This article appears in the October 2007 issue of The American Spectator. To subscribe to our monthly print edition, click here.
CHICAGO — “WHAT DID YOUR PSYCHOLOGIST TELL YOU?” So sounded a query at one of the first panels at YearlyKos, the second annual terrestrial meeting this August of devotees of the uber-liberal DailyKos website. The question came toward the end of “Holding Congress Accountable for a Progressive Agenda,” presented to Firedoglake celebrity blogger Jane Hamsher by a middle-aged woman who explained she was trying to convince disillusioned “progressive activists who are ready to give up” to continue to partner with her local Democratic Party chapter
Despite the Republicans’ recent midterm election reversal of fortune, forlorn talk of Democratic victors stabbing “the netroots” in the back has paradoxically replaced the We’re going to kick ass from one end of this country to the other! vibe of the 2006 convention. Betrayal? Participants were only all too happy to count the ways: No immediate Iraq pullout, defections on the hate crimes bill, congressional staffers building walls between representatives and bloggers who grew accustomed to easy access during the campaign. When word came down that Nancy Pelosi might cancel her YearlyKos engagement, a woman next to me scoffed, “She’s too busy writing Dubya’s legislation for him.”
Hence, Hamsher noted one of her site’s bloggers — “a shrink” — had intervened in the Firedoglake comments thread to talk distraught progressives “off the roof,” and thus the request that Hamsher share her professional pal’s methods. A few minutes later, an audience member asked how panel members propose holding representatives accountable “without looking like all we’re doing is being shrill and self-destructive.”
“That’s our job,” Hamsher retorted. “We’re supposed to be shrill and self-destructive…. We’re going to stand on principle and hold that line because if we don’t nobody does it.”
IRONICALLY, THE SHRILLNESS OF A YEAR AGO has mostly been replaced with a general air of ill-defined discontent. “Gore/Obama ‘08” stickers fly off a table like hotcakes — “You already know who the perfect candidate is—now do something about it!” an omnipresent full-color Draft Gore postcard exclaimed — while the guy manning the Richardson for President booth was like an apparition: Unseen, unheard, sensed only by individuals touched with the ability to connect with dead candidacies. Faded “Dean for America” T-shirts were outnumbered only by their newer “Impeach Bush” counterparts. A popular panel, “Three People Who Helped Change Congress,” featured S.R. Siddarth (the kid George Allen called “macaca”), Mike Stark (the man roughed up by Allen campaign staffers), and Lane Hudson (the leaker of Mark Foley’s naughty e-mails). Call them the Seven-and-a-Half Minutes of Fame Players. Instead of donating their remaining minutes to, say, refugees in Darfur, they’re holding tightly onto them, trying to snatch significance out of the jaws of irrelevance.
Likewise, hundreds of Kossacks — as they’ve nicknamed themselves — flocked to “Ned Lamont for Senate: What Really Happened,” despite the fact that the topic could have been wrapped up in a few words: Um, he lost. The advisory board appointed to winnow down questions submitted online for the YearlyKos Presidential Leadership Forum included Gary Hart, Walter Mondale, and George McGovern. (Eugene McCarthy is dead. No word on how Michael Dukakis dodged this bullet.) Only Media Matters’ “Annoy Fox News” stickers feel more retro.
Is it possible for such a young, victorious movement already to be looking backwards? In 2002 Markos Moulitsas founded DailyKos. Five years later the site greets 600,000 visitors a day. Several no-chance congressional candidates the site plugged actually won in 2006. Saint Jimmy Carter has blogged on the site. The Washington Post story on YearlyKos 2007 is headlined “‘Net Roots’ Event Becomes Democrats’ Other National Convention.” And every major Democratic presidential contender save one (Joe Biden) showed up along with 1,500 Kossacks and 250 members of the media in tow. “Scorned and ridiculed, when not downright ignored, you continued to speak to each other,” Moulitsas said in his keynote speech. “Today, your views — once framed by the powers that be as naÃ¯ve and out of touch — are now shared by a majority of Americans. Your early conversations have become the national conversation.”
This rhetoric is nothing new. During the Q&A session following Barbara Boxer’s speech at YearlyKos 2006 in Las Vegas, a young woman complained to the California senator about how “convenient” some in Congress found it to think of Kossacks as “extremists.”
“We pretty much consider ourselves ordinary Americans, but I get the sense that’s not what they think of us,” the young woman lamented. Yet, aside from a definitive change in mainstream attitudes toward the Iraq War, a visit at any given hour on any given day to DailyKos.com will quickly refute the idea of the site as the vanguard of the mainstream. According to the site’s own monthly 2008 straw polls, KosWorld is a place where Hillary Clinton has only just begun to pull ahead of Dennis Kucinich — she’s up to 6 percent! — and John Edwards is the prohibitive favorite for the Democratic nomination.
In truth, this much-hyped pony may have but one trick after all. The Netroots Candidates Celebration at YearlyKos 2007, for example, was a complete bore. Candidate after candidate relayed the exact same story: Each had been told there was no way he could win, but each nonetheless decided to reject “conventional wisdom” and run for Office X anyway because he knows in his (bleeding) heart that progressive ideas are better and the country is in such dire straits somebody has to do something. What else? Oh, universal health care not wiretaps, a joke about George W. Bush, and a dig at Bill O’Reilly who just so doesn’t get it. Voila! You’re a Netroots candidate!
The crowd is particularly excited about the candidacy of a Kossack named Ron Shepston, whose DailyKos handle, CanYouBeAngryAndStillDream? is apparently supposed to be inspirational rather than embarrassing. One candidate says the Democratic Party is about forcing the establishment to “renounce their nobility.” Al Franken sent a video message that felt like a rehearsal tape for an unfunny Saturday Night Live sketch. I cut out early and caught Spiderman 3 on pay-per-view.
NOT SO LONG AGO, PROGRESSIVE BLOGGERS relished their outsider role as “citizen journalists” driven by passion, not cash. Indeed, during forums many still give their Kos ID number before their name, adding to the clubhouse atmosphere. (Low ID numbers indicating a longtime member of the five-year-old site frequently spur applause.) The sheen of revolution has slightly dulled, however, and that left-wing sense of entitlement has begun to creep in. “I think all bloggers, in one way or another, view themselves as professionals,” a facilitator told the crowd gathered at the “A Union for Bloggers: It’s Time to Organize!” workshop.
It sounds like a spectacularly unserious endeavor, but during the Q&A session a woman bemoaned the travesty of her and husband’s inability to quit their jobs and become fulltime bloggers because the “social safety net is in tatters.” Representatives of the AFL-CIO, armed with “Kicking Ass for the Working Class” stickers, were on hand, as was a DNC employee, a D.C. District Court administrator, a Working America official, and the man who got the National Writers Union up and going. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters not only posted Blogger Wanted: Inquire Within signs everywhere, but also handed out free T-shirts festooned with the slogan Working Class Blogger.
The meeting only became more surreal as a clearly miffed young woman complained about the focus on political bloggers. At a conference… put on by a political blog. “There are knitting bloggers and nature bloggers and all kinds of bloggers and we have to include them as well, do we not?” she said. The man from the Teamsters counseled inclusiveness. Perhaps sore-knuckled knitters can find a place in an international brotherhood after all. The sky is the collectively bargained limit, even for conservatives.
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