Tuesday, October 29, 2013

All Politics Are Personal: The Failure of Netroots

From Huffington Post's Serenity Lost Article 2008
There is a blog post going around that discusses the failure of the Netroots (the term for a collection of online activists and bloggers who came together around Howard Dean in 2002):
In the early 2000s progressive blogging seemed like a big deal. At the first Yearly Kos, as it was called then, big name politicians came and kissed our ass. We were covered by major newspaper and TV outlets. Etc…
Today, we are nothing.
The reason is simple: we could not elect enough of our people. We could not instill sufficient fear. We could not defeat incumbents. We did not produce juice. Clark and Dean didn’t win the 2004 Presidential nomination. Dean was taken out in a particularly nasty fashion (via the manufactured Dean Scream.)
There are attendant discussions here (The Future is an alliance between progressives and libertairans), here (Why the hell'd you call me out, dude), and here (We didn't have a FOX News of our own, whaaaaaaah!!). But this is one I like best:
Pachacutec writes a much more measured and accurate post-mortem of the Netroots movement than Jerome Armstrong managed to do. But he's still hung up on the idea that Barack Obama had contempt for the Netroots, didn't need us, actively attacked us, and sucked all the organizing power out of us. So much of this is about pride. A lot of people in the Netroots worked hard to build infrastructure and organizations only to look up and see that Obama had created the best political organization in our lifetimes without their help. And they resented not being a part of it.
You should read the whole thing. This rings true to me.

Want To Lose? Denounce Me -- Michael Moore
Back in 2008 as McCain and Obama were heading into the Game Change election Michael Moore, filmmaker, activist, and self-declared spokesman for the left came out with a list of things to do to get McCain elected--to lose big. He had six items--and his #6? Denounce me.
The candidate Obama, at some point, might be asked this question: "Michael Moore is a supporter of yours and has endorsed you. But in his new book, Mike's Election Guide, he says the following (go ahead and fill in the blank—I've provided a full list of outrageously offensive lines already taken out of context in advance to make it easy for right-wing commentators, Fox News, and Dr. Sanjay Gupta). Will you still accept his endorsement or do you denounce him?"

And he better denounce me or they will tear him to shreds. He had better back away not only from me but from anyone and everyone who veers a bit too far to the left of where his advisors have told him is the sweet spot for all those red state voters.
I remember poor John Kerry not even being able to admit, when asked by Larry King, if he had seen Fahrenheit 9/11. "No," he said, "I haven't. . . . I don't plan to, right now."
Months later, as I toured the country in my own independent effort to get him elected, we both arrived in Albuquerque the same day, each of us holding a separate rally. One of us had 12,000 people show up in the University of New Mexico basketball arena; the other had 800 come to an airport hanger. All I remember is feeling really bad about it. It did not feel good that we knew he was going to lose.
So Barack, by denouncing me, you can help McCain get elected. Because when you denounce me, it's not really me your distancing yourself from—it's the millions upon millions of people that I agree with and who feel the same way about things as I do. And many of them are the kind of crazy voters who have no problem voting for a Nader just to prove a point. Elections have been lost by just 175 votes. I don't want that to happen to you.
Later, in 2012, when Barack Obama was reelected, Michael Moore, apparently still not contacted by the Obama administration, published another post demanding to be heard and listed his phone number and email waiting for his next assignment.

Remember The PUMAs!
I was not intensely politically active in 2002 (I knew who Howard Dean was, of course--but I was not following anyone closely)--but I certainly did pay close attention to the Party Unity My Ass (changed to People United Mean Action when they got national recognition) group. This was a faction of Hillary supporters who were decidedly anti-Obama and even, going into election night, prayed for a McCain victory using logic that would make unskewed polls blush.
“This is where you see the civil war!” burbled Chris Matthews, experiencing near-asphyxiatory pleasure on an outdoor stage in the sweltering Denver heat ... “We’re at ground zero!”
Actually, he was about six blocks away from the Pepsi Center, the crowd behind him was probably no more than a hundred strong, and at least one of them was dressed as a toilet, (a gesture that seemed to have nothing to do with Clinton or Obama). But this is how media fantasy gets made, a miniature tableau of political discord, played out in front of a couple of well-placed television cameras and a television host who finds fetishistic, hyperbolic meaning in everything having to do with the defeated Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her still-sore supporters.
Whether they knew it or not, the PUMAs who had congregated next to the MSNBC stage were making the night of the man who has done everything in his power to destroy their purported heroine.
The defining trait of the PUMAS was that when faced with candidates who had almost identical policy platforms and both with historic pedigrees, they decided to vote for a candidate who held almost none of their political interests simply because of how they were treated during the election cycle.

I'm actually okay with a protest vote--and I'll accept that there was some serious misogyny afoot during 2008--but I (a) know self-defeating behavior when I see it--and this is it and (b) feel that any political action that is not backed up by a logical assessment of its goals and chances of success has such a high chance of backfiring that it's okay to blame the actors when things (inevitably) go south. See: the The One Thing Less Popular Than Obamacare Is A Government Shutdown--HEY! LET'S DO THAT! Strategy.

The Failure Of The Left
I'm not sure what really happened in the case of the Netroots or Howard Dean (was it really "The Scream" that did him in? I don't know. Was it 'manufactured'? Or was it just bad luck? I don't know). I do know this, though, looking at the comments in the first article the aftermath of the failure follows a pretty similar trend and the guy I quoted nails it: Personal affront.

One thing that pushed PUMA voters into the McCain side of the ballot was that Obama, even after victory, didn't reach out to them sufficiently (which, presumably, would have involved apologizing, dousing himself with gasoline, and setting himself afire). This 'final insult' was truly unforgivable.

Look at this quote from the original article:
The nail in the coffin was the 2008 primaries. To put it simply, Obama bypassed the blogging gatekeepers. Commenters, whether free or bought (and yes, I believe many were on the payroll) capsized DKos and other major blogs. Obama did not need the gatekeepers, he simply bought out the movement. The bloggers were irrelevant. At least one major blogger acted as a conduit for Obama hits: was fed oppo, and put that oppo out there.
The assertion here (aside from that of paid troll commenters) is that the election, had it not been compromised by Obama's secret funds, would have been under the control of the gate-keeping bloggers. Considering what happened to Howard Dean six years before, this is obviously fantasy.

Now, let's be clear about something: The far left--the guys who (I'm generalizing) thought that not only was Iraq a bad war but going into Afghanistan after 9/11 was a bad idea too are claiming here they lost the country because their self-organizing electronic democracy was corrupted by money is fantasy land.

It's like saying Romney lost because he didn't invest heavily enough in his Intrade scores (and someone did invest pretty heavily. Romney? Was that you?): it's confusing cause with effect.

The reason Obama won in 2008 was precisely because he looked like a moderate. Denish D'Souza's conspiracy-tinged anti-Obama movie Obama 2016 notes that he gave a speech that would have received applause at a Republican gathering (or, at least, some Republican gatherings, I suppose).

The Netroots, like the PUMAS, and the still-waiting-for-a-call Michael Moore are all making the same problem: they never held the country to begin with. When that reality surfaces, rather than realign their understanding of what happens to them it just looks like defeat (in some cases, conspiracy driven defeat).

That's the Failure of the Netroots.

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