Wednesday, May 2, 2007

TNR and the Blogosphere

Interesting piece by Jonathan Chaitt on the Left Blogosphere in this week's TNR, which serves as de facto history of the 'left movement.'

A few things that seem fresh:

* Degree to which the biggest bloggers -- Jerome Armstrong, Markos Moulitsas ZĂșniga, Atrios (Duncan Black) -- are, or rather were, outside of the traditional political activist sphere. From the piece:
Two deep, organic bonds hold together the netroots. The first is generational. Netroots activists tend to be in their thirties, like Moulitsas and Black, or younger. Even those who are older, such as Armstrong (who is in his early forties), often developed a strong interest in politics only recently. Nearly all of them, then, share the common experience of having their political consciousness awakened and shaped by the Bush years.

Their newness makes them outsiders to the game. They are, by their way of thinking, self-made men and women who pulled themselves up from obscurity by dint of pure merit. They see the Washington establishment, by contrast, as a kind of clique, filled with mediocrities who attended the best schools or know the right people. The netroots shorthand for this phenomenon is "Washington cocktail parties"--where, it is believed, the elite share their wrong-headed ideas, inoculated from accountability. "They still have their columns and TV gigs," Moulitsas wrote on his blog last December, describing the Beltway elite. "They still get treated with reverence by the D.C. cocktail party circuit."

* The "meta" role of The New Republic itself, which is one of the two main 'adversaries' (along with the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), and perhaps Time's Joe Klein) of the left-blogosphere. Yet TNR is writing about the very movement that is defining it:
Just as the Goldwaterites reserved their strongest contempt for the moderates who controlled the GOP, the netroots are at their most single-minded in their opposition to the moderates who they believe control the Democratic Party. The netroots often identify this enemy in amorphous, populist terms--"the Beltway," "the D.C. establishment," etc. When it comes to identifying its adversaries more specifically, the two institutions named most often are the DLC and tnr. Netroots activists speak of these two institutions in stark terms. "This is the modern DLC--an aider and abettor of Right-wing smear attacks against Democrats," wrote Moulitsas, who proceeded to threaten to "make the DLC radioactive." In a posting about tnr, titled "tnr's defection to the Right is now complete," Moulitsas wrote that this magazine "betrayed, once again, that it seeks to destroy the new people-powered movement for the sake of its Lieberman-worshipping neocon owners." Both the DLC and tnr are perpetually described as "dying" or "irrelevant," yet simultaneously possessed of sinister and ubiquitous control over the national discourse.

In reality, of course, the DLC is a political enterprise and tnr a journalistic one; each has on its staff individuals who do not always agree with each other; and neither institution exerts total control over every individual on its payroll. While both the DLC and tnr supported the Iraq war, both stridently opposed almost every other element of the Bush agenda. The overwhelming majority of DLC missives and tnr articles are perfectly congenial to mainstream liberalism and perfectly hostile to the Republican Party of George W. Bush. But these sorts of subtleties generally escape the Manichean analysis that pervades the netroots.

* The death of bi-partisan consensus, at least among political journalists, in the eyes of many readers. The rise of the left-leaning blogosphere means, according to the article, that all political discourse is either left- or right-leaning. There is no 'middle way.'

The netroots understand that this is not a fair fight. As Black (aka Atrios) has argued, you cannot sustain "a Demo- cratic party in which all the leading Democrats are forever running against their own party. Triangulation can work for one man, but when every leading Democrat is constantly falling all over himself (yes, this is exaggeration) to get away from Those Damn Dirty Democrats, you have a party which is without foundation and where capitulation is confused with bipartisanship."

David Broder and others who date back to a kinder and gentler Washington are now coming under attack from the Left, just as they were from the Right once upon a time.

In a post on how the netroots was successfully lobbying the mainstream media, Yglesias wrote, "I might also note that Swampland is suddenly full of posts I find much more agreeable than the ones they were doing early on." His fellow blogger Ezra Klein (no relation), of the Prospect, offered a persuasive explanation of his namesake's more liberal-friendly tone:

It's worth remembering that, for years, the only thing these quasi-liberal columnists heard was how biased, out- of-touch, and incomprehensibly progressive they were. So they began tailoring, consciously or not, their work to defend against those criticisms.

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