Our government was designed to be a contentious, dynamic, messy, ineffecient thing. A system where people with diverse views could come together, debate, argue and hash out a rough consensus on the best course for the nation. By designing a system that allocated power in such a diffuse manner, our Founding Fathers respected the rights of an individual, and protected these rights. To work, our government requires a diversity of views, and requires that those views are not transformed or subsumed into a single national path. Tolerance, an early and vital American ethic, becomes the paramount ethic for leaders in such a system and for the system itself to succeed.
To succeed in such a system, a political party must then best understand how to encourage and manage diversity, finding again and again a dynamic and ever changing consensus on the major issues of the day. To that end Steny Hoyer's election as majority leader seems to be a good thing.
The new Democratic Congressional Majority is a diverse lot. There is great generational, regional, racial, ethnic, gender, and ideological diversity in this new group. There is no "majority way." There are liberals, blacks, moderates, Hispanics, conservatives, Southerners, Mormons, moderates, Westerners, business people, Midwesterners, farmers, Asians, cityfolk, Northeasterners, ranchers, surburbanites, Catholics, immigrants, vets, countryfolks, the first woman Speaker and even a Muslim. Sure sounds like 21st century America to me.
From this diverse Party, The Democratic Congressional Leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid will have to craft a rough consensus of the major issues of the day. But this is what our system requires - negotiated and hard fought settlements. The more diverse Nancy's leadership team is the more likely they will be able to manage this process of finding rough consensus in Congress, something the Republicans were so unable to do. Wherever you came down on the Murtha/Hoyer battle, it feels to me as if the Hoyer win was somehow the best outcome for a Party right now that has no settled path forward on the big issues of the day, but will have to hash them out, together, in a respectful way, in the days and months ahead. Having Steny there, who clearly comes from a different part of the Party then Nancy, will make it much more likely that the Democratic rough consensus is more representative, and thus more durable, than perhaps it would have been under a Murtha tenure.
As America itself grows more racially and ethnically diverse, this capacity to show tolerance, manage diversity and find consensus will become even more essential for political success. The events of this week show the Democrats seem comfortable with this type of the politics, the Republicans not. Their new RNC Chairman, a minority himself, is lambasted for his support of immigration reform, and Trent Lott, a leader with a history of racism, is elevated up in his Party. As we move further into the 21st century, it is increasingly clear that this comfort with diversity - ideological, regional, ethnic, racial, generational and gender - will be one of the Democratic Party's greatest stengths.
Of all the stories coming out of the 2006 elections one of the most consequential now appears to be the extraordinary failure of the Republican party to turn immigration into a political weapon against the Democrats.
On every level the right wing anti-immigration campaign was a political failure. Despite millions of dollars spent on the ground and on the air, it failed to dent Democratic candidates. National anti-immigrant leaders like Arizona’s JD Hayworth and Randy Graff lost. The anti-immigration campaigners riled up the electorate about a vexing national problem and then offering no coherent solution. It has caused a tremendous, and potentially historic, backlash with Latinos, the fastest growing part of the American electorate. And, by failing, it has created significant bi-partisan momentum for comprehensive immigration reform, the very legislative initiative they relentlessly attacked.
I am extremely proud of the role NDN and its members played in hanging tough against the 18 month Republican onslaught. When the hardliners began their offensive against the sensible bipartisan McCain-Kennedy bill last year, we all swung into action. NDN was proud to be a leading member of the national comprehensive immigration reform coalition, led by the National Immigration Forum that includes the Catholic Church, several major labor unions, the Chamber of Commerce and many immigrant-rights groups.
NDN, now a 501 c(4) advocacy organization, did what advocacy organizations do. We held events, talked to the media, lobbied members of Congress, wrote blog posts, and sent emails. We launched a big effort to reach out to Spanish language media, including sending out a daily national Spanish-language email cataloguing the work of the anti-immigrant forces. Along with our partners we ran several hard-hitting national Spanish-language media campaigns, ensuring that Latino voters knew who was on their side. All told NDN and the NDN Political Fund spent well over $2 million on this effort over the past 18 months, money I hope all of you will feel was well spent.
The voters told the story of how this battle played out. After years of trending Republican the national Latino vote swung very heavily towards the Democrats. In 1996 the D/R split for the Latino vote was 76/21. In 2000 it was 64/35, and in 2004 59/40. But in 2006 it was 69/30, a dramatic reversal. It is clear that immigration debate crossed a line. It was seen not as anti-immigrant but anti-Hispanic. The result was a degraded Republican brand, and record turnout in the Hispanic community. Election exit polls showed a huge jump in voting, with Hispanics making up around eight percent of the total vote, a record midterm turnout tide that even matched voting levels in the 2004 Presidential election.
The Republicans are now facing a moment where their hope of building a new 21st century majority is in peril. For years Bush and Rove understood that Latinos were essential to their future. White House pollster Matthew Dowd repeatedly said prior to the 2004 elections that unless the GOP received 40% of the national Latino vote they could not win national elections. They got this magic 40% in 2004. But going into 2008 they now start at least 10 points down from their strategic goal.
But Democrats looking ahead should not take this new Latino opportunity for granted. This vote has swung a great deal in recent years and could swing again. The White House and the RNC will be doing everything they can – from giving an Oval Office address on immigration as Bush did earlier this year to appointing a bilingual Cuban immigrant to be the leader of their Party – to reverse this dramatic decline.
For Democrats, the single most important thing they can do to lock in this advantage is to not fumble the opportunity to pass comprehensive immigration reform in 2007. The lesson of 2006 should be that the Party that failed to deliver for this community paid dearly at the polls.
After the hopes of Latinos have been raised this year, Democrats simply must answer and work together with the President and Senator John McCain to do what they were given control of Congress to do – tackle the tough problems of the day. Passing comprehensive immigration reform will be one of those things that must get done in 2007. We will be working hard with leaders of both parties to get it done.
This debate over immigration could come to be seen as one of the truly transformational issues coming out of this election. Everyone involved in the campaign worked hard to win this vital battle. I want to thank all of them, and everyone in the wider NDN community, for helping to make this happen. And I hope you will continue to support our work on this crucial issue in the future.
Since Reagan's election in 1980, there has been perhaps only a single year or so where Democrats were in as good a position as they are today - perhaps from the summer of 1992 to the fall of 1993. Lets look at some numbers:
- The 2006 election were a highwater mark for Democrats. The national vote was 53% Democrat, 45% Republican. In other words, it was a blowout. Given that Democrats have only broken 50.1 % in one Presidential election since 1948, and havent broken 50% since 1976 these national results are the among the best Democrats have achieved in the last two generations and has to be seen as a significant if not historic accomplishment.
- While not in control of Congress in recent years, Democrats have been performing very well at the Presidential level. Democrats have gotten 250 electoral college voters or more in the last four consecutive Presidential elections. The last that happened was in the 1930s and 1940s. They have also gotten 48% of the national vote or more in the last three Presidentials, gotten more votes than the GOP in three of the last four, and lost the last two elections by only a single state. Not all that much has to change for the Democrats to wrest control of the electoral college.
- A 21st century sustainable, electoral majority strategy has emerged for the Democrats. Democrats won their new Congressional Majorities in the Northeast, Midwest, Plains and West, and now have first non-Southern based Congressional majority in 50 years. To win the electoral college in 2008, all Democrats will need to do is to hold on to the Gore/Kerry states in the North, a region where Democrats dramatically deepened their hold in 2006; and attempt to flip Ohio (where the GOP suffered an extraordinary meltdown) and some western states, particularly AZ, CO, NM and NV (all of which are trending Democratic, and where the GOP meltdown with Hispanics could dramatically change the game). Given what happened in 2006, one would have to say that the electoral college is "Leaning Dem" in 2008.
This new Northeast/Midwest/Plains/West/Southwest-first strategy could be the basis of a sustainable, 21st century national governing majority coalition for Democrats similar to what FDR built in the 20th century.
- The Republican brand has been deeply degraded. Even polls in late 2004 before and after the election showed the Democrats with a significant generic party label advantage, meaning that the floor Democrats were starting from heading into 2006 was much higher than many believed. In a new Newsweek poll, the GOP is at historically low numbers in almost every measure. When asked about the 2008 Presidential, Democrats were favored by 20 points, 48% to 28%. Exits and private polling also show a significant erosion of support for Republicans with the fastest and most volatile part of the American electorate, Latinos, and severe degradation with under 30s, the future American voter.
- In a new poll by Stan Greenberg, the word "conservative" has become almost as unpopular as the word "liberal."
- The Republican Presidential field has been weakened. Frist and Allen now seem mortally wounded, and McCain I believe is the biggest loser of 2006. His steadfast support of the Iraq war makes his path more difficult with many independent voters, and his right's reaction to his stance on immigration reform has made his task of winning his primary much harder. Beyond these three the GOP field become much weaker, with a bunch of possible candidates with significant flaws or who are relatively unknown.
Going into 2008 Democrats are starting from a remarkably strong position, perhaps their strongest position going into an election since 1975. They start coming off a significant and deep national win in all regions of the country, and then a great deal of momentum, a strong Presidential field, a great chance to expand the Senate majority in particular, an electoral college trending their way, a new national electoral majority strategy, a Republican brand and conservative movement severely degraded, and a Republican Presidential field weakened.
While of course a lot can happen between now and 2008, there should be no question that Democrats are leaving 2006 with a strong wind at their back.
For the past several years, our members and friends have been helping lead a critical strategic conversation in the progressive movement on how to best respond to the remarkable success of the 20th century conservative movement. We all know the story - the conservatives invested billions of dollars over more than a generation to build a very powerful and modern political movement, one which they used to seize more ideological and political control over Washington than in any time since the 1920s.
In the fall of last year it was clear that the conservatives were writing a new and terrible chapter of their movement. Through our analysis grouped in the "meeting the conservative challenge" portion of our site, NDN began laying out an argument that the extraordinary governing failures of the Bush era was calling into question the very nature of the conservative movement itself. As we wrote in January of this year, in a memo called the "State of Conservative Governance, 2006,"
"Tonight the President reports to the nation on the State of the Union. We will hear soaring rhetoric, powerful words, a President resolute and determined. We will hear of victories, progress, and pride. He will tell a compelling story – and very little of it will be true.
The truly compelling story of this decade is one that Bush doesn’t want told – the rapid and dramatic failure of conservative government. Finally in a position of virtually unchecked power after decades in the political wilderness, modern conservatives have failed quickly and utterly at the most basic responsibilities of governing, leaving our nation weaker and our people less prosperous, less safe and less free.
Seduced by the temptations of power, these movement ideologues also quickly came to believe that the rules of our democracy did not apply to them. The result is one of the farthest-reaching episodes of corruption and criminal investigations into a governing party in our history.
To fully appreciate the State of the Union, we need a deep understanding of the conservative movement and its rise to power. Jumpstarted a little more than fifty years ago by William F. Buckley’s National Review, the conservatives began their long march to power by investing billions of dollars in a modern infrastructure to combat the entrenched position of progressives in government. They used this infrastructure – think tanks, for-profit media, superior and innovative forms of electioneering – to defeat an aging progressive movement, and now have more power than at any time since the 1920s.
In recent years America has learned what life is like under a true conservative government. With near absolute power, conservatives have pursued their agenda with little compromise or input from progressives. The latest chapter of the great conservative story – the Bush years – may have been one of political victories, but it has also been one of disastrous governance. The broad and deep failures of the Bush government should cause all Americans to reappraise the virtue of this grand conservative experiment, recognizing that even after 50 years and untold billions of dollars, they have yet to come up with a true alternative to 20th century progressive government -- which did so much good, for so long. "
Promoting this historical narrative about a needed reappraisal of "the grand conservative experiment" became one of NDN's top message priorities this year. It is woven through my foreword to the critically acclaimed book, Crashing the Gate, it was at the very center of my June Annual Meeting speech, and is at the core of the narrative behind the work of our affiliate, the New Politics Institute. We revsited the story in our quick post-election analysis, and in a memo released on the morning of Tuesday's election called "A Day of Reckoning for the Conservative Movement." In this new memo we wrote:
..."The question about conservatism has always been could it mature enough as a governing philosophy to replace 20th century progressivism, and provide America with a true alternative governing approach? I believe the Bush era has answered that question, and the answer is no. Given the extraordinary failure of conservative government to do the very basics – keeping us safe, fostering broad-based prosperity, protecting our liberties, balancing the books and not breaking the law – I think history will label this 20th century conservatism a success as a critique of 20th century progressivism, but a failure as a governing philosophy. It never matured into something more than an ivory-tower led and Limbaugh-fed correction to a progressivism that had lost its way.
Despite the many billions spent in building this modern conservative movement, history will label it a grand and remarkable failure. And I think we will look back at 2006 as the year this most recent period of American history – the conservative ascendancy – ended..."
Reviewing the media from the past few days, it is clear this important narrative has woven itself into the emerging set of major narratives about 2006. Matt Bai visits it in his new essay in the New York Times magazine; it was front-paged Wednesday on DailyKos; on Thursday a Wall Street Journal blog attacked it; it is at the core of the lead story in the New York Times Week in Review today; Jon Podesta offers his take on the narrative in his must read post-election memo; Jonathan Alter tackles it in his usually elegant fashion in Newsweek; and NPI fellow Joe Trippi, a major architect of this entire argument, makes the case in his very thoughtful essay in the Washington Post today.
A lot changed this week in America. One of the most important things that is in the process of changing is the understanding of the moment we are in in American history; and this new understanding, advanced to a great degree by NDN and our allies, should give all progressives optimism that this emerging new era in American history means better days are coming for our movement and the great nation we love.
An upbeat piece from Reuters about Dems having momentum going into 2008:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The 2008 White House race opens in a political landscape transformed by Tuesday's election, with resurgent Democrats seeing new opportunities and wounded Republicans pointing fingers and counting casualties.
Some potential White House contenders, including Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Republican Sens. George Allen of Virginia and Bill Frist of Tennessee, suffered setbacks that likely took them out of contention.
Democrats solidified support in the Northeast and Midwest, continued their growth in the West and picked up governors' offices in battleground states like Ohio and Colorado that could give them an advantage in 2008.
"Rather than being beleaguered and lost, we have a national victory in all parts of the country and go into this two-year cycle with more momentum than we've had in 14 years," said Simon Rosenberg, president of NDN, a centrist Democratic group.
Republicans bickered over what caused the voter anger at President George W. Bush and Republican leadership that cost them control of Congress. Some questioned whether the party could be successful with a message crafted primarily for core conservative supporters.
"The Republican Party will have to decide whether they want to win in 2008 or whether they are willing to impale themselves on the point of doctrinaire conservatism," Republican consultant Rich Galen said.
But conservative leaders said Republican leaders in Congress needed to return to the ideas that first helped them win government control.
"If they hope to return to power in 2008, they must rediscover the conservative principles that resonated with the majority of Americans in the 1980s," said the Rev. James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family.....""
As I wrote in our quick post-election analysis this week, the nation not only voted for a new course, but a more progressive one. And within days of the election we can already see signs of how different the next two years are going to be.
On Wednesday the President fired Donald Rumsfeld and offered to work with the Democrats on minimum wage and comprehensive immigration reform, two issues blocked repeatedly by the Congressional Republicans (and aggressively supported by the members of NDN).
The headlines this morning are about troop withdrawals, fixing the alternative minimum tax, labor dusting off their agenda, Joe Lieberman not just caucusing with the Democrats but being a Democrat, a rethink of our anti-terrorism strategy, bi-partisanship, and features quotes from folks Charlie Rangel, Rahm Emanuel, Chuck Schumer, etc.
Tuesday's elections were a mandate for change. The nation already feels different, as if a difficult and contentious time is ceding to perhaps a more constructive, optimistic one. As progressives our role should be to keep it at that level, thoughtful, constructive, focused on solving the big problems of the day. Of course we will have disagreements along the way, but if our politics is driven by the same sense "that we are all in this together" that many are advocating for our public philosophical approach, then we will have to show that in our daily behavior towards one another and of course those on the other side of the ideological debate.
Over the last few months, NDN has been part of a broad progressive campaign to explain why the American economy was not delivering the type of broad-based prosperity this country needs. This week, American voters delivered a clear and unmistakable mandate for action on our economy. The facts are simple: during the Clinton era, the average family income increased by more than $7,000; but in the Bush era the average family has actually seen their income decline by more than $1,000. And the results this week make it clear that this lack of upward mobility was a critical issue in removing the Republicans from power.
There is a prevailing wisdom emerging that this election was about the Iraq war. This is only partially correct. Of course, Iraq mattered. But the exit polls and post-election analysis make it clear that the economy mattered a grea deal, perhaps even more than Iraq. The economy was a deciding factor in key battleground states, and was especially important for swing voters. Moreover, voters who felt the economy was doing badly were overwhelmingly more likely to vote Democrat (all exit polls referenced are the official national exit polls which can be found here).
The economy was the most important issue. The exit poll asked voters if they considered various issue important in deciding their vote. If you add up those who responded - where issues were extremely, very, or somewhat important - the economy comes out number one.
Table 1: Which issue was most important?
Economy Crucial in Battleground States. The economy played a critical role in the key battleground states that decided the election. In these areas the results could not be clearer: the economy was the number one issue. The exit poll asked voters in key swing states about Iraq and the Economy. In each swing state more voters thought the economy was either “extremely important” or “very important” in their decision over who to vote for their senator.
Table 2: Economy vs Iraq in Key Senate Races
Economy Plays Big with Swing Voters. Stan Greenberg’s post-election analysis shows that Iraq was the dominant issue for the majority of voters. However, Greenberg is clear that the economy was the second most important issue overall, and that it played a disproportionately important role in persuading swing voters who were considering voting for the Democrats. Among this group of swing voters 51% cited economic issues like gas prices, while 38% cited jobs and the economy. Only 23% cited Iraq.
Only 30% of Americans believe they are getting ahead. The exit poll in two separate questions about the perception of their own economic situation, only 30 percent said their own economic situation had improved in recent years. And remarkably, the same number – only 30% - said they believed the life of the next generation would be better than theirs. Of those who felt they had prospered voted about 2:1 for the Republicans. For those who were struggling, they voted the opposite way, 2:1 for the Democrats.
Those struggling to get ahead voted Democrat. Additional questions confirm how much a factor perceptions of the economy were in driving the Democratic vote. Those who thought the economy was “excellent” voted overwhelmingly for the Republicans (86% vs 13%.). Democrats easily carried those who thought the economy was either “not good” (74% vs 23%) or “poor” (85% vs 13%.).
All of this added together clearly shows that the American people want the new Democratic majorities in the House and Senate to focus and pursue an aggressive strategy to help them and their families get ahead.
This administration’s economic record has left America weaker, and the American people worse off. This election year, the American people held them accountable. Now it is time for action.
- Last night the American people made it clear that they had grown weary of the failures and partisanship of the Bush era, wanted a new direction, and got one. After giving Republicans the nation in 1994, the American people just gave the nation back to the Democrats. Democrats now have a majority in the House, among governors and state legislative chambers, and apparently the US Senate.
- With these Democratic gains in all regions of the country the American people have not only choosen a new direction, but a more progressive one. While many of the newly elected Democrats will join the Blue Dog and New Democrat caucuses, in almost every instance the Democrat who won their race was ideologically to the left of the Republican they beat. Every type of Democrat won last night, Northeastern, Midwestern, Southern, Texan, Western, liberal, moderate, conservative and many whose ideology defies easy description and should be best described just as a Democrat.
- The Republicans can no longer be called the dominant party in American politics, as Democrats are now clearly competitive in all regions of the country. 42 of the 50 states either have a Democratic Senator or Governor (The 8 states without a major statewide Dem are AK, AL, GA, KY, MS, SC, TX and UT). The country remains, however, very evenly divided. Both parties now competitive in all regions of the country, with Republicans largely holding on their advantage in the South and Democrats making gains in Florida, the North, Mid-West and West. It is fair to say that heading into 2008 neither party hold a significant advantage, and the GOP/conservative ascendency has ended. It is a "jump ball" for control in 2008 with both parties starting out evenly matched, without a great advantage and Democrats perhaps having a little more wind at their back.
- It was a day of reckoning for the conservative movement. As we wrote yesterday in an election day essay, "Given the extraordinary failure of conservative government to do the very basics - keeping us safe, fostering broad-based prosperity, protecting our liberties, balancing the books and not breaking the law - I think history will label this 20th century conservatism a success as a critique of 20th century progressivism, but a failure as a governing philosophy. It never matured into something more than an ivory-tower led and Limbaugh-fed correction to a progressivism that had lost its way."
- The exits showed that voters had many issues on their minds - Iraq, corruption, terrorism and the economy. There was no one single issue driving the outcome, but the unexpectedly high number of people citing "corruption" or "scandals" signals to me a real desire for leadership that focuses on solving the people's business rather than playing politics. In many ways this is the most important message of the election, and from listening to Pelosi and others last night one Democrats clearly understand. The Republicans lost because their government did not what it needed to do for the Ameican people. To succeed Democrats will have to focus not on politics and positioning but doing everything they can to work with the Republicans to solve the many problems facing the nation.
- Most of the gains for Democrats in the House came in the Mid-West and Industrial North, the older and more settled regions of the country. Democrats won two Southern seats, two in Florida and three in the Southwest but overall did not make major gains in the Sunbelt. More gains in these areas may come with the 8 or so races in recounts right now. Democrats got their new House majority without making major gains in the South, and are now the first non-southern based Congressional Majority since 1955. The Senate followed a similar pattern, with most of the gains in the older regions of the country.
- The new Democratic Congressional Majority has all the attributes one normally associates with majorities - ideological, generational and regional diversity. This new Democratic team is a diverse lot, from all regions of the country, from rural, exurban, suburban and urban areas. Leading this team isn't going to be easy, nor will it be easy to predict where it goes on major issues. An early test of Speaker Pelosi will be to guide her new team towards consensus on Iraq and the budget.
- Looking ahead to 2008, it is clear that Democrats have strengthened their position in the electoral college. Their base in the North has deepened; the great swing state of Ohio has become much more Democratic; they continued to make gains in the West; add an angered and trending Democrat Latino population, and an already trending-Democratic Southwest looks much more Democratic.
- The Republican Presidential field took a big hit last night. Allen and Frist now seem damaged beyond repair, but the big loser of the night was John McCain. He has hitched himself to the President's failed Iraq policy, which will be seen today as the main reason why the Republicans did so poorly at the polls.
- Even the two good stories for the GOP last night, the CA and FL governor's races, have bad news for Bush and his brand of Republicanism. Both Arnold and Charlie Crist publically distanced themselves from Bush, with Crist doing it very publically just this past Monday before the election by not showing up at a Bush rally designed to help him.
- The Democratic bench has gotten much deeper and stronger in the past few years. Not only are there many more Democrats elected to offices across the country, there are many more powerful and compelling leaders emerging. In addition to already successful Democrats like Warner, Edwards, Napolitano, Granholm, Richardson and Sebelius we now can add Deval Patrick, Eliot Spitzer, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Martin O'Malley, Bob Menendez, Rahm Emanuel, Barack Obama, Artur Davis, Antonio Villaraigosa, Gabriel Giffords, Gavin Newsom and many others to the growing pool of exciting, next generation leaders with a big future ahead.
- A sign of changing times. Our new Speaker is a woman, the Democratic frontrunner for President in 2008 is a woman, and the possible Presidential candidate with the most buzz is a young African-American Senator from the Mid-West.