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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Netroots Article Generates More Buzz

Ed Kilgore’s New Donkey post contributes to the discussion about Jonathan Chait’s New Republic article, adding,

…Chait’s piece, despite a few questionable assertions, is a very good introduction to the whole topic of the netroots’ role in Democratic politics….The criticism most consistently aimed at Chait is that he overemphasizes the role of a handful of high-profile bloggers in coordinating the netroots “message.” I think that’s a bit unfair, since the whole piece was about the netroots as a self-conscious political movement…Chait might have dwelled a bit more on the inherent tension between the medium’s decentralized nature and various effort to make it a unified political force; it’s a tension you see every day in the comments threads of most “activist” sites.

Kilgore, who had an earlier post on the topic at TPM Cafe, has more to say about the article as it relates to the differing agendas of the DLC and the Netroots. His article features links to posts by Eric Alterman, Matt Yglesias and MyDD‘s Chris Bowers, which help to round out the discussion. Bowers’ critique includes this point:

…while Chait is correct that the activist blogosphere is generally focused on achieving politically positive results, he seems to miss the fact that that in order to achieve politically positive results, it is necessary to engage in political strategy that is based on solid ideas. In other words, the activist blogosphere has long been concerned with improving the political tactics and strategies of Democrats and progressives, and we won’t be very effective at that if we intentionally float misinformed ideas on political tactics and strategy. Misinformed, poorly researched, and ill-conceived strategy is not helpful in creating positive political outcomes. We need solid tactics based on solid research and analysis in order to succeed in politics. In that sense, we in the activist blogosphere are very concerned with ideas, logic and truth, but we are more focused on ideas, logical conclusions, and truth as they relate to improving political strategy rather than with debating policy specifics. That isn’t propaganda–it is simply a difference between hacks and wonks.

Alterman and Yglesias’s TNR responses offer their takes on Chait’s article. Says Alterman:

Chait’s range, linguistic felicitousness, and self-confidence are quite impressive. I found myself nodding in agreement through most of the piece at points I hadn’t realized before as Chait’s argument crystallized my thinking in ways that only the best opinion journalism can do…On the other hand–and this is also endemic to the best and worst of almost all opinion pieces but particularly at TNR–Chait’s piece is actually empirically empty. Either we trust Chait or we don’t. I didn’t notice a single point of evidence in the analysis that could not be argued away….The main argument I want to have with Chait concerns what he deems to be the netroots’ purposeful intellectual insularity with regard to the idealized platonic cosmopolitanism of establishment journalists and policy wonks. If history is any guide, it just ain’t so…One could make a sound empirical argument–based on virtually every major event in the Bush presidency–that the MSM narrative was a convenient invention of self-interested parties while the analysis that permeated the netroots has been largely borne out (so far) by history.

Alterman recommends Chris Bowers Democratic Strategist article for a fuller consideration of the role of the Netroots as a political force. Yglesias takes Chait to task for mischaracterizing his views, and continues:

I have about a million things to say about Jonathan Chait’s alternatively brilliant and infuriating essay on the netroots…Meanwhile, Chait’s characterization of the netroots’ beef with The New Republic and the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) seems deliberately obtuse. “What makes such internal enemies so dangerous,” writes Chait, “is that they engage in self-criticism.” In particular, Chait–in a bit of unsubstantiated overstatement–thinks that the netroots considers “any criticism of any part of the Democratic Party or its activist base from the right” to be “treasonous.” Rather, the primary issue is that netroots activists and TNR have major, persistent, principled disagreements about foreign policy. Secondarily, a certain proportion of TNR’s published material evinces a kind of sneering dislike for liberal politicians and activists, even as TNR writers happily market themselves as liberal (but independent-minded!) pundits when such a label suits them. (Until its recent sale to CanWest, it was owned by men who seem to hate most liberals and liberalism as an ideology, which were strange attributes for a liberal publication.)…Chait provides an admirable reconstruction of the intellectual origins of the netroots movement, its love/hate relationship with the conservative movement, and the logic of its objections to the “centrist” political strategies that seemed so appealing in the 1990s–by far the best account by a true outsider that I’m aware of.

All in all, quite an interesting fray — and “The Left’s New Machine” is just getting started.

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