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Governor Jim Douglas, a (moderate) Republican and Midd Grad ’72, announced this morning that he will not be seeking a fifth term as Vermont Governor.

As the Burlington Free Press points out, Douglas has not been without accomplishments in his 36 years of public service but an email from the the Addison County Democratic Party earlier today suggested that people are looking for a change, perhaps someone a little more progressive. AddyIndy has a few suggestions already.

Democrats are going to be out in full force as Douglas’ term comes to an end and the election nears, and there are likely going to be several campaign/volunteer/organizing opportunities in the coming year for Dems at Midd who are interested and who want to learn about grassroots campaigns at a local level. Check back here or come to meetings (time/day TBA) if you’re interested.

Christine Bachmann, the co-president of the Middlebury Open Queer Alliance, joined Dems last night for our first major attempt in awhile to tackle the topic of Gay Marriage. The issue is highly relevant right now given that Vermont and New Hampshire are vying to be the first state to legislate in favor of equal rights for gay marriages (though Governor Douglas does not appear to be in favor of this message). While most people in the room came in with the mindset that we’re all going to agree on the overall topic, Christine completely turned the subject on its head by saying she believed that legislating gay marriage is a step-backward for equal rights primarily because it attempts to fit the queer movement into a mainstream idea and because it addresses the desires for equal rights and equal treatments for a small portion of the population. She argued for aiming higher and looking to parse out the rights currently packaged with marriage and attach themĀ  to a border category of people, such as anything that falls under a domestic partnership.

The ensuing discussion primarily became about how do we emphasize that there are two very different meanings of marriage–religious and legal–and that the legal definition should promote equality for all. Basically this came down to providing civil unions for all and making religious or public demonstrations of commitment and love optional and less emphasized.

Where people primarily disagreed was what message the government should be responsible for sending with civil unions. In other words, what is a nuclear family? Is it important? Is it necessary to help population growth? Is it important for the health of children?

In all, we delved into a very complex and intense issue that hinged on legal terminology and practicality. Personally, I tend to take a very broad or tolerant approach to how people want to live their lives, together or separate, and I think that legally we have become too specific in what we define to be marriage and a family. I agree that completely reversing the message on gay marriage and convincing the entire country that we need nation wide civil unions sounds impractical and probably like political suicide. But I don’t see the harm in aiming high. In The Prince, Machiavelli argues that a skillful archer aims higher than his mark knowing that it won’t actually hit above it but rather hit the point intended. Perhaps by doing this, we can leap-frog so many of the long transition phases that have happened with past civil rights movements and come about a broader change more quickly (historically speaking).

That said, I think the marriage bill in Vermont is still something to support and I don’t think it should be ignored in other states. I think there is just as much a role for activists judges in this process as there is for the democratic process in legislatures. I also think there is just as much a role for heterosexual people and couples to start changing the dialouge on the issue.

Yesterday President Obama officially nominated Governor Kathleen Sibelius of Kansas as Secretary for Heath and Human Services. The nomination is Obama’s second one for the position, having originally nominated Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. Daschle, unfortunately, chose to retract his acceptance of the nomination in the midst of tax controversy. It is interesting that, along with the Sibelius nomination, Obama is also nominating a “Health Czar,” a position he did not include with the Daschle nomination, which means that Sibelius will not assume all of the responsibilities once reserved for HHS secretary.

Having heard Gov. Sibelius speak this summer in Denver, CO, as part of a “Health Care First” panel discussion during the Democratic Convention, I think she is a strong candidate for the position. She spoke right after SEIU president, Andy Stern, and now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and right before Daschle at the conference and definitely held her own, perhaps calling for some of the most progressive healthcare improvements.

Here’s a video of her acceptance of the nomination.

With about a gazillion (or only thirty) people in attendence, Dems had a great Spring 2009 kickoff tonight, complete with pretzels, ginger snaps and, of course, Barack Obama.

In case you couldn’t be there, we primarily just watched President Obama’s first State of the Nation address and then discussed/dissected it afterwards.

Here are some important clips:

Obama on Debt, the Deficit and Spending

Obama on the Iraq War

Read the full script HERE and some interesting early reactions from the Huffington Post, Talking Points Memo, and others. Also check out this interesting applause meter.

Our disucussion afterwards focussed on a few specific questions. Primarily, to what extent does Obama have to be bipartisan and what is it going to take to get Republicans to come to the middle (provided that’s what we want).

My answer to those questions, albeit a very ideological one is that, as long as Obama is doing what’s right, especially for our economy right, bipartisanship is not a factor and, if it doesn’t happen, it’s more of a Republican failure than his. To what extent am I right and to what extent do you think I’m wrong?

(PS: Next week, Tuesday, March3, 9.30, Axinn 229, Prof. Quinn Mecham talks with us about the Middle East)

Push Polling 101

A screenshot of a BP advertisement taken from the Daily Dish:

BP Push-Poll ad

6143…

…That’s the total number of calls Middlebury students made from Coltrane for Obama yesterday. We called Pennsylvania, Florida, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Virginia, Montana and New Hampshire.

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On a personal note, I’m incredibly proud of what College Democrats did to help the campaign–from our registration/absentee drive, to our weekly phone banks, to our trips to New Hampshire, to our final all out phone banking blitz, we spent countless hours working for this cause. And we and the movement won.

More on my personal reactions [here], but overall the next few days are a time for reflection and celebration.

Then we need to really get to work. The road ahead is difficult and we need to proceed as a Country and Party carefully and deliberately.

Stay tuned to College Democrats in the next few days as we refocus our energy on our goals of making our club a group that challenges people to think about what we want our party to stand for and what our political beliefs are.

But for now we did it, and it was great working with all of you.

A few months ago when my friends, the punditry and the Obama campaign itself would talk about how the Obama 08 campaign was somehow different from past campaigns. I was skeptical. “Yes We Can” sounds great, but all politicians want to sound like they’re populists. Sure Obama’s a former community organizer and is inspiring people to get involved in politics, but what was his campaign really doing anything to be that different?

I now have a radically different view of the Obama campaign: I’m a believer.

Allow me to explain, I know it can sound like fluff (a lot of people get caught up in the cult of personality). Nevertheless, what the Obama campaign is doing with Neighbor to Neighbor is truly revolutionary. What Neighbor to Neighbor and my.barackobama allow you to do is call voters in swing states from computer. In many ways, I would argue that this technology enables an open source campaign.

Ok. The word “open source” gets thrown around a lot, but I really think its use is justifiable in this case. By calling voters from your home, dorm or apartment, thousands of people are shaping the campaign’s message in their own way. You can say what you want on the phone; in fact, the campaign encourages you to tell your own story. The campaign is in the hands of these volunteers: it is decentralized and open in an unprecedented way. My hunch is that this phenomenon is under-reported by the media and may have a lot to do with Obama’s surge in the polls (not to discount the economy and Palin). A recent NYT article seems to agree with this idea:

As far as translating online supporters into votes, both candidates have built online tools designed to help volunteers easily identify supporters who can call or canvass voters to help drum up votes, including Obama’s “Neighbor to Neighbor” tool and McCain’s “Voter to Voter” software.

Micah Sifry, a blogger at TechPresident, noted that it is impossible to know which tool is used more. However, he did note that the Obama tool is more “deeply embedded in the ecology of the Internet.”

Sifry also said that a search for the words “Obama” and “neighbor to neighbor” on Google returns 479,000 hits, while a search for “McCain” and “voter to voter” brings back 325 hits. “In both cases, the link to the actual tool is the top hit, which is good, but these search results indicate a great deal more conversation about the Obama tool–and presumably usage,” he added.

So there you have it. Sure correlation is not always causation, but the release of Neighbor to Neighbor does more or less correspond with Obama’s surge in the polls. As I said before, the tanking economy and Palin are important factors, but I think these calls had a lot to do with it as well. This bodes really well for the future of the election and the future of elections more generally: Neighbor to Neighbor is growing, and us tech-savvy progressives clearly have a leg up in this area over our Republican friends.

Finally, on a more personally note, I had the privilege of being featured on a conference call for prospective volunteers for Neighbor to Neighbor tonight because I am one of the most active callers for Obama in Vermont. It is pretty cool that I have been given the power to make an impact and take ownership of the campaign through my laptop and my cellphone.

Rock on, Web 2.0.

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