Two political bloggers crash and trash the Democratic Party
By Tim Redmond
Markos Moulitsas Zuniga is not an imposing person. When I met him earlier this year in a Berkeley restaurant, he was polite, friendly, and almost soft-spoken, not the sort you would picture as a firebrand screaming from a soapbox in the town square or a warrior assaulting enemy headquarters with a battle-ax.
But soapboxes are different today, and modern wars, particularly political wars, are not fought with blunt instruments. And Moulitsas, who runs the world's largest political blog, DailyKos.com, is one of the leaders of a political revolution within the Democratic Party. So is Jerome Armstrong, founder of MyDD.com and the person who coined netroots to describe how the online world is transforming American politics.
Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics isn't primarily a book about blogs, and it doesn't fall into the self-indulgent trap of arguing that the "blogosphere" is so important that the people on the inside are about to take over the world (and all the rest of us in the old print media are dinosaurs). As Armstrong and Moulitsas write in their introduction, "blogging is simply the medium." The two are political activists and political writers, and their book is largely a dissection of what's wrong with the Democratic Party in 2006.
They aren't alone in addressing that question, and their answer isn't altogether new. I don't entirely agree with their analysis or prescription, either. But they make a sound, well-reasoned case, and unlike so many dense, deadly political-science books, Crashing the Gate is an enjoyable read. It's also a clear signal that a new generation of activists smart, organized, tech-savvy, and well-funded is sick and tired of the nonsense that has passed for political wisdom in the party for years, and they're prepared to do something about it.
The bloggers' diagnosis of what's wrong with the Democratic Party goes beyond typical discussions of messaging, money, and leaders. Armstrong and Moulitsas argue that the power of single-issue groups and litmus-test requirements has made it almost impossible for Democrats to function as a majority party.
The two men are particularly critical of the abortion-rights movement, and in some ways their strategic analysis is accurate. Which is why my avowedly pro-choice friends in Pennsylvania support the antichoice Democrat Bob Casey (blasted by some women's groups) over right-wing-nut incumbent Rick Santorum in the crucial Senate race this year: They know that if the Democrats control the Senate, Casey's personal position won't matter as much.
But I hear this "end-the-litmus-test" argument all the time in San Francisco, where it tends to revolve around issues like same-sex marriage and transgender rights. Most of the people who make the argument say that keeping the GOP out of power is so important that certain "scary" kinds of issues should be kept in the closet; most of the people who say that also tend to be straight.
Yes, a candidate who openly supports same-sex marriage will never win in some states and some districts, but there's a long-term value in raising and talking about the issue. If progressives are going to take over the Democratic Party, it won't be enough just to hold power and be better than the bad guys. They need to be willing to stand up for justice, even when it's not convenient.
But my disagreements aren't the real point here. The wonderful thing about MyDD and DailyKos is that this kind of debate goes on all day and all night. In that sense, their book is an extension of their blogs: It's designed to get the argument going again, to challenge some long-held assumptions, and to set the scene for a new era in electoral politics. And it can't come too soon. *
CRASHING THE GATE: NETROOTS, GRASSROOTS, AND THE RISE OF PEOPLE-POWERED POLITICS
By Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas Zuniga