CHICAGO — “What did your psychologist tell you?”
Such was the penultimate query of one of the first YearlyKos 2007 panels, “Holding Congress Accountable for a Progressive Agenda.” The question was 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.
Hence, Hamsher noted one of her site’s bloggers — “a shrink” — had intervened in the Firedoglake comments thread to (figuratively, I presume) 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; the anger with an accounting of the sorrows of victory. Gore/Obama 08 stickers fly off a table like hotcakes while the exhortations of the guy manning the Richardson for President booth bounce off impervious passersby as if he were a freeway ghost. Hillary’s stand was completely abandoned. The virtues of Ned Lamont’s campaign are still being extolled. Faded Dean for America T-shirts are outnumbered only by Impeach Bush Tees.
A popular panel, “Three People Who Helped Change Congress,” featured S.R. Siddarth (the intern George Allen called macaca), Mike Stark (the man roughed up by Allen campaign staffers) and Lane Hudson (the leaker of Mark Foley’s naughty emails). It was like the We Couldn’t Even Really Fill Our 15 Minutes of Fame Players. Instead of donating their extra minutes to, say, refugees in Darfur, they’re holding tightly onto them. Only Media Matters’ “Annoy Fox News” stickers feel more retro.
Is it possible for such a young, victorious movement to already be looking backwards?
NOT SO LONG AGO, progressive bloggers relished their outsider role as “citizen journalists” driven by passion not cash. Yesterday I attended a workshop entitled, “A Union for Bloggers: It’s Time to Organize!” during which a moderator posited, “I think all bloggers, in one way or another, view themselves as professionals” and a woman bemoaned the travesty of her and husband’s inability to quit their jobs and become full-time bloggers because the “social safety net is in tatters.” In other words, Why won’t society foot the bill for her hobby? Better organize!
It sounds like a spectacularly unserious endeavor, but Big Labor and its enablers apparently disagree. 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.
During the meeting there were surreal arguments over whether the union would be strictly for political bloggers. “There are knitting bloggers and nature bloggers and all kinds of bloggers and we have to include them as well, do we not?” one clearly miffed young woman asked. 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.
“I would want to include conservative blogs because if they have to adhere to the journalistic standards the union sets…” the moderator began.
“…they’ll go out of business!” a woman finished.
Cue predictably spontaneous applause.
THE LARGE ROOM WAS ABUZZ with the collective murmur of dozens of men and women repeating well-worn phrases “there’s a broad scientific consensus” and “the debate is over,” varying only in tenor and tempo.
The crowd gathered for the “Online Messaging: What Works and What Doesn’t Fly Online” workshop had been split into groups to compose an Action Alert based on the lessons Jeff Lucas and Dean Nielsen of Progressive Majority had just imparted. A few examples: “Personalization is key.” “It’s really important to pick a fight.” “It’s always good to have an enemy.” “There’s something to be said for fear.” And most improbably, considering the convention host: “It’s fairly difficult to go too far online.”
There’s something deliciously ironic about these two guys unabashedly talking in public the way the left always warns us Karl Rove does in private. At any rate, our charge was to stir up protest via email against a Washington State school district’s decision to place a moratorium on the screening of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth in the classroom. The Kossacks tore into the assignment with relish. “Do You Support Banning Books?” the subject line of one potential email read, comparing An Inconvenient Truth to Huckleberry Finn and Catcher in the Rye. “School Board Pollutes Classroom With Censorship!” screamed another headline. “Stop the Attack on Critical Thinking in Our Schools!”
Then there was the content. “Every day in my classroom 30 students sit down and expect to hear the truth, but now the school board is telling me I cannot provide it to them,” a young lady read aloud to the groups. “….We cannot allow the next generation to be denied their basic right to education!”
Which begs the question: Can the DailyKos crowd writ large actually believe partisan-to-the-core Al Gore is the only choice for educating our children? I’m sure some evangelical parents would like The Silent Scream shown in every biology class in America as well, which would probably have Kossacks begging Buddhist monks to self-immolate on the Capitol steps. What’s good for the liberal goose isn’t good for the conservative gander in this corner of the political world. Such are the hypocrisies sanctioned when one is convinced he and his friends are humanity’s saviors.
MANY KOSSACKS NOW seem to be asking, as Robert Redford’s Bill McKay pondered at the end of The Candidate, “What do we do now?” At the “Holding Congress Accountable for a Progressive Agenda,” one confused soul asked, “If we’re going to hold Congress accountable to a progressive agenda, how do we define progressive?”
“At this point it’s 180 degrees from what we’ve had the last six years,” panelist Pam Spaulding answered.
“That’s pretty broad,” someone in the audience shot back.
“Yeah, it is pretty broad,” Spaulding admitted. “There are all kinds of issues. Um…living wage, health care, getting out of Iraq…energy, the environment. Just about anything that has been put on hold, stomped on…I mean, saving our Constitution. Just the basics at this point.”
The tough thing about narrowing things down is an expectation of more immediate results to follow. To my biased mind, Spaulding’s list still sounded mostly formless and squishy — the kind of list any politician could claim partial victory on, because almost any minor thing his ilk does can be shoehorned into such broad categories. Of course, I’m not the target audience. Unfortunately for the Democrats, the target audience seems to be having trouble buying it, too — at least for now.
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