In Praise of Mighty Markos
Contrary to what the title might lead you to believe, this column is not easy for me to write. The truth is, I can't stand Markos Moulitsas. I'd tell you why, but who really cares? Nobody, least of all Markos himself. The politics of it all is more to the point. Markos IS the center now, because George Bush, by virtue of his excellent policies, has moved American politics several notches to the left.
Want proof? Ask any Republican with hopes of election in 2008 how he or she feels at the moment.
The older among you will appreciate this more. Let's take the wayback machine to 1965. We didn't have the Internet, but we had pundits. The difference, one of them, is that the sort of people who now dominate Big, Old Media were seen as extremist kooks. Cal Thomas is my favorite example. He couldn't get arrested back then. Don't forget that Barry Goldwater, well to the left of many Republicans today, was buried by Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Richard Nixon raised social spending more than any Democrat, before or since. Principles may be eternal, but barring the utterly extreme cases, in politics "left" and "right" are always defined relative to something else. Compared to Nixon, Bill Clinton was a conservative.
How far left is Markos Moulitsas? I'm on the National Executive Board of Americans for Democratic Action, liberal ilk central. Our founders helped drive Reds out of the AFL-CIO. From where I sit, Kos is not very far left at all. This is a guy who had a man-crush on former governor Mark Warner of Virginia, who said in a different life he might have joined the CIA, who wrote a piece on being a "libertarian Democrat."
What about the politics of Daily Kos? It's easy to mistake partisanship -- vigorous advocacy on behalf of a political party -- for ideology. They are not the same thing. To be sure, the Kossacks are dead set against the war in Iraq, but after that, what have you got? Would they be against wars under other circumstances? I think it's hard to say.
What about on the domestic front? I'm an economist, so I keep a lookout for material in that vein. Who were the economists at the Kos gathering? Some guy from France I've never heard of. The eminent Austan Goolsbee of the University of Chicago, a very smart guy advising Obama, but in no way a man of the left. Frequent Kos contributor Hale Stewart, a.k.a. "Bondad," also a fine fellow but with no trace of progressive economics. Atrios, a recovering economist who practices it infrequently. Where's the socialism? You can't find it.
Markos inveighs against the DLC, but he has also savaged Dennis Kucinich. It happens that DLC alumni (e.g., Robert Shapiro) are speaking at the convention, and one of the Kos collaborators is Simon Rosenberg of the neo-DLC New Democratic Network. Suggest in a Kos thread the idea of ditching the Dems for something to their left like the Greens and brace yourself for the avalanche of raspberries.
Aside from the anti-Bushism, Kossacks, like Democrats in general, are a diverse lot. House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi would like to help reelect people in the most marginal, conservative swing districts as well as the true believers of liberalism. This dilutes to the point of invisibility any unifying ideology, much less a liberal one. The Kossacks have a similar catholicism.
Don't get your hopes up about Democrats getting McGoverned by association with Kos. Michael Moore hasn't hurt them yet either. There is a lot to criticize their politicians for, but one thing they have is good antennae. They are not going to jump on a sinking ship. (The real putz in this vein is Bill O'Reilly, who, by his antics, are giving the Kossacks a bonanza of publicity.)
More than anyone besides Bush and his disastrous war, Kos has reinvigorated the Democratic grass roots.
How? He did not do this with any transcendant ideology. He has no ideology. He helped invent new political tools that everybody is scrambling to understand and adopt. He took advantage of the Republican crack-up and provided endless polling data for political junkies. He kept score on a matter of central interest. He created a social environment in which people could masticate this information.
It is interesting to note that some people on the right, such as RedState.Com, have tried to duplicate the Kos phenomenon without comparable success. The reason is not for lack of expertise and trying. The political spectrum has shifted. It's a new world we are in. Kos didn't create it; it created him, and at least for the time being, we all have to live in it.
So give the Mighty Markos his due, but don't mistake him for an underlying sea change. Those who fail to see it do so out of a refusal to grasp just how comprehensive a failure George W. Bush has been.
Max B. Sawicky is an economist at the Economic Policy Institute. He has worked in the Office of State and Local Finance of the U.S. Treasury Department and the U.S. Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations. He is a member of the National Board of Americans for Democratic Action and serves on the editorial advisory board of Working USA. He is a frequent contributor to TPM Cafe. Sawicky's page can be found at Max Speak, You Listen!