It seems none of the blogging communities are immune from some serious infighting. Daily Kos has been struggling with clarification of their rules and defining the parameters of acceptable discourse. This has now erupted into an ugly mess with Hunter becoming so frustrated that he has threatened to call it quits.
“I think at long last I finally may just be done with this. Have a ball, and I sincerely hope that the new Daily Kos plan of concocting diaried slide shows for each other about your own inherent genius has the world impact you presume it will have.”
For background on how this all got started you can look at Jerome a Paris’s latest diary. Over on MyDD you see a different type of infighting. This time it is between front-pagers. As Chris Bowers pushes a challenge to DLC hero Ellen Tauscher he has to put up with disparaging remarks from Jerome Armstrong.
“I pretty much agree, what you are looking at with “Working For Us” is the raising and spending of $1M over a votes that didn’t happen this cycle, but the last or the last before. Wasted time, money and effort imo. It’s a vanity primary challenge.”
I don’t want to get into the unwritten rules between front-pagers. But you’ve got a problem when one front-pager publicly calls another’s efforts ‘vain’ and ‘wasted time’.
And it’s not just the big sites that are having community problems. This site and My Left Wing have also been struggling to avoid infighting. I’ll leave MLW out of this discussion for a couple of reasons. First, I’m really not familiar with what goes on over there, and second, the site has never been explicitly about getting Democrats elected. And that is the root of the problem that this site and the others are facing. We had a goal of getting Democrats elected and we succeeded. So, now what?
Never mind the unavoidable splintering of groups into cliques that support Obama or Edwards or Clinton or Richardson or whomever. There is something deeper going on. To understand it you have to understand why we were trying to get Democrats elected in the first place.
Let’s start where we have the broadest amount of agreement. Almost everyone involved in community blogging has been opposed to the war in Iraq. And almost everyone has been opposed to torture, the more extreme measures of Patriot Act, as well as warrantless wiretapping, and the suspension of habeas corpus. To generalize: we oppose the war and we oppose the executive power grab. Electing Democratic majorities was seen by most (correctly in my view) as the most effective way to end the war and restrain the executive branch.
To be sure, individuals have all kinds of other reasons to oppose the Bush administration and to support a more left-wing Congress. There is no need to itemize them, as they run the spectrum from women’s rights to education to environmentalism to voter’s rights to gay rights to urban issues and so on. Many activists would be dedicating their time and energy to these important issues even under a Democratic presidency or a more traditional Republican one.
Now that the Democrats control Congress, we all want to see some progress on issues of concern to us, but we especially want to see progress on ending the war and checking the executive branch. And there is frustration that the Democrats are not more united and are not more effective. That’s understandable.
But there is a deeper problem. For many, there was nothing particularly troubling about American politics under the Clinton administration. If we could just elect a Democrat to the Presidency and maintain our Congressional majorities, then we could go back to our lives and put our trust back in the government. This is a mindset that sees our current problems as almost exclusively stemming from the Bush administration.
But many of us have learned deeper lessons. It isn’t enough to go back to Clinton’s policies and Clinton’s Democratic Party. If nothing else, Clinton’s America carried the seeds for Bushism within it. We can’t go back to Clintonism unless we also destroy the seeds of Bushism. And those seeds involve a number of things that blogs and blogging communities are designed to address. Number one on the list is the media. It was the rise of right-wing media, think-tanks, and the media consolidation in the 1990’s that gave rise to Bushism. Blogs are a partial corrective for this. We provide a skeptical commentary on the media and reach an increasing number of Americans.
The media is not the only culprit in the rise of Bushism. Another problem has been the unexamined assumptions of American foreign policy. And these assumptions were as prevalent in the Clinton White House as they are in the Bush White House. We need to reconsider our role in the world, especially in the Middle East. And, from this standpoint, there is a real rift in the netroots. It is well spelled out in the dispute between Hunter and Jerome a Paris. It informed the dispute here between military families and peace activists. And it has an enormous role in the fight between the netroots and the DLC and outfits like The New Republic. It would be too simplistic to define it as a dispute between isolationists and interventionists. But you can think about it that way.
Many Democrats are concerned that opposition to the Iraq War will lead to a collapse of support for a wider array of America’s global roles and responsibilities. But a larger group of Democrats actually yearns for a reassessment of America’s roles and responsibilities and wants to use the failure of the Iraq War as a stepping stone to that reassessment. Count me among this latter group.
We’re often labeled as the ‘Blame America First’ crowd, but that is inaccurate. I have had my fights with members here that I do consider to be inclined to blame America first. I think about it a different way. I tend to think of it along the lines of Jesus’ admonition, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” It’s not that America is to blame for the state of the world. But we need to have an honest appreciation of our own shortcomings, our own history, our own myths, our own policies.
For example, Clinton’s administration hyped the threat from Saddam Hussein because they needed to maintain support for the containment policy they inherited from the first Bush administration. The second Bush administration was then able to point to falsehoods told by Clinton to justify their own falsehoods. We can’t break the cycle of disinformation until we realize that Clinton lied to us too.
For many of us, and I know I can include Chris Bowers in this group, the election of a Democratic congress is only a starting point. At root, we are trying to challenge the broader foreign policy consensus in Washington. We’re trying to challenge the anti-universal health care consensus. We’re trying to tear down some of the myths that sustain an imperial foreign policy and a top-down domestic policy. To do that we have to constantly challenge the Democrats not to use tired talking points that reinforce those myths about our nation and about the left. We have to challenge Democrats like Joe Lieberman and Ellen Tauscher that use right-wing memes and support anti-progressive policies. The idea is to take over one of the two major political parties, rather than start a new one.
It’s a lonely task that invites lots of cynical sniping from those on the left that see working within the Democratic Party as a sell-out, or as hopeless, or as merely a way to gain power and money for ourselves. But the problem is that not everyone is innocent of those charges.
What does it mean to call a primary challenge to Ellen Tauscher a vain waste of time in the context of our larger goals? Why would we not challenge a DLC Democrat that opposed everything we stand for and everything we are trying to accomplish?
As I see it, Daily Kos and Jerome Armstrong have not articulated a goal that has any synergy with my goals. We still have a huge amount of common interests. But I am primarily interested in shifting the debate to the left, while they seem to be interested in boxing in the netroots into traditionally acceptable parameters of debate.
I don’t think that will do. It might bring us a result that they don’t want (a Hillary presidency), but it won’t fundamentally alter the assumptions and myths that made both Bushism and the invasion of Iraq possible. Are we going to gain something from Iraq or are we just going to end it so we fight another war on another day?
To summarize: goal one was to elect a Democratic congress. Goal two is to turn the Democratic Party into a progressive party. That means primaries. That means changing what is considered as the political fringe…which means changing the political center. The fight against Republicans required a lot of Democratic unity. But those days are over now. Now the battle is for the soul of the Democratic Party. And that means that it is the furthest thing from a waste of time to take on Ellen Tauscher and oppose Hillary Clinton.
Anyone that doesn’t get that does seem to be missing the point, or selling out.