Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Born in a Blog Cabin

As Abraham Lincoln was serving his first term in the Illinois state legistlature, Alexis de Tocqueville, the French political thinker and historian wrote:

Scarcely have you descended on the soil of America when you find yourself in the midst of a sort of tumult; a confused clamor is raised on all sides; a thousand voices come to you at the same time, each of them expressing some social needs. Around you everything moves: here, the people of one neighborhood have gathered to learn if a church ought to be built; there, they are working on the choice of a representative; farther on the deputies of a district are going to town in all haste in order to decide about some local improvements; in another place, the farmers of a village abandon their furrows to go discuss the plan of a road or a school.


Corner Detail of a Turn-of-the-Century Log Cabin Recorded by the Author in Washington State.

Lincoln was one of the many ambitious souls drawn to politics in a young nation that had founded itself on the notion that the people could and should govern themselves. Senator Albert J. Beveridge of Indiana is generally credited with the first use of the phrase “grassroots and boots”, who said of the Progressive Party in 1912:

This party has come from the grass roots. It has grown from the soil of people’s hard necessities.

While Beveridge coined the term, it’s clear from de Tocqueville’s observations of young America that the principles of grassroots organizing, wherein individuals are actively involved at the local level, are as old as America itself. These principles are alive and well today — they played a vital role in the election of President Obama, and brought many of us (myself included) more deeply into one of the modern machinations of grassroots involvement:  Blogging.

The cultural divide born largely of Nixon and fostered by Reagan, went on to plague the Clinton and Bush years, in part, because both men came of age during Vietnam.  They represented opposite sides of that era, and all the baggage that grew out of it.  While some key battles in the Culture Wars wage on with sometimes devastating effects, it’s becoming clear that the pool from which to recruit culture warriors is receding.

There are about 95 million so-called “Millennials”; young Americans ranging in age from 9 to 30. Greater even than the Baby Boomers, Millennials compose the largest generation in history, and they played a significant role in Obama’s election, favoring him by fully two-thirds (66 percent).  Out of the roughly 23 million votes cast from this generation, this produced a seven million vote plurality for Obama–virtually the same as his overall margin of victory.

…for today’s youth, the culture wars are over. The Millennials are more accepting of gender equality, gay rights, racial blending, immigration, and divergent political views than any other generation. This is true even of Millennials who consider themselves evangelical Christians (twenty percent of the young people we surveyed–or about 19 million nationwide).

In our surveys and focus groups, we heard countless comments like this one from a Millennial youth in Denver: “We’ve all grown up after the civil rights and the women’s rights movements. So I think we’re more tolerant, regardless of culture or sexual orientation.” Or this one, from a self-described evangelical Christian: “Conservative, liberal–you got to be able to go to both sides. Democrats don’t have all the answers, Republicans don’t have all the answers. Being open-minded to change is what’s important.”

The modern grassroots tools that so successfully helped Obama go from a virtually unknown primary contender to the most powerful office in the world have not withered on the vine.  Witness the efforts of  Mr. Kenneth Richardson:

For Kenneth Richardson II of Owings, Md., Barack Obama’s election-night victory was not the end but the beginning. “We can’t let this go,” the 58-year-old father of three remembers thinking. “People feel invested. They feel they can actually do something.” So he did. A couple of weeks after the confetti settled, he posted an alert on proposing a new activist group in Calvert County, a rural exurb of Washington where the rolling farmland is dotted by weathered barns and crab shacks. Complete strangers signed up. A retired Air Force pilot, Phil Pfanschmidt, and his wife Joyce, both 71, came to the first meeting in December. So did Chris Melendez, a self-employed art dealer who lives about 30 miles away. Richardson’s old motorcycle buddy Al Leandre brought his wife, a public-school teacher, and passed the word to some friends he had met through his government-contracting business. With a few clicks of a mouse, the Owings Grass Roots Group was born.

They were white and black, old and young, middle-class professionals who shared a collective frustration with the state of their country. At least four of the founding 12 had once been registered Republicans. Most had stories of helping the Obama campaign; all had internalized Obama’s message of bottom-up, people-powered political change. “For anything that is going on in southern Maryland, Barack Obama personally can have an impact – through us,” explained Leandre.

During his travels through young America, Alexis de Tocqueville further noted that:

Citizens assemble with the sole goal of declaring that they disapprove of the course of government. To meddle in the government of society and to speak about it is the greatest business and, so to speak, the only pleasure that an American knows…. An American does not know how to converse, but he discusses; he does not discourse, but he holds forth. He always speaks to you as to an assembly.

Obama is often described as our first post-partisan President, in part because his governing strategy has its roots in generational change.  Lincoln was a self-educated man of his times, lured to politics in an era when people believed they had to power to affect change with hard work and solid ideas.  As Kenneth Richardson teaches us, these beliefs are alive and well in America today.  Somewhere out there, among the youth of our nation, the next great leader is being forged, forming their ideology with the education they receive from blogs just like this one.

For all the problems we face, and for all our disagreements–political, social, or cultural–it’s a damned fine time to be an American.


  1. For all the problems we face, and for all our disagreements–political, social, or cultural–it’s a damned fine time to be an American.

    There are some vocal individuals out there touting the “nothing ever changes” line, but I don’t buy it by any stretch.  I continue to be surprised by the complexity of nearly everyone I speak to.  Some of the least likely folks have voiced both general approval of Obama (at least that he’s trying) and condemnation of the Limbaugh crowd.  More people have approached divisive topics with a willingness to attempt to listen.

    There are a lot of reasons for all of this, imho.  Obama deserves some credit as a catalyst but I think it has been coming generationally (the Millenials grew up on our tired old lines and shoot them down with incredible ease), technologically (we’ve had enough time to get used to getting lots of multi-directional info, now) and cyclically (we’ve pretty well beaten these horses to death).  We’re a wiser, younger, more worldly population than we’ve been before, and it’s starting to show.

  2. in supporting one of the first real Generation X President.

    Strauss and Howe mapped out their theory for generational cycles. And oddly enough, as the first real 13th Generation President, Obama faces exactly the challenges of cleaning up the messes and the excesses of a Prophetic Generational President, and in many ways, Bush was exactly the embodiment of a values driven, indulged upon, and idealistic generation that sees our culture as something that has to be preached to be led, as opposed to realistic concerns to be worked out.

    Pragmatism is the hallmark of the Nomads–the Generation X and Lost Generation. Born to lesser affluence, under-protected, and less valued by the culture, and influenced by the leaders of the last American cycle of Awakening–led not by the Prophetic generation’s footsoldier, but rather by the Artists who were sheltered and protected, and given the promise when young, and then grow to power to make good on those promises.

    We are gripped in what can be easily translated to yet another great crisis in America. This time, less war than the unraveling of our economic and political power–though, if we’re not careful with Korea, we will see war like nothing we’ve seen yet in Afghanistan and Iraq. And it’s odd to see how Strauss and Howe’s theories are bearing up.

    One of the things that struck me about Strauss and Howe’s assessment is how right they were in warning about power vested in a Prophetic generational leader in a time of great national crisis. The last time that we had a great crisis nationally within this cycle, we had a Civil War that collided leaders who were full of the fire and brimstone, and unshakable faith in the rightness of their cause. And it cost the country dearly. In a similar fashion, GW has cost us a great deal on his watch during national crisis, in reliance on ideals, as opposed to real policy.

    I only hope that we got the right man for the job into power in time.  

  3. even when those patterns don’t really exist or mean anything. We are also very good at filtering out what we don’t want to see so that the pattern we’ve supposedly discovered is more apparent. A simple example of this can be found in the constellations in the night sky. There are billions of stars, yet people picked out a few and said they formed a pattern.

    A theory or model is only as good as its predictions prove it to be. S/H is a generational pattern that will take 100’s of years to prove out one way or another.

  4. …and Chris is right, you win Diary Title of the Year award. All I would amend is the exclusively American nature of all this. It’s a damn fine time to be alive.

    I would say this as a Brit, but since Texas Darlin claims Obama is really a Brit, I also think this is key to Obama. He’s not rah-rah nationalist, though intensely proud of the universal values the US embodies. His primary goal is to protect the US, but he sees this as a complex global interaction. And the principle of his grass roots organising, following the model of Saul Alinsky, is focused around particular interests rather than the misleading constructions of race, gender, class or indeed nationality.

    So yes, Obama embodies some beliefs with a great American pedigree. But they also a have great English pedigree (going back to the Diggers and Levellers and religious dissenters); and indeed a great French precedent; and maybe even an African origin. But whatever the validity of derivation, the most important think is the destiny of use, and thanks to Obama these principles may be fostered further afield  


    When I was so distraught about the state of the country, a friend of mine turned me on to DailyKos.  What a relief to have people to chat with and a forum in which to vent.  From there I began to wander the blogosphere, hooking up with sympatico people and groups.

    After 2004 when I was getting frantic that the neocons would stay in power until the country was a pile of rubble called the late great USofA, a friend of mine said I should do more than vote for better candidates, more than donate to better candidates.  I needed to make change happen.  So in 2006, I contacted the Chairperson of our county’s DNC branch, began going door to door registering people to vote and dropping off literature for the Democratic candidates.  I got my grandson to help me and even my son chipped in.

    In 2008, I loaned my house to the Obama organizer from Mississippi as the Obama headquarters.  I had phone bankers upstairs in the bedrooms, removed the furniture from the living and dining rooms to set one up as canvasser training and the other with tables to pick up/drop off packets.  At night I had an exhausted volunteer from California crashing in the guest room.

    In 2009, three other Obama volunteers and myself were voted in as the new Executive Committee for our county’s DNC branch.

    It feels good to be involved and I can thank my friends for pointing me in the right direction.

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