Category Archives: president

The Stained-Glass Ceiling of Religious Tolerance

[also cross-posted on AmericanGrace blog]

American Grace co-author David Campbell has an Op-Ed in today’s USA Today (with John C. Green and J. Quin Monson) entitled “Tolerance? We have a ways to go”.

The Op-Ed sizes up the chances of Republican presidential aspirant Mitt Romney in 2012 by examining public opinion regarding religious tolerance and America’s de facto “stained glass ceiling”.  Interestingly, those  most knowledgeable about Mormonism (Latter-Day Saints) were least likely to be intolerant, regardless of whether they were LDS themselves.

Read Op-Ed here.

AMERICAN GRACE: How Religion Is Reshaping Our Civic and Political Lives By David E. Campbell and Robert D. Putnam, will be published in 2010.

Obama’s historic election

barack-obama-hopeThe election of Saguaro’s Barack Obama as 44th, and first African-American president marks itself as a truly historic election.  It makes me immensely proud to be an American.

Some notes on the election:

1) voter turnout:  preliminary turnout projections put the numbers between 134 million (Curtis Gans, American U.) and 136.6 million Americans (Michael McDonald, GMU).  SEE UPDATED NUMBERS HERE. [Some 30 million voted early and some 105 million were believed to have voted on election day.] This would translate into a voter turnout rate of somewhere around 64%, possibly exceeding the all time rate in 1960, or just below this rate.  [Curtis Gans notes on a Metro Connection interview that turnout was very high among Democrats, but actually lower in 2008 among Republicans; Gans notes that some states actually had lower turnout.  Gans notes that one shouldn’t compare votes cast to number of registered voters since once can manipulate turnout rates depending on how recently they cleaned the voter lists for people who moved or died.]  (You can see from below chart that after declining until 1996, it has shot up in the last 12 years).  [David King, of the Kennedy School believes that voter turnout, without counting the absentee ballots was 64.9%, matching the 1960 rates and could rise higher.)  One can see this as half-full or half-empty;  it is disconcerting that even in an election with such important consequences for the future of the nation, and with such compelling personalities (Obama and Palin), and with unprecedented sums spent on advertising and GOTV (get out the vote) efforts, still over a 1/3 of all eligible Americans did not vote.  But nonetheless, it is a remarkable turnaround in the last 12 years.  Curtis Gans thinks that the trends of civic disengagement from voting are generally occurring and although he hopes Obama brings in a new era of civic engagement, he thinks we shouldn’t infer too much from a couple of close elections in 2000-2008.

presidential-turnout-rates

(Source: Michael McDonald, GMU)

2) youth vote:  Part of the story in the resurgence is youth voting.  We witnessed  huge increases in primary voting among younger voters 18-29 year olds (in many cases doubling or tripling number of youth votes 4-8 years ago in the primaries).  We have written  about what might be the beginning of a 9-11 Generation among youth, preliminary reports from CIRCLE were that youth 18-29 did not make up an increased percentage of voters in the 2008 general election [since all age groups were increasing their voter turnout, the youth’s share stayed constant at about 17%).  SEE UPDATED NUMBERS HERE. But it appears that the youth are continuing to turn out at increasing rates (from 37% in 1996 to 41% in 2000 to 48% in 2004 to 49-54% in 2008). [CIRCLE is still projecting the youth turnout from the 2008 election; we’ll fill this in when they come in with a definite number, but it could be the second highest youth turnout ever since 1972 when it was 54.5%.]  David King at the Kennedy School says the data indicates it was the highest turnout for 18 year-olds since 1972. Whether the glass is half full or half empty is a matter of interpretation;  voting rates for youth are still significantly below voting rates for seniors, for example.  And young people voted overwhelmingly for Obama.  [See the NYT’s story “Youth Turnout up by 2 Million from 2004“]

3) mobilizing new people into the political process:  2008 was an unprecedented year in terms of the numbers of volunteers and donors to the Obama campaign, and an exquisite combination of “high-tech” and “high-touch” in his campaign (with tens of thousands of door-to-door canvassers coupled with a highly sophisticated use of e-mail, texting, use of cellphone, and websites).  [We’ve written about that earlier here and here. ] But with the massive increases in the number of registered Americans, preliminary reports were that first-time voters were not noticeably higher than they were in 2004 as a percentage of the voters (even though their absolute numbers increased, since the total number of voters increased).  In the process of his campaign, he spurred 50,000 local events, 1.5 million volunteers on the web, 8,000 web-based affinity groups, and 3.1 million donors who contributed almost $700 million to his campaign. It didn’t hut that Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes helped worked for the Obama campaign. [My colleague David Lazer talks about in “Obama’s Machine” [Forbes], how Obama might unleash this network in the future to his advantage.]

4) What will new Obama administration look like?  What will be their priorities?

In some regards, it is too soon to tell.  But there have been some inklings of important strands announced by Barack on the stump, above and beyond his obvious focus on energy independence, ending the war in Iraq and trying to make the economy work again.

- Focus on sacrifice: Alexandra Marks article in Christian Science Monitor discussed this theme which Obama also returned to in his speech last night from Chicago.

Obama in his victory speech: “So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other. Let us remember that if this financial crisis taught us anything, it’s that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers — in this country, we rise or fall as one nation; as one people.”

- Role of the citizen:  Mentioning Obama’s focus, Michael Sandel noted “…[A] new politics of the common good can’t be only about government and markets. “It must also be about a new patriotism — about what it means to be a citizen.”  (From Thomas Friedman’s column, “Finishing Our Work”, NYT, 11/5/08)

From Obama’s victory speech: “[The campaign victory] was built by working men and women who dug into what little savings they had to give five dollars and ten dollars and twenty dollars to this cause. It grew strength from the young people who rejected the myth of their generation’s apathy; who left their homes and their families for jobs that offered little pay and less sleep; from the not-so-young people who braved the bitter cold and scorching heat to knock on the doors of perfect strangers; from the millions of Americans who volunteered, and organized, and proved that more than two centuries later, a government of the people, by the people and for the people has not perished from this Earth….[A]bove all, I will ask you join in the work of remaking this nation the only way it’s been done in America for two-hundred and twenty-one years — block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand….This victory alone is not the change we seek — it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you.”

- Focus on service:  from Barack’s mention of a bold plan for AmeriCorps expansion as a campaign promise, to his appearing in the ServiceSummit with John McCain and Richard Stengel of TIME, to his invocation of service in his victory speech.  [As Michael Sandel noted, “This is the deepest chord Obama’s campaign evoked. The biggest applause line in his stump speech was the one that said every American will have a chance to go to college provided he or she performs a period of national service — in the military, in the Peace Corps or in the community. Obama’s campaign tapped a dormant civic idealism, a hunger among Americans to serve a cause greater than themselves, a yearning to be citizens again.” (Friedman’s column, “Finishing Our Work”, 11/5/08)]

- Slate magazine’s John Dickerson also had an interesting post on  6 ways that Obama could show he is a new type of leader

And E.J. Dionne (who was a fellow member of Saguaro with Barack) wrote an op-ed today “A New Era for America” talking about how he expects that in the same way as Barack completely recast the campaign process, he will recast politics.

Yes, it is time to hope again….Time to hope that the era of racial backlash and wedge politics is over. Time to imagine that the patriotism of dissenters will no longer be questioned and that the world will no longer be divided between “values voters” and those with no moral compass. Time to expect that an ideological label will no longer be enough to disqualify a politician….Above all, it is time to celebrate the country’s wholehearted embrace of democracy, reflected in the intense engagement of Americans in this campaign and the outpouring to the polls all over the nation…. Obama inherits challenges that could overwhelm any leader and faces constraints that will tax even his exceptional political skills. But the crisis affords him an opportunity granted few presidents to reshape the country’s assumptions, change the terms of debate and transform our politics. The way he campaigned and the way he won suggest that he intends to do just that.

How low can McCain and Palin stoop in campaigning?

John McCain and Sarah Palin continue to campaign at some of the basest levels we’ve seen in recent years.  Sarah Palin now regularly throws “meat” to racist bigots that I’m embarrassed live in America. Does she believe that her best and maybe only hope of becoming V.P. at this point is to incite an assassination of Barack Obama?    The simple fact that she dresses it up in lipstick and says it with a smile doesn’t make it any better.

(photo by thekateblack)

(photo by thekateblack)

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank described this scene in Clearwater, FL:

Palin’s routine attacks on the media have begun to spill into ugliness. In Clearwater, arriving reporters were greeted with shouts and taunts by the crowd of about 3,000. Palin then went on to blame Katie Couric’s questions for her “less-than-successful interview with kinda mainstream media.” At that, Palin supporters turned on reporters in the press area, waving thunder sticks and shouting abuse. Others hurled obscenities at a camera crew. One Palin supporter shouted a racial epithet at an African American sound man for a network and told him, “Sit down, boy.”

Cindy McCain has joined her husband in the nasty, angry tirades. [Spreading more lies about “Obama not funding the troops in Iraq” when this is equally true of McCain who refused to back a funding bill for U.S. soldiers in Iraq that had a withdrawal timeline.]

And John McCain continues to dwell on the fact that Barack Obama has served on non-profit boards with former Weatherman Bill Ayers, even though the two are not even close friends and Ayers is now a tenured professor in Chicago, Ayers been commended for his recent educational work, and got a Citizen of the Year award from the city of Chicago in 1997.  [Not to make light of the subject, but Jon Stewart nails what is going on.]

His latest is this “about-to-air” commercial which the New York Times calls “paint-peeling” in tone (10/10/08)

I know McCain is embarrassed that he is not stronger on the economy, and E.J. Dionne has noticed that McCain, in his campaign desperation, has decided to start putting “John McCain First” rather than “Country First” as his campaign slogan claims.  The only mark that McCain has any scruples is recent claims that he has put the brakes on advertising that tries to make hay out of comments of Obama’s ties to his previous pastor, Rev. Wright;  McCain apparently, as least as of today, feels that this is a bridge too far.  Let’s hope he holds on to at least this shred of campaign decency, even if his campaign numbers fall further, and current polling shows a 168 point electoral landslide for Obama.

One would hope that McCain would have learned something positively from the nasty smear campaigns that George Bush’s campaign ran against McCain in 2000, but instead he appears to have learned: ‘if you can’t lick ‘em, join ‘em.”  Desperation has no fury like a McCain scorned…

Let’s hope that Americans have greater common sense than to fall to McCain’s baiting.

Coda: David Tanenhaus, who met Ayers and Obama in the early 1990s, writes about how Ayers’ 1997 book A Kind and Just Parent: The Children of Juvenile Court and the serious national discussion that ensued ushered in policy reforms of blended sentences, “whereby kids, even though tried as adults, received suspended sentences and were then referred to juvenile programs instead of rotting away for years in adult prisons.”

By the late 1990s, such ideas had become part of the national dialogue. Approaches that Ayers helped publicize were being adopted in several states—including Texas under then-Gov. George W. Bush. Juvenile justice was, in fact, a cornerstone of Bush’s “compassionate conservative” agenda. In his 2000 acceptance speech, he spoke movingly of a 15-year-old African-American boy he had met at a juvenile jail in Marlin, Texas, who had committed a “grown-up crime” but was still a “little boy”: “If that boy in Marlin believes he is trapped and worthless and hopeless—if he believes his life has no value—then other lives have no value to him, and we are all diminished.” The passage could have come directly from Ayers’ book….

Leading Chicagoans, including Mayor Daley, now commend Ayers for his service to the city. “I don’t condone what he did 40 years ago, but I remember that period well,” Daley said last April. “It was a difficult time, but those days are long over. I believe we have too many challenges in Chicago and our country to keep refighting 40-year-old battles.”

See a related comment on McCain’s deplorable tactics in Gail Collins’ “Confessions of a Phone Solicitor” (NYT, 10/23/08)

Clever Obama iPhone application to use social networks

The Obama campaign has released an application for the iPhone that cleverly sorts your address book, prioritizing which friends you should call to convince them to vote Obama.  (“Call Friends” sorts your friends by how close the race is in that state. So you can call your Ohio friends or Missouri friends and not bother with your California or NY friends.)  It’s a smart marrying of the fact that friends are much more likely to convince friends politically, coupled with the technology that helps you to easily see where your social networks may make the most political difference given battleground states and the electoral map.  The ‘Get Involved’ Button uses GPS to help you find the closest Obama campaign headquarters.

Another interesting part of the application is that it shows how many calls you have made using this application and how many have been made nation-wide, enabling one to feel a growing sense of momentum and part of a larger national cause.  (The software doesn’t transmit who you called, but records the number of calls made with the application so they can centrally keep track.)

Download the Obama for America iPhone application here.

Here is the blog post of its developer Raven Zachary.

See earlier blog posts of mine about use of technology in the Obama 2008 campaign.  See also this one and this one.

Our growing divisiveness

Roger Cohen, NYT columnist (“In The Seventh Year“, 9/1/08) describes how, far from 9-11 bringing the country closer together, it has sundered America in two: with some fighting for our country while others backdated options, packaged toxic mortgage-backed securities, and got themselves wealthy in the process.  America, far from other countries has become noticeably more uneven in wealth over the past few years.  [You can see how this growth in inequality is greater than than in the UK, Canada, France or Japan.]

In an interesting companion piece, Scott Leigh notes wistfully how the promised civility of the 2008 campaign has given way to rancorous squabbling (“Civility is Casualty as Campaigns Spar“, Boston Globe, 9/1/08).  While largely initiated by the McCain/Palin team, especially in her nasty (but humorously and folksily delivered) speech at the nomination; Obama has now countered calling McCain/Palin, laughingly commenting: ““You can put lipstick on a pig; it’s still a pig. You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change; it’s still going to stink after eight years.” McCain has lambasted the use of the “lipstick on a pig” image, a phrase McCain claims is a dig on Palin, even though McCain used this phrase himself earlier in the campaign.  Woe to the higher plane on which these candidates said they would play: appearing at joint meetings to discuss their policies.  And McCain’s tactics make a mockery of his claim that he will usher in a new era in bipartisan politics in Washington — live by the sword, die by it.

I myself think that President Bush squandered a remarkable opportunity after 9-11.  We had the world’s admiration and sympathies after 9-11 and now we have their enmity for our cowboy foreign policy.  We had amazing class solidarity, with financiers helping waiters out of the Twin Towers and vice versa, and now we are back to every class looking out for itself.  We had a remarkable opportunity to give Americans a chance to sacrifice for the good of our country: e.g., conserving fuel use to make us less dependent on the Arab undemocratic states, but instead we were encouraged to shop by Bush and initially the Administration’s policies drive down gas prices and made us use all the more fuel.    And we had an opportunity to use our powerful assets to reshape the world for good:  to teach Muslim youth so they saw that there was opportunity to learn beyond going to radical madrassah schools, to invest mightily in our own educational system so we could ensure that our citizens prospered in the years ahead amidst a much more globally competitive world, and to usher in the next wave of green technologies so we were exporting these technologies to the world with lots of jobs, rather than the reverse.  But all this has been squandered along with trillions of dollars on the Iraq War, which has radicalized Arab youth rather than made the world safer.  Let’s hope that we can do a far better job in the next 8 years.