of 90 percent of the so-called new deal." More specifically, Hoover wanted his successor to renounce, among other things, aid to homeowners unable to pay their mortgages, public works projects, and plans for the Tennessee Valley Authority. FDR studiously avoided making any policy commitments or even responding to the outgoing president's efforts to contact him, going so far as to claim that a secretary had misplaced a letter to him from Hoover. FDR's ability to preserve his political independence and policy flexibility made the historically high-scoring first 100 days of his presidency possible.

Obama Is a Good Student of History

Both the Bush Administration and the Obama team seem to be well aware of the rocky Hoover-Roosevelt transition during which an already bad economy worsened. Both Obama and Bush wanted to avoid open conflict and strained to be, or at least appear, cooperative on issues such as the auto company bailout and the use of TARP funds to stabilize the nation’s financial system. This approach fits the promise of Barack Obama to avoid excessive partisan confrontation. It fits the desire of the Bush Administration to shape a historical record as positive as possible.

It is also clear, however, that Obama is attempting to follow in FDR’s footsteps by seeking to avoid collaborative policy making or commitments to continue any Bush Administration policies. For example, Obama’s economic team has resisted overtures from the Bush Administration to coordinate more fully on a financial sector rescue package or endorse the release of the second tranche of TARP funds. Instead, the Obama team has kept its focus on the next political season by pushing Congress to quickly pass an Obama-designed stimulus program even before January 20, 2009.

From the beginning of the transition, Obama and his team have repeated the mantra that the United States has "only one president at a time,” a nice way to say, “wait until spring training is over and the regular season starts before we start playing for real." Based upon the professionalism and historical sensitivity he has demonstrated during the transition, his team should be not only a pennant contender, but also one capable of winning the World Series of a civic realignment.

Update: Franken Officially Wins Election, Great Op-ed on the "Failed State Next Door"

Franken - The Minnesota State Canvassing Board confirmed today that Al Franken has won his Senate election, ending a weeks-long recount process that started with the Democratic challenger facing a roughly 215-vote deficit.

Black Swans - A great blog by David Rothkopf on Latin America and foreign policy.  Here, the term "Black Swan" means a recurring theme throughout history in which key events or discoveries of real significance forced a rethinking of the rules and standard approaches that had previously guided society.  And we definitely need to rethink our policies in Latin America.  Excerpt of the piece: 

The best place to begin looking at what might be unexpected is to identify
what most Washington types think is in store for us. As of right now, 2009 looks
like this: deeper, messier recession worldwide, the beginning of the U.S.
pullout from Iraq, worries about Pakistan and Iranian nukes, hopes that Obama
can restore U.S. standing. Oh, and recently a recognition that Israel-Palestine
will continue to be an open wound. But here's five black swans that could arrive and wreak unanticipated havoc: 

1. The failed state next door

At a meeting of leading diplomats from around the Americas I attended not too long ago, the subject that caused the greatest concern was the situation in Mexico. Organized crime has taken a dominant position in a number of provinces and the federal government is struggling to contain the growing security threat. The country is losing oil revenue due to plummeting prices and mismanagement of PEMEX, the national oil company. The Merida Initiative, Plan Colombia-lite for Mexico, has not made the progress some had hoped for and the result is a fragile situation. Add the possible consequences of a very tough 2009 economically and a match is tossed on tinder. In a world in which there is no such thing as foreign policy any more -- every key event has U.S. domestic consequences -- there is no better example than our neighbor. The symptoms of crisis will come streaming over our borders and border-state politics will make it a problem Obama cannot ignore. (Especially with a Homeland Security secretary who is a former border-state governor.) 

The Census Confirms: The U.S. Increasingly More Southern and Western

On Monday, the U.S. Census Bureau released its estimates of state-by-state population, which show a decades-long pattern continuing apace: growth in the country's Southern and Western states continues to out-pace that in the states of the Northeast and Midwest.  Sound familiar? Yes, that's because you heard it here first.  Since NDN began its analysis of the Hispanic electorate and the demographic trends nationwide, we concluded that our nation is becoming:

 

 

 

 

 

Some have criticized President-elect Obama for having a Western-heavy cabinet and administration, and while this might not have been intentional, it does reflect the demographic trends of the nation.  Finally, the Census data is important because it provides our first clues as to re-districting based on the 2010 Census - for example, Texas is expected to gain three House seats, Nevada will most likely gain at least one. Stay tuned as NDN continues its demographic analysis during 2009, in preparation for re-districting analysis. 

The Obama Administration Reflects 21st Century America

Over the past week the number of Hispanics/Latinos in Barack Obama's administration jumped to 7 individuals, an historic number, with the appointments of U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar and U.S. Rep. Hilda Solis.  Even before this week, Obama was already receiving praise for setting a record of top Hispanics in the Cabinet (full First Read Cabinet Census listed here).  The number of senior Latino staff to the White House might increase once again, if Adolfo Carrion is in fact named to head the White House Office of Urban Policy.  The Latinos named to the administration so far, and their posts: 

- Gov. Bill Richardson (NM), Secretary of Commerce
- Nancy Sutley (of an Argentine mother), Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality
- Moises "Mo" Vela, Director of Administration Office of the Vice President
- Luis Caldera, White House Military Office
- Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs
- U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO), Secretary of the Interior
- U.S. Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA), Secretary of Labor

Additionally, Rep. Xavier Becerra was approached for the position of USTR, but it is reported that he decided to remain in the House of Representatives.  Rep. Becerra and others have been asked by the Spanish-language media if they feel that the number of Hispanics named is "sufficient," which completely misses the point of what these appointments mean.  As stated by Rahm Emanuel, "diversity wasn't the driving force here....most importantly, the quality is of a single standard.  We wanted to make sure that we got a great staff of seasoned people - both on the policy front and political front - who knew their stuff."  What we celebrate is not that Hispanics are filling some sort of quota, we celebrate that the new administration is inclusive and receptive of talent, regardless of background and ethnicity, and we celebrate that the Latinos being named are leaders who have excelled in their respective fields.   We celebrate that Latinos are not only a growing demographic, but that it is finally out in the open that they are also a part of the most talented pools of leadership in the United States.

As Simon has stated, these appointments mean that Democrats - and President-elect Obama - are working to build a very 21st century, and potentially durable, coalition.  They are discovering the new electoral map of this new century, and employ the latest and potent tools to engange the American people.  Obama particularly engages the Latino community through his Spanish-language updates and press releases on the inauguration, and through the Spanish translation of all his press releases and weekly address.  

NDN congratulates all of the Presidential nominees, particularly our friends and collaborators - Rep. Hilda Solis is a longtime friend of NDN's and provided important support to our affiliate Latino voter mobilization campaign, Adelante 08.  Gov. Richardson and Sen. Salazar are also longtime friends and formed part of NDN's founding advisory board. The nomination of our fellow Latinos not only demonstrates the power of the Latino vote, it is a reflection of the reality of our nation's demographic makeup and reflect's our nation's true mixed racial and ethnic identity.  We congratulate President-elect Obama's commitment to reflecting the talent that comes from this racial reality in his Administration. Moreover,  these appointments are proof of our community's abilities - these Latinos are also the most qualified people for the job. 

Long Road for the GOP in this Center-Left Nation

Long RoadNDN got some fun attention over at Townhall today, where Don Lambro gnawed on Simon's argument (originally posted here, and featured in The Hill yesterday) that the GOP is looking at a long road back to anything resembling power. Townhall, for the uninitiated, is one of the leading right-wing news sites-- something like a conservative answer to the Huffington Post.

Lambro accused Simon of "irrational exuberance," brushing off geographic, demographic, and hard electoral realities, and falls back on the old saw that "we still live in a center-right nation." To Lambro, I say, quit falling back on your saw, and fall on your sword, instead!

The simple fact is that, compared to Republicans, Democrats are playing on a field that is much larger-- and growing.

The GOP is seriously limited by geography-- they are increasingly competitive only in the South and upper Rockies.  In the next Congress, three-fifths of Senate Republicans will come from those two areas. Obama proved that Democrats can win without winning the Deep South, while picking up three states in the new progressive south-- Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina.  The GOP will need to find a new part of the country to win, and it's not looking good for them anywhere.

Even more ominously, Democrats represent a large, diverse, and growing demographic coalition, while the Republican coalition is homogenous and shrinking. In particular, Hispanics and Millenials both voted for Obama by a 2:1 margin this year. Neither of these demographic groups carried any electoral significance 25 years ago (we Millenials weren't even born!), and are positioned to become serious political forces in the 21st century.

Lambro also marshals historical references to shore up his argument, but his analogies are bogus. While some have compared 2008 to 1964, it seems far more appropriate, given the current state of the economy, to compare this election to 1932.  And if I may, I'll call Lambro's attention to the congressional election of 1934, when the Democrats picked up nine seats in the House and ten in the Senate. In 1936, Dems sealed the deal as they maintained their majorities in congress, and Roosevelt won all but two states. En garde!

And as for Lambro's favorite old saw, I'll pass that question to Hoover Institution fellow Tod Lindberg. Says Lindberg, the idea that we live in a center-right nation is dead. Welcome to a center-left America. 

Of course, events could change these patterns and shift these trends, but the way things are going, Simon's "coroner's report" was anything but irrational exuberance.

Thanks to Mike Hais and Morley Winograd for their help in putting this together!

Thursday New Tools Feature: The Multi Media

According to a new Deloitte survey on the state of the media, we are now living in a diverse media ecosystem where no one type of media is dominant. Unsurprisingly,

The millennial generation — ages 14 to 25 — is leading this charge now as it accesses content on all sorts of new devices and distribution platforms using a variety of pricing schemes and advertising models. The millennials consume the most media and are more likely to get entertainment from multiple media sources and applications. That’s in contrast to a few decades ago, when media was more expensive and so was consumed most often by older generations with more disposable income...

Millennials are less likely to watch TV or use conventional news sources, and "their preferred way of absorbing content is watching video on the web and handheld devices or listening to music on mobile phones and MP3 music players." The survey also found that "the iPhone has had a big impact on how users communicate, get their news, and entertain themselves. Many young people are using it as a replacement for a laptop." Within the next few years, many more affordable phones will have functionality comparable with the high-end iPhone. 

Along with the Deloitte survey, another just-released study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that 18% of households are now cell-phone only, with migration being accelerated by the recession. 

These two studies reinforce NDN's message that understanding and adapting to this new media environment is essential for survival in this political day and age. President-elect Obama's media team understood this, and its "any and all" approach to media, advertising and outreach was in tune with Americans' media consumption. To learn more about how to use these tools effectively, check out our New Politics Institute New Tools campaign, featuring great papers like Go Mobile Now, Buy Cable, Advertise Online, Leverage Social Networks, and Reimagine Video.

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That's right, we're looking for winter and spring interns.  For details, go to our internships page. To apply, e-mail your resume, a cover letter, and a brief writing sample to jobs@ndn.org.

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