It’s funny because I haven’t talked to Chris Bowers in a couple of weeks but we seem to be, quite independently of each other, coming to a lot of similar conclusions . Today, Chris takes a look at Barack Obama’s uptick in the polls and finds it is mostly explained by a combination of increased name recognition and an improvement in his numbers among African-Americans.
He then goes on to speculate about a potential coalition between the African-American community and the ‘old Dean movement’ which he uses interchangeably with ‘the Netroots’. The Netroots is really a small but influential subset of the ‘old Dean movement’. And older organizations, like moveon.org are really part of this coalition as well.
Between November 2004 and November 2006, this ‘old Dean movement’ was able to unite in opposition to the monolithic power of the Republicans. We largely accepted whatever candidates Emanuel and Schumer dished up for us and went to bat for them. That doesn’t mean that we didn’t have little successes, like beating out Schumer’s pick for the Montana Senate race or defeating Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut primary. And it didn’t mean that strong-arm tactics in the Ohio and Pennsylvania primaries, and in a number of house races (Cegelis, McNerney) went unnoticed. They certainly were noticed, and deeply resented. But until the victories of November 2006, we had enough common cause to keep us moving largely together.
All along the way, though, we suffered indignities at the hands of people from The New Republic, ‘left-leaning’ columnists at the Washington Post, New York Times, Time, Newsweek, and elsewhere. We were disparaged by Clinonistas like Begala and Carville on a constant basis. The argument was consistent. The Netroots was too stridenty anti-war and populist and would do real damage to the Democrats if allowed to have too much influence.
For this reason, our huge successes in November were quickly spun as the doing of Rahm Emanuel and Chuck Schumer alone. They chose to focus on the few social conservatives that were elected in Indiana or North Carolina, rather than our sweep of New Hampshire, new progressive Senators Sherrod Brown and Bernie Sanders, the upset victories of Jerry McNerney and professor Dave Loeback, etc.
The failure of Harold Ford Jr.’s campaign did not prevent people like James Carville from saying he had run the best campaign in the country.
They will do anything to make it look like hawkishness trumps peace, and that our populism is out of step with the American people. And, ordinarily, this would be certain to work. But Obama has the potential to overcome this defense of the status quo. Here’s how Chris puts it:
It is not difficult to see how the rise of Obama could distress certain elements in the media. Since at least 2005, it has been widespread CW within elite media and political circles that Clinton would be a shoe-in for the nomination because of her supposed rock-hard support among African-Americans. It was assumed that this support would inoculate her against any potential netroots challenge from the old Dean coalition, which, whether or not it is accurate, is still perceived in those same circles as being young people and liberals. Now, large elements of the old Dean coalition are merging with African-Americans to pose an extremely serious challenge to Clinton. This is dangerous to the media and political elite for at least three reasons: it shows the CW was wrong, poses a threat to the political machine status quo, and greatly enhances the strategic positioning of netroots power. A netroots alliance with African-Americans forms a powerful reform coalition within the Democratic Party that even the Clinton machine might not be able to stop. In Chicago in early 2004, I saw this alliance steamroll anything that stood in its way, and wondered if it could happen on a national stage. Considering that Obama is one again the candidate leading the alliance, I am left with a striking feeling of déjà vu. Right now, Obama is still tied with Clinton among African-Americans, and with Edwards among the netroots. If he were to take a sizable advantage in either category, much less both, the days of Clinton’s lead would be over.
Whatever people may think of Obama himself, his coalition is a real threat to the establishment status quo. I can’t help but wonder how much this threat plays in role in the constant drumbeat about whether or not he is “black enough” to deserve African-American support. CNN recently had Candy Crowley pump out another story along those lines, and no the Baltimore Sun is doing the same.
I’m not certain if Obama is aware of the potential to create this anti-Clinton coalition, or if someone else, like Edwards, can find even more potent combinations. I know from experience that the ‘old Dean coalition’ is not an easy or natural partner with the traditional African-American power base. Here in Philly, we are making baby steps in this direction, but we haven’t won much yet in our battles with the machine. There are too many mixed loyalties and a lot of cultural distance. But we don’t have any candidates that are comparable to Barack Obama.
One thing is certain though, the ‘old Dean coalition’ has been held at arms length by the Clinton machine and it will never be able to make common cause with them as long as we are considered a dangerously leftist element within the Demcratic Party. This is particularly true the longer we go with no end to this war and no move to seriously investigate potentional impeachable offenses. If we keep funding this war, there is no way that Clinton will be able to reconcile with the Netroots.