There is definitely a much different feel to the conference in DC than the conference in Vegas. The DC crowd is much more ethnically diverse. It has a much bigger focus on single issues (all the groups are here). There are steelworkers and other hardhats here mingling with the NAACP, NOW, and the NCDR. This is a much better representation of the diversity of the left in this country than Yearly Kos. There is a certain sense of solidarity, but there is not anything like the sense of presumed friendship and comraderie I found in Las Vegas.
The most striking thing about DC is just how toxic the environment is. I was talking to a major Washington reporter last night, and he was decrying the blogosphere. His argument was that when he started out as a reporter in the 1970’s he could call up a CEO and get them to go on the record on an important story. But, since about 1995, every company, every government office, has established an offical media department to handle inquiries. The media is suffering terribly in their ability to run down the truth because no one will tell them the truth anymore. And the point here was that reporting is ‘hard work’. Getting the truth into a story is ‘hard work’. And to do all that hard work and then get grilled by the blogosphere for putting out a sloppy, or inaccurate, or fatuous product is not fair. And then he went into the real argument. If we keep destroying the credibility of the SCLM then it will become safer and safer for the Executive Branch to blow off the media. Tony Snow can cancel televised press conferences. The President can pre-pick who gets to ask questions. And so on.
Then he launched into a fable only a Washington reporter in his early 50’s could believe. It was the old story about the courage the New York Times showed in publishing the Pentagon Papers and the Washington Post showed in pursuing the Watergate case. Those major publications had stood up to threats to their corporate holdings that could have been devastating to their stockholders. And they held the government accountable.
I pointed out to him that those were aberrations, not the rule. And then I told him that the Pentagon Papers were a perfect case for the blogosphere. Today, Daniel Ellsberg would not have to go the New York Times to get the papers published. He could have anyone publish them online. And we would all link to it, and eventually the government would be forced to respond. The MSM never did a good job of holding the executive responsible (see Iran-Contra, Whitewater, Wen Ho Lee, Lewisnky, Downing Street Minutes). Where does that put the record?
The Washington press core is just dripping with contempt for liberals and progressives. Witness Dana Milbank’s coverage of this conference.
That Reid, an antiabortion Mormon who voted to authorize force in Iraq, would be breaking bread at all with the liberal activists speaks to a different hunger. Interest groups, hoping for a win in the November midterms, have toned down their fratricidal attacks on elected Democrats. And Democratic lawmakers, emboldened by President Bush’s slump, aren’t as afraid to be seen with the lefties who make up their “base.”
“Senator Harry Reid gets it!” exulted environmentalist Jerome Ringo, the luncheon’s emcee.
The whole piece is built around the idea that lefties are radioactive. The left in this town thinks we haven’t won an election since the Civil Rights Bill was passed, and we need to face reality. Either it’s Clintonism or it’s more McGovernite time in the wilderness. We are all just some kind of spectacle, like a Grateful Dead show. They cover what we say, but they think we’re nuts.
There is a lot of work to do to make progressive politics anything more than a bad joke or an amusing nuisance in this town.