US politics 2007 is being driven by one central force - the ongoing and deepening repudiation of the Bush Era, its politics and ideology. It is as if we have to struggle, each day, to toss off the language, the arguments, the reality of this disapointing era, as Bush and his team desperately try to stop the ongoing assault on their governing construct and world view.
Look at what has happened in recent weeks, and how the media is handling it all. A majority of Congress, including prominent Republicans, rebuke the President on Iraq. The Post frontpages a story about how our vets aren't getting the medical treatment they deserve. The Times runs yet another story about how Iran isn't going away, and that any plan that we may have for the future of the Middle East must involve them. The Administration cuts a deal with another one of his Axes of Evil, North Korea, and then is pummled by the right, particularly by their own former UN Ambassador. Today Russert destroyed Tony Snow on the inept stage management of the this week's version of its "Iran is the enemy" campaign, and on the same show, Senator Hagel, a likely Republican Presidential candidate, suggests all this Iran talk is a diversion to keep people's attention from the troubles in Iraq and the Iraq votes this week. Libby's defense is that Bush and his team scapegoated him to save Rove. A recent NIE rejected the Administration's assertion that Iran was driving the violence in Iraq, and a Pentagon Inspector General report concluded that Doug Feith, a leader of the neocon faction inside the Administration, created an alternative intelligence process in the runup to the Iraq War that systemically, well, how should we say? Lied.....
It is remarkable how far they've fallen. They have become literally un-believable. In his interview on Russert this morning, Tony Snow kept saying things that didn't make any sense. So why is Iran different from North Korea? Or from Russia during the Cold War? We can talk to them but not to Iran. No real answer for that one. He refered to our need to take on the enemy in Iraq. But who exactly is this enemy Tony, and who exactly are our troops fighting there? And Tony why do we scream bloody murder about possible aid by Iran of the more radical Shiite elements in Iraq, but say nothing when our Sunni "allies" in the region help fund groups who are killing many more people, and more Americans, than the Shiites groups are? And why do we stay silent when a regional Sunni television station, currently aided by the Egyptian government, broadcasts segments glorifying the killing of Shiites and Americans? Or stay silent when the Pakistani Intelligence Services, who like the increasingly famous Iranian Quds force, are an integral part of their government, aids the Taliban, the group that housed and aided the 9/11 terrorists?
Essentially their answer to everything now is that we have to win the war, pulling the troops out will lead to regional chaos and that we need to support the troops. The ground they have to work from has gotten so small. But even this one core argument isn't what it was, and has lost a great deal of its potency. In listening to Snow this morning describe what would happen if we pulled out the troops - Al Qaeda growing in strength, regional actors moving into a failed state, extremists empowered - it sounded as if he was describing Iraq today, as it already is. And the stories in recent days about the lack of adequate care for troops returning home, rotations being shortened, shortages of critical body and vehicular armor on the ground in Iraq, Generals warning that the Army is on the verge of breaking - and then, even the Administration's claim that they are supporting the troops begins to falls apart. Once that happens they will have no ground left to stand on.
It is now clear that the Administration is also in the proces of losing the battle for ideological control of the country. Their arguments, words, frames, constructs, no longer make sense. What happened in Congress on Friday and Saturday was just another manifestation of the main dynamic driving American politics today, the repudiation of Bush era politics and governing philosophy. We are moving on to a new era, slowly, more slowly than is good for the country, but we are moving on.
A final hearty congratulations to the Congressional leaders of both parties who are doing the hard work of making Bush and his allies history. This is tough stuff, and as I sit here tonight I admit I am a little amazed at what Senator Reid and Speaker Pelosi pulled off this week. It was no easy thing, but it also showed that there are many tough but important battles ahead.
Echoing many of the same arguments NDN has made these past 18 months, the New York Times comes out forcefully for comprehensive immigration reform in its main editorial today, "They Are America."
An excerpt: Hopelessly fixated on toughness, the immigration debate has lost its balance, overlooking the humanity of the immigrant. There is a starkly diminished understanding that hospitality for the stranger is part of the American ethos, and that as much as we claim to be a nation of immigrants, we have thwarted them at every turn. We must do better.
The new year began with renewed optimism for the chances of sensible immigration reform in Washington. The hope is justified, but time is short and real change will still require boldness and courage. Citizenship must be the key to reform. The idea of an earned path to citizenship for illegal immigrants was missing from President Bush’s State of the Union address this year, though he has continued to say his usual favorable words about reform. The new Democratic Congress and moderate Republicans cannot be afraid to stand up to the anti-amnesty demagogues and lead Mr. Bush to a solution.
Enforcement of laws cannot be ignored. Punish immigrants who enter illegally, make them pay back taxes and fines, restrict their ability to get work through deceit and false identities. But open a path to their full inclusion in the life of this country.
The alternative — the path of immigrant exploitation, of harassment without hope — will only repeat the ways the country has shamed itself at countless points in its history.
Earlier today Hillary released what her campaign says is the first in a series of web video statements. Called Hillcasts, this one is on Iraq. You can see it here.
In this cycle political video is migrating from 30 second spots to the web and eventually to mobile phones. It will be interesting to see what form these videos take. On TV videos are 30 seconds. The video Hillary released today is 3 minutes. Is this a good length? For her site? For youtube? For mobile media? As a former television producer I am fascinated to see the creation of this new whole form of political communications - non TV video - one which is being embraced with great intensity in the early days of politics 2007.
A flurry of stories this morning about how the big changes in media and technology are once again transforming politics. EJ Dionne writes his Friday column on Obama, Clinton and the internet; the Post reports this morning on the exlosion of Obama on Facebook, and the arrival of social networking sites as a major new organizing tool; and a new national syndicated Media General story on the "MySpace Primary." In here you will insights from NDN, and one our NPI fellows, Joe Trippi.
To stay on top of the latest about the emergence of a new politics, follow this blog and visit our NPI site at www.newpolitics.net.
I've been thinking a lot these last few days about the speed in which these tools are being deployed this cycle. It has begun to remind me a little of 2003, when the hyper competition and money of a Presidential primary campaign caused incredible experimentation with the new set of tools available in 2003. Led by Joe Trippi, the Dean campaign became the leader in imagining and implementing a new model. It is clear that this same competition, the same passionate interest by average people, the same money is now going to produce an explosion of experimentation and a very fast reinvention of our politics around a new set of tools available in 2007. There is no way to know what all this bring, and what our politics will look like next year. But we do know that the able deployment of all these tools is now an essential ingredient for success in the early politics of the 21st century. There is no going back.
For fun, I republish an essay I wrote in late 2003, when all of us were marvelling about the reinvention of our politics, 2003 style:
Some Thoughts on the Internet, Politics & Participation
Posted by Simon on NDNBlog.org in December 2003
First, thanks to all who’ve been posting on the blog. We are enjoying the passion and intensity of the back and forth and want to encourage all to keep it up. The issues being discussed are essential and worthy of a spirited debate. Over time we will attempt to respond to questions being raised in a thoughtful, honest way.
You can also look back through the blog to find postings on issues that will give you a better sense our positive vision for the country. Few organizations on the Democratic side have worked harder this year – or spent more money – advocating for a better agenda for America.
Third, recently on the blog there has been an interesting discussion of the role of the Internet in politics. Several posts referred to the Internet as simply a new tool to distribute a message.
I don't agree.
Howard Dean's campaign is using the Internet – as well as non-net-tools – to organize his campaign in a fundamentally new way. Having worked on two successful presidential primary campaigns from the earliest days – Dukakis and Clinton – I can tell you that the Dean campaign is a fundamentally different animal than anything has come before. I believe the reason he has surged from nothing to frontrunner is his campaign’s innovative creation of a new and better model for how one builds a modern political campaign. It is interactive, participatory, respectful of its audience and thoroughly modern.
In the broadcast era of politics, which lasted from 1960 to 2002, a candidate had a "message" which was then broadcast out through TV, radio, print, mail, etc. to passive political couch potatoes. Crafting a message in this system was paramount for without it, there was nothing to sell to folks.
In the new model candidates can have direct one-to-one iterative relationships with their supporters. The idea of a "message" in this model becomes something much different. For what citizens now expect is not to be fed something fully developed - a message - but they expect to be able to participate in the development of the value system and community of the campaign itself.
Think of the difference between your experience watching TV and being online. With TV you sit. With the Internet you engage. One is passive, the other active. If you believe all this, it helps explain why Dean is succeeding this time. It wasn't just the boost he got from being anti-war. It is that he is clearly a work in progress, not fully formed as a candidate, and there is a sense that by engaging with him over your computer from wherever you sit that you are engaged in building a value system, a candidate and a community. Simply, with Dean, there is something for everyone to do. You can be part of building something, not just consuming it.
What has changed now is the expectation of the voter/activist/consumer. They will come to expect greater intimacy, greater engagement, greater choice, and greater community in their politics. The medium is the message now, and the message is participation. Those who do not understand this new moment and will be left behind the gazelles using the new model to leapfrog old models.
That's why NDN is promoting the lessons of 2003 and its change-leaders: Dean, Meetup, MoveOn, the DNC's datamart, and the bloggers. For the sake of those who want to build a new and better progressive politics – the core mission of the New Democrats for close to 20 years – we have to help lead our side to make the leap from the top-down industrial/broadcast era into the more distributed, citizen-led politics of the Internet Age.
So yes, the Internet is a tool, but Dean is using it in a new way that is transforming politics. This is not the first time new tools have created a fundamentally different reality Consider the atomic bomb. The automobile. The airplane. Television. Guns. Radio. The telephone. Air conditioning. Electricity. All tools. Yet their arrival did not bring a marginal change, as in a better way to hammer a nail. Their arrival fundamentally altered the world so that we have a world that is pre-atomic bomb and post-atomic bomb, pre- and post-tv, etc. I agree with those who have written that tactics without vision and values is not enough. But today the flip side is true as well. Increasingly the voters are hungry for more than a spoon-fed "message." They want what we should want them to want – to play an active role in the life of their nation, and to not accept the gospel of the thirty-second spot and the sound bite. The Internet once again makes this possible, and this is good for our politics, our party and our country.
Though the Times plays this story as good news for advertisers, I'm not sure how good it is. Of those who watched the recorded show, only 42% watched the commercials. This means that more than 50% of people using this new technology have already grown accoustomed to skipping ads.
My family recently got our first DVR, in one of those new Comcast boxes. It had an immediate impact on the way we watch TV as a family. But those habits are evolving, and my sense is that the way we watch TV 2-3 years from now will be radically different from how we do today. The real impact of this new technology - and others - will be felt over 2-4 years, and it is way too early from advertisers to feel a sigh of relief. A 60% skip rate seems really high to me, like people are already making extraordinary changes in their relationship to this thing we call TV.
Visit our affiliate the New Politics Institute at www.newpolitics.net for more on the evolution of TV and other media and how it effects politics.
Another remarkable story, coming from the government, challenging the neocon view of the world.
Among the many telling graphs: "I am not satisfied with the readiness of our non-deployed forces," Schoomaker told the Senate Armed Services Committee, noting that the increased demands in Iraq and Afghanistan "aggravate that" and increase his concern. "We are in a dangerous period," said Schoomaker, adding that he recently met with his Chinese counterpart, who made it clear that China is scrutinizing U.S. capabilities.
The Washington Post's website has been experimenting with something called PostGlobal, "a conversation on global issues with David Ignatius and Fareed Zakaria." Currently it is running a worthwhile discussion on the new North Korea nuclear deal featuring six professors from all over the world and other spirited commentators. If you are looking to learn more about the deal and what it means this is a good place to start.
"By the way, a lot of us are also very concerned about the possibility of a, quote, 'Tet Offensive.' You know, some large-scale tact that could then switch American public opinion the way that the Tet Offensive did," the Arizona senator said.
What does this mean? Hasn't American opinion already gone south? Is he admitting that the war is lost? What does this mean? Senator McCain has some explaining to do.
Secretary Robert Gates is becoming a very interesting historical figure. Increasingly in his comments and actions, he has become a leader of the effort, supported by so many, of making the reign of the neocons an unfortunate memory. He asked for more troops in Afghanistan; admitted mistakes in Iraq; and yesterday, in his response to Russia's Putin, not only did he fail to take Putin's bait (a sign of a new maturity), he distanced himself from the neocon foreign policy construct of the primacy of might and force in our relations with the world:
Mr. Gates cast himself as a geopolitical realist and drew a knowing laugh when he focused on Mr. Putin’s assertion that the United States and its allies were dividing Europe.
“All of these characterizations belong in the past,” Mr. Gates said. “The free world versus those behind the Iron Curtain. North versus South. East versus West, and I am told that some have even spoken in terms of ‘Old Europe’ versus ‘new.’ ”
The last was a reference to a characterization Mr. Rumsfeld made in January 2003 to contrast Germany and France, which objected to the United States plan to invade Iraq, with neighboring supporters, not all of which are NATO members.
Reviewing NATO’s success in standing up to the Soviet threat, “it seems clear that totalitarianism was defeated as much by ideas the West championed then and now as by ICBMs, tanks and warships that the West deployed,” Mr. Gates said. The alliance’s most effective weapon, he said, was a “shared belief in political and economic freedom, religious toleration, human rights, representative government and the rule of law.”
“These values kept our side united, and inspired those on the other side,” he added.
Shifting to current threats and challenges, he called on NATO members to support a comprehensive strategy to stabilize Afghanistan, “combining a muscular military effort with effective support for governance, economic development and counternarcotics.”
We should view the forging of our policy towards Iran as the next great battleground between the realist school of American foreign policy, so successful in the 20th century, and the waning but still influential neocon school. The neocons seem so discredited that it hard for me to believe that they will win the day, but Gates, Hagel, Biden and others working to defeat the dangerous and disproven neocon approach need our spirited support.
The Post has a mustread story today by Anthony Shadid on a subject we've been focusing on for some months now: how our policies have unleashed a new dynamic in the Middle East that is fundamentally changing the region's politics:
The growing Sunni-Shiite divide is roiling an Arab world as unsettled as at any time in a generation. Fought in speeches, newspaper columns, rumors swirling through cafes and the Internet, and occasional bursts of strife, the conflict is predominantly shaped by politics: a disintegrating Iraq, an ascendant Iran, a sense of Arab powerlessness and a persistent suspicion of American intentions. But the division has begun to seep into the region's social fabric, too. The sectarian fault line has long existed and sometimes ruptured, but never, perhaps, has it been revealed in such a stark, disruptive fashion.