Over at Netroots powerhouse MyDD, Jerome Armstrong railed in frustration as the juggernaut that is mainstream politics pushes the Netroots away from the levers of power that they so closely crave.
I don't have a dog in the race, and voted "other" in the MyDD poll. But I gotta tell you, this race is Hillary Clinton's to lose at this point. I wish to be wrong, and see Obama or Edwards get the nomination, but I honestly don't see it happening from this vantage point, and it's very frustrating. The Edwards candidacy was a longshot to begin with, and that he is still in it points toward how sound a strategy (combined with the luck of having Fiengold & Warner drop out), that he laid out; the frustration is more directed at Obama because he has the opportunity to lay claim with what's grown in the netroots this decade and hasn't grasped it at all, and it shows.
Then Chris Bowers announced that he and Matt are leaving MyDD and partisan politics - to start a new, unnamed site that will instead focus on building a progressive movement.
So, why am I moving on? I hinted at the reason in yesterday’s post, Expanding Beyond Just Partisanship. As much as I have enjoyed writing about politics and elections from a partisan Democratic viewpoint, my political background is in the social justice movement and decidedly on the left. I want to write about more than just elections and political infrastructure, and I want to explicitly work toward building a progressive governing majority. However, to do so would be to take MyDD too far away from its longstanding purpose. I have always argued that successful blogging is focused blogging, and MyDD won't succeed if it loses its niche and its brand. Also, I want to do much more extended writing on single campaigns, ala Googlebomb the Elections, Use It Or Lose It, or The Inflated Clinton Poll Theory, and join in discussions with a wider variety of individuals and organizations in the progressive movement. Structurally speaking, that means moving somewhat away from the rapid, chronologically backward scrolling format of traditional blogs.
I ought to be filled with schadenfreude, but I'm actually kind of interested and impressed.
I've been harshly critical of the Netroots before there was a formally identified Netroots, and of the thinking of those who went on to become the Netroots - criticizing them as "the suicidal lemming branch of the Democratic Party". But shockingly enough, I share many of their perceptions and some of their values.
Modern politics has become ossified; you need look no further than the ways in which elected offices - from local government to the White House seem to have become dynastic, which power handed down in families from parent to child. That is - forgive me, David Blue - fucking absurd, and antithetical to everything this nation was founded for.
An aristocracy has grown up, exploiting the nexus of social connection, governmental power (and spending) and private greed to perpetuate itself and the increasingly brittle web of allies, sycophants, courtiers, and bagmen who both serve as farm clubs for that aristocracy and as its enablers. One huge strike in the Netroots' favor is that they saw this and when they did, they called a spade a spade. They gave voice to the frustration that the average American feels when they look at our political class.
That class ossification is - in my mind - a far greater long-term risk to this country (and by extension the values of liberal human society worldwide insofar as we are their primary defender) than any Islamist movement. They are a less acute risk (which is my rationalization for the balance of attention I spend on this blog), but a chronic one that saps our ability to do everything from educate our children to build infrastructure to defend our country and values.
That aristocracy is increasingly detaching itself from the interests of the modern proletariat - those who sell their labor a day or month at a time in a cubicle or restaurant uniform. The modern proletariat is the richest in the world - but in a flattening world, that can't and won't persist. To those who ride in Town Cars, that's not a horrible thing - the help gets cheaper, after all, and more docile as it realizes how close it is to the edge and how their island of social and economic stability is shrinking. That detachment - the realization that an industrial and administrative elite can do just fine while everyone else sees their prospects narrowing - is what I call the Lizzie Grubman factor.
The elites blind themselves to their comfortable detachment by maintaining an overwhelming interest in identity politics - politics that center around every distinction except class. Race, sex, sexual orientation, language and culture - all are groupings the defense and interests of which the new aristocracy is happy to promote. Why not? Middle-class Marxism costs them almost nothing. And middle-class Mexican American Princes (the title of a great article in the LA Weekly) can suddenly ride racial and identity politics to a seat at the Big Table and all the goodies that brings with it.
So let me make a few suggestions to the disillusioned Netroots folks out there.
First, understand that you're being used. You're a moderately successful fundraising channel, and a dedicated but small and uncoordinated pool of volunteers and campaign workers - kind of the equivalent of a small labor union. You are blessed because of the information reach of the Net, and more, because your peers who went and got jobs in the media are fascinated with you and so will feature you and your thoughts in the frame of Big Media.
Sometimes (Amanda Marcotte) that spotlight makes you look like you have a bad complexion, and you get tossed under the bus.
But your belief - that there is a big pool of other people pissed off at Politics As It Is and just losing interest in playing - is absolutely right. Have the levels of disillusionment been higher at any time in our lives? Have as many people felt like standing in their windows and shouting "I'm mad as hell and I can't take it any more!!" ? You're 100% right about that, you're just looking in the wrong place for the people who ought to join your movement.
You're looking in the wrong place because you're arrogant jerks (hey, I read all your stuff - trust me, you're arrogant jerks) and instead of looking out your window at the American people and thinking about their dreams and hopes and how you can advance them, you persist in looking in the mirror (or looking on your computer screen and reading all the blogs that make you go "Yeah!" (new acronym: BTMYGY!) and believing that Of Course everyone thinks that Catholics are repressive assholes, and Of Course the average Rethuglican is a gender criminal, and Of Course typical Americans who worry about people who cut other people's throats on video on the Internet are bedwetters.
You believed that if you swore undying loyalty to the Party - and ignored Democratic beams while criticizing Republican motes - you'd be recognized and rewarded.
Some of you will be - you'll be the next generation of direct mail wizards - but for the most part, you're going to get kicked to the curb as soon as the NRE is over. So why declare loyalty? Why wait for a magic figure - black, white or female - to embody your movement for you?
Why not build a movement?
But you've got a choice. You can build a movement of the soy-latte drinkers who know tats, startups, and hip underground bands and represent a highly visible 15% of the country and consider themselves madly progressive. Or you can accept the challenge laid out years ago by John Schaar, who wrote of the failure of the early New Left in America:
"Finally, if political education is to effective it must grow from a spirit of humility on the part of the teachers, and they must overcome the tendencies toward self-righteousness and self-pity which set the tone of youth and student politics in the 1960's. The teachers must acknowledge common origins and common burdens with the taught, stressing connection and membership, rather than distance and superiority. Only from these roots can trust and hopeful common action grow."
So here's the suggestion. Move to the suburbs. Buy a minivan. Reach out and understand the hopes and fears of the average American. Help them reclaim our country.
Can it be done?
We've had three notable electoral successes where the political walls were scaled in this country. Wellstone, Ventura, and Schwartzenegger. What can you learn from that, and what can you learn from their struggle to craft an effective platform from which to govern once elected?
There's a task for people who would build a movement.