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September 26, 2007 12:32 AM UTC

What the Netroots doesn't want you to know.

  • 7 Comments
  • by: Democracy???

The New York Times
September 25, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
The Center Holds
By DAVID BROOKS

In the beginning of August, liberal bloggers met at the YearlyKos convention while centrist Democrats met at the Democratic Leadership Council’s National Conversation. Almost every Democratic presidential candidate attended YearlyKos, and none visited the D.L.C.

At the time, that seemed a sign that the left was gaining the upper hand in its perpetual struggle with the center over the soul of the Democratic Party. But now it’s clear that was only cosmetic.

Now it’s evident that if you want to understand the future of the Democratic Party you can learn almost nothing from the bloggers, billionaires and activists on the left who make up the “netroots.” You can learn most of what you need to know by paying attention to two different groups – high school educated women in the Midwest, and the old Clinton establishment in Washington.

In the first place, the netroots candidates are losing. In the various polls on the Daily Kos Web site, John Edwards, Barack Obama and even Al Gore crush Hillary Clinton, who limps in with 2 percent to 10 percent of the vote.

Moguls like David Geffen have fled for Obama. But the party as a whole is going the other way. Hillary Clinton has established a commanding lead.

Second, Clinton is drawing her support from the other demographic end of the party. As the journalist Ron Brownstein and others have noted, Democratic primary contests follow a general pattern. There are a few candidates who represent the affluent, educated intelligentsia (Eugene McCarthy, Bill Bradley) and they usually end up getting beaten by the candidate of the less educated, lower middle class.

That’s what’s happening again. Obama and Edwards get most of their support from the educated, affluent liberals. According to Gallup polls, Obama garners 33 percent support from Democratic college graduates, 28 percent from those with some college and only 19 percent with a high school degree or less. Hillary Clinton’s core support, on the other hand, comes from those with less education and less income – more Harry Truman than Howard Dean.

Third, Clinton has established this lead by repudiating the netroots theory of politics. As the journalist Matt Bai makes clear in his superb book, “The Argument,” the netroots emerged in part in rebellion against Clintonian politics. They wanted bold colors and slashing attacks. They didn’t want their politicians catering to what Markos Moulitsas Zúniga of the Daily Kos calls “the mythical middle.”

But Clinton has relied on Mark Penn, the epitome of the sort of consultant the netroots reject, and Penn’s approach has been entirely vindicated by the results so far.

In a series of D.L.C. memos with titles like “The Decisive Center,” Penn has preached that while Republicans can win by appealing only to conservatives, Democrats must appeal to centrists as well as liberals. In his new book, “Microtrends,” he casts a caustic eye on the elites and mega-donors of both parties who are out of touch with average voter concerns.

Fourth, the netroots are losing the policy battles. As Matt Bai’s reporting also suggests, the netroots have not been able to turn their passion and animus into a positive policy agenda. Democratic domestic policy is now being driven by old Clinton hands like Gene Sperling and Bruce Reed.

And while Clinton may not go out of her way to offend the MoveOn types, on her TV rounds on Sunday she made it obvious that she’s not singing their tune.

On “This Week With George Stephanopoulos,” Clinton could have vowed to vacate Iraq. Instead, she delivered hawkish mini-speeches that few Republicans would object to. She listed a series of threats and interests in the region and made it clear that she’d be willing to keep U.S. troops there to handle them.

The fact is, many Democratic politicians privately detest the netroots’ self-righteousness and bullying. They also know their party has a historic opportunity to pick up disaffected Republicans and moderates, so long as they don’t blow it by drifting into cuckoo land. They also know that a Democratic president is going to face challenges from Iran and elsewhere that are going to require hard-line, hawkish responses.

Finally, these Democrats understand their victory formula is not brain surgery. You have to be moderate on social issues, activist but not statist on domestic issues and hawkish on foreign policy. This time they’re not going to self-destructively deviate from that.

Both liberals and Republicans have an interest in exaggerating the netroots’ influence, but in reality that influence is surprisingly marginal, even among candidates for whom you’d think it would be strong.

Several weeks ago, I asked John Edwards what the YearlyKos event was like. He couldn’t remember which event I was talking about, and looked over to an aide for help.

What a great article.  I hope I get some crazy responses by those far lefties out there like Pacified or TBTH.  I’d post this on SquareState but it’d probably get taken down.

Comments

7 thoughts on “What the Netroots doesn’t want you to know.

  1. I’d post this on SquareState but it’d probably get taken down.

    Yeah, except I think that’s never happened.

    Go Google “fair use” and do some reading.  Posting an entire Op-Ed article from the NYT intact is a violation of copyright.

  2. Brooks spends endless hours mis-characterizing the Netroots.  If you want reaction, I’d suggest starting with Miss Laura’s response on dKos which points out (a) that Brooks couldn’t even accurately portray the site’s stance on finance reform and (b) that Brooks needed to rely on himself and one other anti-Netroots pundit for his sources in order to write the piece.

    Beyond that, if you want my personal opinion, my guess is that Brooks is just feeling the possibility of becoming obsoleted by people who aren’t so stuck in the Beltway mindset that they can’t accurately analyze the changing political landscape.

  3. The internet is a medium.
    It is like using a telephone or broadcasting a television show. It isn’t a single voting bloc that has opinions or candidates. In my opinion, to say the ‘netroots candidates’ are not winning is a bit like saying ‘telephone users’ candidates are not winning.

    Besides, the ‘Left’ is a very bottom up group in any context, and it is a little inaccurate to treat the opinions of its many members as having any sort of consensus on anything like an election. That is why we each have our own vote.

    Clearly there is a fading but significant demographic difference between computer users and those that are not computer users. So will the frequent computer users mirror the preferences of the entire electorate? No.

    By the same measure, the polls also show that the candidates of choice of Republican voters are also ‘losing’. By the reasoning in this article, that may be proof that Republicans are inconsequential to the national political debate as well.

    But in the end, it is actually very simple. If you believe that the influence of the internet is negligible, then keep reading the papers and stop posting here, and encourage your candidates to stay off the internet. I won’t stop you.

    Meanwhile, I will continue to explore what leverage there maybe in new fangled devices like the internet, the telephone, and the printing press.

  4. There is a disconnect between the “netroots” and the party establishment.  But a decade or more ago, there was also a disconnect between the far right and the mainstream Republican party.  We see what has happened since then.

    As time goes on, the far left will figure out where their true influence lies.  I imagine the moderates in the party will win out now, but a few years down the road will probably be a different story.

    The “victory formula” is pretty clear.  Repubs knew that 14 years ago and guess what…it worked.  You appeal to the middle of American and guess what…people vote for you and you win elections.  At the end of the day, that’s what this is all about.

  5. from Greenwald:

    David Brooks and the deceitful tactics of the Beltway pundit

    As I’ve noted many times before, virtually every column David Brooks writes is grounded in one of two highly misleading tactics and, on special occasions, like today, are grounded in both. That’s all there is to him. He just re-cycles these same two themes over and over in different forms.

    The first tactic is merely the most commonplace conceit of the standard Beltway pundit: Brooks takes whatever opinions he happens to hold on a topic, and then — without citing a single piece of evidence — repeatedly asserts that “most Americans” hold this view, and then bases his entire “argument” on this premise. Thus, the only way for Democrats to have any hope of winning elections is to repudiate their radical, rabid Leftist base and instead follow Brooks’ beliefs, because that is “centrism.” This is actually a defining belief of the Beltway pundit, and it is as intellectually corrupt as an argument gets.

    There is now this new invention called “polling data” which reveal what “most Americans” actually think about virtually any topic. Yet when Beltway pundits claim that “most Americans” think X (and, invariably, X = “the opinion of the Beltway pundit” which = “conventional Beltway wisdom”), they rarely cite polls because those polls virtually always contradict what they are claiming about what “most Americans” think.

    Instead, Beltway pundits believe that they are representative of, anointed spokespeople for, the Average Real American, and thus, whatever the pundit’s belief is about an issue is — in their insular, self-loving minds — a far more reliable indicator of what “Americans believe” than something as tawdry as polling data. Nobody uses this manipulative tactic more than David Brooks.

    The other Brooks tactic is also a defining feature among pundits and a central prong in the Washington Establishment’s orthodoxies. No matter what polls or elections show, Brooks’ overriding goal is to “prove” that “most Americans” favor a “hawkish” foreign policy whereby America will rule the world by military force, most importantly in the Middle East. As he put it earlier this year, citing absolutely nothing (as always):

    Americans are having a debate bout how to proceed in Iraq, but we are not having a strategic debate about retracting American power and influence . . . .

    What’s happening today is just another chapter in that long expansionist story. . . . . they don’t question the need for America to play a leading role. They take it for granted that the U.S. is going to be in the Middle East for a long time to come. . . .

    The hegemon will change. The hegemon will do more negotiating. But the hegemon will live.

    In the Beltway pundit world, there is never any Republican/Democratic or liberal/conservative split allowed on this issue. According to Brooks’ most common claim, that the U.S. will continue to rule the world by military force is an unchallengeable belief spanning both parties, one that is so widely accepted that it is even beyond the reach of what can be debated.

    Hence, the warmongering principles of Brooks and his former employer, The Weekly Standard, not only endure regardless of changes in party control, but they can never even be subject to examination in the mainstream. And that is the standard Beltway belief — to be Serious, one must affirm America’s right to rule the world by force. The only ones who reject that view are the Unserious — the radical Leftist bloggers and, increasingly, the “isolationist” weirdos on the Right.

    The reality is that Brooks’ claims in this regard are completely, demonstrably false: huge (and increasing) numbers of Americans believe we are far too militaristic and involved in trying to rule the world. But Brooks, like most Beltway pundits, cares only about enforcing Beltway orthodoxies, no matter how unpopular, not about the facts.

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