Kos: Defining The Center With A Circular Argument? genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Defining The Center

It is human nature to want to be right...and unfortunately, it is also human nature to make such assertions even in the absence of the necessary evidence. While I understand the instinct, I'm not sure it serves to advance meaningful dialogue or forge important alliances. In fact, it reminds me of the very divisive practices we have seen from Karl Rove and the GOP spin machine.

Yes, I'm speaking about the Washington Post article by Susan Gardner and Markos Moulitsas titled How We Won The Mainstream. First, let me acknowledge that there is no doubt that Daily Kos has had a significant influence on the political dialogue in the last few years. At the same time, I would also suggest that it is far more difficult to measure the Kossaks' actual ability to impact the outcome of elections.

Before I proceed...and before all of the apologists attack...let me offer an important caveat. I have no allegiance to Daily Kos (outside of an occasional posting on the site) and I am also not aligned with the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC)...the apparent arch rival of Markos and company. I also have no particular axe to grind with either group...other than my own belief that seeking truth ought to trump the need to tout one's political potency.

In truth, I find the tendency of both groups to wax on with absolute rhetoric...in a fashion reminiscent of Dick Cheney and the GOP's neocon klatch...troubling and counterproductive. The following excerpts are from the article. You can also find Ed Kilgore's response here.

Three years ago things looked bleak for the Democratic Party. [...] Democrats appeared to be on the run, disorganized and demoralized. But outside of Washington there was hope. Grass-roots Democratic activists had seen the future of our politics in Howard Dean -- plain-spoken and unapologetic.

Dean was elected chairman of the Democratic Party despite predictions of electoral doom by the usual suspects in Washington, including the Democratic Leadership Council. In the House, Democrats chose Nancy Pelosi to lead them over current DLC Chairman Harold Ford, who warned of disaster if Pelosi won. Calling her a "throwback" who practiced a "destructive and obstructive" style of politics, Ford proclaimed, "I don't think Nancy Pelosi's kind of politics is what's needed right now." Today, Nancy Pelosi is the first female speaker of the House.

Ford, like his fellow Washington insiders, grossly misunderstood the American electorate. [...] Convinced that this is fundamentally a conservative nation, Ford demanded that Democrats unceasingly inch toward the right or risk electoral irrelevance. As then-DLC official Ed Kilgore put it in 2005, "If we put a gun to everybody's head in the country and make them pick sides, we're not likely to win." But we who live outside the D.C. bubble -- in all 50 states, in counties blue and red -- were hearing voices at odds with the Washington consensus.

The new leadership responded. A concerted grass- and Net-roots effort, bridging online activists and the labor movement, forced Democratic officials to reject any "compromise" with right-wing interests seeking to gut Social Security. Democratic poll numbers rose in the wake of this victory as Bush's fell. Standing strong for a core Democratic program was not only good for our country, it was smart politics.

Clearly, while the above remarks are for the most part an accurate chronology of the referenced events, they also attempt to paint a picture that exceeds the actual canvas...an artistic endeavor akin to closing one's eyes in order to imagine and embellish a bigger and brighter picture than the one which has left us wanting.

Rather than belabor the reader with a spate of details, suffice it to say that Howard Dean's mission to court not only the center but those on the right who he contends are misaligned with a Republican Party that regularly fails to address their needs seems to indicate a recognition that the existing "progressive" coalition must expand to be an ongoing force. It also seems to be recognition that the 2006 Democratic gains may have been more about opposition to the war in Iraq than a strong shift in shared ideology.

As to Nancy Pelosi and Social Security, may I posit that we're simply looking at a situation one might equate with a "chicken or the egg" conundrum. Did strong voter opposition to a change in Social Security enable Pelosi's stance or did Pelosi take the lead in shaping public opinion? OK, I'll admit that the answer to my question may be an insult to the scientific endeavor I've invoked.

Lastly, if I understand politics, the citing of an event that is now distant history as evidence of where we are or where we're going may make one feel good but it is also apt to be little more than an irrelevant footnote. May I suggest that the recent polling showing voter approval of Congress at three percent is a far better recap of what has happened and where we stand? I think a three percent approval ought to instruct that the future actions of the Democratic congressional leadership must improve and be better aligned with public sentiment.

Months later we championed Ned Lamont's victorious primary challenge to Sen. Joe Lieberman in Connecticut. Beltway insiders predicted that our success would cost Democrats the U.S. Senate, and consultants allied with the DLC fretted that activists were "pushing the party to the left."

In fact, we pushed the party so far left that we positioned it squarely in the American mainstream and last year won a historic, sweeping congressional victory, something the "centrist" groups had been unable to accomplish for decades -- not even in the DLC's glory days of the 1990s.

By early 2006, so-called centrism had offered up Iraq, a tax regime that puts the burden on the middle class, bankruptcy reform that gave away the farm to irresponsible credit card companies, an outdated physical infrastructure, legalized torture and a crippled disaster-response effort in New Orleans. The American people, infinitely smarter than Washington insiders, had had enough. Unapologetic, muscular Democrats swept into office in dramatic numbers in state and local races nationwide.

Now I'm no magician so perhaps I don't understand the art of illusion...but to cite the Ned Lamont primary victory without acknowledging his eventual loss to Joe Lieberman as evidence that the country has shifted leftward seems to be at best a sleight of hand and more likely a fictional fantasy. If Harold Ford's loss in Tennessee is evidence that the DLC's demand to move the Democratic Party to the center proves their misjudgment, then the fact that independent candidate Joe Lieberman was able to defeat the darling of the Netroots Left points to the miscalculation of Moulitsas and his followers.

Before the apologists converge to argue that one must look at the political climate of Connecticut before calling the Lamont candidacy a miscalculation, I would argue the same to be true regarding the outcome in Tennessee...so let's not waste our time. The truth of the matter is that neither the Kossaks nor the DLC have much to crow about. I'm sorry to be a buzz kill, but isn't it possible that 2006 was about saying no to George Bush and his Iraq quagmire?

Further, when I read Moulitsas' and Gardner's carefully crafted creation, I can't help but think about the many postings I've read in Netroot land about the need to toss out the many Blue Dog Democrats who were elected in 2006...and for those of you who may not be familiar with the term, Blue Dog Democrats are viewed to be a loosely linked group of Democrats who were elected in conservative leaning districts who embrace a much more conservative position than the Netroots.

Pardon my skepticism, but I'm struggling to follow this tortured line of reasoning which on the one hand seeks to contend that 2006 is evidence that the Netroots is the mainstream and on the other hand argues that the Blue Dog Democrats need to be targeted in 2008. Do a Google search on Blue Dog Democrats and see what you find. Isn't it possible that these people won in their districts because they didn't move too far left...and they capitalized upon the dissatisfaction with George Bush and the war in Iraq?

I'm still trying to decipher the particulars on the candidates Moulitsas and Gardner are referring to when they mention the "unapologetic, muscular Democrats" who were swept into office. Undoubtedly, the Democratic Party was successful in state and local races but this particular reference struck me as noticeably vague.

Last week, at the YearlyKos convention, all these players came together to celebrate our newfound unity and to organize for the coming battles in 2008 and beyond. The DLC was nowhere to be found -- unless you looked in Nashville, where its members continued to preach, in empty halls, about the "vital center." Even the Democratic presidential candidates have figured out where the heart of the party now lies: with the new, unashamedly progressive movement.

The DLC had two decades to make its case, to build an audience and community, to elect leaders the American people wanted. It failed.

Their time is up. The "center" is where we stand now, promoting an engaged and active politics embraced by significant majorities of Americans.

I know I'm being particularly sarcastic...but is the "defeat" of the DLC the kind of political victory one wants to tout when given the platform of a national newspaper article? My instincts about people suggest that my friends over at Daily Kos have gotten lost in the minutia of one-upmanship.

I'm reminded of the natural rivalry that exists between my two young nephews. As the younger one strives to outdo his older brother, my sister agonizes over their propensity to succumb to the immaturity and pettiness which one might logically expect from children.

I've yet to figure out how to explain the seemingly similar behavior from Mr. Moulitsas and Ms. Gardner. A sociologist might argue that political potency has become a metaphor for the passing on of one's genetic code...whereby their vituperate vignette is an attempt to assert viability and virility. Rather vexing, if I may say so myself.

Tagged as: Daily Kos, DLC, Markos Moulitsas, Nancy Pelosi, Ned Lamont, Netroots, Progressive, Susan Gardner, YearlyKos

Daniel DiRito | August 11, 2007 | 10:03 AM
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1 On August 11, 2007 at 9:18 PM, PBCliberal wrote —

When I saw them all high-fiving each other over at DK, quoting selects of their op-ed piece, I ran off to read the whole thing, and I couldn't believe the way they have tried to finesse the Lamont/Liberman debacle.

First, in the interest of full disclosure, I'm a proud liberal, and was an out-of-state Lamont supporter who even sent him money. I'm in lockstep agreement with most of what is peddled for truth over at DK. Impeachment talk makes me cheer. Potential imprisonment of the current administration for war crimes makes me grin like a cheshire cat.

But I'm not ready to drink the kool aid that we should rout the DLC, and I too suspect the slimy hand of Karl Rove in this. We're not alone. Drational has been pleading with the Kossacks to not fall for the typical right wing divide and conquer playbook that has always worked so well on minorities.

Let's revisit the sentence about the Lamont "victory" in the Kos op-ed. This one boggles my mind:

Beltway insiders predicted that our success would cost Democrats the U.S. Senate, and consultants allied with the DLC fretted that activists were "pushing the party to the left."

Maybe I'm being a little sarcastic myself, but my recollection of the outcome is that we don't have a Senate majority. We have the appearance of one because of an independent senator that caucuses with the Democrats, but that owes his very soul to the republicans who threw their own candidate under the bus to elect a conservative Democrat as an independent.

I don't like these blue dogs at all, but we conveniently forgot that Jim Webb was a re-treaded republican when he was our hope against George Allen, or that Claire McCaskill's positions were not that easy to distinguish from Jim Talent's beyond stem cell research and ethics issues.

That we're outraged that they toed the George Bush FISA party line reflects more on our lack of understanding of who they were when we were cheering them on, than their standing as Democrats.

And if you find those "unapologetic, muscular Democrats" that got swept into office, please post it immediately, because I can't find them either.

Thought Theater at Blogged

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