Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Liberal Bloggers Brace For Victory?

I'll express some thoughts in the next post about this topic, as I have had some thoughts wandering around the old synapses as of late.

Naturally, I'll post some shorter thoughts throughout the following article about the so-called Netroots. It's an important subject; far more important than than even the people at its center realize.

Obama's Prospects Pose New Concerns for Netroots

By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 21, 2008; C01

AUSTIN, July 20 -- "Yep, the way it's looking, we might actually win this thing . . ."

That's Markos Moulitsas talking, a.k.a. "Kos" to everyone here at Netroots Nation, the four-day liberal blogapalooza that ended Sunday at the Austin Convention Center. He's got a head cold, which explains his hoarse, strained voice, and by "we," he means the Netroots and their candidate of choice, Sen. Barack Obama. If the Netroots can be compared to high school -- still maturing, somewhat cliquish but definitely a community -- then Obama, as the presumptive nominee, had been voted Most Likely to Succeed.

That's a very good analogy. It certainly rings true in my experience. As an independent with many ideas and beliefs that one would certainly consider liberal, even progressive, with others most would consider conservative to moderate, I constantly get verbally whacked in the comment sections of blogs from both ends of the political spectrum. I don't know much about party politics, but it seems to me that insulting people, whom one does not know in the slightest, based on one comment, doesn't do much for one's cause, whatever that might be. It's never wise for either political party to insult a politically involved independent. The blogosphere still has a long way to go if it is to reach its potential as a political tool.

Hardest Worker and Best Dressed honors went to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who kicked off Saturday morning's program with a freewheeling 40-minute "Ask the Speaker" session. ("Damn, Nancy looks grrreat in that pantsuit," a blogger was overheard saying.) Most Popular would go to Al Gore, who brought the crowd of more than 2,000 conventioneers to its feet with his surprise appearance, repeatedly asking bloggers to visit, home to his new group, the Alliance for Climate Protection.

True, Pelosi looked good in her pants suit. She also, from a number of pictures I've seen, looks a bit haggared; an appearance one develops while experience term stress. Anyone wonder why? I do.

I seem to remember Bill Clinton saying that that he wanted to base his ex-presidency on that of Jimmy Carter. I have no idea what Bill is doing with the exceptions of raising money for his presidential library, campaigning for his wife, flying around the world with and sharing sailing weekends with G.H.W. Bush and pulling in the big bucks with speeches. Whatever his causes, his ex-presidency, so far, looks nothing like that of Carter. Seems it's Gore, whose ex-vice presidency is one of service to not only his country, but for the entire planet, who resembles Carter, in the years after holding high office in D.C. Good on Mr. Gore.

Both men have my highest admiration.

But Obama, who leads Sen. John McCain in recent national polls, is Topic A among the Netroots, his fate somewhat married to theirs. Five years ago liberal bloggers made a name for themselves at a time of defeat; Republicans controlled not just the White House but both houses in Congress. They craved a fight, and President Bush was their punching bag.

The liberal, democratic bloggers weren't the only ones who wanted a fight. I was one angry-as-hell individual. I was ready for a freakin' fist fight.

But these are changing times, and Obama, in his calls for getting past blue vs. red America, and in his recent positions on issues such as telecom immunity, is somewhat of an enigma. With the Dems taking back Congress in 2006 and the prospect of an Obama victory come November, many in the influential Netroots are left in a precarious, ambiguous position. The question is, who needs whom: Does Obama need the Netroots, or vice versa?

Kos, never one to mince words, is blunt.

"It's not a question of who needs whom. Fact is, the Netroots are not going to be the decisive factor," Kos says, fidgeting with his iPhone as he sits on a lounge chair at the Hilton, across the street from the convention center. "But having said that, we're an activist set of people: We're engaged, we give money, we put boots on the ground. That's why when many of us had a genuine disagreement with Obama on FISA" -- Obama voted for a bill that provided retroactive immunity to telecom companies -- "we let him know about it."

He's got that right, in a way. The people of the Netroots will not decide who the next president is, by voting on election day. Nevertheless, the Netroots are having more of an effect this year than we did in 2004. I can't say that that is because of anything the bloggers are doing differently than we did then. More likely it is because there are more small community news aggregators than there were 4 years ago. More people are getting at least some of their news from the blogosphere. The biggest reason the Democrats are facing victory (unless they snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, again) is George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and their gang of constitutional and international criminals.

Though his site, Daily Kos, is arguably the liberal blogosphere's most popular hub, Kos is not the Netroots. He's just at the center of the quad, with other blogs filling the rest of the always packed, often clangorous hallways. And with each passing year, the crowd gets bigger, the tent wider.

At the first confab, then called YearlyKos and held in Las Vegas, some 1,200 attended, most of them blog jockeys who knew each other only by their online names. Last year at least 1,500 attendees made the trek to Chicago, including all but one of the eight Democratic presidential candidates, who sat down for a 90-minute forum. Among those present were bloggers, pols and their minions, policy analysts and think tank reps.

This past weekend, those same types showed up, plus tech firms such as Wired for Change, hawking an online product called Salsa that helps groups engage people through e-mail lists. There's no denying that the gathering has crossed the mainstream threshold when swag bags, complete with El Sabroso Salsita salsa chips, were handed out alongside condoms from the Center for Constitutional Rights.

As in any community, as in many high schools, Netroots can appear both self-segregating -- black bloggers at one table, Latinos at another and gays at the next -- and not diverse enough. After the Q&A session with Pelosi, in which the first questions asked were about impeaching President Bush and Vice President Cheney, the FISA bill and abstinence-only education, some black bloggers complained that they weren't enough questions about rising gas and food prices.

The "black bloggers" are right. There are people all around me who can't tell you who their senator is, let alone what "FISA" means. But they do understand that gas prices are breaking their economic backs. High fuel prices, food prices, the housing/credit crisis, the healthcare crisis (and there is one; a huge one) and other main street issues are issues that effect the largest percentage of the voters and do so in a very obvious, non-deniable ways. They sure as hell know what corporate welfare and political cronyism are. They have seen it in action, at least since Katrina, when over-worked, over-extended people started paying attention, en masse.

I'm not saying that FISA isn't important. It is immensely important. So is accountability! Nevertheless, those issues will not put Obama in the White House.

"It reflects a bit of skew," Cheryl Contee, a member of the convention's advisory board, says of the questions to Pelosi. Contee, who is black, runs Fission, a social media consulting firm. "Folks in the convention have to keep in mind that not everyone who considers themselves a part of the Netroots is here, and many of them aren't as concerned about, say, FISA or impeachment. They want jobs."


Obama's standing here, especially with big-name bloggers such as Matt Stoller of OpenLeft, has proved complicated. Two years ago, frustrated by bloggers' reaction to two Democratic senators who voted to confirm John Roberts as chief justice, Obama wrote a posting on Daily Kos:

"According to the storyline that drives many advocacy groups and Democratic activists -- a storyline often reflected in comments on this blog -- we are up against a sharply partisan, radically conservative, take-no-prisoners Republican party," wrote Obama, who voted no on the Roberts confirmation.

Last year, at the height of the primary campaign, Obama often placed second behind former senator John Edwards in the monthly and unscientific Daily Kos straw polls. In October, he fell third behind Edwards and Sen. Chris Dodd. When Obama examined former president Ronald Reagan's legacy earlier this year and said it "changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not," a blizzard of comments hit blogs, many of them critical.

This describes the kind of knee-jerk, unthinking reaction easily found on either side of the political fence in this country. Obama was absolutely right in what he said. Reagan did change the political landscape in the U.S. and in such a way that there is no going back and in a way that Nixon and Clinton did not. Not all U.S. presidents should or could be transforming presidents. Those kinds of presidents only come along every 20 year or so. They are transforming personalities who recognize a movement among the people before anyone else does. Perhaps that is because they agree with the basic tenets of that movement; a movement born out of a great necessity of the time. I believe that Obama is going to be a transforming president.

A few weeks ago, after Obama's upcoming vote for the FISA bill provoked angry comments on his own social networking site,, Obama posted an explanation on his blog. "Democracy cannot exist without strong differences. And going forward, some of you may decide that my FISA position is a deal breaker," Obama wrote.

I admit that I have not read the FISA Bill in its latest incarnation. If Russ Feingold thinks it stinks and must be fixed in future and Hillary voted against it, my guess is that the new FISA Bill isn't all that better than the last one. Nevertheless, it can be fixed, but that won't happen during a McCain administration.

"Think about it: Netroots was born at a time when the Democrats were in opposition, and it's learning how to be a force of good when the Democrats are in power -- and could have more power next year," says Simon Rosenberg of the New Democrat Network. A speaker at the confab, Rosenberg is a bridge of sorts between Official Washington (he worked in the first Clinton White House) and New Washington (he wrote the foreword to "Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics," which Kos co-authored).

How hard can this be? Anyone who has the power to do so should hold their elected officials feet to the fire. They should also pick their battles and realize that if democracy is to be ressurected in America and the constituion restored, D.C. (and the country) must move toward concensus governance. If that takes a multi-party system, as I believe it will, bloggers need to be prepared to lead the way in making that system a reality and stop clinging to the two major political parties, neither of which seem to stand for anything these days..

Adds Andrew Rasiej, also a speaker at the convention and founder of Personal Democracy Forum, an online think tank that analyzes how the Internet affects politics: "For most everyone in the Netroots, the main goal right now is get Obama elected. Period. Now how the Netroots and Obama move forward after November, if he is elected, is another issue."

The mood between Obama and the Netroots has warmed in the past few months. Obama, who's on his first overseas tour since becoming the presumptive Democratic nominee, sent a 10-minute video greeting to the conventioneers.

"We've had some disagreements in the past, and we'll have some disagreements in the future," Obama says in the video. "I promise to continue to listen to your concerns, take them seriously and discuss them respectfully."

....and again, the loudest voices are heard.

The audience claps warmly, and among those watching are Edmundo Rocha, of Houston, and Manuel Guzman, of Tucson, Ariz., Latino bloggers who recently launched The Sanctuary, a site written by a multi-ethnic group of bloggers concerned about migrant rights and immigration reform. The group sent a list of detailed, pointed questions to Obama. They're still waiting to get adequate responses, they add.

"I've been waiting to see just how much he's going to involve the Netroots in the way he thinks about policies," says Guzman, who voted for Obama during the primaries but says he was "disappointed" with Obama's FISA vote.

Obama is a senator right now. If he isn't who we think he is after his inauguration that will be the time to be more than just disappointed.

"The Netroots are not going away. It's only going to get bigger," Guzman continues. "We're all learning to live with each other."

Let's hope so.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. I.U. has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is I.U endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

The Nazis, Fascists and Communists were political parties before they became enemies of liberty and mass murderers.

No comments: