Thursday, February 16, 2006


The Prospect's Prospects

Here are two articles worth checking out in the latest issue of the American Prospect, which despite its bias against my old boss, often puts out insightful reporting and commentary from a progressive perspective.

The first is the cover story profile on Senator and All-Around Democratic Darling Barack Obama.

As the author points out, Obama has been very careful -- and smart -- to not overexpose himself, to not believe his own hype, and instead pick his spots and work at cultivating a serious, substantive, and statesmanlike image.

Notwithstanding his recent scrap with John McCain, which was a minor misstep, Obama has been well served by this disciplined strategy (much like Hillary Clinton). In fact, he's been able to enhance his iconic status without coming across as a camera-chasing glory hog -- or, just as importantly, without alienating his peers in the Senate.

That's no mean feat in this hypercharged political atmosphere. And it leaves Obama exceedingly well-positioned to emerge not just as leading party spokesman, which in many respects he's already become, but as a credible national candidate within the next few years.

Who knows what will happen in 2008 and beyond and what turns the political environment and the electorate's mood will take. But if Obama can stay focused, and if he can avoid the pressure of the old civil rights lobbby to jump through the tired, typical identity politics hoops, there's a decent chance he could become the country's first black president within the next decade. He's that good.

The second piece I would recommend is a fresh take on the values debate going on within the Democratic Party by Garance Franke-Ruta (one of the smarter next generation political journalists writing today).

Franke-Ruta presents and digests the findings of a data research firm called American Environics, which helps explain why Democrats keep losing despite our supposed "advantage" on most domstic issues, and which strongly supports the contention that many Democratic dissidents (myself included) have made about the danger of ceding the values battlefield to the Republicans.

Here is a taste of the piece:

In the great debate about how Democrats can stage a comeback (beyond simply waiting for the coming Republican implosion that never seems to arrive), American Environics rejected some of the more popular recommendations out there. Rather than focusing on reframing the Democratic message, as Berkeley linguistics and cognitive science professor George Lakoff has recommended, or on redoubling Democratic efforts to persuade Americans to become economic populists, as another school of thought suggests, the American Environics team argued that the way to move voters on progressive issues is to sometimes set aside policies in favor of values. By focusing on “bridge values,” they say, progressives can reach out to constituents of opportunity who share certain fundamental beliefs, even if the targeted parties don’t necessarily share progressives’ every last goal. In that assessment, Shellenberger and Nordhaus are representative of an increasingly influential school of thought within the Democratic Party.

By the beginning of fall 2005, American Environics had presented its data to key Democratic leaders and a who’s who of Democratic interest groups: Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the NDN (formerly the New Democratic Network), Third Way, Planned Parenthood, the Center for American Progress, People for the American Way, the Economic Policy Institute, and OMB Watch. They did so quietly, swearing their viewers to silence. (They will be releasing the data publicly early in 2006.) Few media outlets saw the presentations, but the Prospect was given an early copy of their research.

The data contradicted the slew of polls that show Americans to be strong supporters of Democratic issue positions, such as universal health care, despite voting habits that have made Republicans the dominant political actors. Instead, American Environics’ extensive plumbing of Americans’ attitudes laid out a darker, more nuanced vision of what the nation actually believes. Far from being a purely dour assessment, though, in it can be found the seeds of a new understanding of the interrelationship of culture, the economy, and politics -- broadly defined -- that should give progressives hope.

Obama is actually one of the very few political figures on my blog.

The environics data suggests a profound and dangerous split within the religious right; one that will benefit neither progressives or conservatives.
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