Trip Report: Netroots Nation (part I)

By lambert strether


Netroots Nation (NN) is, or now is, a regional-scale trade show where Democratic consultants mingle with activists and operatives, held this year in Providence, RI. NN is organized at Daily Kos (DK), “a Democratic blog with one goal in mind: electoral victory.” DK, founded by Markos Moulitsas (“Kos”) has a circulation of about two million unique visitors a month; with an Alexa Rank of 1006 (US) and 3707 (global), DK is at the top of the power curve for political blogs, and indeed, at the top for the Internet world-wide. Kos personally, and posters, commenters, and moderators at DK, played a key role in the online activist community by promoting Obama during the 2008 Democratic (D) primaries, and enforcing Obama’s primacy in DK postings and commentary.

Yves was kind enough to send me down to Providence to see Eric Schneiderman’s keynote, and NN was kind enough to let me in as “Media.” In truth, I liked the temporary blank badge they gave me better than the printed one I ultimately wore; a “blank screen” seemed appropriate for an old-school pseudonymous (Greek for vituperative; foul-mouthed) blogger of the left. And for the event.

I used to be a D — I still remember being “for Kennedy” walking back from grade school under the leafy trees back home in Indiana — but at some point between FISA “reform” and TARP I dis-identified and became apartisan, which ought to be a word, but isn’t. And I used to live in Providence; bright college days, followed by other days. So for the day I spent at NN, I was looking backward, and my valedictory feelings and sadness may come from personal circumstances. Or not; see the review section. Add salt to taste!

So, herewith a mosaic of brief impressions. Friends recommended that I bring waders, but the bullshit was really pretty easy to step around. And many activists are doing great work. Pathos enters in because NN, and the Ds, have individually and severally become less than the sum of their parts, at least with respect to public purpose. Considered systemically, both, like the Russian automobile industry in the last days of the Soviet Union, actually subtract value from their inputs.

I. Being

“What happens if you drop all the things that make you I?”
–Graham Greene, The End of the Affair

I remember my first trade show: I carefully three-hole punched all the marketing literature and organized it in a binder. And judging by the hardware — my hardware! — and the demographic, NN and MacWorld have a lot of overlap. Except no Steve Jobs. Or anything insanely great.

Overheard at the wifi hotspot while I was caffeinating myself and checking my mail: “San Francisco is my wife, but New York is my mistress!” “Where is the Westin?” “Ilya Sheyman.” And w-a-a-a-y too many times: “I’m from DC.”

Grey ponytails, sandals, clunky yet bling-free jewelry: All the class and cultural markers of the Prius and NPR-listening “creative class” of a certain age: My age, in fact, my class, my culture. Young techies in T-shirts, heavy-framed hipster glasses, and stubble. My tech, my T’s, my stubble, though not my glasses. Or my age. And, after the terrible family quarrel of 2008 — “They spoke of it!” — and the subsequent debacle, not necessarily my people.

I wandered onto the show floor — turning the corner on Google, who were doing demos at a stunning, all-white booth — and ran into the excellent Source Watch, who educated me about sand mining in WI, and its relation to fracking (see), even though that issue wasn’t part of their messaging. The International Association of Machinists had a terrific “Union of the Unemployed” tee, which I bagged; but I didn’t spend much time, because I wanted to get to the panel discussions. On the way out, I passed Team Sheyman’s booth, which was a table, empty, with almost no marketing collateral, like a tiny software firm with no buzz and a product concept that had seemed good at the time.

* * *

After the panels and the keynotes, when the show had closed for the day, I walked over to the legendary Haven Brothers Diner for hot dogs in “The Aluminum Room.” I’d say Philly’s dirty water dogs are more flavorsome, if less plump, but I did get to eavesdrop on the patter of the colorful clientele, among whom were a software developer and his suited pitchee, both from NN. The pitch, paraphrased: “Our platform was built to help campaigns manage their activists and volunteers, but we could repurpose it for any business that tasks remote workers from a central office: Janitors and maids, for example, in a cleaning service.” Software architecture does tend to “mirror” [PDF] the structure of the institution that commissions the development. Eh?

II. Doing

“The individual cannot bargain with the State. The State recognizes no coinage but power: and it issues the coins itself.” –Ursula LeGuin, The Dispossessed

[I’ll paraphrase and patch all the panel discussions from my not at all exhaustive notes. Q: Question. A: Answer. MOD: Moderator. AUD: Audience.]

From the show floor, I went to the panel on OH, but the scheduled presenter didn’t show, so the discussion was facilitated, and smoothly, by a substitute who knew more about ALEC than OH (and who fortunately didn’t force fit the discussion to his topic). As it turned out, a lot of audience members were doers who knew the ground well in both OH and WI, so the discussion was great.

Q: I have hundreds of signs and a lot of supplies from the last campaign, including bar code readers. Where do I send them?

A: Try the campaign office.

Q: [lambert] I’d like to understand the difference between success in OH with SB5 and failure in WI with the recall. What are your thoughts?

MOD: The difference between OH and WI is time and money. Walker outspent Barrett, and had time to amass a war chest. In OH, neither side had much time to organize. SB5 organizational differences were set aside; the only question was how to make it work. WI was drawn out over 14-15 months.

AUD: In OH we had only two months of downtime and we kept SB5 going with social media. I think energy-wise people in WI didn’t have that. Also, we had different types of election: A recall vs. a legislative change.

AUD: It’s harder to get rid of a person; people say “let him finish his term.” Also, in WI there wa a multiplicity of races, and it was unclear who was running when.

AUD: SB5 money all came through We Are Ohio, so it’s hard to compare and contrast to WI.

AUD: We’re comparing a moderate candidate in WI with a clear issue in OH. There were similarities: The public outrage, the pictures in the rotunda. But in SB5 we avoided the image, and never used one photo.

AUD: I worked the ground in both places. It was much easier going after the issue itself. If WI had a process for recall on issues, OH and WI would have had similar results, with the exception that Walker manipulated the situation better by omitting the firefighters and the police. In OH, the firefighters made a huge difference. Nobody likes the cops.

AUD: I agree it was the firefighters. Everybody loves the firefighters, they provide nothing but a service.

AUD: In our neighborhood, the firefighters took down their posters for a fund-raising chicken dinner and put up posters for an anti-war rally. That was the one that Obama participated in.

AUD: OH had message discipline. WI had a hodge-podge.

AUD: We fled from our own message in WI, the collective bargaining.

AUD: The candidate was not arguing those issues.

AUD: Again, though, look at the length. Our own people were tired.

AUD: From outside, in MI, SB5 looked very focused. They never lost sight of their message. SB5 is a case study where everything was done right.

AUD: The real genesis of this issue in OH was the law, not the person. Most of OH was about process.

AUD: Rs are now framing it as a victory as a victory over the unions. The Ds made it about Scott Walker not labor. You can’t preach one thing and do another.

Q: [lambert] I’d like to hear about fracking in OH.

AUD: Via ALEC, state standards for renewable energy have been repealed, trade secrets for fracking fluids have been enforced, there are gag orders for doctors and first responders so they can’t talk with their patients about what they know [big audience reaction].

AUD: They say “Jobs!” But the jobs aren’t local jobs and they don’t last. Who wants to be the richest man in the cemetery?

AUD: We’ve used social media and not airwaves, and in MI a fracking ban is on the ballot.

AUD: Against the jobs talking point, health is the right answer.

AUD: Especially the health of your kids.

AUD: In Pittsburgh, Doug Shields got a fracking ban.

AUD: In Canton, we’re working for a citizen’s rights ban but we have no home rule.

AUD [subject change] Getting redistricting rescinded is the most important thing. We can’t have “politicians picking their voters.” We Are Ohio is sponsoring Voters First, which advocates putting redistricting under a citizen’s commission.

MOD: Districting is important. In 2010, I kept saying “This is a census year. The next five elections are going to be determined by what we do.”

* * *

After rereading my notes and cudgeling my brain for recollection: Almost nothing was said about working with Ds on the ground at all. No “our state rep did ____,” or “the party held ____,” or “we caucused and ____.” Even during a passionately fought recall campaign, the Ds played a purely negative role. The only mention of a D taking positive action was Obama, with this (little-noticed and unrecorded, 2002) anti-war speech. In Illinois. Remarkable.

III. Writing

“I love anecdotes. I fancy mankind may come, in time, to write all aphoristically, except in narrative; grow weary of preparation, and connection, and illustration, and all those arts by which a big book is made.” — Samuel Johnson, Boswell’s Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides

Next I sampled a “How to Blog” panel, just for grins, but the first thing the presenter asked me to do was log into Google (I canceled my account over privacy) and anyhow I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t connect to the Convention Center WiFi. And the second step was to share with your neighbor, verbally. So I complied for one round and then bailed. Blogging isn’t about talking. Blogging is about writing online for an online audience. The two are not the same! Nor is blogging about “the conversation,” the smarmy creative class retooling of “the conventional wisdom.”

* * *

I’ll have parts III, IV, and a Conclusion tomorrow, and I’ll get to Eric Schneiderman, never fear. However, just to show that I’m not the only one who came away from NN with a sense of pathos, I include below a collection of comments on NN by other bloggers.

Appendix: Reviews

Blogging’s master of light irony, Atrios, doesn’t write up NN at all, but links to the beautiful in all ways Providence “Waterfire” event. Though one has to wonder whether the headline of his original post — FIRE, in acronymic caps — is at once a sly reference to the Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate sector, which owns both legacy parties, and therefore NN, as well as the notable lack of fire at the event as a whole.

At strongly partisan Balloon Juice, mistermix agrees on the lack of fire: “After Waterfire, we trekked to some bar for the Kos after party, which was everything Waterfire wasn’t. I heard that they had been invited to have their after party as part of Waterfire and weren’t interested.” Headline: “Come On Baby Light My Pyre.” Ouch. Also at Balloon Juice, Metrosexual Black AbeJ: “[T]his one seems sad.”

AmericaBlog posts celebrity videos: Van Jones, Krugman, Warren. But no reporting or commentary.

The acute Charles Pierce writes of “the progressive convention that seems, quite honestly, a bit muted compared to past years“, and “whatever idiot it was who didn’t accept Dave Neiwert’s panel on rightwing extremism needs to be fired.” The same idiot — or operative — who decided that the Foreclosure Panel wouldn’t be streamed, I would imagine.

Lord Kos: “The administration should be worried about the level of despair here” (although, to be fair, there are “happy to be here”-type activists who don’t share this feeling at all).

FDL’s Scarecrow, after Van Jones‘s keynote: “On Sunday morning, I’m struggling to make any sense of what we were told.” FDL’s David Dayen: “I had one participant come up to me and say, ‘We should cancel all the panels and hold a three-day plenary session called What the hell should we do now?‘” And FDL’s Massochio: “The lesson is clear. If you are directly facing the formal institutions in this country, there is no visible way forward. It’s depressing. If you are actively engaged in trying to help people one on one or in small groups, you can point to successes and see ways to leverage those successes into broader actions that will make a difference. The organizers have hope. The people engaged in other kinds of activism, like Erica Payne, have hope.”

Which may be why Kos reacted so badly, eh? In RL, I have been involved in small successes that used the parties for what they are worth, and so I am, despite the tenor of this post, quite hopeful. I found the thinking in the OH panel I attended very hopeful. But because I shared desires for understanding and for outcomes with them. Not because they were Ds. Not because they were my tribe.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


      1. tom allen

        To use econ-speak, it sounds like they were trying to bend the universal baloney curve.

    1. Aquifer

      Hmmm, obviously lots of pink slime in that baloney …. must be a product of Big Agra, or Viagra ….

      Semens to me it should be universally condemned, or condomed …

      Only one solution – RU 486 to the rescue ..

      Where’s Lorena Bobbit (sp?) when you need her, or wasn’t she invited?

        1. LeonovaBalletRusse

          “baloning Lady Liberty” image is horrifying: like George Gros in the 1930’s.

  1. Goin' South

    In a way, it’s a tragedy that by a combination of factors, among them some old-fashioned anti-competitive collusion, it was a site run by a tin-pot dictator with an astonishing ignorance of history that wound up as the most widely read “progressive” site.

    But then again, given the nature of other “progressive” institutions–their top-down decision-making, disdain for direct action, contempt for their “clients” and focus on maintaining and growing their prosperous bureaucracies, DailyKos fits right in.

    1. TK421

      Another possible way of looking at it is that with DailyKos’s mission being the election of Democrats, it enjoyed an advantage in a two-party system that channels political thought into one of two parties.

    2. LillithMc

      The reason I go to DK and EP every day is that the content means something to me. Yves is alone in her analysis of the economy. DK changes every hour with new diaries. Kos is rarely to be seen, but he does keep it civil which is hard to find on comments sections anywhere. Especially valuable to me now are the red states where democracy is being turned into plutocracy. Good article today on Michigan which has been the worst for tyranny. Emergency managers with total power selling off parts in communities and preventing elected officials from speaking. No one in the MSM covers the red states.

      1. Nathanael

        Kos is a brilliant publisher, that’s how I’d describe him. He’s found his calling in destroying and replacing the mainstream media, using unpaid volunteers. (The key is to basically let them write whatever they want!)

        Good for him. I hope some other people can do the same thing he does.

        1. Goin' South

          If you’re saying he has a talent for exploitation, I’d agree with you.

          You’re seriously misinformed about what can be published there. Kos has a long list of taboos, including any advocacy for third parties, and an enthusiastic cadre of Junior Kosites who will enforce it.

          He’s quite proud of the fact that he treats the site as his personal property rather than the the cooperative enterprise which it really is. What makes it even worse is that the guy’s conception of politics is stuck in 2002 with no knowledge of what went before and a blindness toward what has transpired since.

          One thing for which he deserves some credit: early on, he brought some people on board who had brains and could write, in particular, Billmon and Steve Gilliard. They provided some depth on the site to supplement his own puerile, three-sentence sputterings. And he added “The Beard,” Meteor Blades, to cover his odd combination of atheism, militarism and Libertarianism with some Lefty “credibility.”

          Admiring Kos as a “publisher” is akin to revering Walmart as a retailer. Yeah, he’s a force in driving out the competition, but is he better than what he’s replacing?

          If you love autocracy and a “Go Blue Team!” conception of politics, I suppose he is.

          1. Nathanael

            Oh, I know the taboos. He banned me.

            He’s been quite good at riding the public mood, keeping the “limits of discourse” such that the site doesn’t get directly attacked and discredited by the elites, and also such that it doesn’t get completely discredited by the public either.

            As I say, he’s a brilliant publisher. So was Hearst. At least Markos has saner plans for world domination than Hearst did, so I wish him luck.

          2. Nathanael

            As for “is he better than what he’s replacing?”

            Have you LOOKED at what he’s replacing?

            DailyKos is blatantly better than Fox News, anyone can see that.
            Also better than any ‘cable TV’ news, which I think most would agree with.
            At this point, better than the majority of local TV news.

            FAR FAR better than ‘talk radio’,
            better than the new ‘neutered’ NPR with its ‘equal time to lunatic right-wingers’ policy,…

            FAR better than the outright-lying Murdoch-owned newspapers,
            Better than the corporate-party-line / he-said-she-said Gannett newspapers,
            and I’d argue better than the Judith Miller / Jayson Blair / David Brooks New York Times.

            Yes, DailyKos is FAR better than what it’s trying to replace.

            It’s not replacing (for instance) the still-functional media in the UK (BBC, numerous decent newspapers), nor is it replacing Al-Jazeera.

          3. Nathanael

            If we had a dozen websites like DailyKos with different ideological positions, we might have something akin to the UK’s newspaper situation, which would be pretty good.

          4. LillithMc

            Kos seems to me to prefer polling. He loves running the numbers. He is not good at writing diaries and rarely does them. He admits he was a Republican. I have seen plenty about 3rd parties on DK. I don’t think DK replaces any MSM. MSM is a corporate production that generally supports their politics.

  2. Anchard

    Thank you for this Lambert – very interesting, especially this:

    “After rereading my notes and cudgeling my brain for recollection: Almost nothing was said about working with Ds on the ground at all. No “our state rep did ____,” or “the party held ____,” or “we caucused and ____.” Even during a passionately fought recall campaign, the Ds played a purely negative role. The only mention of a D taking positive action was Obama, with this (little-noticed and unrecorded, 2002) anti-war speech. In Illinois. Remarkable.”

    It’s a point you have been making for quite a while, and reminds me of a bit from ch. 2 of Stop Me Before I Vote Again (via Monsieur IOZ):

    “The electoral ratchet permits movement only in the rightward direction. The Republican role is fairly clear; the Republicans apply the torque that rotates the thing rightward.

    The Democrats’ role is a little less obvious. The Democrats are the pawl. They don’t resist the rightward movement — they let it happen — but whenever the rightward force slackens momentarily, for whatever reason, the Democrats click into place and keep the machine from rotating back to the left.”

  3. K Ackermann

    +1 for the Graham Greene quote

    I stuck it out on DailyKos for a few years but said goodbye during the financial crisis. The Obama cheerleading became too much to take.

    DKos has a fundamental flaw that people refuse to acknowledge: the voting system is a thing unto itself – a weapon against free speech, a vanity mirror, and a sad reminder of herding behavior. “Agree or else…”

    It wasn’t always like that.

    1. JamesW

      Agreed, agreed, agreed, my good Ackermann!

      And appropriately, and in a similar vein, to cut through the balderdash thrown at us about “network neutrality” people might wish to see this FAQ (frequently asked questions):

      Global FAQ

      What was the number one ranked communications corporation in 1950?

      What is the number one ranked communications corporation in 2012?

      Who actually owns AT&T?

      Who invites Jeff Bezos (Amazon) and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) to those international banker forums known as “Bilderberg forums”?

      Who lobbied fervently for the passage of NAFTA?

      Who lobbied for China’s entrance into the WTO?

      Who established banking operations in Beijing and Moscow in 1973, immediately after Nixon’s trip there?

      What was the name of the senator from West Virginia who was the lead in congress in the passage of the legislation granting retroactive immunity to AT&T and the telecoms?

      Who wants to end any semblance of network neutrality so they can control the Internet?

      What was the name of that old German pop song with the lyric,

      “Rock…e…feller….Rock..e…Rock …e ..Feller”?

    2. Klassy!

      +2! I hadn’t read Greene in years, and recently picked The Comedians out of my bookcase. I forgot how much I liked him.
      Someone is spying on our reading at NC– link to Philip Dick Convention the other day. Husband has really been into him lately.

  4. Jill

    I think this conference was one big data collection operation for team Obama. Politico had an article on how the O-team is using it’s wonderful data mining capacities to “reach” donors and voters. They are literally watching everything one does on line, drawing up your personal profile for their own use and pitching based on that info. No wonder Mr. Google was front and center.

    “CHICAGO — On the sixth floor of a sleek office building here, more than 150 techies are quietly peeling back the layers of your life. They know what you read and where you shop, what kind of work you do and who you count as friends. They also know who your mother voted for in the last election.

    The depth and breadth of the Obama campaign’s 2012 digital operation — from data mining to online organizing — reaches so far beyond anything politics has ever seen, experts maintain, that it could impact the outcome of a close presidential election. It makes the president’s much-heralded 2008 social media juggernaut — which raised half billion dollars and revolutionized politics — look like cavemen with stone tablets.”

    Keep up the fine work Lambert!

    1. Peripheral Visionary

      150 quants hammering away at algorithms in a tech lab, and they can’t figure out that the President needs to get in front of the people and speak to the issues that are important to them, rather than hide out at Hollywood fundraisers?

        1. Mel

          :/ He did that in 2008 and now a lot of those people hate him. It attracts the wrong crowd.

          1. Nathanael

            Really, Obama turns out to have small ambitions. Or he’s crazy.

            Someone smart, sane, and with big ambitions would have spotted the huge popular movement and its demands and ridden it to the position of the Emperor Augustus, who bragged about how many unemployed people he fed. But Obama didn’t even try.

          2. different clue


            Obama obviously recognized the popular movement. He pitched his campaign to it. Perhaps his secret goal and mission was to ride it in circles, wear it down, ground it out and destroy it. “He has burned down all hope of hope.”

          3. Nathanael

            It doesn’t work that way, though. When you’re *not* actually at the head of the establishment (and Obama isn’t — he’s not a corporate CEO), and you want power, and you have a LARGE popular movement, you suborn and misdirect the popular movement, the way Hitler and Napoleon did, and ride it to ever greater power — it’s actually kind of easy.

            If you have any sense, you don’t “demoralize” the people, because demoralization doesn’t help your position — when people have serious, real complaints, being “demoralized” merely radicalizes them.

            Louis XVI tried to “demoralize” the peasants and merchants during the French Revolution, and Tsar Nicholas tried to “demoralize” the opposition during the Russian Revolution; all this achieved was to radicalize the popular movement.

    2. Elizabeth Cook

      Except that it will be devoid of the independent and youthful energy and support of four years ago because of the sell out policies of the Obama administration. So yes, they must reinvent the wheel to attempt to get voters to the voting booths.

    3. .

      So. last time… the digital campaign was really organized by [supporters] — by themselves. But Now, it’s the campaign that’s driving and controlling most digital content. That’s the purest distillate of Dem ideology yet, they gonna Shut You Up and Tell You What You Think.

      So Romney is targeting the macroglossial couch lumps that still watch TV in this day & age. Obama is targeting people who don’t have the sense to keep their personal penetralia off the worldwide web. Culling the herd of helpless cognitive victims. So that’s how they plan to avoid provoking universal popular disgust.

    4. LeonovaBalletRusse

      So true. Maybe the image of the imminent gang rape of Lady Liberty should be “edited” to show the Crowned Head “feeding her face” with his baloney?

  5. Lee

    A couple of points:

    Alas, the revolution is after all being televised in the form of conservative political adverts with unlimited funding. This is most disheartening.

    As one who visits DK pretty regularly, I see a lot of criticism of Obama and other centrist Dems expressed there as well as more than a little bit for love for OWS, the Wisconsin uprising and other forms of direct action.

    Excerpts from NC show up over there on a regular basis; I assume this is driving some traffic in your direction. This was true in my case.

    1. Aquifer

      There is criticism of Obama all over – one has to have that or lose any semblance of credibility – but, at the end of the day, when push comes to shove – what will the message be? “TINA”

      Simple yardstick – any site that critiques but offers no alternative (other than to trash it) is just sturm und drang, signifying nothing ….

      Or, if you prefer a bucolic image – like the farmer who spends all day in the barn milking the cows then gets up and kicks the bucket over …

      1. Nathanael

        Kos’s plan is perfectly clear. I don’t know if it’s going to work, but it’s perfectly clear, and he’s published it. You could try looking it up some time.

        In a nutshell, the plan is to run candidates more to his/our liking at lower levels and in committee positions until the Democratic Party can be taken over.

        I have my doubts as to whether this is actually possible any more, but it’s a very clear plan. And a slow one.

      2. Lee

        I suspect that more than a few at DK, will be voting to the left of Obama. I may well do so and have stated as much on that site. It is likely that I am not a big enough fish there to be bothered with.

        It can be a good place to influence the growing number of dissatisfied Dems. The notion that Markos Moulitsos is the powerful and strict leader of disciplined party loyalists strikes me as rather humorous.

        There are folks who participate here and there both. Like I said, I came here by way of there.

        So, what political group would you recommend?

        1. Aquifer


          Not much of a party person, myself – prefer to look at platforms, principles and personnel. Was a Dem for a long time – and “transitioned” out, so to speak, with Kucinich being my last tie. When he chose party over principle it was pretty damn clear that “reform” from the inside didn’t have a prayer – once you sign up on the Dem ticket, you have attached yourself to the corp teat – and that ain’t no milk of human kindness …

          Considering the things that are important to me – I am supporting the Greens at this point because of their platform and their candidates – particularly Jill Stein. If you haven’t checked her out – i suggest you do …

          One thing i learned long ago – it does no good to complain if you have nowhere else to go – just lets off steam, dulls anger, sidetracks action …

          We do have alternatives – we just have to chose them …or we can sit around and bitch …

          1. Lee


            Thanks for giving some things to think about. If I were in better health I think I would be hanging with OWS. They remind me of me when I was their age in the seventies living in a political commune in Berkeley.

        2. Nathanael

          Lee, I do not have a serious party recommendation at this time.

          I’m in a “safe state” so my Presidential vote literally doesn’t matter. I think the most noticeable protest vote would probably be Green Party.

          There are not going to be any interesting Senatorial challenges where I am, so I’ll probably do a write-in in the Senate campaign. Currently I’m a single-issue voter for the Senate, on the “Abolish the Filibuster” platform.

          We have new candidates in the House campaign, and House Democrats were actually pretty decent under Pelosi, so I’ll give the Democrats a chance there.

          I think the real action is below the national level though; the national government is screwed for several more years at a minimum.

          What’s going on in your *local* and *state* political scene? I’m likely to be in a different state from you so the tactics and strategy will be different for me. Here, the key issue which gets people ready to lay down their lives is hydrofracking, so to be politically active means being involved in the “anti-hydrofracking movement”. (Not a political party, but it could well become one if things keep going the way they’ve been going.)

  6. Eureka Springs

    It’s amazing how far they will go to find out all about what we think and do, yet they don’t really give a damn…. except how to manipulate it all into something entirely different.

    It’s anti-representation with a vengeance.

  7. Middle Seaman

    NN is dead pretending to be important. DK behaved badly in the 2008 pre election period and there is no point to listen to their scum/crap now or then.

    Since January 2009, we had over-generous support for the rich, lack of a revolution in health care coverage, wars galore, Obama MIA in WI and generally the most rightwing administration Democrats can envision. Thanks DK.

    1. just me

      “DK behaved badly in the 2008 pre election period…”

      Explain please? I think of that time as a golden time for DK, huge involvement and energy and optimism. Agree they have devolved since then. I avoid it more than I look to it now, though it still has good members. I think Kos himself is tinpot and agree with Lambert’s Lord Kos, though Rumpelstiltskin works for me as well. Don’t say ______! And there’s so much ______ not said and so many members disappeared because they did say ______.

  8. Elizabeth Cook

    All of this points to the fact quite clearly that Obama policies have driven the democratic loyalists further right in supporting a president that eviscerates democratic principles. They are yes…despairing, but it is of their own doing. They put all their eggs in one basket and the basket it turns out has rotten eggs in it. Those least despairing remain focused on the issues. Therein lies our salvation in a sense: with Occupy dispersed, better to regroup in smaller communities, hunker down on the issues, and recruit. Get stronger, educate, enlighten and build for another showdown, which hopefully, might be the tipping point to real democracy. Those who continue to prioritize around a politician who doesn’t have the same values is going to suffer, internally, in a profound way.

    1. Eureka Springs

      dkos? Heh, It’s dead to me. Neither my enemy, nor in truth were they ever a friend. If I want zombies (and followers) I hear there is a series on television for that.

    2. Neo-Realist

      Not only organizing in small communities, but running for office in those communities as well on a strong economic populist platform–Democratic (change it from within?) or Green Party. Run for office and take power.

  9. psychohistorian

    The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

    dKos is deep down the enemy of my enemy but their understanding is a bit behind the curve yet. They will catch up….probably even this year.

    Thanks for the perspective Lambert. It is good to call them out for their blind pandering

    Nationalize the FED !!!

  10. mwfolsom

    The one thing to remember about DK is this – you can criticise Obama and any Democrat as much as you want but you can’t say we should vote for a 3rd party candidate. That simple act will get you excomunicated from DK land immediately and for forever. Your posting rights will be revoked and they won’t be returned to you till you promise never to do it again. So ultimately DK is a Democratic Party institution – it is not a place for progressive activists to meet and talk. It is part of the Democratic Party plain and simple. When you talk about DK you should always keep that in mind.

    1. Lee

      Perhaps a recent comment of mine at DK went under the radar. I stated my intention of voting to the left of Obama so as to register my discontent with various of his policies if it were clear that he was going to win my very blue state. Perhaps the specific conditionality of my statement saved me from excommunication or, as suggested, it simply escaped attention. I did receive 9 uprates and 4 civilized responses.

      As for diary posts supporting third party candidates, I know you are correct. But anti-Obama critiques are a pretty regular event at DK and they are quite incisive on policy matters and Obama’s penchant for compromising away our interests and benefits.

      1. mwfolsom

        Here is what I said back in 2011 that got me banned:

        “Maybe the Greens will run somebody so I can vote – I won’t be voting for Obama.”

        You can read my entire rant and see what the “you’re banned” message looks like here on my semi-ooccassional blog:

        I point all this out to say that DK is not so left as they would like you to believe. Ultimately it is just a tool of the Democratic Party. Beliefs and convictions come second, the party comes first.

        1. Lee

          Thanks for the info and the link. Except for the third party advocacy, much of what you said on DK gets said with some regularity, and certainly not by just me.

          Noticing the date, Nov. 2011, might your views have been deemed less acceptable then than they are now? I am reminded of the term “premature anti-fascism” used, I seem to recall, by Lillian Hellman to describe what she and others on the left were being accused of during the McCarthy era.

          1. mwfolsom

            Certainly things may have changed but I just tried to login again and still get the same message. So, if there has been a change of attitude over at DK its not evident to me –;-}

        2. ohmyheck

          Jeepers, kidz! It looks like NC has become a refuge for DKos Bannees, aka “Bojo’d”. You, Nathaneal, Goin’ South (I hope you don’t mind me sayin’ so, GS) and myself.

          Anyone else I missed? Then there are the self-exiled.

  11. Tertium Squid

    “The International Association of Machinists had a terrific “Union of the Unemployed” tee, which I bagged…”

    I always knew you were a teebagger.

  12. Hugh

    The Democratic party has betrayed progressives. It is not that the Democratic party does not fight for progressive goals. It is not that they ignore them. It is that they work actively against them.

    So the real question is why do progressives continue to hang on to the Democratic party and seek, despite everything, to maintain their connections with it. Netroots Nation is a thinly veiled Democratic operation. The Firedoglake posters quoted express a combination of frustration and disappointment at the impasse, but Firedoglake has never openly broken with the Democrats. It supports OWS, but it has done nothing to foster, promote, and build an alternative party to the Democrats and Republicans.

    That seems to be where so many progressives are stuck. It is like a bad marriage. It doesn’t work. They know it doesn’t work, but they can’t let it go.

    1. fairleft

      The success of DKos is an antitribute (I’m making that a word) to the ahistorical naivete of most in the U.S. who consider themselves progressive. No, despite hoping he’d be a ‘nice guy’, kos turned out to be what he said he was, a ‘libertarian’, just another guy out to make his fortune and keep it. Duh, remember what Marx said, ‘follow the money’? He would have wretched watching ‘left’ volunteers donate millions of free hours to the class enemy.

    2. Nathanael

      The answer to your question, Hugh, is “Duverger’s Law”.

      I think it is sad that seemingly well-informed people like you don’t know about Duverger’s Law or its historical implications. Failure to understand this stuff is one reason the bad guys keep winning.

      1. Hugh

        I was tempted to invoke Pissoff’s Rule with regard to your comment. Iinstead I will say I don’t buy into the use of Duverger because what does he have to do with progressives not fighting for what they believe and in backing a party that actively works against them? The problem in the US is not that we have a two party system. The problem is that we a single corporatist/kleptocratic party that runs under two names.

        1. Nathanael

          The POINT is that when you have an electoral system which creates a two-party system your only options are:

          (1) change the electoral system through revolution (you know it won’t change any other way)
          (2) take over one of the existing parties
          (3) kill one of the existing parties so that there’s room for a second party.

          Seriously, people, think tactically for a minute.

          1. JTFaraday

            I somewhat think that the US, given its size and consequent mass politics and superficial political messaging, will tend toward two parties that either are or pretend to be diametrically opposed to each other. There’s no room nuance here.

            But even if we think this is true, you seem to assume that a (new) “third party” only emerges after one of the legacy parties dies off. I see no reason to assume this.

          2. Nathanael

            You may see no reason to assume this, but the history shows that it is essentially true.

            The new party can arise before the old one has died — consider Labour vs. the Liberals in the UK — but it has to kill the old one very quickly. Because there is only room for two parties.

            And this is only true in countries with electoral systems subject to Duverger’s Law — single-member districts or bloc voting, with first-past-the-post or IRV.

            It is much better to have an electoral system which is NOT subject to Duverger’s Law. An electoral system with proportional representation or approval voting does NOT have the same forces preventing there from being more than two parties.

            Of course, we may have a way of doing things even within the strictures of Duverger’s Law right now.

            The “population sorting” which has been taking place, making the cities extremely “blue” and the rural areas extremely “red”, creates an opportunity for a second party in the cities — once the Republicans are rendered totally unable to win there — and in the rural areas — once the Democrats are rendered totally unable to win there.

            Third parties have no long-term chance in “purple” districts, however, unless they get established elsewhere first. Someone with the charisma of Jesse Ventura can win a “purple” state, but you can’t build a whole party that way.

        2. Nathanael

          Now, if your question is “Why do progressives back individual party members who actively work against them”… can’t answer that one for you, because that’s just dumb. I’m explaining why many progressives are choosing to try to use an existing party apparatus.

          I’m not sure it will work, but I see why they’re trying to do it: it’s a tactical choice driven by Duverger’s Law.

        3. enouf

          can you say;
          — Monte Carlo / Grand Prix
          — Camaro / Firebird

          Yep, same cars, different names — same Corporation (GM)

          Tastes just like “fine corinthean leather” eh? (Cordobas and midgets, and love boats) heh


      2. Aquifer

        Did Duverger formulate his law before or after the Rep party arose as a 3rd party and proceeded to replace the Whigs?

        Laws can be repealed, you know ….

        And, in any case, as Hugh rather suggested, we might not need a “3rd” party to enact change – if we only had a second one!

        1. Nathanael

          The Whigs died BEFORE the Republicans arose.

          That’s the exact point. If we can kill the Republican Party (or the Democratic Party) stone cold dead so that it doesn’t have serious candidates, then there’s room to run a second party. Otherwise there isn’t.

          1. Nathanael

            Whigs started disintegrating after Fillmore’s term and within 8 years (of Pierce and Buchanan) were basically defunct. This made it possible for the Republicans to have a serious chance.

          2. JTFaraday

            I don’t know all the details of this particular event in American 19th century history in order to fully assess your statements about it, but I do know that just because something happened a certain way in the American 19th century doesn’t mean that a similar event will happen in the same way in the 21st century.

            If anything, I see no reason to assume that a new party “of the people” will not be taken over by the same class that currently runs the two we currently have.

            As it is, I already see how Jill Stein = Elizabeth Warren = Hillary Clinton. Now, that repetition doesn’t necessarily have to be so any more than your repetition, but it is true that all kinds of well intended organizations today are bought out just because they don’t have the resources to “run themselves” and Americans don’t have the time to commit to things without being paid to do them.

            It’s the tyranny of “the job,” the political hazards of dependency. Rationalizations ensue. Money is collected, people get paid. That’s the end of your new “party of the people,” (just as countless critical publications, do-good “non-profit” organizations, etc bite the dust).

            It’s the same problem at the group level that you have at the individual level with your allegedly “tactically correct” DKos-ite position of running good progressives within the corrupt D-Party.

          3. Nathanael

            “If anything, I see no reason to assume that a new party “of the people” will not be taken over by the same class that currently runs the two we currently have. ”

            Of course it will be taken over by thuggish elites. Eventually. The French Revolution was taken over by Napoleon. The Russian Revolution was taken over by Stalin. The Republican Party was taken over by the people who currently run it.

            So what?

            If a party can be somewhat decent for a few decades, it may be able to get some good done before it becomes captured and useless. And then we’ll need another revolution later — Jefferson suggested that there *should* be a revolution every few decades, and I think he had a point.

            Organizations go in cycles from idealism to corruption. The Liberals of Earl Grey were an improvement on the status quo, but had become an obstacle by the time of Clement Atlee. Labour was a huge boon in the time of Clement Atlee and had become a corrupt, worthless tool of the elites by the time of Tony Blair.

            I think that often, when you hit a sticking point (as we have), you have to have a *young* organization in power in order to make progress. (This is why the US Green Party is kind of hopeless as an alternative — it’s been around too long and was already corrupt by 2000.)

            If you want to do this electorally, within our existing system, Duverger’s Law is unavoidable (and it just killed the LibDems in the UK). Until one of the existing parties collapses in terms of popular support, an alternative party has no chance. The only way around it is “regional parties”, which still rely on killing off one of the existing parties within the region.

            The alternative is to accept that the entire existing electoral system is going to collapse and start planning for post-collapse. I’m not 100% sure that the existing US electoral system is going to collapse, but at the moment I think it’s quite likely.

            However, I don’t begrduge the work of anyone who is trying to achieve change within the existing system, because if they succeed it would be a lot less disruptive than the oncoming collapse is going to be.

      1. just me

        “Party” as in political party is not even in the Constitution. And in George Washington’s farewell address he warned against them.

        wikipedia: Washington makes the case that “the alternate domination” of one party over another and coinciding efforts to exact revenge upon their opponents have led to horrible atrocities, and “is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism.”

  13. Doug Terpstra

    Looking forward to the war crimes panel in parts III & IV, Lambert. I assume that will include a lively discussion of the murder list, the undeclared cyberwar on Iran (already a year in-progress), false-flag terrorism in Syria, the NDAA disaster, and of course any progress so far toward impeachment proceedings. I’m sure you’re saving the best for last.

  14. Dan Kervick

    I probably read the word “progressive” at least five times daily on the limited number of blogs I visit. But no two writers seem use the word the same way. Nor does any individual writer use the word the same way on two separate occasions.

    So while the Democratic Party has no doubt seriously betrayed people who self-describe as “progressives”, its hard to see at this point what platform any party could formulate that would satisfy, motivate and unify that motley gang.

    I think we are in the midst of what will turn out to be, in the end, a very painful realignment. A social formation that developed in the 60’s and persisted throughout the neoliberal era as the old labor left evaporated, with political identity based largely on cultural identification, is going to be replaced by a more economic and class-based alignment, with some generational strains thrown in. This is going to occasion some mentally stressful choices among everyone accustomed to the old system.

    1. Nathanael

      “Progressive” == “reality-based” or “not completely ideologically blinkered”.

      The opposite is “right-winger”, which means “fanatical lunatic who will deny reality in favor of his own prejudices”.

      Really, these seem to be the working definitions these days, bizarre though that sounds. The result is that there is no particular ideological unity among “progressives” or “right-wingers”, except that “progressives” pay some attention to the facts and right-winger make a point of not doing so.

    2. fairleft

      If wishing could make it so! But, unless the economic crisis becomes much more severe, the PTB will make sure that neither of the two political parties is a class-based political party of the bottom 75%. Even then it might not happen.

      If it were in the offing, you would see some sign now, some rebellion against identity politics by significant but maybe not mainstream blognalities. But even when the stakes are quite low, no ‘respectable’ progressive (other than the criminal defense attorney at talkleft) on the blogosphere opposes the racist and racial-paranoia-based politics of Al Sharpton.

  15. Eric377

    I grew up in Wisconsin and have many family members there. I have lived in Ohio the last 11 years. One critical difference that wasn’t mentioned was that Wisconsin came after Ohio. One reason so much money went to Walker was not to be defeated on this twice in a row. The other points are valid, too, but had Kasich’s “reforms” survived there would have been a lot less urgency pushing for Walker.

  16. Paul Tioxon

    To the Ohio anti-fracking bloggers: The public transit agencies are being attacked by a co-ordinated push to replace the retired coal burning electric facilities with gas and replace petroleum with compressed gas from fracking. The SEPTA(SouthEastern Penn Transportation Agency) transit agency, is being extorted by State Republican pols to replace hybrid buses with compressed gas buses. Never mind that there is no such animal or way to fuel them anywhere.

    Fracking is just the beginning. Now that there is a nearly unlimited commodity to sell, they are going to put everyone into a cattle chute to compressed gas and slaughter the electric/solar alternatives. We are not talking about ideals about freedom and law, we are going to be materially adversely affected by this. Not to mention it will all be controlled by Shell and other big oil interests e.g. Haliburton, Rove and all that will follow on their coat tails. Already, $billions in concessions to Shell are being given away by the governor who is cutting billions from the state budget for universities, local school districts and wiping out state wide kindergarten, just recently instituted by the previous administration. Health care insurance for the uninsured is also on the chopping block. Fracking is the tip of spear. Now, the product of fracking enters into the marketplace and the war for control begins all over again.

    1. LeonovaBalletRusse

      Soylent Green to eat, “Human Energy” (Chevron) to burn for Utilities/Transport. Look for “human fat” next to kidneys and bellies in the “free market.”

      “TRADING PLACES” is our model for “market correction.”

    2. Nathanael

      Pennsylvania’s already been wrecked by fracking and Ohio has earthquakes due to it.

      We’re fighting to keep this watershed-wrecking disaster out of New York by the “death of a thousand cuts”: local bans, restrictions, and other roadblocks are being put in place to try to deal with the attack coming from Andrew Cuomo.

      The good news is, you don’t actually get very much natural gas from fracking. The fracking companies have had to fake up their estimates, doubling them or more, in order to get investors. The whole thing is a land fraud on other oil and gas investors. This means if you can delay the frackers, they’ll blow up commercially fairly soon (it’s not like banks, they can’t print money to run the fraud forever).

  17. Nathanael

    “At strongly partisan Balloon Juice, ”

    The host and owner there was a Republican. Strongly partisan how?

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