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All Politics is Global: An Interview with Simon Rosenberg
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Simon Rosenberg is considered among the most important strategic thinkers in American politics. As founder and president of the innovative New Democrat Network, Rosenberg has emerged from the field of traditional activists and operatives as a result of his long-range thinking and pioneering use of new media and technology to reinvent electoral politics. A former candidate for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, Rosenberg is a veteran of several presidential campaigns and has served at the Democratic Leadership Institute, among other organizations. A frequent commentator in mainstream media and the Blogosphere, Rosenberg is one of the most thoughtful voices on the political landscape, interpreting how current trends will affect politics long into the future both in the US and more broadly on a global scale.


WC: You cut your teeth on Dukakis in 1988. We are almost 20 years from that election. What are main structural differences in US politics your opinion between that age and the one that is upon us today?

SR: There are three big changes afoot in American politics. First, we see that there is a new set of 21st century challenges, and to meet these challenges we need a new agenda. Second, we live in a new media and technology environment and the way we communicate with one another has fundamentally changed, transforming the whole business of politics. Third, there are long-term demographic changes that we are just beginning to see, that will transform the American electorate within our lifetimes.

WC: Do we live in a red-blue America, yet the recent midterms seemed to upend a lot of that thinking? Are we as polarized as the media would suggest or is there more commonalities?

SR: The country is very partisan at the moment. We live in a heightened period of partisanship, but we are actually not more polarized. Let me explain. On one hand, the data suggests that partisanship is way up. People increasingly identify with one of the two major parties.

Yet, I believe this is a moment of transition and people are desperate for common interest and common purpose. People want to find common ground and work together but there has been at tremendous partisan struggle that has been negative for our country. I predict that this partisanship will continue for some time because there are vast divides between how both parties want to lead the country. The winners will be the party and the candidates who can paint a better picture of common good for all Americans.

WC: Looking at the ascendance of leaders like Gov Arnold Schwarzenegger of California or Mayor Mike Bloomberg of New York City might lead you to believe that typical ideologies and party affiliations are falling away. What do these leaders and their examples represent?

SR: The question is whether they are outliers or harbingers of a new order? I would say that the idea of an independent leader is not typical and actually not playing out across country. You could make the argument that only extraordinary people with reach, star power and money can transcend the typical ideological divide. But remember that Governor Schwarzenegger learned a lesson – he originally tried to drive what you might call a hard right agenda and the people of California rejected him. His failed ballot initiatives in 2005 led to this recent course correction.

I think that Bloomberg and Schwarzenegger are unique and less a sign of a trend. It’s interesting to note that they are Republicans who have done well in Democratic areas, so perhaps this was only a strategy for success. Whatever the case, I think that the country is yearning for politics that solves the great problems of our day, not one that plays politics. That is the key to understanding which party and ideological movement will succeed in the 21st century.

WC: How have changing demographics and migration patterns altered the playing field in the US? What are the long-term implications for the typical coalitions that have created our current power structures?

SR: The American people have changed dramatically. They are more southern and western, more suburban and exurban, more Asian and Hispanic, more immigrant and Spanish-speaking, more digital age in work habits than industrial age, and increasingly, as millennial as boomer.

All of those changes are creating very different politics in the United States. For example, many identify the Democrats as a primarily urban, Northeastern party, but its present leadership in the House and Senate – Speaker Pelosi from California and Majority Leader Reid from Nevada – hail from Western parts of the country.

This shift also means that this country is becoming much more multicultural. What you are seeing with Senator Barack Obama Governor Bill Richardson and Senator Hillary Clinton all running: Obama as a credible black candidate, Richardson as a credible Hispanic candidate and Clinton as a credible female candidate – it’s amazing. I think you are going to see a Democratic party that looks more like 21st century America than what the other side will have to offer.

WC: Business seems to play a different role today than in previous times. Organized labor seems a lot less predominant whereas multinational corporations with global agendas seem to have a bigger presence in our lives. How have such changes touched politics and what are the long-term implications?

SR: We need to think about how globalization works because it is not clear that it is working well for the American people. The political world needs the help of business to figure out how to make sure that we guarantee broad-based prosperity in the US. We don’t seem to know how to do this in our country. We who work in politics cannot do this alone. This is one of our great challenges – how to create better opportunities for our children than we had. It is truly one of the greatest governing challenges of next 10-15 years.

This should not be adversarial. We should work together with business to build a better retirement system, to offer better health care, to create educational opportunities. Corporations need to come back to the table and show that they want America to do better, not just their corporations. If the middle class doesn’t do well, you will see very difficult politics here at home. If we don’t figure out how more people can participate in the upside of the global economy, you could see negative reactions.

WC: Some called the 2006 election the first YouTube election. Talk about role of new media and technology on electoral politics in the US and around the world.

SR: We already have seen that candidates using new modern tech tools can upend a presidential race – Howard Dean did it in 2003 with his use of the Internet. This is not a ‘pie in the sky’ notion that candidates who deploy new tools can get advantage over candidates operating with more traditional tools. What has changed is the velocity of adoption. It now becomes a core test of competence of a campaign as to how they are using these new tools – how campaigns master and deploy new sets of tools will be a critical determinant of success.

In next election cycle, I believe the role of video will undergo tremendous transformation as both mobile phones become broadband enabled and residential broadband penetration continues to increase. As a result, the political process will become less text-based and more multimedia-oriented. There are enormous changes connected with that. I think you already see it in some places. Former Senator John Edwards [who is running for the Democratic nomination for the presidency] already is doing video blogs from his plane! As a result, I think that presidential campaigns could change more in the next two years than they have in the past ten years. You are going to see a lot of experimentation, particularly at the presidential level.

WC: What are the global implications of this shift?

SR: We are also beginning to see a global network develop that has enormous impacts on politics and governance around the world. Iraq recently had its own “macaca? moment. The video footage shot by phone during the execution of Saddam was sent all around the world. This one bootleg video has changed policy in Iraq and clearly has broader impact for the US and others around the world.

What is exciting about what is happening today is to see the entire world getting connected on one network. Today there are three billion people using cell phones. That is half of the world. It’s extraordinary, unprecedented in human history. Maybe it’s similar to radio when all of American could suddenly hear the voice of one politician at the same time – whereas previously this was impossible. This increasingly broadband video network will have major impacts over time. And we all have to do a lot of thinking about what this means for politics and governance around the world.

We are all going to be more together, more connected. I am constantly shocked when I go to YouTube. I look at the videos in the Top 10 and the language under the video is not even in a western alphabet. This access to other cultures and shared experiences is very exciting.

WC: If the global network and the YouTube factor are changing politics, how do these forces shape democracies?

SR: What effect it will have on governments and democracy is hard to say. I believe it will increase democracy because tyrannical governments cannot easily control their people because of the increased access to information. It becomes much harder for governments to stay isolated in this networked environment. We all have to think about what these changes advent for politics. Should it become a pillar of our foreign policy that we want every country to have access to global network? Imagine if this were a national objective like extending democracy or the rule of law around the world. I think this should be an operating foreign policy goal for the US.

There are huge opportunities in politics for people to work with new constituencies, like people in the Worldchanging community and beyond. We can work together to make lives of everyone better through the application of these new, modern tools.

WC: There seems to be considerable international criticism of the US for our prosecution of the War on Terror. Does the “Global Network? unfairly amplify these criticisms and distort our actions or do we need to recalibrate our policies and practices in light of this more sensitive environment?

SR: That we are all interconnected to a much greater degree than ever before is a major new reality America will have to face in the 21st century. And while global public opinion shouldn’t dictate to America what is in our national interest, it certainly is going to be a bigger factor than ever before.

WC: The past few years have seen an interesting trend around global action on non-political issues like AIDS, climate change, and other transnational issues, what outgoing UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called ‘problems without passports’. What are the impacts on politics when issues are no longer just local?

SR: Now more than ever we have to act as if we are all in this together and I don’t just mean all of us in the United States, but as in six billion citizens of the world. This won’t be easy, but it is going to be a requirement as we think about how our governance is going to need to change in the 21st century. Remember after all we are the nation that imagined and created the United Nations in a previous era, so I am confident that with the right leadership we can do what is necessary to lead the world to greater peace and prosperity in the 21st century.

WC: We started this discussion by looking back at how things have changed over the past 20 years. Let’s look forward. What will be the state of the US and global political landscape 20 years from now?

SR: I have no idea. But whatever it will be, it will probably end up being very different than any of us can imagine today.

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Comments

Just wanted to comment on this theme of partisanism...

It's my feeling that a lot of the response to Barak Obama is fueled by the sense that he can do magic things to bring people together. It's not clear how exactly he can or will do this -- but the energy is in the air, and it's exciting. That's something he says -- offer hope, not white papers...

I would say -- that this issue of partisanism is a big opportunity for a kind of new political movement. There's a lot of moving parts out there in the new global environment, that want to come together to shape and empower a new politics. I don't think it's about sitting here watching these things happen -- I think it's about infusing a new spirit into the heart of the conversation...

WC: Do we live in a red-blue America, yet the recent midterms seemed to upend a lot of that thinking? Are we as polarized as the media would suggest or is there more commonalities?

SR: The country is very partisan at the moment. We live in a heightened period of partisanship, but we are actually not more polarized. Let me explain. On one hand, the data suggests that partisanship is way up. People increasingly identify with one of the two major parties.

Yet, I believe this is a moment of transition and people are desperate for common interest and common purpose. People want to find common ground and work together but there has been at tremendous partisan struggle that has been negative for our country. I predict that this partisanship will continue for some time because there are vast divides between how both parties want to lead the country. The winners will be the party and the candidates who can paint a better picture of common good for all Americans.


Posted by: Bruce Schuman on 17 Feb 07



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