CommunityPam's House Blend

We told you so, Dems – so can the Netroots play ball now that the smart folks fouled out?

I won't go into a long diatribe about how LGBTs were warning our progressive peeps that the flares had gone up early on in the Obama admin that our issues were going to be backburnered, and not just because the man and his team had a full plate.

  • We watched as Robert Gibbs stood up at the podium and repeatedly had a case of amnesia or inability to be fully briefed on what the plan was to repeal DADT or to even give a timeline or idea of whether the President was discussing it.
  • We saw the DOMA brief and its unabashed homophobic language.
  • But we were told, “He's only been in office __ months” by our friends.
  • We saw our LGBT leaders scream, clap and coo as the President invited select members of the community to stand for photo ops, toast to success and promises uttered about action yet to come.

The storm was brewing and it wasn't just the National Organization for Marriage belching out the hot air of professional political homophobia.

Then the worm turned. The President started screwing with other parts of the progressive agenda, selling out, in bed with the very health care institutions in need of reform that are currently screwing us over to keep the cash flowing into their coffers. Dems in Congress showed how 60 seats isn't 60 seats when you bed down with Blue dogs and come up with fleas. And that, apparently, was the progressive wake up call, and the rage rose.

But, we saw it all coming, and our leaders didn't see it, and too many loyal progressives, many LGBT, watched the clock being run down in obvious fashion by this Admin and a spineless Congress.

And then the bill came due and we had an election to give this party a grade. Overconfidence and incompetence in Coakley's campaign has resulted in the election of a teabagging Cosmo centerfold taking Ted Kennedy's seat.

Peter Daou has a spot-on essay up at Huff Post, “Liberal Bloggers to Obama and Dems: We Told You So.” He takes a look at the possible theories why Democrats, with control of the House, Senate and the Presidency, have managed to make themselves impotent, but I want to zero in on the one portion of his essay that we've discussed here about the role of progressive bloggers and the inability of those in power to realize the game has changed, and that to ignore these voices (or to try to blunt their impace) only exacerbates communication and strategy problems.

I'd like to suggest an additional explanation for the demise of Democratic fortunes, namely, that Democratic leaders made two crucial miscalculations in early 2009. A quick glance at the news a year ago today offers clues. On January 19th, 2009, CBS published the “Obama-Lincoln parallel.” The Washington Post wrote about a “bear market for Republicans leaving the Hill or the administration.” The same day, techPresident discussed “How the Obama Transition is Using Tech to Innovate.” Elsewhere that day, LGBT bloggers were complaining that gay Bishop Gene Robinson's prayer was left out of HBO's live broadcast of the inaugural concert.

In that small selection of stories, key themes emerge: a) Obama is the next Lincoln; b) The Obama online revolution continues; c) Republicans are finished; d) a handful of progressives aren't buying it.

Looking back, it's not that difficult to see how the seeds of today's Republican resurgence were planted in those early days:

1. Democratic leaders and strategists, high on victory and awed by the Obama campaign's online prowess, underestimated the dormant power of the old rightwing message machine.

With a sense of invincibility and of history, and believing that the GOP had been mortally wounded, they engaged and legitimized Rush Limbaugh from the White House podium in the belief that it would further marginalize Republicans. It was a mammoth mistake, since it was Rush, Hannity, Drudge, Fox, rightwing blogs, town hall protesters and old-fashioned chain emails that permanently defined the health care debate. Obama's vaunted online army was outgunned and outmaneuvered, while a much-ridiculed Tea Party came out of nowhere to transform the political landscape.

2. Democratic leaders and strategists, privately disdainful of the netroots, underestimated the influence of progressive bloggers.

Nothing should have been a bigger red flag to the new administration than the growing complaints by established progressive bloggers that Democrats were veering off track on the stimulus, the health care bill, civil liberties, gay rights, and more. But scoffing at the netroots is second nature in many quarters of the political establishment, even though they laid the groundwork for Obama's victory. The single biggest reason Obama's hope bubble burst is because of the unintended convergence of left and right opinion-making. The cauldron of opinion that churns incessantly on blogs, Twitter, social networks, and in the elite media generates the storylines that filter across the national and local press, providing the fodder for public opinion. Stalwarts of the left, dedicated to principles not personalities, hammered the administration; couple that with the partisan criticisms from conservatives and libertarians, and the net effect was to alter conventional wisdom and undercut Obama's image and message.

I wrote about these problems while they were occurring, as did many other progressive bloggers, some of whom have been ostracized and attacked, even by their peers.

It seems so clear in hindsight, of course, but what is the solution? More below the fold.


The problem of engaging the Netroots, gay or otherwise, in the political establishment is two-fold. One, in reality “the Netroots” is a loose coalition of various types of bloggers that aren't easily engaged. You have:

  • professional bloggers employed by traditional media;
  • bloggers who are ad-supported and write full-time;
  • bloggers who may or may not have ad revenue, but cannot write full time;
  • bloggers who are reporters and write political commentary
  • bloggers located inside the Beltway or in media centers, others who are not.

With that variety of circumstances in play, none having to do with the amount of talent, influence or professional qualifications, it's hard for government institutions and political entities to figure out how to engage with new media. What are we going to do to help our institutions learn how to work with the rag tag nature of the Netroots in a productive manner?

The second problem is that engagement means acknowledging a responsibility to respond to a new entity with the perceived and/or real power to derail policy or even an election. As long as you don't engage and simply denigrate the role new media plays in politics at all levels, you can do “la la la la” all day long and it won't stop Tweets and Facebook posts from escalating a story rumbling on the blogs to broadcast on mainstream media. And of course we know our pols understand the power of a report on cable news or in major papers. We all know that media figures are watching (and participating on) social networking sites.

The establishment can't roll the clock back. If the Dems want to avoid one political debacle after another, it has to figure out how to engage the Netroots, and the Netroots has to figure out how to better define its universe of advocates, activists, journalists, commentators and muckrakers.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding