Monday Morning Quarterback: Netroots Score a Touchdown

A big win is about to take place for the activist left of the Democratic Party over the professional centrists.

The Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) is meeting in Nashville, Tennessee this week. Once the center of the national party, or so it seemed, at least, it’s being shunned by the Democratic presidential candidates. None are attending its convention.


Instead, they will all be in Chicago later this week for the YearlyKos convention of lefty bloggers and activists. The ever-combative Daily Kos, founded by thirtysomething Berkeley, California-based Markos Moulitsas, will be joined by other online and activist groups in a confab that will boast all the Democratic presidential candidates showing up to make pitches.

Some interesting things are happening with the Republicans this week, and we’ll get to them, but nothing as significant as the displacement of the once fabled DLC by a seemingly rag-tag group of angry bloggers.

Now, Kos himself, which is what he likes to be called, is somewhat more pragmatic than his fiery and not infrequently intemperate screeds would have one believe. Although his actual political experience dates back no further than the 2004 Howard Dean for President campaign, a fiery and notably self-righteous venture in itself, Kos has a pragmatic streak. He was a consultant earlier in this cycle to former Virginia Governor Mark Warner, one of the more moderate national Democrats around. And he has noted the virtues of centrist Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (to the not infrequently angry dismay of some of the most fervent hyperpartisans who inhabit his political echo chambers.)


It’s an angry crowd. In fact, the hyperpartisan blogosphere of the left is the new media answer to the hyperpartisan talk radio milieu of the right.

And this being primary season and not the general election, candidates go where the most fervent are to be found.

That’s not in Nashville with the DLC. Not this year, anyway. Actually, not ever, if you understand the history of things.

None other than Bill Clinton chaired the DLC in the run-up to his own first presidential campaign in 1992. But there was much more to his campaign.

The DLC was founded in 1985 by Washington-based lobbyists, consultants, and politicians in the wake of Walter Mondale’s landslide defeat at the hands of Ronald Reagan. To turn the party away from the ossified liberalism represented by the former vice president. In fact, quite a few of the founding members were Mondale supporters. They knew that change was afoot and wanted to get in front of it.

Specifically, Gary Hart, a future-oriented Democrat who didn’t think labor had all the answers and championed high-tech entrepreneurship and the environment, won 26 states against Mondale in the primaries. The DLC was as much an insider effort to counter Hart, who did not join it, as it was a rebuke to Mondale. Ultimately, Hart’s front-running presidential candidacy for 1988 was brought down by a sex scandal that looks quaint today, and then non-DLCer Michael Dukakis won the nomination.


Next time around, Clinton used his DLC cred as part, but only part, of his political mix. As journalist Sidney Blumenthal, later a key Clinton advisor, noted at the time, Clinton was part of “The Conversation” about a new Democratic politics of which the DLC — through its ties to older businesses and Washington insiders — was an important but not overwhelming part. The DLC had only limited state affiliates, and never a popular movement.

The lefty blogosphere, which only vaguely understands these politics, is something totally different. In truth, all the candidates are there at least in part to make sure that John Edwards — ironically, a former DLC type now running to the left to gain traction with Clinton and Obama occuping so much turf — can’t steal a march on them. And there is tremendous energy there.

That energy helped scuttle the planned Nevada debate on Fox News. The bloggers went batty over the thought of Democratic candidates debating on FNC — thus, in their view, legitimizing it — and went all out to block the debate.

They were failing in their effort before Fox played into their hands by featuring right-wing columnist Ann Coulter in the immediate wake of her calling Edwards a “faggot.” Not to mention Fox News chief Roger Ailes’ remarkably untimely jokes about Democrats, including the crack that sent Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevadan, round the bend, arguably comparing Senator Barack Obama to Osama bin Laden. It was actually pretty funny, and seemed to me to be more about President Bush, but Ailes would have been wiser if he wanted to be seen as at all evenhanded to make a few jokes explicitly about Republicans.


With all this drama, the Republicans this week seem quite staid. It’s increasingly likely that they will bag their CNN/YouTube debate. The Democrats’ version was pretty shallow, to be sure. But the probable move — Romney says he doesn’t want to talk to a snowman and Giuliani’s staff says he has a conflict — can easily be spun as the Republicans being uncomfortable with new media and fearful of direct public questioning.

John McCain, who, speaking of snowmen, watched his organization melt down further last week, is looking for signs of life in New Hampshire and will stump the West Coast on a fundraising tour.

Mitt Romney will keep pushing in Iowa and New Hampshire, where he leads in the wake of months of mostly unanswered advertising.

Rudy Giuliani just saw his lead in Florida, a state key to his hopes, slip into the margin of error in a new Mason-Dixon poll, with only a 21% to 19% edge over Fred Thompson, so he will work on shoring that up.

Thompson is having a rough time of it, with numerous media outlets reporting that his wife is really running things — if true, seldom a good idea in politics — and with his campaign manager out, is in the midst of revamping his operation before his campaign actually begins.


The delayed start, by the way, now seems set for early September — presumably, better late than never.


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