A new progressive era in 08(ama)?

By Jefferson Smith of Portland, Oregon. Jeff is a co-founder of the Oregon Bus Project and current candidate for House District 47. Learn more at JeffersonSmith.com.

For about 5 years I've felt that this country has needed—and perhaps is heading towards—a New Progressive Era. In 2004, a friend and I won an ad contest putting that notion to pictures, music, and mildly poetic words (www.americasparty.tv). The piece below woefully lacks poetry or music—but it does offer some thinking.

The two basic strands of thought are these: (1) As we transition from a state-based, industrial world into a global-based, information age, we need to redesign some important governing mechanisms (e.g., figuring out how to manage global warming, health care as 16% of gdp, national security given non-nation-based threats, education for this century, results-based gov't, etc.—essentially socially responsible capitalism and politics in a global age). 2)To beckon the dawn of a new era, we will need to create new channels for public energy, and win elections not just by tapping into old institutions (with big status quo stakes), but also into citizen movements with innovation and the public good at heart. Accordingly, we need to leverage (a) new communications tools, (b) our changing demographics, (c) a new generation with potential comfort for change, along with (d) what's-old-is-new-again, person-to-person civic engagement to build energy for the common interest.

Put shortly, this country needs a new progressive era, and we need some new politics and energy from a new generation to help.

I have also felt—as with the Roosevelt-Republican highlighted Progressive Era—that States, more than the federal government, will be the locus of key innovations (hence the Bus's state-based work). I still think States give us a better shot than Congress... but that bet is worth hedging.

Events have conspired to make possible (didn't say probable) big change at the federal level... we all know many of the elements: (1) Iraq (and the bankrupt notion of unfettered military hegemony), (2) Enron, Katrina etc. (and bankrupt notion of a country unfettered by public-structures), (3) Abramoff/Libby/Rove (and the mild weakening of the credibility of for-profit politics), and (4) changing demography (the youngest generation is our most diverse ever). There is a mood for national change.

When I decided to support Barack Obama last year (prompting some early conference calls with unsung champ Steve Davis and under-sung champ Charlie Burr), it was based on this historical impression: Barack Obama gives us a better chance to catalyze a new era than any candidate for president (of either party) in decades. Six overlapping reasons:

(1) New people: Obama has an ability to garner enthusiasm among the next generation like no candidate since Kennedy.
(2) An ability to leverage new technological tools, by being a great messenger, and having a message that connects with electronic hordes.
(3) A somewhat cross-cutting brand (not blue and red States, but "United" States ... not just left or right but forward). Oprah helps. This could of course change as the conservative media dogs concentrate their hunt, but there is still hope.
(4) Iraq – a catalyzing issue and a signal of a strong break with the early 2000's. (Military hegemony is so 2002.)
(5) As has been written, "He wears his change on his face." His youthful, brown visage is a stark break from nominees of the past. (Hillary is no old white guy—which I hope to be one day—but her last name is a not-so-changey "Clinton." My fiancée Katy would argue that voters are being more sexist than racist.)
(6) The "Charisma Thing" – Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, Kerry, and Hillary Clinton (not to mention Bob Dole, and both Bushes) were all solid communicators—my sense is that people at their events left every bit as excited as they were on arrival. But (like Reagan and Clinton (and Cuomo)), just about every time Obama speaks, listeners leave more energized than when they arrived. Obama turns pew-sitters into choir singers, choir singers into preachers.

That last point merits dwelling. To those who belittle the relevance of Obama's charisma, I say that it offers a chance. If/when combined with a good message, sufficient specifics and judgment, talented management, and the communication tools to deliver the messages, his rare charisma offers the chance to build new channels of energy.

Obama could win the election and have a bit of freedom from traditional interests—like Tom McCall had in Oregon when the anti-green lobby came a callin', and Wayne Morse had for a time as Oregon's Senator. Moreover, Obama's appeal could foment new energy and new institutions. (Think more-cross-cutting Democracy for America on Winstrol.)

Obama's ability to inspire hope itself inspires hope. Like a flip of FDR's "fear itself," belief might indeed be warranted if we indeed believe.

I will quickly concede that much more than charisma will be needed to deliver on the promise. Moreover, this is not post intended to argue for Obama over Clinton. (Not only do I respect Hillary, but after some microcosmic trial-and-error my lovely fiancée Katy and I have reached détente and have agreed to be civil through the primary.) Or even Obama over McCain. (A sliver of whom wants to be Teddy Roosevelt, but more of whom wants to be Reagan, and with team members content with Bush III.) This is a post to argue for viewing this race as, and pushing for this race to be, a clarion call for a new era.

In the final analysis—more like final guess—Obama gives us a chance (say 5%-49%?) of a new-progressive-era-worthy presidency. And some other percentage chance at building change-inducing energy and infrastructure (win or lose). There's no certainty in it, but he offers the best chance. For me, that's hope.

  • Katy (unverified)

    Whoever this guy is he sounds really smart!

  • genop (unverified)

    Anyone able to move us from our pews of complacency is worthy of a shot to lead the masses into a new future. The "smart guy" mentions a more socially responsible capitalism, proving that he is indeed a "smart guy". Edwards for AG.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)

    Obama does unite people, notably well educated, well off white people who are the type to post on blogs.

    When it comes to blue collar workers and Latinos... not so much!

    Sadly, for those who circulate chiefly among the former population, or at least online, it may seem as though Obamamania is ubiquitous.

    Obama is a losing ticket in a general election composed not just of folks who went to Reed College, U of O, and the like.

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    Obama is a losing ticket in a general election...

    Sorry, Petter, but that ain't what the polls I'm reading say--Obama wins against McCain in every one. And he does it by bringing the kind of excitement Jefferson is talking about here.

    Also, this whole "Latinos love Clinton" thing is also a creation of primarily white-dominated media, which sees Hispanic culture as some sort of monolith. (Shakira and Selma Hayak are ethnic Lebanese, one of the last presidents of Peru is the son of Japanese immigrants. There's more diversity in Latin America than in North America!)

    Obama's & Clinton's numbers with whites and Latinos both show more of an age variation that a racial one. I'm sure one of Obama's main stumpers in Texas, Federico Pena would be interested to discover that as a Latino his support for Obama can only be lukewarm.

  • (Show?)

    A wonderful post!

    Whether Obama wins the nomination and/or the general election or not, the energy and new perspectives some of his supporters bring is rattling our stale politics. We are all too stuck in the battles of the past. The world is changing too rapidly for that luxury. We desperately need new ideas and visions. Let us bring on the "New Progressive Era." Obama might help, but we all need to do the heavy lifting. We are the change.

  • genop (unverified)

    When Hillary endorses Barack, his Latino/blue collar cred will swell considerably. An example of naivete is the assumption that those who blog can be pigeonholed. We represent every stripe with a few stars thrown in on occasion.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    Obama has inspired many young people to take an interest in politics. There are a few questions. One, will Obama live up to his promises? Two, will these young people demand that Obama live up to his promises, direct and implied? If Obama betrays them, will these young people stay in the game and find someone they can support to change the course of this nation? And, if that second candidate also lets them down, will they stick around for the long hard slog that will be required to achieve what they want and the nation needs?

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    And there are plenty of us who aren't in the well-off, Reed College/UO attending, etc. group who support Obama.

    This idea that only those who are well off could support Obama is ridiculous.

    And I must say that I am extremely disappointed in Clinton's campaign comparing Obama to Ken Starr. That is completely uncalled for. The Republicans are just sitting back laughing at us, I'm sure.

  • Katy (unverified)

    Bill, I agree with you regarding young people & Obama but I think you left out one question; will they vote?

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    Hello Jefferson,

    I'm with you on hoping for a new progressive era, and I have [admittedly slim] hope that Obama might help motivate this, but I want to question this premise"

    "(1) As we transition from a state-based, industrial world into a global-based, information age...."

    Many smart and studious folks believe we are soon to transition from a globalizing state and corporation based system to one based on localism: local economy, local society, local government. They do not believe that national and international systems can survive the end of cheap fossil fuel. There is room for progressivism under such circumstances, but getting there is a whole different endeavor than the one you describe. Now, their view may be right or wrong, but I believe accepting globalism axiomatically is not warranted at this time.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)

    Polls mean very little when conducted in March, after a media coronation of Obama. As noted by others, polls also showed Mondale and Dukakis handily winning. And, lest we forget, Dukakis was seen as another savior of the Democratic party.

    Mrs. Hayak and Miss Shakira aside, the lion's share of Hispanics share common origin, religion, and cultural backgrounds. Close to 70% are of Mexican origin, for instance.

    And while I suppose it might be fun to suggest that any demographic grouping is unfair, the fact of the matter is that certain groups tend to vote with remarkable internal consistency: young people, old people, black people, poor people, well-educated people, hispanics, and so on.

    And the result of the hispanic vote in the democratic primaries show a stark picture. On super tuesday, latinos favored Clinton over Obama by 63% to 35%. As well, hispanics were more likely than whites to say that race was an important factor in deciding their vote.

    Here, read the Pew report.

    In the general election, this will be a significant problem for Obama, not least in that hispanics make up a larger share than their national average in so-called swing states.

  • Bill R. (unverified)

    The important question is, what is the vehicle of the progressive era? Obama has built the biggest grass-roots, bottom up organization ever seen in one year. He has created a small contributor based campaign that is unmatched and successfully beaten the Clinton party machine. He has created a cross-party message that reaches beyond ideology and traditional party lines. The country is hungry for an end to the bitter conflicts of the past. If the Dem. party insists on keeping itself in bondage to the Clinton Dynasty, the DLC strategies of the past, and the patronage of the corporate interests, then I would see many progressive moving out of the Dem. party. The next few weeks will see how that develops. The Obama movement might move out of the status quo Dem. party if it can't make common cause with this change.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    Bill, I agree with you regarding young people & Obama but I think you left out one question; will they vote?

    That, of course, is the key question. Will they vote? And, it's nice to see we can agree on something. Perhaps we aren't as far apart politically as past comments may have suggested.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)

    This idea that only those who are well off could support Obama is ridiculous.

    I never said that. I said that the bulk of Obama's support comes from voters who are not union, who are younger, with more education, with more income, and with less religion. You can check exit polls for any state and time and again this is the case.

    It is unclear if Obama will be able to expand beyond this fragment of the electorate in a general election.

  • Katy (unverified)

    It is nice isn't it Bill?!

    As I've said before I do like both candidates, one of the best things about Obama is that he does seem to inspire so many young people. My biggest hope for this election is that young people will make their way to the polls (or in the case of Oregon, to the mailbox)to show the rest of the nation that they indeed have a strong voice, that the fight to lower the voting age wasn't done in vain.

  • Bert Lowry (unverified)

    Regardless of your Presidential preference, if you want to encourage young people to register, vote and become politically active, I suggest helping out with Building Votes.

  • (Show?)

    Peter, My point is that there is a lot more diversity of ethnic origin and of opinion within ethnic groups than is generally presented in media sound bites like "Latinos Favor Clinton." I assume you would agree with this.

    On Latino identity, one of the silliest media reports I've seen lately included a pie-chart showing Latino ethnic groups which were all identified with specific countries, e.g. "Mexican," "Cuban," and so. The pie chart added up to 100%...meaning that native-born Latinos, like those in Northern New Mexico, who've been there longer than Mexico or the U.S.A. have been independent countries, were still classified as an alien population on the chart. Pigeon-holing voters into ethnic camps (or gender camps) to be won, lost or manipulated may be the fulltime job of campaign analysts but we shouldn't let them dictate our understanding or discussion of each other.

    Back to Jefferson's post, I think he's right on the money with Obama. It's also worth admitting that Clinton has long provided the same kind of inspiration to a large group of older women voters. I don't "feel" the visceral mass appeal of either one of these candidates, but it's plainly there for many and needs to be considered when trying to figure out who can best take down McCain.

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    Well, that's definitely a much different description than most Obama supporters I know, have met through the Obama online groups, etc. I know the only descriptions that fit me are non-union (since I'm self-employed) and "young," although I'm an odd duck there since I've almost always been involved in politics. I rarely fit in with the results of any poll of "young" people.

    I have less education, less money, and am religious.

    And the exit/entrance polls you mention really vary state by state.

    In Texas, for example, Obama won the group of people who attend church the most as well as those who never attend church. Those in the middle (attend less than weekly, monthly, and a few times a year) voted for Hillary. There was a split in education, income groups, etc.

    In South Carolina, Obama won every single age group, except 65+ (he won the 60+ group). He won every church attendance group. He won all education groups, income groups, etc.

  • Mike Schryver (unverified)

    Jefferson states very well what I've come to realize over the past few weeks. Whoever is elected will need to be able to lead the bulk of the people down a new path. Clinton will not be able to do that. Even if she were so inclined, so many people have been thoroughly taught to hate her that the segment refusing to go along will be quite large. Obama has shown more of an ability to inspire people, especially those who aren't already partisan, and our best hope lies with him.

  • Katy (unverified)

    Mike, the key part of your comment is "taught to hate her." Yes, by the right wing. I've said it a few times on Blueoregon and I'll say it again here, we cannot allow the right wing to choose our candidates for us. We cannot allow them to vilify a progressive Demorcatic woman using sexism. Hillary Clinton has an incredibly progressive legislative record and I feel very strongly that we can't stand by while the right smears one of our own.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)

    Ms Simonis:

    In South Carolina, Obama won every black age group, but lost every non-black age group.

    Given that 76% of whites in South Carolina did not vote for Obama, and that 78% of blacks did, I would suggest that his other wins (church, education, income) are impacted far more by race and the heavy representation of blacks in the SC Democratic party than by religion, education, income.

    In other words, and quite sadly, the race of the voter, at least in SC, is a far better predictor of their vote than other demographic characteristics.

  • Mike Schryver (unverified)

    Of course you're right about that, Katy. The other side of it for me is that my opinion of Hillary Clinton has decreased markedly over the past few weeks. I don't want to get into it too much, as I made the same points in another thread, but I still agree with Jefferson that Obama gives us the best chance for a new progressive era.

  • (Show?)

    In the final analysis—more like final guess—Obama gives us a chance (say 5%-49%?) of a new-progressive-era-worthy presidency.

    I tend to agree with this, too--it's why I've been an Obama guy for so long. I think it's also possible that Hillary might usher in a new era of progressive change, too--even if she's not the agent herself. My sense is that we're at a pivot-point in history, but that doesn't mean a Clinton presidency couldn't be a soft transition, rather than a radical, FDR-style shift.

    But Obama may offer that FDR model. And that's something to get pretty excited about. Nice to see you guest posting here, Jefferson. I'd like to see more--

  • Chuck Butcher (unverified)

    Ah, the battles of the past...

    We've had three decades of increasing plutocracy and the results of today, is that battle over? The progress over the last 30 years is available for anybody that wants to bother, the greatest dislocations occured under BushCo, but Clinton manages to show some nasty numbers as well.

    The crushing of the blue collar earner began with Ronnie R, but hasn't slowed. This one has several pieces, but ask just exactly who is bothering to address most of them. Out-sourcing and in-sourcing are not addressed except tangentially.

    Many of the so-called battles of the past are not past, not in the sense that they are historically on-going. The desire by some to restrict liberty of some is scarcely new nor a past solved battle. Terms like globalizaton get bruited about as though something new is in the wind. Utter nonsense. The multi-national strength of some corporations has been regarded as new, somebody forget about entities like British East India Company?

    Now there is easily a case to be made for dealing with these problems in a different manner, 30 years of junk ought to be discouraging of the use of the same old-same old. These battles are of historical nature and huge clues for causes, effects, and utilized remedies are there. Calling things new ignores the resources available. Calling them new is the egotism of current culture. It's been done through out history and the convenience of ignoring history has lead to the egotistical failures easily predicted. Does someone think that industrial and communications revolutions have not occurred repeatedly?

    I really do respect the work and thinking of Jefferson, I am not slamming him, but I am seriously warning against the idea that 2008 is somehow new and different. Let's remember that while bytes may be different than print, there is a steady progression going on, general availability of print in Revolutionary times, establishment of more effective roads, then canals, pony express and rail, telegraph, then radio, then TV. All treated as some suddenly occurring new era rather than what they are, a progression, each with common results carried forward and amplified, but not to the degree of epoch making change. The bloggers of today are the pamphleteers of the Revolution, in many ways more congruent than different.

  • (Show?)

    And in Vermont, which had too few African Americans to even show up in the exit polls, Obama still won every age group, every race, every religious group, almost every education group, etc.

    Like I said, it really varies state by state. Which is why a one size fits all campaign won't work. You're going to have to have a different operation in South Carolina than you do in Texas than you do in Oregon.

    Obama already has a lot of that built up. He's had more than 1 million people donate to his campaign - the average donation is $109 and is indeed "primary money" (money that can be spend in the primary). There are tons of supporters like myself who have yet to donate, so that makes his active support base even higher than a million. We have huge supporter groups in every state active through his web site. The same can't be said for Clinton's campaign.

  • Jefferson Smith (unverified)

    Four thoughts:

    1) Good discussion -- particularly the positive stuff and not-just-horse-race stuff. The Obama-v-Clinton horse race is an important conversation and the subject of multiple threads. Here it might be neat to focus on some of the comments (like Alworth's, Civiletti's and Chuck Butcher's) that see the race through a historical optic. (I'm not even arguing that's the most important optic, just that a mild respite from the "sexist vs. racist" or "____ is too negative" might be interesting.

    2) Civilleti: Important thinking. I'm not yet sure by any significant measure how the local v. global dynamics will play out. If steel-based-trasportation gets too expensive (due to peak oil and an absence of alternative energy, etc.), we will still be connected by way of information, and conceivably (likely?) by ownership as well. That is, even if we're shopping at farmer's markets, they could still all be owned by Archer Daniels Midland and we could know our British neighbors (and with translation technology, our Chinese neighbors). I am not advocating for globalization here. Indeed, thinking about we empower David and not just arm or cripple Goliath seems critical. Interesting stuff to think about.

    2) Alworth: The FDR analogy is a good one. I think Hillary might well be capable of being that sort of president (by that of course we mean "historically great"). FDR had Huey Long and Henry Wallace doing even more rabble rousing than him. In that conext, FDR's temperament didn't keep him from being a crusader...inded it pobably helped, as he didn't earn criticism of being a megalomaniac early on as someone of greater charisma might've. My hunch is, though, that we don't yet have the institutional horses of the FDR age to allow for that sort of leadership style to lead to the change we need. I could be wrong (the blogosphere, online action sites, etc. are a legitimately big deal). At this point in history, my bet goes to the band leader who can help attract a bigger band.

    3) Butcher: I very much agree with you in thinking that 2008 isn't "special" -- that is, success isn't an event, it's a process. Obama's importance is certainly to what is being pushed from below as well as it is being pulled from above. Still, by my count this country has had 3 or 4 pogressive movements/eras/booms/whatever -- I would include: (1) pre-Civil War era, (2) Post-Depression/New Deal era, (3) Great Society/Civil Rights era, and (4)____ Maybe now?. I am just offering my estimation that Obama seems to give a better chance to spur that than other candidates.

    4) Katy: you are very sweet and very wonderul.

  • Harry K (unverified)

    Bill R said: "He [Obama] has created a cross-party message that reaches beyond ideology and traditional party lines. The country is hungry for an end to the bitter conflicts of the past."

    Ideology is just a systematic set of ideas that reflect a person's beliefs. No one can reach "beyond" her ideology. Obamary's triangulation IS an ideology of corporate power and control, state power and exceptionalism.

    Furthermore, most people are not hungry for an end to conflict. On the contrary, they are hungry for conflict over the issues that they most care about, exactly those issues that are agreed upon by Obamary and McCain. Issues like:

    (1.) Adopt single payer national health insurance

    (2.) Cut the huge, bloated, wasteful military budget

    (3.) No to nuclear power, solar energy first

    (4.) Aggressive crackdown on corporate crime and corporate welfare

    (5.) Open up the Presidential debates

    (6.) Adopt a carbon pollution tax

    (7.) Reverse U.S. policy in the Middle East

    (8.) Impeach Bush/Cheney

    (9.) Repeal the Taft-Hartley anti-union law

    (10.) Adopt a Wall Street securities speculation tax

    (11.) Put an end to ballot access obstructionism

    (12.) Work to end corporate personhood

  • MattD (unverified)

    In response to the notion that Obama is a losing general election candidate and a fetish of "up-scale" white-voters, I offer these words:

    Cynicism and Division are antithetical to change.

    I say out with the old labels and attitudes and in with new optimism, less partisanship and real progress.

    We deserve it.

    Ain't it about time we got it?

    Obama 08 (and more).

  • Peter Bray (unverified)

    Ms Simonis:

    Other analysts have suggested that a black politician does poorly among whites in states where there is a significant black minority and where the white population has a lower income (NJ, MA, TN, OH) -- after all, in OH 20% of DEMOCRATIC primary voters said that race was "important" in deciding their vote. This percent is probably higher in the general OH population).

    Sadly, when selecting a general election candidate, we need to take the racism of our fellow Americans into account.

    Here is a pretty humorous slant on the will.i.am YouTube video.

  • joel (unverified)

    A couple of things about Peter Bray's comments. First, I appreciate his candor and his overall polite, positive tone. However, I keep wondering why he quotes numbers that presumably come from exit polls and attributes to them such precision. Never seen an exit poll that had problems, eh? Also, while he may well be justified to say that it is silly to pretend that ethnicity and race are NOT useful predictors for statistical purposes, I get very nervous about where he's going with this argument. Does he suppose, for example, that these ethnically based claims are immutable? I mean, OK, fine, let's suppose that Hillary Clinton has done particularly well amongst the Latino population. SO what? This voting trend is set in stone? These folks will sit out the November election or vote for McCain if Obama is the D nominee? Lots of speculation here.

    In a broader sense, Mr. Bray's approach, when applied to electoral campaigning, leads rather naturally to a cynical (IMHO) approach of trying to pick off this demographic, that demographic, and so on--a minimalist approach--rather than developing a broad-based approach. What I see is Hillary Clinton trying to win with the minimalist approach, and Barack Obama trying to win by appealing more broadly.

  • LT (unverified)

    Yes, thank you Peter for the humorous link.

    Yes, joel,campaign strategy by voting bloc isn't a great idea (although the Mondale folks thought it was).

    There are women who don't support Hillary (disgusted with the way the campaign has turned out), also people of a certain income or education level don't all vote the same way.

    Bill Clinton humorously addressed this (speaking in a church as I recall) by saying he'd asked God to let him live long enough to have the chance to vote for a black president and a female president, he just didn't think he'd have to choose between them.

    I think Obama is closer to the 50 state strategy idea and Hillary believes in targets. Sometimes targets work, sometimes they don't. But saying the states that matter are the ones she won is not a good way to carry those states in the fall if she is the nominee.

    And whatever anyone says about the Michigan and Florida situation, it sure kills the idea that all politics is cut and dried, and dynamic unpredictable nomination battles went out with the 20th century.

  • mmiddle (unverified)

    Peter Bray: re states you use to prove your point about racism - there may be some idiosyncratic explanation for each of these states. There certainly was in Tennessee, where Obama did not campaign at all (perhaps forfeiting it in the SuperTuesday tidal wave, along with Ark. and Okla.). Even so, Obama carried the largest county by 70%, and was endorsed by one of the 3 major newspapers. Please think twice before charging racism.

  • trendy (unverified)
    <h2>Barack Obama/Hannah Montana in 2008!</h2>
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