New Progressive Politics

The Dawn of a New Politics

In a special pre-Inaugural video, Simon reflects on the confluence of forces that led to the election of Barack Obama and the dawning of a new political era:

For more of NDN's thinking on these historic changes now taking place before our eyes, please see:

The Long Road Back - 11/18/08

Obama to Reinvent the Presidency - 11/7/08

More Evidence of a Sustained Progressive Revival - 8/15/08

Hispanics Rising, 2 - 5/30/08

$55 million and the emergence of "a virtuous cycle of participation" - 3/6/08

On Obama, Race, and the End of the Southern Strategy - 1/4/08

"The 50-Year Strategy" - Mother Jones, 10/30/07

"The Democratic Opportunity" - Politico, 4/11/07

The End of the Conservative Ascendancy - 11/12/06

A Day of Reckoning for the Conservative Movement - 11/7/06

Foreward to Crashing the Gate - 3/7/06

Thoughts on the Internet, Politics and Participation - 12/03

Thursday New Tools Feature: Citizen's Briefing Book

This week, President-elect Obama's transition team introduced's newest feature, the Citizen's Briefing Book. Somewhat similar to Open for Questions, the Citizen's Briefing Book allows users to submit policy proposals and vote on other submissions. From the introductory email:

We wanted to tell you about a new feature on which lets you bring your ideas directly to the President.

It's called the Citizen's Briefing Book, and it's an online forum where you can share your ideas, and rate or offer comments on the ideas of others.

The best-rated ones will rise to the top, and after the Inauguration, we'll print them out and gather them into a binder like the ones the President receives every day from experts and advisors. If you participate, your idea could be included in the Citizen's Briefing Book to be delivered to President Obama.

Back in October, I wrote:

With the launch of new sites like BigDialogue and, the tools are there waiting to be picked up. These sites aim to give people a more direct voice in governance...These are some of the most exciting new tools that I’ve seen in a long time; the question is, will our next president embrace them, or ignore them?

That question seems to have been answered, and the team has even addressed the main complaint I had about Open for Questions by improving the navigational scheme for this tool. All in all, Obama's team seems to be adapting with impressive speed - this no longer seems like a gimmicky experimental feature, but something of real and lasting value.  

However, the successful implementation of this tool raises its own interesting set of questions about open-sourcing a representative democracy:

In the first round of Open for Questions, one of the top questions was "Will you consider legalizing marijuana so that the government can regulate it, tax it, put age limits on it, and create millions of new jobs and create a billion dollar industry right here in the U.S.?" At the time, the Obama team essentially dismissed the question, issuing a one-line response saying that Obama was not in favor of legalizing marijuana. However, as of right now, the top submission in the Citizen's Briefing Book is "End Marijuana Prohibition," and there are three other posts about ending the drug war in the top 20, as well as other proposals like "Revoke the George W. Bush Tax Cuts for the Top 1%" and "Get the Insurance Companies out the Health Care."

There has been much written about the massive moral and economic failure of the "war" on drugs, and I personally believe it is a very important and serious issue that deserves more attention. However, for many political and social reasons, it's something no politician will ordinarily touch with a fifty-foot pole (despite very broad acadademic and popular support for reform), and given Obama's likely pick of the wildly un-progressive Republican Jim Ramstad for Drug Czar, the prospects for these proposals seem especially grim.

In this light, it will be very interesting to see how an Obama administration handles this kind of situation - are they merely attempting to create the appearance and feel of accessibility and openness, or do they really believe deeply in the intrinsic value of this enterprise? How far will they be willing to push this experiment? How far should they? These are questions that undoubtedly will come increasingly to the fore as we enter headlong into a new era of American politics.  

Mr. President: Bring Us Together

The election of Barack Obama signaled the beginning of a "civic" realignment, produced by the political emergence of America's most recent civic generation, Millennials (born 1982-2003). Civic generations, like the Millennials, react against the efforts of divided idealist generations, like the Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) to advance their own moral causes. Civic generations instead are unified and focused on reenergizing social, 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 goal of a transition during such realignments has to be to lessen the ideological splits that have divided America during the preceding idealist era and take steps to unify the country so that the new Administration can more effectively deal with the major issues it faces.

Reducing ideological divisions and unifying Americans to achieve important common goals has been a focus of Barack Obama since even before he announced his presidency. It is one of the key reasons his campaign had strong appeal to the emerging civic Millennial Generation, which he carried by a margin of more than 2:1. When CBS’s Steve Croft asked the then-candidate in a pre-election interview what qualified him, a junior senator with limited governmental experience, to be president of the United States, Obama led off his reply by citing his desire and ability to bridge differences and bring people together.

Through Your Actions

One way a civic era president-elect can demonstrate the importance he places on the need for national unity is to name members of the opposition party to his cabinet. The actions of Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, the only two other Presidents to preside over transitions to civic eras, demonstrate how this game should be played.

For all the media commentary on Lincoln's first cabinet, deemed a "Team of Rivals" by Doris Kearns Goodwin, it should be noted that it contained no one from the discredited Democratic Party, even though it did have representatives that spanned the breadth of opinion within the relatively new GOP. However, Lincoln did add a Democrat, Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, to his cabinet less than a year after taking office. Stanton, a strongly pro-Union Northern Democrat, had opposed Lincoln's election and had served as Attorney General in the final months of the Buchanan administration. However, Lincoln’s selection of pro-Union Democrat, Andrew Johnson, as his vice-presidential running mate in his 1864 re-election campaign demonstrates that it’s sometimes possible to take even a good idea too far. FDR appointed two Republicans to his initial cabinet–industrialist William H. Woodin, who as Treasury Secretary helped FDR implement his economic and fiscal program at the outset of the New Deal, and Harold L. Ickes, who served as Interior Secretary throughout the entirety of the Roosevelt administration. Both Woodin and Ickes were progressives who had supported FDR in the 1932 election. While neither was a member of the Republican Old Guard, together they demonstrated Roosevelt's willingness to reach beyond his own party to enlist what today would be called "moderate Republicans" in a unified effort to overcome major national problems.

Reflecting America's changing demographics and social mores, Barack Obama has chosen the most diverse cabinet and set of top advisors of any president in U.S. history. Two members of Obama's larger number of appointees -- Robert Gates and Ray Lahood -- are not Democrats, the same number for which FDR found room. This represents a greater number of members of the a different or opposing party than were present in the Cabinets of any of Obama’s idealist era predecessors.

President-elect Obama’s attempt to include a wide range of political opinion and backgrounds in his Cabinet and White House team has generated criticism from the most ideological members of his party, just as FDR and Lincoln faced such criticism from the extreme partisans of their day. Obama's appointment of many "centrist" cabinet-level officers who previously served in Congress, the Clinton Administration, or as governors suggests to his critics that he is abandoning his pledge to bring about significant change in economic, foreign, and social policy. But as political scientist Ross Baker points out, "In uncertain times, Americans find it much more comforting that the people who are going to be advising the president are steeped in experience. A Cabinet of outsiders would have been very disquieting." And civic realignments like the present one have come at the most uncertain and stressful times in America's history.

Through Your Words

Lincoln and FDR are also renowned for their ability to use their words to rally Americans to a common cause. Both did so at the very outset of their terms. Both of these great civic presidents’ first inaugural addresses addressed the fears of a nation in crisis with rhetoric that has continued to ring through the ages.

Lincoln, in another last-ditch effort to forestall secession, told the South that neither he nor the Republican Party would make any attempt to undo slavery in states where it already existed. But he also reminded the South that, while only its actions could ultimately provoke civil war, his "solemn oath to preserve, protect, and defend" the Constitution would require him to prosecute that war if it came.

Lincoln concluded his address with an appeal to the secessionists to rejoin the Union:

We are not enemies, but friends…Though passion may have strained, it must not break, our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Roosevelt used his inaugural speech to rally the country to the task ahead by telling it, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." He reminded his listeners that at previous dark moments in our national history vigorous leadership joined with a supportive public to win ultimate victory in the nation's trials. Perhaps most important, FDR gave clear recognition that the United States and its people had moved from what we have called an "idealist" era of unrestrained individualism to a "civic" era of unity and common purpose:

If I read the temper of our people correctly, we now realize as we have never realized before our interdependence on each other; that we can not merely take but we must give as well; that if we are to go forward, we must move as a trained and loyal army willing to sacrifice for the good of a common discipline, because without such discipline no progress is made, no leadership becomes effective.

Even before President-elect Obama had a chance to utter similarly comforting and inspiring rhetoric, his inaugural plans came under fire for inviting Pastor Rick Warren, a fundamentalist minister and activist in the passage of California's Proposition 8 outlawing gay marriage, to give the invocation at his inauguration. But the selection of Warren should not have been surprising to careful observers. In his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, Obama signaled his desire to find common ground on divisive social issues such as abortion, gay marriage, and gun control.

By bookending his inaugural with a benediction from Joseph Lowrey, a minister who favors legalizing gay marriage among other liberal causes, Obama has signaled his determination to put an end to the debates over social issues from an idealist era that is ending and enlist all those willing to join his cause to rebuild America’s civic institutions.

For in the end, it is the American people that Barack Obama must rally to his side. It is they who will ultimately decide the effectiveness of his transition as a springboard to a civic era Administration. So far their judgment is overwhelmingly positive. A late December 2008 CNN national survey describes "a love affair between Barack Obama and the American people." That survey indicated that more than eight in 10 Americans (82%) approved of the way Obama was handling his transition, a figure that was up by three percentage points since the beginning of the month. Obama's approval is well above that of either Bill Clinton (67%) or George W. Bush (65%) at that point in their transitions.

More specifically, the poll suggests that the public approves of Obama's Cabinet nominees, with 56 percent saying his appointments have been outstanding or above average. That number is 18 percentage points higher than that given to Bush's appointments and 26 points above that of Clinton's nominees. To quote CNN polling director Keating Holland: "Barack Obama is having a better honeymoon with the American public than any incoming president in the past three decades. He's putting up better numbers, usually by double digits, than Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, or either George Bush on every item traditionally measured in transition polls."

Of course, the final judgment of the Obama presidency by the American people and history will be based on his performance in office starting on January 20. Still, these polling results clearly suggest that Barack Obama has internalized and put into operation the historical transition lessons provided by Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, the presidents who led America's two previous civic realignments. If his inaugural address comes close to matching their first inaugural speeches, President-elect Obama will begin one of the most important administrations in the nation’s history with an enormous reservoir of political and public support that will serve him well in the crucial early days of his Administration.

Monday Buzz: A Party of One, Real Realignment, Keys to Economic Recovery, and More

NDN had some great mentions in the media this week. Simon was quoted in the cover story of  New York Magazine, "A Party of One," on the unique character of this election and its implications for the future. From the exellent New York Magazine piece by John Heilemann, which echoes many of NDN's most important arguments:

Obama is difficult to pigeonhole not simply because he’s new but because of the newness of the moment that he—and we—inhabit. It’s a moment dominated by an economic crisis that’s shaken bedrock beliefs about the infallibility of free markets. A moment when a revised architecture of power is arising globally, challenging America’s status as an unrivaled superpower. When the networked age has finally arrived, inciting the implosion of the broadcast paradigm that governed politics in the Industrial Age. When the country is being transfigured demographically, hurtling toward becoming a majority-minority nation.

This crescendo of forces produced Obama, made his ascension possible. Now he has a chance to shape the new era, to leave his stamp on it. “This really is the first presidency of the 21st century,” says Simon Rosenberg, head of the Democratic advocacy group NDN. “Those who try to hold on to twentieth-century descriptions of politics are going to be disappointed and frustrated by what’s about to emerge in the new administration, because American politics no longer fits into the old boxes—and neither does Obama. For better or worse, what he is doing is building a new box.”

Simon was also quoted in The Washington Times, and his essay on the need for "Progress, Not Motion" was featured in The Hill.

Rob was quoted in The National Journal, Washington Post Global, and The Street, and received a great shout-out from CEO Patrick Byrne in ECommerce Journal. From the National Journal article:

For Obama, who is in no position to tighten fiscal policy, trade liberalization is today's best analog to Clinton's gamble. "If Obama thinks that Doha could contribute to an economic recovery and expansion that will be in full flight as he's running for re-election, he'll do it," says Robert Shapiro, a Washington-based economic consultant and a veteran of the Clinton administration's Commerce Department. "Just like Bill Clinton raised taxes because he was convinced that would be the effect."

In 2007, Shapiro notes, almost one-third of everything produced in the world was exported across a border, up from less than one-fifth as recently as 1990. America, he adds, is one of the world's two most globalized countries (the other is China). Like it or not, globalization, meaning cross-border commerce, now drives the world's economic growth.

Finally, new NDN fellows Morley Winograd and Mike Hais were featured in the USA Today on the realigning character of this election. From the article, by Chuck Raasch:

And so, a 30-year era is ending, an era in which one political party, the Republicans, saw government as the problem. Whether or not it is smart to run $1.2 trillion deficits and massively expand government's control over private enterprise, the course has been set.

Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais, co-authors of "Millennial Makeover: MySpace, You Tube, and the Future of American Politics," say the United States is undergoing the sixth major political realignment in its history. The nation is transforming, they say, from the worn-out arguments of an idealistic but fractured baby boom generation to a more civic consciousness exemplified by "millennials" born between 1982 and 2003. Civic generations, Hais and Winograd say, are primarily interested in strengthening government and political institutions.

Politics and the Economic Crisis

Barack Obama's historic election as a new, national agent of change will face a daunting test as the economic crisis continues to accelerate, and the political pressures arising from what must now be called “The Great Recession” begin to reshape the response.

The latest evidence is today’s unemployment data: one million jobs lost in two months; the sharpest eight-month rise in the jobless rate since 1945, when tens of millions of soldiers and sailors were demobilized; and losses across every sector and every region. Jobs are in freefall along with the markets, investment, consumer spending and household wealth. And economists are now genuinely frightened by the course the Great Recession is taking, because there’s been nothing like it in anyone’s experience.

That’s why long-time advocates of fiscal probity now call for stimulus topping $1 trillion, and why every spending and tax idea floating around Congress for the last decade is back on the table again. The political pressures and real concerns are so overwhelming that there’s talk of large tax cuts, despite the consensus among economists that when people and businesses are as economically downcast as they are today, tax relief has little stimulus power. That’s not only politics at work; it also reflects a sense of grave foreboding among many of those same economists.

We do need unprecedented stimulus – but all of the stimulus in the world won’t change the course of this crisis until we also address its underlying forces. The wealth of American households and the portfolios of American financial institutions will continue to tank until the housing market stabilizes -- or at least until foreclosure rates return to normal. And the most aggressive, easy policy in our history won’t be enough, and financial institutions won’t begin normal lending again, until they’re more confident that the hundreds of billions of dollars in mortgage-backed securities and other derivatives they still own aren’t headed for the drain as well.

The new Administration can take on these challenges directly, as candidate Obama pledged to do with extraordinary foresight. For example, we can impose a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures and use the time to renegotiate the terms of tens of thousands of distressed mortgages held by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. One idea promoted by many economists is to convert those mortgages to 30-year fixed at 5.25 percent, which happens to be long-term mean rate for Fannie and Freddie mortgages. It won’t stop foreclosures, but it should bring down foreclosure rates to near-normal levels, which would do more to stabilize the financial system than the bailouts in the Bush Administration’s own Wall Street version of tsunami stimulus. And some tough love from the new Treasury Secretary could help restart the lending process: having done what we can to stabilize the value of their portfolios, we should consider requiring institutions receiving federal aid to use a real share of that assistance to restart their lending.

We need large-scale stimulus, but it will only work if we first address the underlying problems. Otherwise, 18 months from now, we could be $1 trillion poorer and have little to show for it.

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" (, 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.

New Tools Update: A Ball for All

According to a release today from the Presidential Inaugural Committee,

In keeping with his commitment to make this inaugural celebration open and accessible to all Americans, President-elect Barack Obama will host the first-ever "Neighborhood Inaugural Ball" during this year's inaugural celebration. The ball will be the premier event of inauguration evening on January 20th and will take place at the Washington Convention Center.

With tickets available free or at an affordable price, it is the first official inaugural ball of its kind to be held during a presidential inauguration. A portion of tickets for this event will be set aside for District of Columbia residents. The ball will also feature a robust interactive component, including webcasting and text messaging, to link neighborhoods across the country with the new President and this premier event. The PIC will release more details soon about using technology to allow Americans who are attending neighborhood balls across the country to participate actively in this celebration.

This is a great move on President-elect Obama's part. Symbolically, it reinforces his message of creating a more open, "bottom-up" Washington; inaugural balls are usually highly exclusive and/or prohibitively expensive, and making this experience available to everyone is a great gesture. At the same time, it is also a great way to maintain and expand his technological presence and keep the momentum he built up during the campaign. Like the text-message VP announcement, this will surely help Obama down the road as he tries to build broad-based public support for his initiatives.  

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. 

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