NDN Blog

Happy Thanksgiving all

Lots to be thankful for this year my friends. 

But of course there is much to do.

Keep Jane Harman at Intelligence

I'm with the LA Times, the New Republic and many others in believing Speaker Pelosi should keep Rep. Jane Harman as Intelligence Committee Chair. 

Governing America after the Bush/Hastert/DeLay era is not going to be easy for Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.  These unfortunate years have left a series of big messes, and left many other important challenges unmet.  No area will be tougher, or more important to the country, then putting American foreign policy back on track and re-establishing the credibility of our intelligence services.  To do so, the new Speaker and Majority Leader are going to need the very best team on the field.  Jane Harman should be a leader of this new team. 

There is little question that Jane Harman is one our most respected and thoughtful foreign policy leaders.  While there are difficult internal caucus issues with keeping Rep. Harman at Intelligence, reasonable people can arrive at a solution that works for all involved and keeps Rep. Harman in a position that allows her to make her greatest contribution to finding a better path for the nation.  

Given all the daunting governing challenges in front of her, I have a feeling that in future years Speaker Pelosi will view this decision as one of the simplest things she had to deal with in her early days, and for the good of the nation, hope it gets resolved quickly, and decisvely, and wisely,

To learn more about Rep. Harman, watch her thoughtful remarks at a recent NDN forum in Washington. 

The role of independents in the 2006 elections has been overstated

On Saturday the New York Times ran an op-ed from a Duke professor named David Rohde which ran hard against the early conventional wisdom coming from the elections:

..."THE midterm elections have been widely viewed as a sudden change of direction, with Democrats seizing the wheel from Republicans. While that may be true, the big electoral news — news that has gone largely unnoticed — is this: After decades of weakness, after sideswipes from independent candidates, the two major parties are back. Indeed, they are more potent and influential than at any time in the past century."

There are really two pieces to this argument.  The first is the role of the Parties themselves in relation to other organizations and leaders in the political firmament.  I will not tackle that argument today, though I do agree with him, and a lot of it has to do with the way the internet allows people to have a much more intimate and direct relationship with their parties.  What I do want to write about is a related trend, the increased partisanship of the electorate. 

In the last two elections, 2004 and 2006, 74% of all voters identified themselves as a partisan, either a Republican or Democrat.  Only a quarter, 26 percent, identified themselves as independent.  These ratios did not change from 2004 to 2006. 

In 2004 37% of the electorate described themselves as Democrat, the same Republican.  In 2006 Democrats picked up a point as a share of the electorate, Republicans lost a point, leaving it 38D/26I/36R.  Remarkably stable ratios given that the vote changed from 51/48 R to 52/46 D.  

The early storyline then is that the shift from 2004 to 2006 came about from how independents swung.  They did swing 17 points, from 48R/49D to 39R/57D.  But a far greater shift happened inside the two parties, where there was an 8 point shift within the Democratic electorate, and a 4 point shift inside the Republican electorate, or a total of a 12 point shift. The Democratic vote went from 89/11 to 93/7, and the Republican vote 93/6 to 91/8.   

While less in percentage terms this 12 point shift happened in what is 3/4 quarters of the electorate, and this 18 point shift happened in what is 1/4 of the electorate.   So this means a far greater number of votes shifted in the last two years between and among the parties than shifted with independents - meaning that Democrats owe their victory much more to gains with Democratic and Republican partisans than they do to the gains they made with independent voters. 

This reduced role for independents was evident even in 2004.  John Kerry did what every Democrat was told was necessary to do win the Presidency - he won independents - and yet he still lost the election.  Why? Because the Rove machine pushed the percentage of the electorate that was Republican to an all time high, 37%, equalling the Democratic share, and they kept 93% of these Republicans.  Kerry while winning independents, only won 89% of Democrats.  This difference - between Rove's 93 and Kerry's 89 within their own parties - cost Kerry the election. 

Tim Kaine, writing about his impressive win in Virginia in 2005 in the DLC's magazine recently, described his "Democrats first" strategy, one that seems very much in touch with the notion that winning elections in this more partisan era starts first with expanding and holding one's own partisans:

"Just as Warner had done in 2001, I had to accomplish three things to win in a red state. First, I had to find and energize Democratic voters. Second, I had to share my story with the voters. Third, I had to reach out to independent and Republican voters in a strategic way. And that's exactly what we did."

I'm in no way suggesting that winning with independents was not an important part of how Democrats won in 2006.  Of course the big swing with independents was impressive and critical.  But with so few people considering themselves independents these days, we have to be careful not to overstate their impact.  It is clear from the exit poll data of the last two years that what has been far more important in determining the outcomes of the two elections is what has happened within and between the two parties, which is today about three-quarters of all voters. 

Additionally, Democrats should not discount the power of what Rove, Mehlman and his team did and have left behind. Despite their epic collapse this year, the Republicans only lost a single point of market share as a percentage of the electorate, and today almost 40 percent more Americans consider themselves Republicans than independents, an historically very high number.  As Mehlman said after the 2004 elections, they spent a great deal of money persuading Republicans to vote and to vote Bush.  Their "Republicans first" strategy was actually very successful in many ways, as this investment they made in creating more Republican voters has changed the nature of the American electorate, dimished the influence of traditonal independents, and has indeed made more Republicans than there used to be. 

The problem they had this year wasn't these voters becoming independents and fleeing the party, which one would have expected.  They may have voted Democrat this time, but in this year's exits they still consider themselves Republicans.  To repeat, independents did not gain a single point as a share of the electorate despite the tremendous collapse of the Republican brand.  

Update: Blogger James Hupp has challenged my math in a new post.   He was right about one thing, I had the change in independents to be at 18% when it was 17%.  I changed that above (thanks James).  But in reviewing his calculations, his raw numbers still indicate what I wrote above: it still seems that a 12 point net shift in 74% of the electorate is greater than a 17 point net shift in 26% of the electorate (add the two point net shift for Democrats and away from Republicans)  Hey, if I am wrong with my numbers here I will chuck it.  In reviewing his math this morning am still not convinced (and James of course I had these numbers weighted - a little unfair there.  If we can talk of a 17 point shift with indies you can talk 12 with partisans).  Open to your thoughts. 

Matt Bai on the Dems in today's Times Magazine

Matt's piece today is well worth reading.  Among other things includes a reference to one of our recent post-election memos, summarized here.

More on the GOP Latino collapse in the Washington Post today

Another in a long line of pieces about the Republican meltdown with Latinos, and the role immigration played in bringing it about. 

Update: the Manhattan Institute's Tamar Jacoby weighs in through the LA Times with a similar message:

"ACROSS THE NATION, Republicans are asking what they did wrong in the 2006 midterms. This is a question with many answers. But few missteps were more foolish — and few will be harder to correct — than those made with Latino voters. The appointment this week of Cuban-born Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida to chair the Republican National Committee is a good way to make a new start. But the damage done in the last year goes deeper than symbolism, and it will take more than one appointment to undo it."

The diversity of today's Democratic Party is a great strength

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. 

The immigration battle: much to be proud of, much to do

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. 

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Read more about NDN's ongoing role in the immigration debate:

"Latinos throw more support at Democrats"
"The nation's divide reemerges"
"Hispanic Is Expected to Be the Next Political Face of the G.O.P."
"Vote Is a Blow to Republican Pursuit of Hispanics"
NPR: Immigration Logjam May Break with New Congress
NPR: Both Parties See Upside to Immigration Issue

Democrats in very strong position for 2008

As each day passes the magnitude of the Democratic victory become more clear.  We've offered some initial thoughts in three memos - quick post-election analysis, A day of reckoning for the conservative movement, voters send mandate for a new economic strategy and yesterday in a blog post - the end of the conservative ascendency

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.

Election narratives: the end of the conservative ascendancy

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.

Newsweek poll shows broad support for Dem agenda

Lots of interesting stuff in here.

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