What Is the Netroots?

At TPM Cafe, Matt Stoller kicked off a discussion about the nature of the Netroots. May chose to contrast it to the 1960s New Left. I don't see it that way. First, I am a Centrist Democrat who believes in a Big Tent and frankly, do not agree with many of my friends in the Netroots. A few examples: I think Atrios is wrong about Desert Storm; I never got so worked up about the Bankruptcy bill; I am a free trader. But I think I am part of the same Netroots as Stoller. So what are the ties that bind?

Ed Kilgore hints at some of it:

Matt differs from a number of other progressive netroots prophets (most notably Markos Moulitsas) in emphasizing the ideological, as opposed to simply partisan, nature of the "movement."

. . . Matt's brief note on the relationship of the netroots with the Kerry presidential campaign also doesn't quite get around to mentioning that the unhappiness of bloggers with KE04 was more than echoed by DC establishment Democrats. . . . So it's all a bit more complicated than the usual netroots versus Establishment--or left versus center--analysis tends to admit.

As anyone who reads progressive blogs or subscribes to progressive sites will readily acknowledge, the single largest political change enabled by the Internet revolution has been centrifugal, not centripital. Almost overnight, hundreds, maybe thousands, of well-informed and articulate advocates whose views would in the past have been consigned to the cranky confines of Letters to the Editor columns have been given a platform that rivals newspapers and magazines in readership and influence. . . .

Ed is right as far as he goes, but he downplays the key component that has been the glue of the Netroots - the very real rejection of the Establishment Media and Democratic Party by the Netroots. More.

To me that is the critical agreement that defines the Netroots. Perhaps I am merely reflecting my own blog experiences. I posted at daily kos almost exclusively for 3 years. And that was certainly what undergirded our views.

We felt, and feel, that the Democratic Party was not fighting for core Democratic values. We felt, and feel, that the Media had accepted the Republican narrative of politics an tht Democratics had simply accepted it. We felt, and feel, that organizations like Ed's DLC were undermining the Democratic Party by emphasizing the need to be more like Republicans, or the need to neutralize "values" issues. We felt, and feel, they were simply wrong on the politics.

This was a dispute of some duration - it spanned from 2003 to 2006. I believe the Netroots were vindicated:

I am a broken record on this:
And that is FDR's lesson for Obama. Politics is not a battle for the middle. It is a battle for defining the terms of the political debate. It is a battle to be able to say what is the middle.

And I believe Hofstadter recognized this as well. Hofstadter understood what was liberalism's triumphs and how they were achieved and how they could be defeated. Hofstadter would have understood so well that the Republican triumphs since Goldwater are not ideological "ideas" victories but rather victories of the psychological paranoid style - the "What Is The Matter With Kansas" question.

FDR governed as a liberal but politicked like a populist. When LBJ rightly and to his everlasting credit removed one of the Dem pillars of paranoia - racism, the GOP co-opted populist racism, added the Jeffersonian notion of government and institutional hatred, throw in a dash of paranoid Red scare, now terrorism scare, and you get political victories.

The lesson of Hofstadter is to embrace liberal governance and understand populist politics. It may sound cynical, but you must get through the door to govern. Lincoln knew this. FDR knew this. Hofstadter knew this. I hope Obama can learn this.

This was the intellectual battle the Netroots, led by one Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, has fought with the DC Establishment for 4 years:

While Brownstein is right about the belief from most of us that the right politics demands confrontation with Bush and contrast with the Republicans, I think he is wrong to believe that this approach alienates independent swing voters. If anything, the alignment that Indys are having with Dems in most polling shows that it is exactly the opposite. That this approach is ATTRACTING swing voters. This is where the fundamental divide between the DLC Centrists and us lies. Where we think the swing voter will land. Take my friend Ed Kilgore of the DLC for instance. Ed is a sharp thinker and writer, but Ed lacks confidence in our Democratic ideals:
[S]everal other centrist party strategists worry that the hyperpartisan turn-out-the-base strategy that many online activists demand won't work for Democrats, because polls consistently show that more Americans consider themselves conservative than liberal. "We are more of a coalition party than they are," says Ed Kilgore, the policy director for the DLC. "If we put a gun to everybody's head in the country and make them pick sides, we're not likely to win."

Ed, this is simply not true. And once you realize that, you will see why we are right and you are wrong. When we make folks pick sides agains the GOP Extremism of Dobson and the committed support to a policy of making sure the government leaves you alone in your private decisions advocated by Liberals, they will pick our side, in droves. Don't fear that fight.

And that is the real lesson, at least for me, of Markos and dailykos.

Are we forgetting these lessons? I fear we are. The Netroots must not forget this fight, how we won it and how we must continue to win it in our Democratic Party. Let me end with this reminder of some excellent basic principles that Ruy Texeira and John Halpin provided last year for Democratic political strategy:

The politics of definition is grounded on five postulates that we believe can serve as the basis for making sound decisions about how best to organize progressive campaigns and present a coherent identity to voters. We then provide an overview of core progressive values and beliefs that can serve as the organizing principles of long-term campaigns and then sketch out how a politics of definition approach would like in terms of economic, social, and national security policy.

The five postulates for the politics of definition -- the guideposts, questions, and "lines in the sand," so to speak, that need to be drawn out in order to craft better politics -- are as follows:

(1) The starting point for all political organizing and campaigns should be: "What are my core beliefs and principles and how do I best explain them to supporters and skeptics alike?"

(2) Every political battle, both proactive and defensive, should represent a basic statement of progressive character and present a clear, concise contrast with conservatives. Do not blur lines.

(3) All issue campaigns and agenda items are not equal. Progressives should focus their efforts on issues that can simultaneously strengthen the base and appeal to centrist voters. Progressives must be willing to make sacrifices and tradeoffs -- in terms of coalition building and budgetary concerns -- to achieve their most important agenda items.

(4) Escalate battles that expose the extremism of the right or splinter their coalition. [Follow-up: When confronted with the right's social, cultural, or national security agenda, the absolute worst response is to fail to combat these caricatures or to explain one's position directly to voters, regardless of the popularity of the position.]

(5) Every political action should highlight three essential progressive attributes: a clear stand on the side of those who lack power, wealth or influence; a deep commitment to the common good; and a strong belief in fairness and opportunity for all.
If we can follow these guidelines in 2008 I am confident we can win another smashing victory in 2008.

To me, that is the "ideology" of the Netroots.

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    it's a myth (none / 0) (#1)
    by Stewieeeee on Tue Jan 16, 2007 at 01:37:52 AM EST
    to say one, a group of people, or a political party or movement can sit down and determine what the middle will be.  It is true the foundation -- as well as the hopes, dreams and frustrations -- of the Netroots rests primarily on this myth.

    25 - 30% of America is determined by a particular ideology.  

    25 - 30% of America is determined by a completely different ideology.

    The rest.  The middle is determined not by messaging, not by politicians making speeches designed to motivate the 25 - 30% they represent, not by negative branding...  Although all those things can be used AT THE MARGIN, on Cable News Shows, and can be instrumental to Get Out the Vote during Election time, the middle itself is determined primarily by:



    So. EVENTS.

    It's wonderful to point out that FDR was a partisan.  I would not take issue with that.  Had FDR forged The New Deal out of partisanship during the backdrop of 50s prosperity I might be inclined to agree and rethink my position on this.    

    Furthermore, the idea that the middle could be determined by the Partisanship messaging of any given Party is offensive to anyone in the middle who happens to think they arrived at their position on an issue by other means.  I know you haven't called the middle spineless as many have done in the netroots.  But the underlying concept is there:  that anyone of the middle arrives at their position on any issue not by an assessment of their own personal values placed against the backdrop of current events, but by witnessing the partisanship of political actors.

    I suspect that if someone said you arrived at your position the same way, you'd protest.  Which is why, while you call yourself a centrist, I suspect you don't consider yourself of the middle.

    that is the "ideology" of the Netroots. (none / 0) (#2)
    by Edger on Tue Jan 16, 2007 at 07:49:10 PM EST
    To me, that sounds like the "ideology" of rational, reasonable thinking. Especially #5: a clear stand on the side of those who lack power, wealth or influence; a deep commitment to the common good; and a strong belief in fairness and opportunity for all.

    I would rather be surrounded on all sides by people who would rather be surrounded on all sides by people who care about other people and know that diminishing or denigrating one diminishes and denigrates all and would try to lift themselves not at the expense of others but by lifting others... than not. I am capitalist as well, and see no conflict, but try to choose what I do carefully and with a social conscience.

    That's me, and I think that kind of sums what you meant as well, Big Tent.

    Sounds (none / 0) (#3)
    by aw on Tue Jan 16, 2007 at 09:18:13 PM EST
    about right to me, Edger.