Political Hay

Netroots Armies

We haven't seen their like since the Depression -- and they're likely to remain a force long after Ned Lamont's demise.

By 8.18.06

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Those commentating on the impact of Ned Lamont's victory seem to have overlooked two important long-term effects. First, the consequences of the Netroots' ascendancy in the Democratic Party will stretch well beyond Iraq and national security issues. I'll examine the second effect on Monday.

To see the impact the Netroots -- the left-wing activists who organize primarily over the Internet -- will have, it is useful to begin with a recent column by the Netroots' de facto leader, Markos Moulitsas Zuniga (KOS). Writing in the American Prospect, KOS recounts his time in the U.S. Army in the late 1980s and early 1990s. What's remarkable about the piece is what it doesn't say about the military, namely its purpose. To use the Limbaugh Lexicon, the purpose of the military is "to kill people and break things." Yet nowhere does KOS acknowledge that it is the military's duty to defend the nation. KOS says this about his military experience:

There's a reason most vets running for office this year are running as Democrats. The military is perhaps the ideal society -- we worked hard but the Army took care of us in return. All our basic needs were met -- housing, food, and medical care. It was as close to a color-blind society as I have ever seen. We looked out for one another. The Army invested in us. I took heavily subsidized college courses and learned to speak German on the Army's dime. I served with people from every corner of the country. I got to party at the Berlin Wall after it fell and explored Prague in those heady post-communism days. I wasn't just a tourist; I was a witness to history.

KOS further states that "after my three-year stint, while I was stationed in Germany and missed deploying to the Gulf War by a hair, I emerged as a Democrat." He laments, "One of the many tragedies of the Iraq War is that the military is no longer a viable option for those needing a boost up the socio-economic ladder."

KOS's view of the military as a glorified welfare state yields further insight into the left's opposition to the war in Iraq. Certainly, the left's opposition is grounded in Bush hatred and the desire for peace at any price. KOS's essay also suggests that the left opposes war because it gets in the way of all those soldiers who use the military the way it is supposed to be used, as a "boost up the socio-economic ladder." If that's how the left views the military, one doesn't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what they think the rest of the government is for.

That could have some very dire consequences for the Democrats once the Iraq War ends, as it eventually will. I imagine there are many Democratic strategists who hope that the Netroots will dissipate once the troops begin coming home. Yet people with that much energy, passion, and even mania are not likely to scurry back to their holes so easily, especially now that Ned Lamont's victory has infused them with the belief that they are a potent force in Democratic politics. Furthermore, while such movements always find it hard to dislodge an incumbent, they become far more significant in an open-seat race. As an older generation of Democrats in Congress begins to retire, the influence the Netroots will have on choosing their successors will likely be huge.

One can easily see the Netroots trying to purge Democrats who commit heresy on other issues. Are you a Democrat who thinks that nationalized health insurance is not a good idea? The Netroots will come for you. Are you a Democrat who thinks we should experiment with some school choice? You are in the Netroots' sights. Are you a Democrat who favors tax cuts? Expect a Netroots-backed primary challenge.

This could turn the Democrats into a party that no longer tries to obscure the fact that they favor bigger government and higher taxes. This will make the left-wing patrons of Daily KOS very happy. But it will also provide low hanging fruit for Republicans.

If the Netroots can turn the Democrats hard to the left on most issues, the GOP will prosper -- in the long run. In the short run, however, they may have some success as long as the Iraq War continues to be an issue. And I'll explain that on Monday.

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David Hogberg is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.  Follow David Hogberg on Twitter.