Jonathan Chait of the New Republic expresses his idea of the netroots as a centralized leftist movement trying to shift the currently-centrist Democratic Party to the left. To do this, he says, the netroots are adopting the techniques of fierce Republican loyalists such as Rush Limbaugh and Grover Norquist. Although much of what he says is true, the basic idea that the netroots are trying to imitate the Republican noise machine is a phantasy.
To begin with, Chait suggests that Markos Moulitsas Zuniga (DailyKOS), Duncan Black (Atrios), Jerome Armstrong and Matt Stoller (both at MyDD) run the netroots. These people, indeed, have considerable influence, as Chait says. But they control nobody and they would be the first to say so.
I consider myself a member of the netroots and I know that nobody "runs" it. Nobody tells me what to write about and I do not tell anybody else what to write about. The whole concept of a centralized netroots is ridiculous. On the Internet all bloggers are free to do as they wish. This is the beauty of the Internet: this is why those in power fear it.
Chait says that the netroots have watched with envy as the Republicans built a huge propaganda machine that enabled them to win elections. So the netroots want to do the same:
The netroots look upon this great right-wing apparatus with unconcealed envy.
Another point of commonality between the netroots and the conservative movement is the belief that moderation is a kind of social malady brought about by residence within the Beltway. Just as the Goldwaterites reserved their strongest contempt for the moderates who controlled the GOP, the netroots are at their most single-minded in their opposition to the moderates who they believe control the Democratic Party.
Naturally, Democrats want an infrastructure to help them win elections. But the netroots do not want to imitate the smearing and the character-assassination techniques perfected by the Republican noise machine. Democrats - at least most of them - want to present the Democratic case in an honorable but effective way.
Jonah Goldberg read Chait's opus and pounced. After telling us that the Republican noise machine is not that effective in winning, he uses Chait's point that the netroots are imitating the centralized bombastic approach of the Republicans to stomp on Democrats:
Netrooters want it both ways. The GOP is evil and intellectually bankrupt because it doesn't care about anything but winning. But it would be the greatest thing in the world if Democrats could be just like Republicans!
That doesn't sound like a winning strategy to me.
Nor does it sound like a winning strategy to me. However, this is not what the netroots are about. Jonathan Chait got it wrong. The netroots are definitely to the left of the DLC. This causes them to argue with DLC members about legislation. But we, the netroots, know that the DLC is part of the Democratic Party and we work together with them on strategy. We are on the same side.
Instead of spinning phantasies about the netroots, Chait, as well as Goldberg, should pay more attention to what the netroots are saying.
Posted by Paul Siegel at May 8, 2007 6:02 PM
Showing my ignorance: What is a netroot(s)?
My Problem witht he netroots movement is the accountability factor…..There’s a lot of people in this world that take the written word as truth yet.. so they fail to fact check things (on both sides). Also since its not face to face, or voice but merely typed words, many things get twisted and then misquoted or the link back and refer to each other to attpempt more credibility. Also since its the net, a person may be more bold to say things that they wouldn’t dream of under normal circumstances. (double edged sword there)
The net really has no personal responcibility, many blogs and such persons won’t even use their names, so who knows if the person posting has a PHD as they say or if they are a 15 year old ranting?
The net is still a reletively new item though, and its going thru its growing pains, there’s really only been few elections since the net has hit mainstream (for most people dialing up on my old C-64 on a 2400 baud modem surfing bulitin boards isn’t the norm), really since 2000 the net has exploded in usage, in both good and bad ways. there are so many “new” users who belive whatever they see sicne there is a webpage about it, so it “must” be true.
The Republican movement focused on controlling facts, the Democrat’s movement focused on decentralizing the distribution of the facts.
I think that’s the most important element. The Republican strategy is a generation behind, focused on top down distribution and setting of norms, and designed for a medium where those at the top could establish what was fact and what was not.
The Democratic strategy is much more of an emergent phenomena, much more truly grassroots. The benefits of this is that the system takes advantage of individual expertise and knowledge. It also means that Democratic politicians catch colds when we get the sniffles. We don’t have Reagan’s 11th commandment weighing us down. Chait misses the crucial point that Democrats, while generally more supportive of fellow Democrats in uncertain times, set up the netroots and their policy push in spite of what the original power structure wanted.
Now, that could all change, but the essential core of all this is that the media for Democrats works effectively in both directions, and perhaps even more importantly, works laterally among the party members and ideological fellow travellers.
What this also means is that the structure is going to become far more difficult to control. It’s going to be imperative for candidates, speechwriteres and others to be much better about fact-checking and honesty between the people and the candidates.
Stephen, good comment.
Let me add that the netroots reflects a reality that the DLC Dems (aka GOP lite) and the GOP would love to be able to ignore, yet increasingly can’t:
1. That a great many people in this country are much farther to the left than they are.
2. That we’re keeping an eye on their rhetoric and contrasting it with what they actually do with their votes.
3. That we sick of ineffective government that benefits the wealthy and the corporations, and virtually ignores the needs of the people who pay their salaries.
The Netroots reflects an intelligent democracy in action — and that doesn’t seem to suit some of these leaders very well.
You are right. We now have the opportunity for more direct democracy. We, however, need to worry more about the accuracy of facts.
Because there are so many people on the Internet, each with a different point of view, fact checking can be easy. All we must do is check what we find out on one site with what another says.
I think it’s important that we be honest, that we keep our candidates clean, that we don’t turn the netroots into the kind of self-perpetuating ideological bubble that the Republicans turned their media into.
It’s not just a partisan point that I’m making when I say that about the Republicans. It’s my assessment of what happened with the Conservative revolution. If we get to the point that politics and political self-preservation matters more than the truth, we’ll be setting ourselves up to lose all that we have gained, and perhaps our souls and clear consciences as well.
Political parties can get into these orbits around their own perpetuation and agendas, and forget to fulfill the needs that people ask government to fulfill. When that happens, our good ideas are discredited, and our bad ideas become the bane of our lives.
There is a real world out their, and we should pride ourselves on being able to face it and understand it. The alternative is to wrap ourselves in a self-destructive fantasy world.
Sandra Davidson - Thank you -
The grassroots of the Internet groups.
Paul Siegel- I can see the validity of your point - in particular the actual knowledge on the Internet, verses the passions of it found on it.