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Advice from the liberal Democrat blogsters
Not-so-grassroots activism

Review by Lance Selfa | August 11, 2006 | Page 17

Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots and the Rise of People-Powered Politics. Chelsea Green Publishing Co., 2006, 200 pages, $25.

IF SEN. Joe Lieberman loses the Democratic primary in Connecticut on August 8, you can be sure that the mainstream media will be filled with talk about the power of the "blogosphere" in taking down a Washington fixture.

That's because Lieberman challenger Ned Lamont received a boost from liberal Democrat-run Weblogs like, and No doubt, that would suit Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas Zúniga fine, because their book, Crashing the Gate, envisions just this kind of "civil war" in the Democratic Party.

Armstrong, founder of, and Zúniga, the "kos" of, have a pretty straightforward view of the current U.S. political situation: "We have a Republican Party that can't govern, a Democratic Party that can't get elected, and little doubt that a great nation is suffering as a result."

Crashing the Gate is their attempt to propose a way forward from this mess, mainly by advising the Democrats about how to get elected.

While the media mythologizes the "blogosphere" as a meeting place for radicals and true believers, Armstrong's and Zúniga's politics are a pretty tepid mix they call "progressivism." To them, being "progressive" means being "non-ideological," "pragmatic" and flexible about addressing issues of making government work and making some modest gestures toward working people.

In policy terms, this type of "progressivism" isn't a whole lot different from Clintonism or even from the Roosevelt administration--Teddy's not FDR's. And so, while is happy see to Lieberman go, it's also rooting for the defeat of liberal Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.), whose "stridency" the Kos netizens consider an embarrassment to the Democratic Party.

Armstrong is an adviser to the political action committee of former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, who is gearing up for a 2008 presidential challenge to assumed frontrunner Sen. Hillary Clinton from the right. So don't look for any big proposals for national health care or support for immediate withdrawal from Iraq. And definitely don't look for any "laundry-list liberalism" in which Democratic interest groups have their "pet issues," like abortion rights and affirmative action, addressed.

One of their main criticisms of the current Democratic Party is its thrall to interest groups like the National Organization of Women or NARAL Pro-Choice America. This isn't just a tactical argument about winning a particular election. It's about a strategic reorientation of the Democrats away from "culture war" issues.

On abortion, they write, "To frame what is a fundamentally unpleasant act as just a 'choice' or even a 'right' seems insensitive to the emotional toll of having an abortion. Such an act can't be reduced to the language of law or consumerism."

To them, the model of a successful Democratic coalition is the business-backed effort that flipped the Colorado legislature from Republican neanderthals to Democratic "progressives" in the 2004 election. "Lessons learned? Combining efforts works better than working in each group's silo. Working to make sure Democrats win control is more important than sabotaging the chances that any candidate that doesn't check off every box on the liberal laundry list."

Of course, this is the same Colorado legislature that just passed the most restrictive anti-immigrant legislation in the country and whose Democratic leaders thumped their chests about being "tough on immigration."

Armstrong and Zúniga score some good points against the fecklessness of the current Democratic establishment--from the useless "Beltway mafia" of loser political consultants to the scared-of-their-shadows politicians who wilt under Republican fire. But their proposals to fix what ails the Democrats are narrow and technical.

In fact, much of their advice--rebuild the Democrats by running in all 50 states, use Madison Avenue sales techniques in Democratic ads, build a liberal infrastructure of think tanks and media outlets--sounds suspiciously like a plan to copy the GOP's three-decade construction of its political and media machines.

Perhaps it's another testament to the bankruptcy of the Democrats that these self-styled "insurgents" have to the ones to propose measures that should be obvious to any serious mainstream political party. But will these measures reclaim American politics from the right-wing stranglehold? Don't count on it, unless your idea of the "left" includes Howard Dean and Mark Warner.

History shows that only mass movements--from the labor movement to the civil rights movement--have forced the bipartisan political establishment to pay attention to the demands of ordinary people.

But Armstrong and Zúniga are clearly not interested in those. "Now the politics of protest activism are, in large part, dead. Once huge media events, the big-march in D.C. model of activism is a big media bore. And if the media doesn't cover an event, does it really happen?"

Despite using rhetorical flourishes about "civil war" and "revolution" and "the netroots," Crashing the Gate is really pretty conventional in its diagnoses and prescriptions. Armstrong's colleague Matt Stoller probably said more than he intended when he told In These Times' Lakshmi Chaudhry: "We [the blogosphere] have no interest in being anti-establishment. We're going to be the establishment."

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