YearlyKos: 1980 or Bust

After two days of strolling around McCormick place and talking with delegates' staff, other media people, and exhibitors, I can't seem to shake the eerie feeling of déjà vu that colors most of my experiences here.

I've lived this dream before.

In the summer of 1980, I was a volunteer for the Reagan campaign in Northern Virginia. There were many of us who had come to Washington to work in congressional offices or fill positions in the burgeoning conservative lobbying industry and "idea factories" that were popping up every other week, contributing to the intellectual ferment that made conservatism so dynamic. It was pretty heady stuff for a 26 year old political neophyte whose bookish ideas of government and the people who ran it was largely shaped by narrative historians and political philosophers.

What was striking at the time was how confident everyone was and how determined people were to bring about a conservative revolution that would sweep the old order away and bring to power those who truly believed in conservative principles. The ideas themselves were important, but only as a means to an end. Shaping the ideas, framing them, and packaging them to move the voting public to cast ballots for conservatives was the subject of much discussion in memoranda, position papers, editorials and articles from the few conservative publications at the time.

Anyone who lived through those times and experienced the feeling that ideology and politics had merged so that the ends and means were exactly the same would recognize what is happening at YearlyKos. Top to bottom, inside and out, this movement is nothing less than revolution. The ideas driving it are standard liberal fare; anti-war, health insurance, environmental protection, education, and jobs top the agenda. But the way the issues are being framed by participants in the dozens of panel discussions, workshops, and forums is where the action is. The nuts and bolts savvy of the political activists fuses with the wonks and wise men of the left's intellectual brain-trust to turn out a brand new way to showcase these ideas to the public.

For instance, it's not the economy. It's "The Blue Way," where socially conscious businesses can be successful by being good stewards of the environment, treating their employees with dignity and respect, and upholding human rights standards abroad. The company still makes money. Stockholders still get a good return on their investment (no running the company into the ground for short term profits). Everyone benefits.

Can capitalism and progressivism coexist in such a way? Judging by the panel discussion featuring CEO's who run their businesses in a "socially responsible" manner, it is not unreasonable to think so. But whether it is possible or not is beside the point. It is an attractive counter to the kind of grasping, unfettered capitalism espoused - or seemingly espoused - by conservatives. There will be some who see the individual elements of "The Blue Way" as just repackaged liberal pablum. But the socially conscious, progressive businessman will not only vote right, he will contribute money to liberal causes and candidates. In that respect, pablum or not, "The Blue Way" contributes to the overall effectiveness of the movement by framing economic issues in an attractive, progressive way.

Not one in 100,000 Americans will probably ever hear of "The Blue Way." But how many Americans ever heard of "supply side economics" until Ronald Reagan picked up on it? The point isn't that General Motors is going to suddenly alter its way of doing business to conform to a "socially conscious" agenda, but rather the effort itself - trying to redefine liberalism's relationship with capitalism - that is significant.

It is also significant that this wouldn't be happening anyplace else. The late 1970's saw the beginnings of conservative networking. Ideas were discussed and examined by the think tanks, lobbying outfits, and conservative publications whose representatives would then meet at scholarly conferences and forums sponsored by one group or another to critique or augment the policy alternatives. The modern netroots network online and come to YearlyKos prepared to put their ideas into usable form. By the time they get here, the outlines of new policies have not only been drawn, but the way they might be packaged to the voter has already been investigated.

To say that this is a quantum leap in political organizing is an understatement. As conservative candidates used to have a constant flow of ideas and ways to package them to voters bubbling up from right wing networks; so now progressive candidates have the same service provided them by the merging of the netroots and liberal intellectuals.

And that's because many of those intellectuals have their own blogs or are writers that contribute to one.

Today, the defining event of the convention will occur when the imprimatur of legitimacy will be given the netroots by 7 of the Democratic candidates for President appearing at a Leadership Forum followed by "breakout sessions" featuring individual candidates mixing with the attendees.

If indeed this convention is about winning elections through reinventing and repackaging the liberal agenda, I think they've made a fine start of it. Will the candidates embrace and eventually adopt at least some of these ideas? That the major candidates will be spending most of a Saturday afternoon talking about it indicates that they know that they can't afford not to.

Rick Moran blogs at Right Wing Nut House