As I wrote the other day one of the most consequential stories of the early 21st century will be the struggle of the rising nations of the world with modernity and all that it entails - free markets, the global information revolution and of course the other part of what of what the West has been exporting - political freedom, rule of law and democracy.
As the "world watches" what is happening in Iran, I've been wondering how these extraordinary images are going over in Caracas, Riyadh, Beijing, Moscow and the corridors of power of other less than democratic governments. The events of the past week have raised the issues of political freedom and liberty in ways that are not always easy for the West to do. My sense is that whatever the outcome in Iran - and we have to hope for the best each day - these events, coupled with the rise of Barack Obama in the US, are putting some issues on the global table that may be uncomfortable indeed for many important nations in the world today.
Much has been written about the how events unfolding in Iran are crossing some kind of internal Iranian Rubicon. Fareed Zakaria has a new essay to this effect. But there is a strong argument to be made that the world is crossing that Rubicon right along with the Iranians, and that we wiill all be in a new place together after these extraordinary set of events. I won't argue that we will begin to see street demonstrations in other parts of the world now, but there can be no doubt that the inconvenient and of course critically important issue of political freedom has been introduced into the great global conversation in a way it has not been for a long, long time. And where that takes us is still to early to tell, but we do know that this new place almost has to be better than where we've been.
4:48 PM ET -- "All those close to Mousavi have been arrested." Via Jeremy, Mousavi's international spokesman Mohsen Makhmalbaf writes for the UK Guardian:
I have been given the responsibility of telling the world what is happening in Iran. The office of Mir Hossein Mousavi, who the Iranian people truly want as their leader, has asked me to do so. They have asked me to tell how Mousavi's headquarters was wrecked by plainclothes police officers. To tell how the commanders of the revolutionary guard ordered him to stay silent. To urge people to take to the streets because Mousavi could not do so directly.
All those close to Mousavi have been arrested, and his contact with the outside world has been restricted. People rely on word of mouth, because their mobile phones and the internet have been closed down. That they continue to gather shows they want something more than an election. They want freedom, and if they are not granted it we will be faced with another revolution.
Thirty years ago we supported each other. When police used tear gas, fires would be lit to neutralise its effects. People would set their own cars on fire to save others. Since then, the government has tried to separate people from one other. What we lost was our togetherness, and in the past month we have found that again. All the armed forces in Iran are only enough to repress one city, not the whole country. The people are like drops of water coming together in a sea.
I'm not going to have enough time to get this all out this morning, but to start, I want to agree with folks like Fareed Zakaria and Zbig Brzezinski that the central dynamic driving global politics today is the "rise of the rest," or the powerful aspiration of the rising peoples and nations of the world to have their shot at a version of what we call the American Dream. That dynamic, which Barack Obama began to address in his Cairo speech, involves many other strands of history - the end of colonialism and the Cold War, the transformative cultural impact of globalization, rising standards of living around the world, the rapid spread of the Internet and mobile devices putting ever more powerful tools in the hands of the world's people, the emergence of a global Millennial Generation comfortable with these tools, more affluent and educated and globally aware than their parents, eager to seek a better life for themselves and their countries.
Informing and inspiring this global transformation of course is the radical promise of equal opportunity for all offered by the America's founding fathers. Obama discussed it this way in his recent Cairo speech:
....Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words - within our borders, and around the world. We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum: "Out of many, one."
......I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other.
That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.
There is no straight line to realize this promise. But this much is clear: governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments - provided they govern with respect for all their people.
This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they are out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. No matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power: you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.
As Obama alludes to in his speech, the way President Bush attempted to "spread democracy" did much in recent years to undermine and degrade the American championed vision of democracy just as an enormous part of the world was awakening to its possibilities. This disappointment with the perceived anti-democratic leanings of an American President acting on the global stage - at this point in history - itself became a very powerful global dynamic, and was central to the global rejection of Bush and the neocons by peoples and governments around the world.
Another factor in this "rise of the rest" is race, the emergence of non-white European global powers and peoples. Only about a billion of the world's seven billion people are of white European heritage, and there can be little doubt now that this century will see the America-European dominated global order give way to one more representative of the people of the world and its emerging demographic realities. We saw some of the first manifestations of this in the recent G-20 meetings with the discussion of how to reorganize the IMF. The seats at the tables of power will be increasingly occupied by non-white, non-Europeans, which in and of itself will become a powerful visual, or as we call it, "optic," in the emerging global order of the 21st century.
Which brings me to Barack Obama, a self-described racial "mutt," a man who grew up in multiracial societies in Indonesia and Hawaii, and who was elected with the very potent high-tech and democratizing "new tools" of the 21st century. In ways that I think we are only beginning to understand, he has himself become the extraordinary global symbol to those aspiring for more for themselves and their countries everywhere - the story of an outsider, a member of an oppressed class made good; of the overthrow of a oligarchical oppressive power through a popular democratic uprising; of the use of powerful new tools to give regular people a voice in their own futures; and one of the most powerful parts of this story, the emergence of a non-white leader as the leader of the most important nation in the world, at this time of the "rise of the rest."
For all of these reasons I don't think Barack Obama has the option of becoming an advocate of the realist school of American foreign policy. He has already been cast in a different role by history - one of inspiring champion of all those throughout the world who need someone to speak for them. I will not argue that what we are seeing in Iran today is a direct result of the Cairo speech, or of Obama's direct inspiration to the forces of modernization and democratization inside Iran. But there can be no doubt that Obama's rise has injected a new inspiring dynamic into the rising world, and these forces, unleashed, have the potential to remake the world for good or ill. Our President, as chief global advocate of free and open societies, cannot sit on the sidelines as people attempt to throw off the shackles of old and anti-democratic regimes. This moment is too important, this particular leader too powerful, for America not to ambitiously re-assert itself as the great global champion of universal aspirations of all the world's peoples.
Where this takes us it is too early to tell, but go there we must, as are witnessing the birth of a global "new politics" of the 21st century very different from the global politics of the century just past. And in Barack Obama, this "new politics" has found its first global leader and inspired champion. May he have the courage and vision to seize this global opportunity, as this may be, more so than any other, his ultimate calling.
My new favorite weekly barometer of public opinion shows slight drops for all people and parties this week, but for the first time in many years the "right track, wrong track" measure did not have a higher wrong than right track. That measure came in 48/48, reflecting the growing optimism of the American people in this new age of Obama.
Amazingly the GOP's numbers continue to drop across the board. In this poll the GOP trails the Democratic Party in favorability by 30 points, the Congressional GOP trails the Congressional Dems by almost 30, and Boehner trails Obama by over 40 points. As low as the Republicans started this year - and it was low - it is astonishing that their numbers continue to slowly drift down, not having hit bottom yet. There isn't a whole lot more room for them to go. But they seem to be heading there any way.
After this week should we begin to speculate on whether Cheney is going to run for President this cycle?
The New Kos Weekly Track is out and the numbers reinforce what a fundamentally new day we are in. After almost 4 months of the Obama Presidency the Republican Party numbers continue to hit extinction levels with their Congressional approval now at 13 percent. Obama remains close to 70%, the Dems have a 53% to 21% advantage in general party approval, and the Congressional Dems are behind Obama but way ahead of the GOP. Yes only 21 percent of the country has a favorable impression of the Republican Party, 13% of independents, and amazingly all the GOP numbers have dropped significantly this year.
As a veteran of many years of politics it is hard to believe these numbers. But they keep coming week after week.
As Mike Hais pointed out a few weeks ago perhaps the most dramatic number in all these numbers is what is going on with the 18-29 audience, the Millennial Generation, the largest generation on American history, a group which voted 66%-32% for Obama and was instrumental in giving Democrats their current mandate. Obama's favorability with this group is 84%-9%. The Congressional Democrats 54%-38%. The Congressional Republicans are at 5% favorable, 81% unfavorable.
The word "whig" needs to be reinstalled in the spellcheckers of our various software packages.
Miami - My trip to Chile for the Progressive Goverance Conference was my first trip outside the US since Barack Obama's Inaugration. I was eager to assess the perception of America in these early days after the terrible Bush Presidency. I offer some initial impressions from my layover in Miami on the way back to DC:
The Rest Has Risen, and Want a Seat at the Table - From the end of World War II on America's principal export was our governing model, which I characterize as a committment to democracy, free markets,personal liberty and the rule of law. With the exception of the Middle East, most regions, governments and people of the world are in the process of adapting some version of this model, of course with varying degrees of success. The embrace of this model, and what might even be called modernity itself, has helped dozens of countries in eastern Europe and the developing world achieve remarkable growth and societal stability and progress. To paraphrase Fareed Zakaria, we are witnessing a dramatic rise of the rest, something that FDR and Truman I'm sure dreamed of when they constructed the global architecture that has been so instrumental in ushering in this new era. And for any American who has traveled to these rising regions in recent years it is an exciting thing to behold.
But this also means-- and I'm not sure American policy elites have really come to terms with this-- that the management of this global architecture is going to have to change to accomodate these new rising powers. This sentiment is often voiced in policy circles, but how we actually change organizations like the UN, the World Bank and the IMF - and even make meetings like the G20 less a photo-op and more an actual exchange of ideas among diverse peers - is going to be a true test of America and the Obama Administration. The days of US-European global leadership are over, and the longer global institutions maintain these overt or implicit arrangements, the less relevant these institutions will be to the rising nations who want - and deserve - a seat at the global table.
Exporting Chaos -The global financial and economic crisis will end up hastening this new day in global relations. What I heard in Chile again and again was that the crisis was an Anglo-American export. That due to our own recklessness, economic hardship had been exported to a rapidly improving world. For Americans, this sentiment coming on the heels of Bush's unilateralist foreign policy, leaving many to wonder why our great nation which had for so long exported stability, prosperity and modernity was now in the business of exporting chaos.
Prior to my trip to Chile I had assumed that the American people's utter repudiation of the Republican Party, and their choice of a young inspiring leader would help America regain its proper place as the indispensible nation, the moral, economic and political leader of the world. But now I am not so sure. First I'm not so sure the rising powers of the world want to return to a world with a paramount sole superpower. Their goal is to create a much more multi-polar, distributed and arguably democratic set of power arrangements. This line of thinking may believe that for America to strongly re-assert itself now could very well block the necessary changes which can result in giving these rising powers a bigger seat at the table, gaining the respect and recognition they want and deserve.
Second, I think many countries, while admiring of our new President, have a right to wonder about what has happened to that old and virtuous America of previous eras. The America of this past decade has been a blundering reckless superpower, launching a wildly aggressive invasion of another nation, condoning torture, borrowing and spending imprudently, blocking meaningful action on climate change and now exporting a global economic crisis that is doing significant harm to virtually every society in the world. The performance of America in the Bush era has rightly given many in the world pause, and there simply is no interest in having that America return to power. At the G20 and the Summit of the Americas, Barack Obama will confront this new global reality, rising powers deeply skeptical of what America has become, hopeful perhaps about this new President, but no longer content to simply blindly accept the Pax Americana that has governed the world for over 60 years.
At the end of WWII the American government adopted a strategy to defeat totalitarianism and help the decimated and developing world prosper. We are today seeing the triumph of that strategy, as an overwhelming majority of nations have chosen a modern path and have seen their people lift themselves up. But now that they have, a great deal of imagination and hard work will be required to design the next series of strategies to help us manage the affairs of the world, building upon what has been a remarkable era of global progress. That era will almost certainly see a decrease in American power, something that will be terribly difficult for this nation to accept. Add this new set of daunting global realities to the already significant set of challenges inherited by our remarkable new President, Barack Obama.
I've been in Washington for 16 years now, coming as many did with President Clinton back in 1993. I have seen a lot of changes in my time here, but the rate of change we are witnessing today is breathtaking. Just take a look at a few of the headlines today from a vastly changed political and societal landscape:
There are large and systemic changes underway here in the US and around the world. 20th century challenges, institutions, ideologies, economics, media and even racial understanding are being swept away. A new global political era is surely emerging now, unfolding in front of us, one that our new President is both responding to and attempting to shape. The President's ambitious budget this week was itself the most powerful examples of how much our politics is in the process of changing.
I end my quick morning post with an excerpt from Joe Nocera's column from the New York Times today. Nocera has been writing as intelligently as anyone about the financial and economic crisis, and this column, Propping Up A House of Cards, is an absolute required read:
Next week, perhaps as early as Monday, the American International Group is going to report the largest quarterly loss in history. Rumors suggest it will be around $60 billion, which will affirm, yet again, A.I.G.'s sorry status as the most crippled of all the nation's wounded financial institutions. The recent quarterly losses suffered by Merrill Lynch and Citigroup - "only" $15.4 billion and $8.3 billion, respectively - pale by comparison.
At the same time A.I.G. reveals its loss, the federal government is also likely to announce - yet again! - a new plan to save A.I.G., the third since September. So far the government has thrown $150 billion at the company, in loans, investments and equity injections, to keep it afloat. It has softened the terms it set for the original $85 billion loan it made back in September. To ease the pressure even more, the Federal Reserve actually runs a facility that buys toxic assets that A.I.G. had insured. A.I.G. effectively has been nationalized, with the government owning a hair under 80 percent of the stock. Not that it's worth very much; A.I.G. shares closed Friday at 42 cents.
Donn Vickrey, who runs the independent research firm Gradient Analytics, predicts that A.I.G. is going to cost taxpayers at least $100 billion more before it finally stabilizes, by which time the company will almost surely have been broken into pieces, with the government owning large chunks of it. A quarter of a trillion dollars, if it comes to that, is an astounding amount of money to hand over to one company to prevent it from going bust. Yet the government feels it has no choice: because of A.I.G.'s dubious business practices during the housing bubble it pretty much has the world's financial system by the throat.
If we let A.I.G. fail, said Seamus P. McMahon, a banking expert at Booz & Company, other institutions, including pension funds and American and European banks "will face their own capital and liquidity crisis, and we could have a domino effect." A bailout of A.I.G. is really a bailout of its trading partners - which essentially constitutes the entire Western banking system.
NDN applauds President Obama's demonstrated commitment to reaching out to Latinos. President Obama began reaching out to Hispanics during the 2008 campaign through his record amount of Spanish language paid advertisements, by issuing all communications in English and Spanish, and by working to get into the living rooms of Hispanics by appearing on several of the most popular Spanish language programs. NDN congratulates the President on the continuation of his bilingual press strategy throughout the transition, and now as part of the White House Media Affairs Office. He gets, it - candidates and public officials need to address Spanish language media and speak in Spanish.
Yesterday, the President fulfilled his promise to grant an interview to El Piolin, during which he discussed recent achievements, the economic stimulus package and immigration reform. El Piolin, or Eddie Sotelo, is one of the most televised radio personalities in the nation. His show, Piolin por La Mañana, is the top ranking for morning shows in Los Angeles (regardless of language) and its 50 syndicated markets. Its growing scope makes it the #1 Radio Show in the country. Studies indicate that Hispanics are suffering disproportionately in this economic crisis, and Obama's appearance on this show indicates his desire to to reach them directly and let them know he is working on solving this economic crisis.
Like many other commentators, I thought the President was terrific last night. Commanding, thoughtful, grounded, pragmatic. He made a powerful case not only for the Recovery Plan, but for his Presidency. Let's hope we see more of these formats in the future. They are good for the nation, and good for the President.
But there was one exchange that I kept coming back to this morning - his answer to Chuck Todd's question about consumer debt. Chuck's question was similar to one I asked recently in this post, Spend? Save? What's The Right Course for Everyday Americans? I post the question and answer below for your consideration, as I think getting this one right may be a predicate for us designing a Recovery Plan that will do what we need it to do over time:
Q Thank you, Mr. President. In your opening remarks, you talked about that if your plan works the way you want it to work, it's going to increase consumer spending. But isn't consumer spending or overspending how we got into this mess? And if people get money back into their pockets, do you not want them saving it or paying down debt first before they start spending money into the economy?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I don't think it's accurate to say that consumer spending got us into this mess. What got us into this mess initially were banks taking exorbitant, wild risks with other people's monies based on shaky assets. And because of the enormous leverage where they had $1 worth of assets and they were betting $30 on that $1, what we had was a crisis in the financial system. That led to a contraction of credit, which in turn meant businesses couldn't make payroll or make inventories, which meant that everybody became uncertain about the future of the economy, so people started making decisions accordingly -- reducing investment, initiated layoffs -- which in turn made things worse.
Now, you are making a legitimate point, Chuck, about the fact that our savings rate has declined and this economy has been driven by consumer spending for a very long time -- and that's not going to be sustainable. You know, if all we're doing is spending and we're not making things, then over time other countries are going to get tired of lending us money and eventually the party is going to be over. Well, in fact, the party now is over.
And so the sequence of how we're approaching this is as follows: Our immediate job is to stop the downward spiral, and that means putting money into consumers' pockets, it means loosening up credit, it means putting forward investments that not only employ people immediately but also lay the groundwork for long-term economic growth. And that, by the way, is important even if you're a fiscal conservative, because the biggest problem we're going to have with our federal budget is if we continue a situation in which there are no tax revenues because economic growth is plummeting at the same time as we've got more demands for unemployment insurance, we've got more demands for people who've lost their health care, more demand for food stamps. That will put enormous strains on the federal budget as well as the state budget.
So the most important thing we can do for our budget crisis right now is to make sure that the economy doesn't continue to tank. And that's why passing the economic recovery plan is the right thing to do, even though I recognize that it's expensive. Look, I would love not to have to spend money right now. This notion that somehow I came in here just ginned up to spend $800 billion, that wasn't -- that wasn't how I envisioned my presidency beginning. But we have to adapt to existing circumstances.
Now, what we are going to also have to do is to make sure that as soon as the economy stabilizes, investment begins again; we're no longer contracting but we're growing; that our mid-term and long-term budget is dealt with. And I think the same is true for individual consumers. Right now they're just trying to figure out, how do I make sure that if I lose my job, I'm still going to be able to make my mortgage payments. Or they're worried about how am I going to pay next month's bills. So they're not engaging in a lot of long-term financial planning.
Once the economy stabilizes and people are less fearful, then I do think that we're going to have to start thinking about how do we operate more prudently, because there's no such thing as a free lunch. So if you want to get -- if you want to buy a house, then putting zero down and buying a house that is probably not affordable for you in case something goes wrong, that's something that has to be reconsidered.
So we're going to have to change our bad habits. But right now, the key is making sure that we pull ourselves out of the economic slump that we're in.
As I wrote yesterday "reconciling" these two bills is not going to be easy, and will set a precedent for how the two chambers and the White House reconcile future legislation.
Important to watch is what commitment emerges this week to keep people in their homes. The Senate version of the bill has more money for fixing the AMT - which affects people in the upper end of the middle class - than is being floated for dealing with what may be the single most important act we can take to attack the financial crisis - stablizing the housing market. Michael Moynihan has been making the case this week for a new USA Mortgage, a 4 percent 30 year mortgage for all Americans. It is an idea that deserves serious consideration.
Whatever happens this week, the leaders of our government cannot, for one moment, give the impression that the banks and those with means are getting the lion share of attention and bailout, leaving once again those struggling to get by to get what's left over. This is the core of the politics the American people rejected last fall, and the core of the mandate the new President has been given. If President Obama is true to his arguments of this past week, and he believes the GOP has been peddling tired, failed and worn ideas, then he has an obligation not to allow too many of them in the final recovery bill and financial rescue plan that emerge this week. Given where things seem to be heading this may be harder than the new President would have wanted.
Noon Update - Carla Marinucci of the SF Chronicle has an extensive analysis today of the moment's politics which features commentary from NDN. It is well worth reading.