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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

American Prospect Piece on Netroots

by Scott Winship
For those who just can’t get enough of my netroots obsession, the American Prospect has published a piece by yours truly that synthesizes the various posts I’ve written here and refines the points I’ve been trying to make. Like everything in The Daily Strategist, my opinions and perspectives do not represent The Democratic Strategist, and I suspect that only one of my bosses would fully embrace the article. I still like the other two though.

7 comments on “American Prospect Piece on Netroots

  1. RB on

    I think your critique is only a partial picture of the Netroots. I am both a member of the Netroots and a member of the Democratic establishment (working on campaigns since 1996). It is not that the Netroots expects ideological purity, but it does expect Democrats to stand up on important issues. For instance, I think few people believe that the Democrats who voted for the Iraq resolution were fooled by bad intelligence or thought that Iraq was really a major threat. The problem for me is not fighting a war, but not taking a principled stand on an issue of the greatest importance for our country.
    I consider myself a hawk and in the lead up to the war I could think of many greater threats than pre-2003 Iraq. I thought (and still do) that North Korea, Iran, Syria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Al-Qaeda were all much greater threats. Unfortunately time has shown that invading Iraq was not in our interest. I just wanted a Democrat to stop cowering and say just that: Invading Iraq is not in our interest or let’s get Bin Laden.
    What is the point of having representatives if they will not risk their office and power when issues of highest national importance are being debated? What is the point of power if you do not use it to protect your country in its time of greatest need?
    The Netroots just wants politicians to fight for what is right, to be a little better. Many members of the netroots maybe Liberal, but so what, being Liberal is not a bad thing. Both parties live and die by their ideological bases. The Netroots supports conservative Democrats when that is the only viable option. That is what got Lieberman in trouble. If he were from Montana, most of us would accept the political reality and support him, but he is from Connecticut. Democrats do not have to hold their noses in Connecticut…

  2. Daniel DiRito on

    There seems to be a flawed conflation of data that is being used by many to discount the significance of this particular argument. Time and again I see the citation that contends that because a majority of Americans favor a withdrawal from Iraq (the latest data shows that a majority of Americans favor a withdrawal within a year), the netroots is therefore ideologically aligned with mainstream Americans. That conclusion ignores data on the left / right make-up of the voting public.
    The problem is that the sentiment on the war cannot be extrapolated to conclude that a majority of Americans are aligned with the netroots…it is merely a measure of disfavor with the war…but cannot be concluded to be a fundamental leftward voter shift. It may happen in the future but the current data doesn’t support that reality.
    The “Hillary Meter”, an ongoing Rasmussen survey that gauges her proximity to the center point of voter left / right sentiment demonstrates that she remains notably left of center. At the same time Clinton is seen to be a DLC centrist and that puts her too far right for the netroots. Therefore, one cannot reasonably conclude that the majority sentiment on Iraq…despite the fact that it coincides with netroot sentiment…will translate into a netroots defined Democratic voter majority.
    read more observations here:

  3. Jack B. Nimble on

    I think the netroots comparability with the larger population of the Democratic party will become apparent during the primaries.
    I predict Feingold won’t be much of a player as a candidate, contradicting his very high support in the netroots. And the eventual winner, whomever that is, will at best be a 2nd or more likely 3rd favorite of the netroots.
    This will answer a lot of questions and focus many minds.

  4. Northern Observer on

    Hello Scott,
    I read you piece in the American prospect. You are correct in your findings that netroots readers are overwellmingly liberal.
    Where I disagree with you is that this will force that Democratic Party to chose an overwhelmingly liberal Presidential candidate.
    You overestimate the ideological rigidity and underplay the pragmatic flexibility of the liberal activist. Netroots people are fully aware that the most liberal guy will not always make the cut or win out and we are willing to work with that. What we also know is that America can not get back to the center unless there are liberal positions and truly liberal candidates to compromise off of. You see, in the far right environment we are in now, you can’t get to to center by just picking the center, you need to push to the left as much as possible and then tack back to the center as little as possible just to end up a little bit less to the right then we are now.
    It’s about making the political environment safe again for liberals so that we can have sensible politics again, and we really wish centrist strategists would begin to understand this. When you shoot at the left you blow up the center.

  5. David in NY on

    I think that you want to have it both ways. You admit that the “idealogy” of the netroots has only two real components: opposition to the Iraq war and anti-corporatist populism. Everything else is optional, depending on the situation (even reproductive freedom; see Casey in PA). While you criticize “liberalism” as being unpopular, you don’t really address whether the populist anti-war position also unpopular.
    If polls give any hint, I think you are wrong, and the netroots idealogy is broadly popular. People don’t like the war and they don’t like legislation that amounts to corporate-friendly give-aways. Tell me, why isn’t that a winning position?

  6. Jeff Hauser on

    Aren’t you ignoring, in your piece, that the race in question occurs in CT?
    Beyond the fact that there is no sillier model than the median voter one… shouldn’t liberals have different standards re ideology on the basis of the state in question?
    Lieberman is to the right of his Republican predecessor; that’s… odd, esp. in a state that has become more Dem in Presidential elections since 1988, not less.
    Additionally — where was the analogue GOP anguish re PA 2004?

  7. Chuck Smith on

    Scott –
    From reading your article, I think it would be useful to distinguish between two groups: (1) the political junkies that read and comment at liberal weblogs; and (2) those widely read hosts of liberal weblogs that are also active in Democratic political circles.
    As to the former, they are what they are, and the rise of the net has probably only broadened the awareness of, and ability to communicate with, each other. You need to mobilize them to vote for you in elections but, as a candidate, you may not want to emphasize every one of their preferences (hence, no Democratic running on a pro-conscientous objector platform). Nothing new there.
    Given their wonkishness, you correctly assess that they would much rather engage in a debate over the merits of a particular issue (e.g. universal health care) and formulate a strategy to successfully advance that issue. Conversely, they tend to be critical of unprincipled pandering (see H. Clinton – flagburning).
    Their loyalty to the Democratic Party relies on the Party being able to advance these interests. When Party leaders are seen as compromising liberal interests, disappointment and criticism will ensue. In this regard, they are no different than so-called centrist Democrats (would the New Republic become dovish in the Middle East if polls showed it was crucial to a 2008 victory?).
    Similarly, free-market conservatives and values conservatives seem to speak out when they feel elected Republicans are ignoring them, Reagan’s commandment notwithstanding.
    It really seems you are putting forth an argument to marginalize the second group – the bloggers becoming influential in Democratic political circles. Maybe you are right that they should not be managing campaign strategy. However, they are still going to be making their arguments for thousands and thousands to see. So, you are still going to have to roll up your sleeves and engage them.


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