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Hullabaloo


Saturday, September 30, 2006

 
Keeping It Real

by digby


What with all the soul searching lately and discussion of where we draw the line as we attempt to traverse the minefield of current electoral politics, I think this is a good time to link up to this very interesting meta-blog piece by political scientist and blogger Henry Farrell of Crooked Timber in this month's Boston Review.

Farrell does a thorough analysis of the netroots and then homes in on our common self-description as non-ideological partisans out to change a corrupt and inept party structure:

Their experiences have deepened the netroots’ conviction that there’s something rotten in the Democratic Party. Quasi-corrupt relationships hamper the ability of Democrats to win elections; candidates for office are expected to hire certain well-connected consultants if they want to receive party funding. Party leaders try to eke out narrow wins, focusing their attention only on the most competitive races instead of campaigning aggressively across the country. Elected officials prefer stroking the egos of major donors to grass-roots organizing. Senators mug to pundits’ and newspaper editors’ penchant for bipartisanship by denouncing fellow Democrats as extremists, giving cover to Republicans, and dragging the political center ever further toward the right. These problems cripple the party’s ability to compete successfully, guaranteeing continued Republican hegemony. In response, netroots bloggers want to reform the party’s organizational structures and punish elected officials who weaken the party in pursuit of their personal agendas.


Absolutely. As I watched the torture debate unfold this week, I was acutely aware of exactly those deficiencies in the party and saw the whole ugly mess as a result of terrible partisan tactics and non-existent strategy. But something else niggled at the back of my mind. There was something tremendously meaningful happening about which Democrats of good faith were deeply concerned and it had nothing to do with partisanship and everything to do with citizenship.

I was reminded one of one the previous times such an outrageous, hurried, ill conceived machination was presented as a fait accomplis by the Bush administration and it brought millions of people into the streets -- the Iraq war. I recall pragmatic voices saying at the time that protesting was a bad move, that it hurt our image, that we should concentrate on gaining institutional power. And I wrote at the time that I understood why people said that, but you have to give people something more than dry tactics and strategy in politics:

People need to feel part of something in order to get involved in politics. And as someone who has volunteered in many a campaign I can tell you that for the last decade it has had all the uplifting inspiration of the Bataan death march. It is work with no satisfaction in the soul or spirit and without that politics becomes nothing more than a duty.

The Republicans have a base of committed true believers and we desperately need some of that too. Telling these newly galvanized Democrats that the only way they can legitimately express themselves is through the ballot box --- particularly in this day of manufactured, pre-fab campaigning --- is a very self-defeating idea.


I thought about that this week. Most people don't commit themselves to politics simply because they want to win or even because they want to stop someone else from winning (although when dealing with these modern Republicans that is a huge factor.) Most of us are interested and involved because we believe in certain things and we care about our country and our government. We band together with others who share our ideology and our values.

Farrell writes:

Netroots activists often compare themselves to the Goldwater supporters who took over the Republican Party in the 1960s and 1970s. But a close reading of Rick Perlstein’s book Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus (which enjoys near-canonical status among netroots bloggers), suggests that the differences between Goldwaterites and the netroots are as important as the similarities. Goldwater’s followers succeeded not only because of their organizational skills but because of their commitment to a set of long-term ideological goals. Over two decades, they relentlessly sought to undermine the ideological foundations of the existing American political consensus, rebuilding it over time so that it came to favor conservative and Republican political positions rather than liberal or Democratic ones. The result is a skewed political system in which Republicans enjoy a persistent political advantage. The issue space that American politics plays out on has been reconstructed so that its center of gravity quietly but insistently pulls politicians to the right. So it isn’t any accident that bipartisanship in the modern era mostly consists of hewing to the Republican agenda.

As Perlstein argued in these pages two years ago, it isn’t impossible to remould this conventional wisdom, although it is difficult and risky. And the netroots can surely play an important role. Their comparative advantage is exactly in framing political issues and controversies so that they resonate widely. Prominent netroots bloggers recognize in principle the importance of the battle over ideas. Kos and Armstrong devote a substantial portion of Crashing the Gate, to discussing the need for a Democratic apparatus of think tanks and foundations that parallels the conservative intellectual machine. Kos writes regularly about how the Democrats need “big ideas� if they are to win. However, because the netroots conceive of themselves as a non-ideological movement, they aren’t delivering on their potential to help provide and refine these big ideas themselves and thus reshape the ideological underpinnings of the political consensus. If the netroots truly want to tilt the playing ground of American politics back again so that it favors the Democrats, they will need to embrace a more vigorous and coherent ideological program.


I want to win, don't get me wrong. And I'm a pragmatist by nature so I have little patience with purity pledges or tilting at windmills. But I am explicitly liberal in orientation and I want to see this country tilt back to a more liberal politics. If I was afraid to make a point of that before this week I no longer am. I learned that even upholding the constitution is now a matter of liberal political ideology instead of simple mainstream patriotism.

Farrell makes many interesting observations about our nascent movement and comes to some conclusions that I think we all need to at least begin to think about. We care about changing the party and we're practical people who aren't operating on a rigid agenda. But is that really enough? Farrell makes a compelling case that it isn't.


Update: For more bloggy goodness, if you haven't seen this video interview with our man Atrios, you're missing out. My only complaint is that he rudely failed to introduce the famous Eschacats. What was he thinking?



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