It's Not a Class War, it's a New Political Dynamic
And it's a good one: new-school, blog and internet enabled bottom-up public opinion as opposed to the old-school top-down kind.
Chris Bowers (via CD), in an admirably honest and self-conscious post, agonizes over a phenomenon I wrote about six months ago in Beltway Democrats, Liberal Elitists and the Rabble.
The anger is also coming from a newfound class stratification within the online world itself. Many bloggers, myself included, who were once total outsiders in the progressive movement have definitely leapfrogged a few class levels within the progressive movement. Markos is no longer just someone with a blog who regularly joins in the comments sections to his posts. Now, he is a media mogul with an audience approaching one million readers per day. He can raise tens of thousands of dollars for candidates. He can make news with a single blog post. He can call a Senator and have the call returned by that Senator, not by a form letter photocopied by a staffer. And I shouldn't single out Markos on this front either. A lot of us, myself included, now have a lot more access and power than we ever imagined we would.
As Spider Man's Uncle once said: "with great power comes great responsibility". And in the case of "upper middle-class bloggers", with great power comes the temptation to enforce political discipline.
Bowers cites the "activist working class" uproar over Paul Hackett getting yanked from the Ohio primary by the Beltway ruling class. But the same dynamic has also played itself out recently over the Alito confirmation and now with the Feingold censure resolution.
The overall reaction by the upper middle class bloggers has been: "shush little commenters and B-list bloggers, don't criticise the Democratic Party". Digby told us to "learn how to lose well" when the Dems reneged on their promise to protect the American Uterus.
The folks at MyDD told us that Sherrod Brown is very progressive so we shouldn't be upset that the Beltway made the choice for us instead of leaving it up to the voters in a primary election. Not so much over censure, but I sense a squeamishness about really taking to task the Senate Democrats for not supporting a measure supported by 70% of Democratic voters.
I think I know where they're coming from: "no Dem on Dem violence", "no circular firing squads" all originate from the poisonous Shit Sandwich meme. If blogs really do have the influence on public opinion we think they have, criticising Democrat Politicians for their ubiquitous failures could have a serious negative inpact on the next elections. This runs contrary to the Prime Shitsandwich Directive: elect a Democratic majority at all costs, it's the only way to save America from continued RepublicoFascist rule.
This is where the internal conflict arises: progressive bloggingâ€™s driving principle is calling things as you see them. Blogs are about free expression not influenced by money or power; about honest, personal assessments of the â€œreality-basedâ€ facts, researched and cross-referenced in the spare time we do not have or could better spend.
But if the Shit Sandwich construct is true, perhaps progressive bloggers should abandon their selfish "idealism" and adopt a more "pragmatic" approach: never, ever criticise Democrat Politicians. Bloggers should use their influence to unquestioningly prop up the party. We should emulate the Right's top-down structure and parrot the Party's blast-fax talking points. After all, this has resulted in success for the GOP and the Bushies.
A top-down Progressive political structure is not only wrong and anti-democratic, it will never work. Progressive bloggers are too well-informed. The countless hours we have wasted on researching facts has convinced us that what we believe in is right and true. The kind of politics and policies we support are not some pie in the sky hippie fantasies. Getting out of the business of Imperial Conquest, opposing the War on Women, helping out people in need rather than Corporate behemoths, Universal Health care, etc. are all based in common sense and basic moral values.
Up until the emergence of blogs and the netroots, public opinion in this country has been a top-down operation. Consent of the public is "manufactured" as Noam Chomsky put it a long time ago. Politicians decided what policies they wanted to enact and found ways of persuading the voters to support them. But the instant, easy feedback mechanisms of the internets are throwing a monkey wrench into this machine.
The same applies to journalism and the media. As the Washington Post is discovering, the old-school idea that being responsive to the readership means trotting out an ombudsman whose job is to explain to the readers that they are wrong doesn't work anymore.
It also applies to business and marketing. At an eMarketing presentation I attended recently, there was a case study of a company whose web site received repeated customer requests for a line of products they did not carry. The company responded by opening a whole new website to sell those products and their profits soared.
Around the world and back to politics: bloggers, the netroots and activists are the customer. We are the people. While we may not represent all the people, our opinions are way closer to real public sentiment than what Beltway consultants and David Brooks say "most Americans" think.
Politicians who respond to public sentiment as expressed by the activist base can only be successful. The idea that we are a fringe, extremist movement is demolished by recent polls showing that a majority of Americans support censuring the President over breaking the law, support getting out of the bloody mess in Iraq and support a woman's right to control her own body.
It has been said that for Democrat Politicians to adopt policies and positions proposed by the progressive roots is "political suicide". The exact opposite is true. Doesn't it make sense that a politician who adopts positions supported by a majority of voters will win elections?
I think the solution to Chris Bowers' quandary is for Big Dog bloggers to continue to be the conduit for bottom-up public opinion rather than succumb to the temptation of being top-down enforcers for Dem politicians. Believe, as you once did, that the internet and blogs can lead to a more representative Democracy and do not succumb to the Beltway Dem's self-interested Shit Sandwich fearmongering.
Disclaimer: this is NOT about third parties or Darth Nader or any of that. This is about using the influential power of the netroots as leverage to force the Democratic party to be responsive to voters and to do the right thing.