September 24, 2006


The Netroots Hit Their Limits: Liberal online activists are finding you can't move elections with just modems and IM (PERRY BACON JR., 9/24/06, TIME)

You've heard the story: the Netroots, the Democratic Party's equivalent of a punk garage band—edgy, loud and antiauthoritarian—are suddenly on the verge of the big time. The gang of liberal bloggers and online activists who helped raise millions of dollars for Howard Dean's presidential campaign two years ago are now said to be Democratic kingmakers. Last month in Connecticut, they fanned anti-incumbent and antiwar flames and were widely credited with the primary defeat of Senator Joe Lieberman, leading him to run as an independent. After they relentlessly derided Senator Hillary Clinton as calculating, overly cautious and lacking true liberal bona fides, she hired an adviser just to deal with them and even demanded that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld resign. Coincidence? Moderate Democrats say it with remorse, conservatives with glee, but the conventional wisdom is bipartisan: progressive bloggers are pushing the Democratic Party so far to the left that it will have no chance of capturing the presidency in 2008.

Or maybe the Netroots aren't all that. Make no mistake, these online activists are having a profound impact on the Democrats and on politics in general. But the phenomenon is in its infancy. Compared with established interest groups like organized labor and conservative Christians, the Netroots play a small role in national politics. Even their most ardent players now recognize that you can't create a true movement using nothing but modems and instant messaging. "The Netroots cannot elect someone alone," says Matt Stoller, a blogger at the popular group site MyDD. [...]

No one recognizes the Netroots' limits more than the activists themselves, which is why they are changing their tactics. First of all, they're becoming pragmatic about policy goals. There's little demand from the Netroots for Democrats to support gay marriage, for example, even though 91% of the people who gave money to or worked on Dean's campaign back it, according to a 2005 Pew poll. "We're not asking anyone to commit political suicide," says Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn. If the Democrats win the House, it will be on the strength of moderate candidates in places like Indiana, many of whom don't support one of MoveOn's top priorities, a timetable for withdrawal of troops from Iraq. And the bloggers are actively supporting and giving money to many of these more centrist candidates. Virginia Senate candidate Jim Webb was encouraged to run and has received more than $280,000 from the Netroots, even though he served in the Reagan Administration as Navy Secretary and was a Republican until recently.

If they're willing to ditch social issues and appeasement in order to win elections, why not just support Joe Lieberman in the first place?

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 24, 2006 10:34 AM

Because, once their candidate wins, they will demand their pound of flesh.

Posted by: sam at September 24, 2006 10:55 AM

There's never been a problem with the Netroots types knowing what to say when they're doing a formal interview. The problem has been when they caught being themselves in their more candid moments combining with the explosion of information sources that no longer allows folks at Time or the other big media outlets to edit out the Netroots' most self-destrucitve words and deeds to keep those folks from alienating the main block of voters.

Posted by: John at September 24, 2006 11:14 AM

"antiauthoritarian"? Don't make me laugh. They're antiauthoritarian like Lenin was antiauthoritarian, against those in power at the moment, all in favor of their own authority come the revolution.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at September 24, 2006 11:23 AM

OJ-- Because it's not about substance, it's about style.

Posted by: Timothy at September 24, 2006 2:20 PM

It's their party now - they bought it, right?

If the GOP gains in the Senate, and holds about even in the House, then perhaps they will be asked to let go. Perhaps. Or perhaps they will be co-opted by John Edwards.

But things won't be the same going into 2008. If the Dems don't win this election, then Carville's pronouncement of doom will be right on target, and what will the nutroots do for a fallback position? Draft Hugo Chavez?

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 24, 2006 6:06 PM