Since the not-at-all-surprising confirmation of Samuel Alito, there's been a lot of hand-wringing going on in the so-called "liberal" or "progressive" blogosphere.
"I'm shocked -- shocked! -- that the Democrats didn't all stand firm!" come the mealy-mouthed cries.
It's time to wake up.
Matt Stoller offers one perspective:
The netroots needs to get serious. Our culture is sick. On every conference call with elected officials, I hear preening, sycophantic questions towards elected Democrats. That time is over. They work for us, the people. Or rather, I am an American, and I am not going to bow down to someone because they are a Congressman or a Senator. I don't have to say that someone pursued 'great leadership' just because they wear a Congressional pin. I don't have to care about titles, about nobility, about respect for the office. I am an American.
It's time that we start acting like Americans again, and stop acting like we are courtiers worshipping at the throne of high officers, be they D's or R's. Be an American, not a courtier. Be skeptical of your elected. And take responsibility for your country. If they fail we fail, and that's why we will hold them accountable. That's why we need power, because without it we cannot prevent failure and drive the changes we all know we so desperately need.
So take heed, blogosphere, let's get back to being Americans again. We are the people. We have a responsibility to act like it.The thing is that that power is earned, and right now the electorate, by and large, gets no respect from the elected. They try to play us like chumps, giving us bloviating speechifying and imperious poses while they do business as usual.
The Republicans in power right now are just about the worst political ruling class in our country's history. Look at the deficit and debt. Look at the wars. Look at New Orleans. Look at the regressive bills passed over the past year. These folks are dangerous!
But the Democrats have no spine. And that is largely because they do not have any sort of collective vision or cohesive purpose. The "big tent" of the Democratic Party has rendered it ineffective for over 20 years now.
And the Party itself is trying to diffuse its caucus even more by backing more regressive politicians like Bob Casey, Jr., who just had to go on the record to let us all know that he thought Samuel Alito was just a fine judge, just fine. Can a Party build strength when it continues to work against its progressive base and undermine its progressive principles?
Jeffrey Feldman couldn't help but notice the problem:
Tim Kaine's speech, last night, while well-presented, demonstrated that the Democratic Leadership is making decisions that are almost completely detached from anything I recognize as the day-to-day political condition of this country--particularly the past two election cycles, setting up the scenario whereby the Democratic party runs in 2008 virtually the exact same race it ran in 2004, using the same professionals, the same strategies, the same metrics--and resulting in the same, dire outcome.
For reasons I will elaborate in the extended post, I used to think that the netroots were working exclusively in the interests of the Democratic Party. Today--this morning, specifically--I now believe that we in the netroots need to start thinking about 'Our' gains in relation to 'Their' gains. This is a complicated step to take. It is risky and involves steps that, while I describe them, I do not fully understand how they should happen on the ground.
But I believe, this morning, as a result of this week, that the future of our country depends on our willingness to start seeing ourselves--starting right now--as a distinct political entity in U.S. politics. And that means recognizing where we are in realistic terms, defining the gains we want to make and how to measure them, and building, building, building towards larger and larger possibilities. There seems to be no doubt about that. When it comes down to it, I think the largest political bloc in this country is the bloc that goes totally unrepresented by the elected officials of either party. The bloc that largely stays home and doesn't soil itself by endorsing the posers they're offered in the pseudo-choices offered up on election day.
The bloc that believes that the government should largely leave people's private lives private.
The bloc that believes that the government should protect people not just from crime, but from fraud, abuse, exploitation and depredations by anyone so-inclined, including multinational corporations.
The bloc that believes that people should be treated equally.
Feldman's analysis has some sharp observations:
The Democratic Party has abandoned any effort at creating and defining a social experience of being a Democrat. It has given up. Instead, we have an increasingly isolated leadership that hires experts to launches plans--plans conceived in a private culture of celebrity consultants and society fundraising--in an effort to achieve their goals in our world. This will not change simply because we want it to.
The netroots, by contrast, is steeped in a new kind of liberal politics as social experience. This new experience is build of routines, ideas, and a growing diversity of long-distance and face-to-face relationships. This new culture of netroots politics is as distinct from the culture of the Democratic leadership as the Democratic elite is distinct from the rest of the nation.What's more, the netroots -- at least the netroots that aren't just playing the DNC game -- more closely reflect the views of the people. After all, the netroots have roots.
At least that's the theory.
There are self-proclaimed "netroots" who have been bellowing at everyone who has dared express skepticism that culture-of-death Democrats like Bob Casey, Jr. and Tim Kaine deserve our support.
And this leads to an area where I believe Feldman misses the mark:
The Democratic Party currently competes with no other party in the marketplace of Liberal politics in the United States. This must change and the only way to change this is to create an entity--a branded entity--thereby allowing for mass identification with and support of the netroots. What form this will take remains to be seen, but it will need to be capable of circulating at economic, social and political levels. The netroots will not be a 'party' in the conventional sense, but also not a 'club' in the conventional sense. It will be somewhere in between, with the brand affixed to ideas, media as well as activities and places. I would submit that the Democrats are not competing in the marketplace of Liberal politics at all. In fact, they're still running from the "liberal" label, following in the frantic footsteps left by Michael Dukakis 18 years ago.
And as long as the largest political blog continues its repeated attacks on liberal values and progressive politics and fails to get over its phobia of standing for something, I don't see much hope for any sort of truly progressive netroots gains in the 2006 elections.
Like many people holding progressive views, I feel that I have no party representing me. There's no party that fights for the people -- or even talks about how we're doing as a country in terms of how the people are doing as people. There's no party that fiercely defends the civil and human rights of American citizens across the board.
There's no party even talking the talk, let alone walking the walk.
A few words about what I am not advocating, here. I am not calling for the netroots to leave the Democratic Party or to work for its downfall. I believe a party, as an institution, has valuable aspects that far outweight its component parts. I am not calling for an end to working with and for the Democratic Party, neither at the level of campaigns or broader efforts to strengthen the party. All those efforts most continue. I am not calling for increased hostility towards the Democratic Party. In fact, I am calling for the exact opposite. I am not calling for a departure from the 'people-powered politics' outlined in Jerome and Markos' new book. That vision is important and it is within every aspect of what I describe above.While I would agree with the first part -- if it's possible, it would be much better to reclaim the Democratic Party than to ditch it for an untested, unmonied, unknown third party -- I do not think that Jerome and Markos' anti-progressive, conservative-Dems-or-bust agenda is the way to pursue it.
The Democratic Party is not working because it no longer stands for traditionally Democratic ideals. It no longer defends liberal values. It no longer advocates progressive policies. The Democratic Party has been the "go along to get along" party. And that is not going to change as long as Democratic voters are attacked by Kos and others for caring about their civil and human rights, or wanting to breathe clean air, or demanding fair and open elections.
If there's going to be a real netroots resurgence -- and make no mistake, it will be a resurgence -- then it will take roots. The netroots are about the people, and if there's no room for what the people believe, then the "netroots" is nothing but astroturf.