Kos: "We Are The Center!"

The third annual YearlyKos Convention got underway today at McCormick Place in Chicago with 1500 delegates from around the country attending workshops and listening to political experts while getting primed for political battle in 2008.

And as Markos Moulitsas Z√∫niga, AKA "Kos," made crystal clear at a press conference this afternoon, the battle will not only be against Republicans, but also against Democrats who need to be "cleansed" from the party. Kos didn't name any names, saying we will find out "soon enough" which Democrats would be targeted for defeat in the primaries. But his message was clear; on issues near and dear to the hearts of the progressive on line community, Democrats will adapt or they will face the wrath of this new force in politics.

In effect, Kos has promised to remake the Democratic Party in the image of the netroots. And while many observers think that this would pull the Democratic Party too far to the left, Markos disagrees.

"There is no Jesse Jackson wing of the Democratic party anymore. We are the center," he said.

Kos also scoffed at the online efforts of conservatives to get organized. He noted that the major differences between blogs of the right and blogs of the left is that the left builds communities of like minded activists on their sites, encouraging argument and debate, while most of the top conservative sites believe themselves to be "pundits" who want nothing more than to be accepted by the mainstream media. And he believes that the GOP is "reluctant to embrace the new media" as evidenced by their hand wringing over the YouTube debate.

He pointed out that, on the left, it was a question of fighting the insiders in media and politics from a position outside the beltway.

This theme of the netroots being "outsiders" peppered his press conference despite the fact that on Saturday, every Presidential candidate except Joe Biden would be participating in a Presidential Leadership Forum, followed by "breakout sessions" where the candidates will split up and deal with particular issues in individual meetings.

It is a remarkable testament to the power of this group that candidates would take several hours out of their schedule to hobnob with bloggers and other on line activists. And the impressive lineup of other speakers and workshop facilitators conducting the scores of meetings at which attendees will learn the nuts and bolts of organizing, fundraising, canvassing, and other campaign activities prove that far from being outsiders, the netroots are having the door held open for them. They are being told to come on in and make themselves at home by the Democratic Party.

As for the delegates themselves, they were older than I imagined they would be, many in their 30's and 40's with a smattering of wide eyed college kids and very serious seniors. This really shouldn't be surprising since studies show the average blog reader is older, richer, and better educated than the average American.

The highlight of the day was a trip to the exhibitors' hall. Here, all manner of activists had set up tables to hawk their causes and ideas. Well known groups like People for the American Way and the venerable Americans for Democratic Action were there. And groups who have received some press recently such as "The World Can't Wait" - which advocates impeaching President Bush and trying him for war crimes - were advocating that everyone wear orange to show their support. When asked why the color orange, we were told that "orange was the color of the jumpsuits worn by Guantanamo inmates" as well as the color that denotes "warning."

But it was the earnest little groups espousing various liberal causes that that took me back to my youth when we all thought it was possible to change the world as easily as you change a light bulb. Selling t-shirts and bumper stickers with catchy slogans, each was eager to talk about their particular issue with passion and insight. You might not agree with them. But you couldn't help being impressed with their ardor and sincerity.

Attending YearlyKos isn't exactly the adventure fraught with danger this fairly anonymous conservative blogger thought it would be. Everyone was exceedingly friendly, open, and welcoming. It almost makes me want to take back all those awful things I've ever said about the left...

Well, almost anyway.

[EDITOR'S UPDATE: Hillary Clinton may be having second thoughts about the Convention.]