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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Meta, meta, meta: the rise of the netroots

Will reads Postman who reads Jonathan Chait, who is behind a firewall at TNR. But Chait's article (did I mention it's behind a firewall?) is entitled "The Left's New Machine" and subtitled "How the netroots became the most important mass movement in U.S. politics."

(Postman has the subtitle as "Inside the Most Important Movement Since the Christian Right." I'm not sure what accounts for the difference, but for the record it's not a big deal in my book. Editing happens, it's part of the process.)

Booman Tribune had a decent take on the whole thing, namely that Chait focused too much on Daily Kos.

Frankly, I'm really not into navel gazing discussions about the netroots, but here goes anyway. Chait can garner some attention by discussing what makes it tick, and you may or may not agree with his take, but one thing we most definitely are not similar to is the Christian fundamentalist Republican right.

We believe in rationality and tolerance, and they believe liquefied brains can come back to life. We don't require preachers claiming to know the will of God to tell us how to think; we think for ourselves and act out of principle, not fear nor hatred. Progressives of faith respect those of other faiths.

If there's one common thread in the netroots, it's that ordinary people have awakened to realize that if they don't take their government back from the lunatics, nobody else will do it for them.

On a range of issues (Iraq, health care, Social Security, the environment, food safety) this holds true. The netroots is more utilitarian than anything else, in my view. Discussions that implicitly involve the traditional left-right economic axis are tricky, although we all use shorthand terms at times.

My sense is that progressives want sensible, effective government regulation when it's needed to protect capitalism and consumers, and otherwise the government can stay out of say, toothpaste production. This is a rather mild, pro-reform progressive movement in historical terms.

We also believe firmly in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and while the Second Amendment can cause differences of opinion even within our movement, the fundamental guarantees of personal liberty and a system of checks and balances are not negotiable. This is something we have in common, of course, with true conservatives.

Postman notices a distinction that Chait makes between the netroots and the "wonkosphere," which is fine. If there's one thing that is totally cool about the 'net, it's the wide availability of information, assuming you are willing to think critically and listen or read other opinions.

Policy does matter, whether you are a commuter trying to get home from work or a wounded veteran trying to obtain benefits. The netroots functions best when it supports candidates who broadly support sound policy, and there can be a great deal of latitude given candidates. Good ideas are good ideas.

There are some other simple dictums that seem to get a lot of attention, like you can't be a Democrat if you're actually a Republican. This isn't that complicated. Let's call it the Lieberman-Sheldon principle.

If nearly every position you adopt and nearly every public pronouncement you make sides with the GOP, you're a Republican.

That's not an ideological act on our part, it's a recognition of practical political realities. The netroots is not responsible for the positions taken by Joe Lieberman or Tim Sheldon. Joe Lieberman and Tim Sheldon are responsible for their positions.

Only a fool would support their political opposition. It takes a true moron to support wolves in sheep's clothing like Lieberman and Sheldon. Basic honesty would compel them to switch to the GOP, but (irony alert!) conservatives are often lacking in both personal and political honesty. Funny how that works out.

Consider, in contrast, the overwhelming netroots support for people like Jim Webb, a former Reagan official and heat-packing Virginian.

He's been welcomed into the party with open arms and broad enthusiasm. We're willing to have a big tent, but you have to be in the tent. Far from being closed, the netroots is for an open Democratic party - where the welcome mat is put out for anyone who broadly shares its goals.

It's also been discussed many times elsewhere, so this is not a new thought, but it's worth repeating that the netroots has functioned as a counter-weight to the noise machine controlled by the conservative movement and the GOP, a noise machine that has become particularly adept at inserting right-wing frames into the traditional media.

One of the community's chief complaints to this day is how traditional media outlets still accept uncritically right wing canards. I mean, look at Iraq. The short history is best described as follows:
evil dictator, mushroom smoking guns, WMD's, flower petals, pencils and schools, Pottery Barn flypaper, six months, six months, six months, six months, six months, six months, six months six months, cut 'n run, deafeatocrats, keep us safe, follow us here
There's a strange, strange tendency in this country to keep selling right wing talking points, no matter how many times they have been wrong and no matter how many people suffer. "Objective" is such a loaded word these days that's it's difficult to use, but by any reasonably objective measure, the conservative movement is an utter failure, so it's difficult at times to understand the respect still afforded it in certain journalistic quarters.

It's sometimes as if New Orleans, Iraq, intelligence breakdowns, the partisan smears, the corruption and outright hypocrisy never happened. Is Chait a conservative? I don't know, and frankly I don't really care. If I knew anyone who actually reads TNR I might care, but I don't and haven't since about 1989.

There's also an often hilarious tendency for conservatives to project how they view things onto progressives. In other words, if they would seize and hold power at any cost and violate any principles to do so, such as is readily apparent in the DOJ scandal, then we must be just like them.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

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