Thursday, March 22, 2007

A Shift in the Landscape

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 669

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press has published a fascinating look at American political attitudes spanning the years 1987 - 2007. It shows some dramatic changes over time, and, I'm happy to say, mostly away from the political right.

Some highlights:

  • In 2002, the country was equally divided along partisan lines: 43% identified with the Republican Party or leaned to the GOP, while an identical proportion said they were Democrats. Today, half of the public (50%) either identifies as a Democrat or says they lean to the Democratic Party, compared with 35% who align with the GOP.

  • The study finds a pattern of rising support since the mid-1990s for government action to help disadvantaged Americans. More Americans believe that the government has a responsibility to take care of people who cannot take care of themselves, and that it should help more needy people even if it means going deeper into debt.

  • Americans are less disposed than five years ago to favor a strong military as the best way to ensure peace. In 2002, less than a year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, more than six-in-ten agreed with the statement, "The best way to ensure peace is through military strength." Today, about half express similar confidence in military power.

  • In 1995, 58% said they favored affirmative action programs designed to help blacks, women, and other minorities get better jobs. That percentage has risen steadily since, and stands at 70% in the current poll. Gains in support for affirmative action have occurred to almost the same extent among Republicans (+8), Democrats (+10), and Independents (+14).

  • Interpersonal racial attitudes continue to moderate. More than eight-in-ten (83%) agree that "it's all right for blacks and whites to date," up six percentage points since 2003 and 13 points from a Pew survey conducted 10 years ago.

  • But it isn't all rainbows. A few points of worry:

  • The Democratic Party's overall standing with the public is no better than it was when President Bush was first inaugurated in 2001. Instead, it is the Republican Party that has rapidly lost public support, particularly among political independents. Faced with an unpopular president who is waging an increasingly unpopular war, the proportion of Americans who hold a favorable view of the Republican Party stands at 41%, down 15 points since January 2001. But during that same period, the proportion expressing a positive view of Democrats has declined by six points, to 54%.

  • The public is losing confidence in itself. A dwindling majority (57%) say they have a good deal of confidence in the wisdom of the American people when it comes to making political decisions. Similarly, the proportion who agrees that Americans "can always find a way to solve our problems" has dropped 16 points in the past five years.

  • Americans feel increasingly estranged from their government. Barely a third (34%) agree with the statement, "most elected officials care what people like me think," nearly matching the 20-year low of 33% recorded in 1994 and a 10-point drop since 2002.

  • And finally, one quite simply infuriating point:

  • Young people continue to hold a more favorable view of government than do other Americans. At the same time, young adults express the least interest in voting and other forms of political participation.

WTF? Are twenty-somethings saying that government works best when they don't participate? I'm hoping folks will fill up the comment bin on this one, because it makes absolutely no sense to me.

The full report can be found here. Definately worth a read, no matter which side of the political fence you're on!


Polk County Democrats Off-Year Caucus

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 669

As promised, I attended the Polk County Democratic Off-year Caucus last night. For the uninitiated, or anyone from outside Iowa, wondering what caucus night is like, it was like…well, a meeting: lectern, card tables and folding chairs, resolutions, tangents. But there were home-baked brownies and cookies by the plateful, so who’s to complain?

These events are organized by the county party central committee to set the platform and deal with any outstanding party business, originating either within the leadership, or the rank-and-file. This meeting differed from the presidential nominating caucuses scheduled for next January in that it encompassed the entire county, whereas the nominating caucuses are held at the precinct level. Last night was really about two bits of business. The first was a platform resolution drafted by Iowans for Sensible Priorities in favor of cancelling $60 billion in annual military spending on obsolete cold war-era weapons systems and putting that money toward urgent domestic priorities. I thought this was an intriguing proposal, provided the $60 billion really is for stuff we don’t need anymore, so I asked what specifically would be cut. A representative of Iowans for Sensible Priorities had a detailed answer (complete with brochure!), so I ended up adding my voice to the “yeas”; the resolution passed unanimously.

The second item of business, and by far the more entertaining, was to hear from representatives of some of the presidential campaigns. These were not the actual candidates, mind you, but it was interesting in its own way to hear from the campaigns, vis-à-vis the candidates themselves. Some campaigns were represented by just one person, others brought their entire county staff, and the campaigns of Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel didn’t send anyone (possibly because there was no one to send?).

First up was Amanda from the Clinton campaign. Amanda said that she had been working for Tom Vilsack until his withdrawal from the race, but found it easy to join the Clinton campaign (message: Hillary’s campaign is still trolling for Vilsack supporters) because of Hillary’s support for ending the war, addressing the health care issue, cutting the deficit (BTW: this is the first mention I’ve heard of that issue from anybody’s campaign), and developing energy independence. Amanda touted Hillary’s experience in dealing with issues, and her status as the first viable woman candidate for president.

Next was Pat Maloney from the Edwards campaign. Pat referred to this campaign being Edwards’ second, and listed the things that had happened between the 2004 and 2008 campaigns: Katrina, the worsening situation in Iraq, the continuing crises in healthcare. He urged the caucus to look at the specific proposals of each candidate when considering whom to support (a smack at Obama, I think). He concluded by saying we’re all on the same side once a nominee is chosen, which was odd in the circumstances, since that’s the sort of thing that’s usually said at the end of a campaign, rather than the beginning.

Third was Ronny Chow from the Obama campaign. Ronny characterized the 2008 campaign as being about the future, and Obama represents a “New America” of change, progress and ideas. He went on to say that money alone won’t elect a Democrat in 2008 (obvious swipe at Hillary), that grassroots activism would also be needed. He then praised the strength of the Democrat field of candidates in contrast to the Republicans, and concluded by introducing the rest of the Obama Polk County team and promoting the March 31 house parties the campaign is organizing statewide.

Fourth came former Congressman Rick Nolen (Minnesota 6th Congressional District), speaking on behalf of the Dodd campaign. Nolen said he knew all the candidates, and like Dodd best, and believed that voters would come to like Dodd best as well the more they got to know about him. He stressed that Iowa has never been more important in the nominating process, since momentum coming out of the caucuses will be crucial in being able to viably campaign in all the other states rushing to move up their own nominating contests to early February. He asserted that “experience really matters” in evaluating a presidential candidate, and listed Dodd’s work in the Peace Corp, fluency in Spanish, National Guard service, terms in the House and Senate and sponsorship of the Family and Medical Leave Act and support for Head Start as things to like about Dodd. Nolen described Dodd’s priorities as Labor, education, the environment, fire fighters, voting rights protection - but oddly, not the restoration of Habeas Corpus, one of Dodd’s signature initiatives and something that I think really sets him apart from the other candidates. He concluded by saying Chris Dodd believes in the positive role that government can play in solving problems in healthcare, climate change, farm policy (what state are we in, again?) and Iraq.

Next was Brad Frevert from the Richardson campaign. Brad humorously recalled Richardson’s initial campaign swing through the state earlier this month and the coinciding ice storm (emphasizing Richardson’s commitment to Iowa and the importance he attaches to his campaign here), and touted Richardson’s experience and resume as Energy Secretary, U.N. Ambassador, Congressman and Governor. Brad said that since 1961, 40 Senators had run for president, and none of them have won, whereas numerous governors had run and been elected president. He talked about Richardson’s record as governor in raising teacher pay and creating more than 84, 000 high-tech job in New Mexico, which, he noted, was a “red state” that reelected Richardson governor with 69% of the vote. He mentioned that the campaign is opening its state headquarters on Monday, and they anticipate a solid fundraising quarter.

Last, but not least, was Valerie Biden-Owens, sister of Joe Biden, speaking on his behalf. This is a big deal, because she is not just a relative of the candidate, or a campaign staffer, but the national chairperson of the Biden campaign, and her presence spoke volumes about the importance Biden places on Iowa. She began by thanking Iowa for its “good stewardship” of its role in the nominating process, and borrowed a line from the Obama campaign about this election being “not about the candidates but about you.” She spoke about Joe Biden’s sponsorship of the Violence Against Women Act and the Biden Crime Bill, and went on to say that his campaign is “not [just] about what he’s done, but about who he is.” She described Biden as someone who is tough, principled, understands what it takes to get things done, understands what it takes to hold on to the promise of youth, and understands what it takes to make children safe and smart. She recounted some of the episodes of personal adversity Biden has faced in the past, and characterized him as having the “heart of a champion,” being a straight shooter, a man of his word, with the ability to bring the country back together. She concluded by describing Biden as a candidate who understands possibilities as well as problems, and who listens as well as speaks.

Nothing earth-shaking in any of this, of course – perfunctory introductory remarks by campaign representatives to an audience of party activists. But it provided an interesting chance to meet and chat with some of the people who are going to be important players in the ground war that must be won in order to carry through to victory here next January. We’ll be hearing more about these folks in the coming months, I’m sure.

As an aside, a revealing thing from several of the evening’s speakers was the tendency to mistakenly say that their candidate was running for congress, or governor, or senator, rather than for president: “candidate X has what it takes to be a great [congressman, governor, etc] because…” Clearly, the magnitude of what they’ve taken on is still sinking in for some of the staffers. Can’t say I would feel any different, if I were in their shoes!

One final note, for anyone planning on attending the Polk County Democrats Spring Dinner on April 20: Bill Richardson, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd have all confirmed they will be there; Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have definitely declined, and John Edwards hasn’t yet decided either way. No word from Dennis Kucinich or Mike Gravel, if that’s swaying anyone’s decision on whether or not to attend!

PS/ apologies to anyone whose name I got wrong or misspelled in this post; if I mangled your name, please send me a note and I’ll publish corrections ASAP.


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