Thursday, August 26, 2010

Its Time for Something Completely Different

As the country’s political distemper grows, many commentators, reflecting their own generational biases, mistakenly assume that voters are looking for less government as the solution to the nation’s ills. But survey research data from Washington think tank, NDN, shows that a majority of Americans (54%), and particularly the country’s youngest generation, Millennials, born 1982-2003, (58%), actually favor a more active government, rather than one that “stays out of society and the economy.” As generational expert Neil Howe observed, “Dissatisfaction with Obama and the Democratic Congress is probably more fed by their failure to use government boldly and vigorously to face hard challenges than by their excessive boldness.” What Millennials are looking for in terms of public policy, to borrow John Cleese’s warning to his Monty Python audience, is something completely different than the tired approaches of either party that are grist for the current partisan gridlock in Washington.
Millennials are not interested in letting ideological posturing stand in the way of “getting stuff done,” as they like to say. Their generation’s idealism is always accompanied by a pragmatic impulse focused on finding solutions, not confrontation. As with like-minded civic generations before them, Millennials want to reinvigorate the nation’s institutions, giving government a much greater role in determining basic citizen responsibilities in areas as diverse as health care, education and environmental protection.
However, unlike America’s last civic generation, the GI Generation (born 1901-1924), Millennials do not want to place responsibility for achieving their desired results in a remote, opaque bureaucracy. They see government’s role more like that of their parents who set the rules but left room for negotiation on what the rewards would be for abiding by the rules and the consequences that would follow for not doing so. In this Millennialist approach, government provides information and resources to help individuals connect and learn from each other but let’s each person decide how best to discharge their civic obligations.
The healthcare reform legislation that was forged out of the white heat of the political debate in Congress came surprisingly close to this model, and not to the ideological demands that Boomers on both sides of the aisle brought to the debate. Liberals didn’t get their dream of a single payer system or even its “nose-under-the-tent” counterpart, the so-called public option. But conservatives were unable, even after Republican Scott Brown’s surprise election as a United States Senator from deep blue Massachusetts, to prevent Congress from mandating that every person in America buy health insurance in order to achieve the goal of universal access. By building a framework for universal coverage on the scaffolding of the existing private insurance system, the final legislative solution used liberal schemes of regulation and national mandates to create a new role for government, even as it kept government out of the business of actually providing health care.
The final shape of that reform reflects a new Millennialist approach to the making and implementation of public policy. This approach will result in setting new national standards in many aspects of our national life while, at the same time, allowing individuals to make their own choices about how to comply with those standards.
The recent adoption by a majority of states of national curriculum standards for what students must learn in core disciplines such as English, math and science is further evidence of this trend. The development of these standards, coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers, outlines “the knowledge and skills students should have within their K-12 education careers,” without dictating how schools should teach the material.
Meanwhile the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” grant program, has sparked a firestorm of educational reform legislation in states competing for the money that weaken the hold administrators and teacher unions currently have over what goes on in the classroom. The demands of the parents of Millennials for bottom line results, reflected in such grass roots initiatives as the Parent Revolution in California and Connecticut,is providing the political support needed to take on the current educational monopoly, thereby opening the door to widespread experimentation about what works best at the local school level.
While there is no sign yet at the national level that a more Millennialist approach to addressing concerns over global warming and environmental degradation is in the offing, the inability of the Congress to agree on more bureaucratic approaches, such as cap-and-trade, suggest there is an opportunity for such ideas to take hold in the future. For instance, a campaign to reduce the carbon intensive nature of the nation’s infrastructure could include a government sponsored effort to display the carbon footprint of most consumer products and let individuals decide how to alter their personal purchasing decisions to produce the most environmentally favorable results. Similarly, the goal of reducing fuel consumption per family could be achieved by providing tax incentives for telecommuting or for trading in aging gas guzzlers for vehicles that exceed the newly strengthened fuel economy standards for passenger cars. These policies, and others like them, would leave it up to each individual to decide how much they wish to contribute to the nation’s environmental improvement. In line with behavioral economists in and outside of the administration, the strategy would be to “nudge” rather than command behavior in order to achieve the desired policy goal. Given the ever increasing environmental sensitivity of younger generations, the approach is likely to accomplish more in terms of actual carbon usage reduction than the ideologically-driven schemes proposed by Boomers in Congress.
The trajectory of public policy in a Millennial Era is becoming increasingly evident. The push for an increasing number of national standards and preferred behavior will no doubt cause libertarians to decry the evolving “nanny state” and argue strenuously against an increasingly intrusive government. But if liberals can give up their infatuation with bureaucratic solutions and keep their focus on using government to improve society without building new administrative burdens, the public, led by Millennials, will rally to their side. National consensus, coupled with localism and individual choice,will become the watchwords of the nation’s newest civic era.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Dems, Not Independents will decide Midterm elections

Like the constant buzz of the vuvuzelas during the World Cup, leading members of the inside-the-Beltway punditry have generated an ever louder chorus of warnings recently that "angry" independent voters will determine the outcome of the 2010 midterm elections and, in so doing, threaten the Democratic Party's current congressional majorities.

Actually, however, it is not what independent-or even Republican-voters do that will determine what happens in this November's elections. It is what Democrats do, or perhaps not do, that will be decisive. This is true for two reasons.

First, a significantly greater number of voters now identify with or lean to the Democratic Party than to the GOP. Second, only a relatively small number of politically uninvolved and disinterested voters are independents that are completely unattached to either of the parties.

As a result, the big election story in 2010 will be the extent to which the large plurality of Americans who call themselves Democrats shows up at the polls this fall, and not the voting preferences of unaffiliated independents or Republicans.

This is a quite different situation from 1994, the last time there was a so-called midterm "wave" election in which the GOP wrested control of Congress from the Democratic Party. That year, the two parties were dead even in party ID at 44% each.
But, America is a different country now than it was in the mid-1990s, with a far more ethnically diverse electorate and a new, strongly Democratic generation, the Millennials (born 1982-2003), coming of age. These emerging groups comprise the core of a new, potentially long-lasting majority Democratic coalition.

This year, in sharp contrast to 1994, the Democratic Party holds a party identification advantage over the Republicans. In a June national survey conducted for NDN by highly regarded market research firm, Frank N. Magid Associates, 47% of voting age Americans identified with or leaned to the Democratic Party, well above the 33% who identified with or leaned to the Republican Party and the 19% who claimed to be unaffiliated independents. Even among registered voters the Democratic advantage over the GOP was 11 percentage points (47% vs. 36% with unaffiliated independents dropping to 17%). These numbers were replicated in an early July Pew survey showing the Democrats with a 49% to 42% party ID lead over the Republicans among registered voters.

As is the case in virtually every U.S. election, almost all of those who identify with or lean to a party plan to vote for the candidates of that party this coming November. In the NDN poll, about 95% of both Democratic and Republican identifiers who have made a choice say they expect to vote this fall for the congressional candidate of the party with which they identify. Meanwhile, among the presumably decisive independents, almost two-thirds (61%) are as yet undecided in the race for Congress. The remainder is split almost evenly between the two parties, with 21% preferring the Republicans and 18% the Democrats.

The solid Democratic advantage in party ID, coupled with the strong support given by Democratic identifiers to the party's candidates, and the closely divided independent vote, translates into a clear lead for the Democrats over the Republicans among all Americans on the generic congressional ballot in the NDN survey (35% for the Democrats vs. 29% for the GOP with 34% undecided and 8% favoring another party or candidate).

There is, however, a large fly in the Democratic ointment. At least at this point, Democratic identifiers are significantly less likely to be registered to vote than are Republicans (90% vs. 84%). Democrats are also substantially less likely than Republicans to say they are certain to vote in November (76% vs. 67%). These concerns are particularly acute among Latinos and Millennials, both of which are key components of the Democratic coalition. As a result of these disparities, the Democratic lead over the GOP on the generic ballot drops to three points among registered voters (35% vs. 32%), and to a statistical tie of just two points among those who say they are certain to vote this fall (37% vs. 35%).

What must the Democratic Party do to overcome these barriers? One thing is to organize. The decision of the Democratic National Committee to spend $50 million in 2010 to increase the registration and turnout of "first time voters" (meaning, primarily, Millennials, African-Americans, Latinos, and single women) is a key step in constructing and strengthening the 21st century Democratic coalition for this year and the decades ahead.

The NDN survey portrays a country that is anything but center-right. A solid majority of Americans prefer a government that actively tries to solve the problems facing society and the economy (54%), rather than a government that stays out of society and the economy to the greatest extent possible (31%). Three-quarters of Democrats (76%), and just over half of independents (52%), favor an activist government, while 60% of Republicans want a laissez faire approach.

Similarly, a clear plurality of the electorate (49%) wants government to ensure that all Americans have at least a basic standard of living and level of income, even if it increases government spending. Only 34% supported the alternative approach of letting each person get along economically on their own, even if that means some people have a lot more than others. A solid majority of Democrats (69%), and half of independents, opt for governmental policies aimed at increasing economic equality, something that is opposed by two-thirds (65%) of Republicans.

Nothing would be more confusing and dispiriting for Democratic voters than for the Democratic Party to turn away from the political and economic approach they strongly favor, and which has been the hallmark of the party's success and identity since the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Generating enthusiasm for Democratic candidates in the 2010 midterm election requires highlighting, not downplaying or running away from, the striking legislative accomplishments of the Democratic congressional majority during the first two years of the Obama administration.

Democrats would also be well advised not to base their campaign on pursuing independent voters, angry or otherwise. For one thing, the much-vaunted independents are far less likely to be registered (72%) and certain to vote (52%) than are either Republican or Democratic identifiers. While aiming at unaffiliated and uninvolved voters may be a good idea for a party that has fewer, or even the same number, of identifiers as its opponent, it is not the best strategy for a party that holds a clear party identification lead within the electorate. Doing everything that it can to mobilize its own supporters makes far more sense, and is likely to be far more effective. In the end, what happens to the Democratic Party in 2010 and beyond is in its own hands, and will be determined primarily by the votes of those who identify with it, rather than being in the hands of the media or the other side of the political aisle.

A Regional Perspective on 2010 elections

Virtually all polling analyses that deal with the possible outcome of the 2010 midterm elections, make frequent use of the "generic congressional ballot," a survey question probing House voting intentions on a national basis. But, while there may be national trends, there are no national elections in the United States. In spite of this, pollsters rarely report their results geographically beneath the aggregate national level. That's why a recent posting by Tom Schaller at FiveThirtyEight is so interesting, refreshing, and important. While many reports based on the national generic ballot stress the similarities between the 2010 midterm elections and those of 1994 in which the Democratic Party lost large congressional majorities, Schaller's analysis points to key regional differences that may buffer the Democrats from the kind of devastation they suffered sixteen years ago.

By eerie coincidence Democrats hold precisely the same number of House seats (256 or 59% of the body's 435) in today's 111th Congress that they held in the 103rd Congress of 1994. But, that is where the similarity ends.

In the 103rd Congress the Democrats held essentially the same percentage of seats (60% or a point or two less) in each of the nation's four geographic regions-the Northeast, South, Midwest, and West. Now, the Democrats control the vast majority of House seats in the Northeast (82%) and West (63%). Within the former region, all of New England's 22 Representatives are Democrats as are 26 of New York's 29 (with one Empire State seat currently vacant). In the West, the Democrats are especially strong along the Pacific Coast, holding 33 of California's 52 seats, 4 of Oregon's 5, and 6 of Washington's 9.

By contrast, the Democrats hold 55% of Midwestern House seats, slightly less than the 58% they held in 1994. But, the big change has been in the South. Now, only 43% of Southern Representatives are Democrats, far less than in 1994 when 60% were. It was, in fact, the 1994 election that finally flipped the South's Congressional delegation from majority Democratic to majority Republican. In other words, as Schaller's analysis makes clear "the two Democratic coalitions [in 1994 and in 2010] are not the same geographically."

The alteration in the regional composition of the two party coalitions described by Schaller is a part of broader demographic and political changes that have been portrayed in detail by NDN's 21st Century America Project. Survey research conducted this year in connection with that project both reflects and explains why the regional strength of the two parties in Congress has been altered so significantly since 1994. As the following table indicates, both the Northeast and West contain the greatest number of voters who identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party followed closely by the Midwest. By contrast, the South contains the fewest, and among white Southerners a clear plurality identifies with or leans toward the GOP.

Total Electorate Northeast Midwest West South Southern Whites
Democrat 47% 49% 48% 49% 44% 35%
Independent 20% 20% 22% 18% 19% 21%
Republican 33% 31% 30% 33% 37% 45%

Ratio of
Democrat to
Republican 1.4:1 1.6:1 1.6:1 1.5:1 1.2:1 0.8:1
These changes may place the Democratic Party in better position to avoid the massive losses of 1994-and thereby retain their House majority. Schaller projects two possible scenarios for the November midterm elections. The first he labels a "regular wave" in which the Democrats would lose about 36 House seats, a bit above the average losses for the president's party in the midterm election of his first term. The second Schaller calls a "big wave" in which the Democrats would lose about 61 House seats. While their losses would be serious in either scenario, in a "regular wave" Democrats would retain control of the House. In the latter, they would lose it.

According to Schaller, Democratic losses would not be distributed evenly across the country. In a "regular wave," he says, a disproportionately large share of Democratic losses (64%) would likely occur in the two regions where the party is already weakest-the South and Midwest. (That, by the way, would leave the Democrats with only a third of Southern House seats, continuing a trend that has been ongoing for the past five decades). However, in a "big wave," while a majority of Democratic losses would still be in the South and Midwest (58%), more of the incremental losses would come in the Northeast (26%) and West (16%). With three months to go before the election, there is no reason to believe that the midterm elections will necessarily result in a wave of any size, but Schaller's analysis does suggest the best place to look for any early signs of a tsunami that would cost the Democrats their House majority are in the contested districts of the Northeast and West.

Of course, its solid party identification lead nationally and its regional strength in the Northeast and West only provides the Democratic Party with an opportunity to avoid a repeat of the disaster of 1994. There is no guarantee that it will do so. As the election of Republican Scott Brown to the U.S. Senate earlier this year in Massachusetts, the bluest of all Northeastern states demonstrates, the Democrats can lose almost anywhere if they run a poor campaign and/or candidate. The Democrats lost that special election in Massachusetts not because the state had suddenly become a GOP stronghold or because Massachusetts Democrats turned against Barack Obama, the Democratic Party, or the policies that they favor. That "impossible to lose" election was lost because Democrats failed to mobilize their majority strength in Massachusetts.

If Democrats are wise, what happened in Massachusetts will serve as a warning and not a prophecy of things to come. To ensure the former, Democrats should reject advice, some well-intentioned and some not, to focus their 2010 campaign on appeals to "angry" independents or "disaffected" moderates and focus instead on activating their own sizable base of identifiers, especially in regions where that base has the potential to be dominant. In 1994, when each of the two parties had exactly the same percentage of identifiers, the Democratic Party could not successfully do that. In 2010, it can-- and must-- if it hopes to retain its majority status in the House.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Make Kalamazoo's Promise America's Promise

A recent NDN survey found that 37 percent of Millennials rated the cost of a college education as a critical issue facing America. It ranked behind only the economy and education, in a virtual tie with the national debt and federal spending, on the list of issues about which Millennials are concerned. While the Obama administration's "Race to the Top" initiative has ignited a firestorm of K-12 educational reforms in states across the country, no comparable program exists to deal with the increasing costs and stagnant graduation rates of the nation's colleges and universities. To his credit, President Barack Obama led this year's successful efforts by Democrats to federalize the student loan program and expand the size and availability of Pell Grants in order to lower the burden of paying for college. But, that is only a short-term fix to the challenge of doubling the number of students who graduate from college by 2020--a pledge leaders of community colleges made at the administration's urging. To achieve that goal, America needs to develop a new, Millennial Era consensus that every young American should complete his or her postsecondary education and graduate debt free. One community, Kalamazoo, Michigan has already made that promise a reality.

Kalamazoo recognized that, along with inadequate preparation in high school for the academic requirements of college, the burden of paying for college through the current patchwork system of student loans, grants and scholarships, and state and federal government subsidies is a major reason why U.S. college graduation rates have been stagnant for the last thirty years. Currently, more than a quarter of the freshmen in America's four year colleges fail to return for their second year and the percentage is twice that for those enrolled in two-year colleges. For every ten students who start high school, only five enroll in a postsecondary educational institution, and fewer than three earn a bachelor's degree, even after ten years. Less than one-quarter of Hispanics who start college leave with a bachelor's degree and almost two-thirds receive no credential at all. Even though a record 70 percent of all Millennials who graduated from high school enrolled in college in 2009, the need for postsecondary education reforms to ensure that more of them graduate is clear.

College tuition rates have grown at 3.3 times the consumer price index since 1980.The increased cost is having a direct impact on which colleges students are able to attend. Forty-three percent of incoming freshmen in the first year of the Great Recession cited the ability to get financial aid as very important or essential in their choice of a college, the highest level ever recorded. In 2009, 70 percent of high schools reported an increase in the number of students who abandoned their "dream school" in favor of a college they could afford. Eighty-five percent of those who applied for aid said they wouldn't be able to pay for college without receiving it. As a result, for the 2008-09 school year, the federal government guaranteed or made $65.2 billion in student loans, an increase of 18.6 percent from the year before.

The unwillingness of today's older generations to subsidize the higher education of younger generations has had a particularly pernicious impact on young Americans who see college education as a way of improving their future economic circumstances. In 2007-08, just about every student from a low income family attending a community college was in debt, with an average of $7,147 in unmet expenses, even after taking into account any grants or scholarships they received. As a result, three-fourths of those seeking an associate degree or certificate were forced to work, leaving less time for study. In 2009, only 38 percent of community college students earned a degree within six years of enrolling. The country and its economy cannot afford to let this situation continue.One experiment in how to address the problem started in 2005, in Kalamazoo. There, a small group of donors (who remain anonymous to this day) created the Kalamazoo Promise, which offered any graduate of the city's public schools a four year scholarship covering 100 percent of tuition and mandatory fees at any of Michigan's public colleges or universities, provided those students maintained a 2.0 grade point average in their college courses and made regular progress toward a degree. Scholarship levels varied based only on the number of grades or years in Kalamazoo schools the student had attended, not on a determination of need or merit.

The idea began as an economic development strategy. The city manager suggested the imposition of an income tax on those who worked within the city to balance Kalamazoo's books. In an attempt to increase the city's tax base without raising its taxes, community leaders, asked residents of the area surrounding the city what would persuade them to move back inside the city's boundaries. Not surprisingly, the parents of Millennials expressed the greatest interest in living in a place that would provide a good public education for their children--all the way through college. Local philanthropists translated that desire into a simple program that offered full, four-year college scholarships to the city's high school graduates, with no requirement to repay the money or reside in Kalamazoo after graduating from college. They bet the bargain would be enough to attract families back to the city and halt the annual ten-percent decline in the schools' population. Five years and $12 million later, the bet has paid off handsomely.

Since the program was announced in November 2005, Kalamazoo has experienced a 17.6 percent increase in student enrollment and the construction of three new schools for the first time in 37 years. Dropout rates have been cut in half. Ninety percent of female African-American high school graduates have gone onto college. The school district's success was noticed by President Obama, who chose to deliver the first high school commencement speech of his presidency at Kalamazoo Central High. Calling the school a model for success in the 21st century, Obama told the senior class he was there "because I think America has a lot to learn from Kalamazoo Central about what makes a successful school in this new century." He's right.

Money to pay for four years of college is available to each recipient for up to ten years after graduation, so it will take more time before the full effect of the Kalamazoo Promise on college graduation rates can be determined, but the program's initial success has led communities across the country to search for sources of philanthropic revenue in order to make their own educational bargain with their residents. The Kalamazoo Promise created an expectation that every public school student in the city would have an opportunity to receive a postsecondary education. More than 80 percent of those who chose to enroll in a university are still attending college. The cultural shift created by the community's commitment to the Kalamazoo Promise has also created a mini-Race to the Top with surrounding school districts, which are passing bond issues and improving their schools to compete more effectively with Kalamazoo's schools.

Now it is time for the nation as a whole to make the same promise that Kalamazoo did to all young Americans. The country should completely reform the current system of federal and state subsidies of higher education with one goal in mind. In the 21st century, every Millennial-and their children--should complete their postsecondary education and graduate debt free. Kalamazoo's promise needs to become America's promise.

America’s Economy Needs to Restructure in Order to Recover

The news that the growth of America's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) slowed in the second quarter to an anemic 2.7 percent, from its barely adequate first quarter performance of 3.7 percent, helps make the case for building what President Obama terms a "New Foundation" for the country's economy. The president should use NDN's analysis of the root causes of our current economic difficulties to explain to the American people why this restructuring is needed and how all of his legislative accomplishments-not just the auto company interventions he rightly touted in Detroit last Friday-- are putting in place a New Foundation for a 21st century economy, built on much more solid ground than the flawed and failed economics of the era America has just left.

The continuing high unemployment rate this far into the Great Recession should demonstrate to all but the most stubborn partisans that expecting the contours of our economy to suddenly snap back into the shape that they were in before the financial meltdown of September, 2008 is wishful thinking of the worst kind. It ignores the fundamental weaknesses of the consumer-driven economy of the last decade and leads to policy prescriptions that fail to deal with the root causes of our economic malaise. Besides, that economy, built on the sands of using the value of one's home as a personal ATM, led to a lost decade in real income growth for middle class Americans, so no one should be hoping it comes back anytime soon.

The last time the country experienced the prolonged economic pain it is experiencing now was during the Great Depression. Thanks to the decisive interventions of President Obama's economic team and the Federal Reserve the country is fortunately not experiencing anything quite that painful this time around. But the economic downturns of the 1930s and of this decade have more than just the ironic adjective "Great" in common.

Both occurred as a new, civic-oriented generation was coming of age. In the 1930s it was the GI Generation, what many now call America's Greatest Generation. Today it is the Millennial Generation, a cohort many expect to be our next great generation. The unity and size of both generations gave first President Franklin Roosevelt and then President Obama the margin of electoral victory and mandate for change that underpinned political support for long-term, structural changes in the economy. In both cases, the dire circumstances in which ordinary Americans found themselves provided the impetus for the creation of major new social programs-Social Security in Roosevelt's first term and health care reform in Obama's.

But many current observers fail to realize how similar the controversies surrounding these changes also are. Just as Republicans today, and some moderate Democrats, seek to impose a new round of austerity on the nation's economy by attempting to stop the funding for such basic programs as extended unemployment insurance, FDR, during his first term, dodged and ducked an onslaught of advice to scale back the New Deal from both the opposition and from many within his own party. The debate continued right through the 1936 election, when his Republican opponent, Alf Landon, campaigned on a platform of repealing Social Security, arguing, as those seeking to repeal health care reform do today, that it represented an unwarranted "socialist" intrusion into individual paychecks by an out-of-control federal government.

But during the entire debate, Roosevelt stuck to his guns and insisted on the need to fundamentally overturn the laissez faire economic policies of the Roaring Twenties. As Pulitzer Prize winning historian, David M. Kennedy wrote in his book Freedom from Fear:

The New Deal's premier objective, at least until 1938, and in Roosevelt's mind probably for a long time thereafter, was not the economic recovery tout court but structural reform for the long run. In the last analysis, reform, not simply recovery, was the New Deal's highest ambition and lasting legacy.

And just as President Obama's health care and financial regulatory reform efforts are not the second coming of socialism that opponents tried to make them out to be, Roosevelt's structural solutions avoided the heavy-handed notion of government control that so many in his party favored and so many Republicans accused them of being. The FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) created a feeling of security among depositors, not a government bank. The SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) gave stockholders new information upon which to base their investment decisions, but didn't restrict their investment opportunities. The FHA (Federal Housing Administration) provided more safety to lenders and new mortgage terms for home buyers, but didn't attempt to have government build the houses people needed. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the Fair Labor Standards Act set new, fairer rules for both employers and workers to follow, but didn't impose the kind of price controls and work rules that were part of the earlier, ill-fated National Industrial Recovery Act. As Kennedy correctly observes:

To be sure, Roosevelt sought to enlarge the national state as the instrument of the security and stability that he hoped to impart to American life. But legend to the contrary, much of the security that the New Deal threaded into the fabric of American society was often stitched with a remarkably delicate hand, not simply imposed by the fist of the imperious state.

It's also important to remember that, with the exception of the FDIC, none of these long-lasting, deep changes in the rules and structures by which the American economy operated were enacted in the initial year of Roosevelt's first term. Social Security, for example, didn't pass until 1935, after the 1934 midterm elections. By that chronological measurement, President Obama's New Foundation is actually being built ahead of schedule.

Nor did any of Roosevelt's structural reforms restore the country to full employment immediately. When FDR uttered his famous line "I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished" in his 1937 inaugural speech, he was speaking about the progress the country had made in his first term and warning his audience not to become complacent with what had been accomplished to that point. Just as President Obama must walk a fine line between noting the positive impact his initial efforts to stop the economic bleeding have had without suggesting there is nothing more that can or should be done, so too did FDR want the country to understand that, as he put it in the same address, "Such symptoms of prosperity may become portents of disaster!"

To avoid that result this time, President Obama needs to make it clear that much more needs to be done to restructure the economy, and that a stock market recovery without a recovery in middle class incomes is not the goal of his administration. Among other things, the president must emphasize that until all American schools have won the "Race to the Top," until our economy is built on a lower carbon infrastructure, until every American worker has the skills they need to compete in the global economy for jobs with good wages and good benefits, and until America's tax structure rewards work and innovation and not financial manipulation, the New Foundation for the nation's economy will not be complete.

The restructuring of our economy is and will be painful. America's tolerance for change will be as sorely tested as it was during the Great Depression. President Obama's leadership skills will be put to the same stern test that FDR had to pass.

But Democrats should welcome the opportunity that the 2010 midterm elections present to argue for the need to undertake a fundamental restructuring of the nation's economy and to brag about the steps they have already taken to produce that transformation. Rather than ducking or attempting to explain away the economic difficulties the nation faces, it's time to build a strong foundation of political support for the economic New Foundation the President seeks to put in place. As NDN's recent survey research shows, a majority coalition already exists for just such an economic and political program. It's time to make sure the voices of America's 21st century constituencies are heard in November.