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A brief note on why the progressive blog movement failed

2013 October 27
by Ian Welsh

In the early 2000s progressive blogging seemed like a big deal.  At the first Yearly Kos, as it was called then, big name politicians came and kissed our ass.  We were covered by major newspaper and TV outlets.  Etc…

Today, we are nothing.

The reason is simple: we could not elect enough of our people. We could not instill sufficient fear.  We could not defeat incumbents.  We did not produce juice.  Clark and Dean didn’t win the 2004 Presidential nomination. Dean was taken out in a particularly nasty fashion (via the manufactured Dean Scream.)

The turning point was when Joe Lieberman, though defeated in a primary, managed to be elected anyway.  After the 2006 House capture by Democrats, Pelosi’s democrats betrayed the fundamental principles that the prog blogosphere stood for: they did nothing to stop the war, for example.  The Prog blogosphere took it, and worse, most of the blogs that did come out against House Democratic Vichy behaviour, lost audience.  (Yes, they did. I tracked this stuff carefully at the time.)

The nail in the coffin was the 2008 primaries.  To put it simply, Obama bypassed the blogging gatekeepers. Commenters, whether free or bought (and yes, I believe many were on the payroll) capsized DKos and other major blogs.  Obama did not need the gatekeepers, he simply bought out the movement.  The bloggers were irrelevant.  At least one major blogger acted as a conduit for Obama hits: was fed oppo, and put that oppo out there.

After 2008 everyone knew that they didn’t need prog-bloggers and that they didn’t really need to fear bloggers. (They may be annoyed by “Firebaggers”, they do not fear them.)

Unlike the Tea Party, most left wingers don’t really believe their own ideology.  They put partisanship first, or they put the color of a candidate’s skin or the shape of their genitals over the candidate’s policy.  Identity is more important to them than how many brown children that politician is killing.

So progressives have no power, because they have no principles: they cannot be expected to actually vote for the most progressive candidate, to successfully primary candidates, to care about policy first and identity second, to not take scraps from the table and sell out other progressive’s interests.

The Tea Party, say what you will about them, gets a great deal of obeisance from Republicans for one simple reason: they will primary you if they don’t like how you’ve been voting, and they’ll probably win that primary.  They are feared.  Progressives are not feared, because they do not believe enough in their ostensible principles to act on them in an effective fashion.

That is why the progressive revolution of the early 2000s failed.  If you want the next left wing push to succeed, whatever it is called, learn the lessons of the last failure.

(Note: I poured years of my life into the movement. Its failure is my failure, and I take no pleasure in it at all.)

129 Responses
  1. Kal permalink
    October 30, 2013

    The joke, I’m afraid–and it’s not a very funny one–is on people who thought “progressive blogging” was a movement.

    Social movements may use technology but they’re not defined by one. And as someone who was doing on-the-ground organizing in college against the war in Iraq (and to some extent other things, immigrant rights, etc), the blogosphere was very much not our movement media. To the extent people I knew were reading anything we identified with it was tiny scrappy “old left” outlets like Democracy Now or Counterpunch or Socialist Worker that hosted analysis from an IRL activist perspective, or isolated journalists with a larger platform like Jeremy Scahill, Nir Rosen or Patrick Cockburn who could provide actual investigative and unembedded news. I was unusual in reading any blogs. The “netroots” had a narrowly electoral focus and people writing and reading those blogs weren’t talking about mass rallies–even when they were taking place from 2003-7 at the hundreds-of-thousands scale, around the war, immigrant rights, etc–or debates about what kind of direct action made sense or attempts to build national organizations outside the Democratic party. A lot of liberals of the Internet variety seemed to have this sense that they were smarter than the other guys and they had these new tools so they didn’t have to think very hard about political economy or engage seriously with existing traditions of grassroots organizing–or think too much about long-term goals because Bush & Cheney were always doing something “we” could all agree was awful. It’s not surprising that a milieu like that didn’t end up producing any kind of challenge to the existing power structures in the US, even if it turns out that’s what a substantial number of the people who were attracted to it really wanted. The only people involved who had a clear understanding of what they were trying to do were the ones fundamentally wedded to the Democratic establishment, and they stayed hegemonic.

    I think things have actually gotten better on that front recently, though, with Twitter making it easier for strangers to rudely enter conversations (with their #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen or whatever), and Occupy helping too, by getting a whole lot of people talking about the same stuff, however briefly. If the old ‘netroots’ has split into a Democratic-establishment which has won, and an inchoate set of rebels whose audiences and energy have withered, a younger Internet left based in social media and new post-blogging online outlets like Jacobin etc has grown. Movements overall are in shitty shape, but perhaps we’re better positioned on the Internet front for the fire next time.

    If my reference to the #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen hashtag doesn’t make it clear, though, I think any alliance with libertarians is a dead end. I understand why it’s a tempting shortcut for people who–like me–see the bankruptcy of perpetual lesser evilism, but it’s a mistake. People who oppose the surveillance state and drone strikes but have no solidarity with most working class people–whether that’s because of crappy gender politics or union-bashing or whatever–are not the next cohort for a still-small left movement to build around. And while “check your privilege”-ism has its problems, it is *not* the reason more progressives haven’t broken from Obama or managed to sustain or win anything with mass grassroots organizing. Too much rank-and-file liberalism has lacked any very clear long-term strategy, any sense of fundamental principles which you’ll never excuse a politician for violating, or any coherent sense of what kind of political economy could sustain a better world and what kind of obstacles the current organization of work, wealth and power places in the way of one. Those were the central problems of the “netroots”. Are they going to get fixed by striving for some kind of muddled compromise with Rand Paul-style right-libertarians? Seriously?

  2. October 30, 2013

    My critical discussion of incrementalism and Obama, now nearly two years old: http://adviceunasked.blogspot.com/2011/01/obama-inequity-and-democracy.html. “Obama came to power in a time when radical approaches were appropriate and instead adopted incremental approaches, discarding a great opportunity.”

  3. Mass Independent permalink
    October 30, 2013

    @Dan Lynch

    I voted for Nader twice and Stein once because they were the best candidates, but also because I was in safe states (VT and MA) when I voted. Still, we need to throw off the two corrupt, corporate war mongering parties if there is to be any hope for this country.

  4. nihil obstet permalink
    October 30, 2013

    Miracle Max: When. Will. You. Be. Back? I’ve been checking Maxspeak since July.

  5. October 30, 2013

    Hi n.o., thanks for asking. Don’t exactly know, hopefully within a few months. Need some web work done first.

  6. usagi permalink
    October 30, 2013

    Yes. Exactly so.
    But with one caveat. It’s not too late.
    It’s not as if the model isn’t sitting there ready for progressives to use. It’s harder now. Lots of momentum and opportunity has been lost, but there’s still no reason not to start picking candidates to primary from the left in 2014.

  7. Scarysota63 permalink
    October 30, 2013

    I love your article except for your analysis of the Tea Party. They are bought and paid for the super-rich person (Rick Scott and the Koch brothers have been supporters). Progressives have never had that kind of money backing us up. And the PCCC did threaten to primary any Democrat who voted for a Grand Bargain. So we may not be feared, but at least we are beginning to be noticed.

  8. October 30, 2013

    @Kal

    The joke, I’m afraid–and it’s not a very funny one–is on people who thought “progressive blogging” was a movement.

    Good one. I was wondering if anyone would question the “movement” premise of this whole discussion. I’m especially interested in whether anyone who was involved in all the backchannel movement building ever questioned the premise at the time — and whether they’d care to expound somewhat on what sort of questions were raised.

    As you say, for those on the ground doing organizing and movement building, policy advocacy, Occupy, and so forth, the blogs were not a “movement,” not even remotely. Often, they weren’t even resources, though candidates figured out they could use them as ATM machines. Often enough, there was neither communication nor recognition between those on the ground and blogmeisters — who would often enough be spending their time talking to one another and/or watching the teevee “news” for something to say in their next blogpost.

    It’s hard to call anything of that sort a “movement,” but I guess those who were most closely involved thought it was a movement because they had coteries of followers (often sharing the same people), they were able to raise a good deal of money for candidates, and some of them were being invited to mingle with important people.

    But from the ground, Progressive Blogtopia it never looked like a movement.

  9. Ian Welsh permalink*
    October 30, 2013

    Honestly, after Obama’s 2005 Kos diary where he told us he held us in contempt, the Netroots going for him was a sickening display of self-abnegation.

  10. Jerome Armstrong permalink
    October 30, 2013

    @Kal, no I don’t think a legislative alliance is going to fix those long term problems that you mention. It’s merely a way, in this poisonous political climate, to get a few of the things we want to happen. I think we have to be pragmatic in our expectations, and realistic about the limitations. It’s not ideal, but it’s one of the few alternative that have emerged for the short-term.

    Seeing the widespread ideological opposition to bombing Syria had me sit up and take notice. That was historical, and no-doubt led by those in opposition for progressive or libertarian reasons (though I wouldn’t ignore the partisanship in it either). Amash-Conyers is happening and will likely now move out of the House (to die in the Senate). Audit the Fed is happening again. Marijuana decriminalization, and outright legalization, is happening in the states. Those are very important causes that go directly against the Republican-Democratic establishment position, but where progressives and libertarians align and could pose majorities.

    There are political windows that open for a very short time. Remember McCain-Fiengold? Gutted now, but at the time, it passed in a window that was slammed shut the year before, and the year after. Obama might not give a shit about progressives, but those Democrats in Congress know that the base is stewed, and will get on board; in fact they already are.

    As for all the movement talk. Man, I just don’t want to go through that dialogue again. I think MyDD and Open Left spent about 6 weeks straight in 2007 posting and posting about it. it was mostly an electoral movement, with the big exception of stopping Bush’s agenda (especially in regard to gutting SS) and getting Democrats elected to a massive majority in the House and Senate (see 2006) and then taking the Presidency. I don’t think the ‘movement’ played much a part in the latter, because the apple-cart got flipped over in the process.

  11. Kal permalink
    October 31, 2013

    @Jerome

    I think I want to make a distinction between a strategic and a tactical alliance–yes to the latter, no to the former. I am totally in favor of working with libertarians on say some state marijuana legalization initiative. I don’t want to start organizing for the Pauls and minimizing their bad politics as just about “social lifestyle” issues. It’s not just that I don’t want to vote for somebody who’s no lesser an evil than Obama, it’s that I don’t want to mix up my arguments with totally different ones. I’m against any war on Syria because imperial intervention is bad for Syrians and the Syrian revolution, not because Assad is a hero of resistance (per a few on the left), or because Syrians’ lives are just no concern of ours (per too many on the right). I want that to be clear. It’s pretty rare that I want to be citing libertarian arguments about anything–Radley Balko is unfortunately not typical.

    Why does this matter? This is where the movement part comes in. It’s fair if you don’t want to repeat a dialogue from 2007 that I wasn’t around for–I never read MyDD much. But here’s my perspective: we’re very far from the kind of world that you or I want to live in, or the kind of policies that we think are acceptable. In the short term we can win a few victories, and we should fight for them, but we will continue to be losing the [class] war. So our most important task is building the groundwork for a mass movement that would have the power to actually change things: educating and training masses of people as activists and organizers, knitting together networks, building a left culture. For that we need, not a homogenous set of ideas, but at least a striving towards political clarity. Single issue campaigns–with diverse allies–are a part of that process. Working for a general political realignment around the common ground between progressives and libertarians is not (especially given that while I think class politics offers the basis for a potential majority coalition, the actual common ground between progressives and libertarians does not).

  12. Peter permalink
    October 31, 2013

    Did you seriously write this whole screed to complain that Obama didn’t feel the need to kiss your obscure and unimportant ring in 2008?

  13. October 31, 2013

    @Peter

    Actually, I think it’s Howard Dean’s fault.

    He and all those funny-named people like Joe Trippi and Zephyr Teachout and whatnot are the ones who made use of the nascent Netroots to make a big splash and show what could be done if only there were a sustained movement… so the blogospheric entrepreneurs declared a movement, crashed the gates, and here we are…

    Obama took what had been done and ran with it all the way to two terms in the White House — together with signature accomplishments that are pretty damned galling to a whole lot of folks who believed they were after something else entirely. Be careful what you wish for and all that.

    But it was hardly a failure from Dean’s or Obama’s point of view, was it?

  14. Peter permalink
    October 31, 2013

    Obama didn’t win by copying the netroots’ infrastructure – the net roots has no infrastructure outside of funding capabilities. He won the old-fashioned way, by organizing on a local level and driving turnout.

  15. Ian Welsh permalink*
    October 31, 2013

    Politicians do most things because someone wants them done who can hold them accountable if they don’t do it. That includes bad things, and good things. Anyone who doesn’t understand this reality doesn’t understand even the most basic parts of politics.

    Clinton reached out to the Netroots, and felt the Netroots (we, not me, I had almost no contact with the campaign) mattered enough to at least listen to. Obama did not.

    You dances with the ones who brought you, as Canadian PM Brian Mulroney once said, Obama won by bypassing the Netroots and lying to Progressives and Liberals.

    There’s always someone to come around and say “you thought you were important, you’re a nobody just like the rest of the peons.” I’m sure it makes you feel good, but it misses the point entirely. The movement, such as it was, was bypassed and lost power. As a result, for example, we could not improve Dodd-Frank, insist on more help for homeowners (which I pushed hard for), improve the shitty stimulus bill, or get any of a number of other liberal/progressive priorities pushed.

  16. Richard Estes permalink
    October 31, 2013

    How to get one’s arms around such a challenging subject. Well, to begin with, the progressive blogosphere was never left, at least not in the sense of being either Social Democratic or Marxist and anti-imperialist. It had no real engagement beyond the electoral process with challenging subjects related to contemporary capitalism and whether it could be tamed (if so, how?), or, alternatively, requires eradication, assuming, of course, that it doesn’t eradicate itself to our detriment.

    Instead, all of this was suppressed under the mid-2000s band-aid of “more and better Democrats”, a mantra that both Daily Kos and firedoglake chanted through 2008, despite the betrayals of the 2006 Democratic Congress. If there had been such an engagement, then we might have been better prepared for the cynicism of the Obama presidency. But, in the absence of any social and ideological perspective, except an innocuous form of progressive reformism (campaign finance reform, the public option), we got the continuation of a war without end and the perversion of progressive objectives to serve the purposes of the capital class as with health care reform.

    As Ian says, the Lieberman episode was a watershed moment. It taught me that the neoliberal, militaristic mafia will do whatever is necessary to preserve their power and protect one of their own. While I don’t characterize myself as anarchist as it would be rather absurd, I do find its critique of violence and hierarchy increasingly relevant to our predicament. Expecting to address these evils within the electoral process through a social movement, like the late, lamented progressive blogosphere, strikes me as naive. Any political movement, whether in the bricks and morter or cyberspace world, is going to have great difficulty in changing this country unless it directly confronts the violence perpetrated by the US domestically and abroad. It requires that we drain the military/prison industrial complex swamp and stop instigating violence globally through military interventions and arms sales.

    Sounds impossible, but, then, people probably told abolitionists in the 1830s and 1840s that it was impossible to get rid of slavery, too.

  17. October 31, 2013

    So after Dean was defeated (and I never understood why the Netroots split its support between Dean and Clark, but these things happen, sometimes deliberately in Big Boy politics), the next Netroots project I was involved in was the election of Dean to be Chair of the DNC.

    Success!!!

    Oh, double plus waow!

    Dean set about an ambitious program — the “50 State Strategy.” Democratic Party operations were expanded exponentially, against sometimes intense Party Big Wig opposition.

    The Netroots helped vet, raise money for, campaign for, and ultimately helped elect dozens of Dems in 2006, lots of them where Dems hadn’t even bothered to campaign in the past. The Lamont debacle in Connecticut was one of several failures, however, and it was a learning opportunity that didn’t seem to take. Primarying Lieberman’s ass and getting Lamont the Dem nomination did not result in Lieberman’s defeat, and it led to some deep-seated and lasting animosity between Netroots operations and the Dem Party Big Wigs.

    I would have primaried DiFi’s ass in ’06, but apparently the Netroots operators were convinced Lieberman was far more vulnerable. Trouble was, he was beloved of the Party honchos as well as many ostensibly “Progressive” colleagues in the Senate. Does the name Barbara Boxer ring a bell? There you are. Dem Party Big Wigs decided that Lieberman would be re-elected to the Senate even if it meant reaching out to Republicans to do it. So it would be.

    The bad taste of that affair lingered, and it didn’t help at all when the Netroots operators were brushed aside by the Obama campaign in 2008. Once again, there was a split in Netroots support between Hillary and Obama. Obama decided he could put together his own successful online campaign presence without relying on the Netroots campaign operators, and he did.

    Still a large cohort of Dems were elected to Congress and to several Statehouses in 2008, many with the assistance of the Netroots operations, but even more through the Dean 50 State Strategy. It was a remarkable accomplishment.

  18. October 31, 2013

    The minute Obama was elected, he dismissed Howard Dean and started dismantling the 50 State Strategy — and he quite consciously ignored the Netroots except to the extent its operations could be folded in to Obama’s Dem Party apparat and amid all the other loyalists.

    2010 was the result, a disaster for the Dems, losing seats in Congress, but even more importantly, losing Statehouse after Statehouse, resulting in the gerrymandering that ensures the perpetuation of radical Republicanism for the foreseeable future. I assumed at the time — and I assume now — that the Dem disaster of 2010 was an intentional and radical strategic loss by the Big Wigs for purposes that remain obscure. The results, however, are plain to see.

    A shocking number of Dems who were elected with extensive Netroots support turned out to be PINOs — Progressives In Name Only. Few of the very few actual progressive Dems in office will buck Party leadership on anything, but worse was the number of Dems who ran as Progressives but were installed as Blue Dogs or worse. On the other hand quite a few progressive candidates could not obtain Netroots support to save their lives in a fire. Marcy Winograd comes to mind; Ami Bera was another. There are lots of them.

    Inability to exert effective pressure on candidates and refusal to support some progressive candidates along with the Netroots’ tendency to split support between candidates confused more than a few would be supporters and advocates of a Progressive Netroots/Blog Movement. Inability to define — or outright refusal to define — “Progressive” meant that the Movement — such as it was — had no coherent ideological basis. The tendency to negativity, focusing on the Other Guy, and being against policies, candidates and officeholders rather than for a comprehensive, coherent and consistent set of values and policies has been a limitation.

    The continuing efforts to align with libertarians and radical rightists — even if only issue-by-issue — alienates many more leftish progressive advocates and activists than it advances progressive interests .

    From the ground, as has been pointed out, the blogs/Netroots did not appear a movement at all. They were just blogs and blogging communities, often sharing the same audience, many of whom would not/could not become political activists. They could raise money and could promote candidates. Beyond that? Well, they could be ignored, too.

    Declaring a “movement” doesn’t always make one.

    Those who were activists and advocates rarely had time or interest for blogs and blogospheric matters in any case.

  19. Ian Welsh permalink*
    October 31, 2013

    Oh God, I wrote on the end of the 50 state strategy at the time, was forced to partially retract, huge backlash, but I was right, and they were wrong. Absolute BS, people wanted to believe, you couldn’t tell them anything.

  20. November 1, 2013

    @Ian

    I wrote on the end of the 50 state strategy

    Yes, you did, and this is one of those posts, immediately after Obama’s election:

    http://firedoglake.com/2008/11/07/50-state-strategy-being-killed-by-letting-the-organizers-go/

    The episode would have been bizarre if it weren’t already becoming clear that once the New Guy got the job, there would be [big] changes made at the roots level,”‘bye bye, so long, glad you could make it! Mwah! [Get outta here, ya creep!]”

    At the elite level, there would be only cosmetic changes, no matter the rhetoric and glib assurances.

    Those of us who didn’t like it were free to lump it.

  21. Jerome Armstrong permalink
    November 4, 2013

    @Ché Pasa, I pretty much have the same take as you on Dean, that glorious moment of electing him as DNC chair, and the 50 state movement that implemented more people running as Democrats than at any point in the last 60 years, at least, in 2006.

    But, it was not cut and dried as saying that the activists and blogosphere were separate sides and not cohesive. I traveled around the country a lot in 2006, probably to 30 states and 50 or 60 political events. A lot around CTG, or with Warner, but also just with campaigns and candidates that I was working with at one level or another. Not everyone was even on the internet at that point, but my take was that everyone into politics was reading something on the web for more info. It was many times either local blogs or website communities, or national liberal outlet websites, but there was significant cross-pollination from the writers of those outlets to each other, if not all the readers. I think it’s easy to point to the dysfunction that exists today among progressives and say that there was never a cohesive movement out of the blogs, but having experienced it at all ends of the movement, I think it did exist at the time.

    And I do believe we’ve reached a fork in the road with any sort of cohesiveness around being a progressive. There never was a central issue-based shared ideological basis to begin with, as it was all about putting the single-issue differences aside to defeat Bush, elect Democrats to massive majorities, and hope for the best. With those electoral goals achieved, it’s hard to imagine the political hope for change turning out worse than has since that 2008 culmination.

    My sense is that the times have changed since the liberals had a cohesive ideology, so much so that a significant amount of those who identify with being progressive will also say that too much government is now part of the problem. That much of the future debate in this country is aligned around the populist axis of squeezed people vs a government that is too aligned with meeting corporate goals and profits. It’s not an ideological debate or an ideological alliance. It’s a structural and systematic schism.

    I see the whole decade and a half that has proceeded us, as a mere interplay of looking to solve this problem. Thus the pendulum swings between the parties. Try this side, try that side… who is going to fix the problem? The swings that have happened in this time are practically unparalleled historically.

    It’s very much like America was in the 1890′s, when power swung amidst financial crisis and huge societal changes. The angry populists broke out 3rd party, and then the progressives emerged with solutions, which were summarily adopted over the next 30 years, culminating with Roosevelt.

    We are at the point now where it’s obvious neither of the two parties will make the change happen, so I expect more 3rd party challenges to begin emerging.

  22. michael permalink
    November 4, 2013

    Somewhere around 2006, liberal bloggers began making up dumb reasons to be angry, jumping on minor points and gaffes and forgetting the Big Picture disasters happening everywhere.

    Basically, liberals turned to a slightly more honest version of the “gotcha” politics that Republicans have always used. The hand-wringing and minor deceptions I get in my inbox from the once-great MoveOn reminds me daily why I’ve abandoned the more connected liberal groups.

    It doesn’t help that the 2 biggest liberal blogs — the Daily Kos and Huffpo — are web design nightmares, difficult to navigate and littered with moving ads and overlays. And, of course, there’s the issue with Huffpo pissing all over its roots by trying to become Salon-meets-TMZ.

    At this point, the only liberal blog I follow is Wonkette, because at least its humorous.

  23. November 5, 2013

    Why will any real progressive movement sputter and fade periodically? Randy Newman said it best in pure poetry:

    Of all of the people that I used to know
    Most never adjusted to the great big world
    I see them lurking in book stores
    Working for the Public Radio
    Carrying their babies around in a sack on their back
    Moving careful and slow

    All of these people are much brighter than I
    In any fair system they would flourish and thrive
    But they barely survive
    They eke out a living and they barely survive

    When I was a young boy, maybe thirteen
    I took a hard look around me and asked what does it mean?
    So I talked to my father, and he didn’t know
    And I talked to my friend and he didn’t know
    And I talked to my brother and he didn’t know
    And I talked to everybody that I knew

    Then I talked to a man lived up on the county line
    I was washing his car with a friend of mine
    He was a little fat guy in a red jumpsuit
    I said “You look kind of funny”
    He said “I know that I do”

    “But I got a great big house on the hill here
    And a great big blonde wife inside it
    And a great big pool in my backyard and another great big pool
    beside it
    Sonny it’s money that matters, hear what I say
    It’s money that matters in the USA
    It’s money that matters
    Now you know that it’s true
    It’s money that matters whatever you do”

    Me? I say that money is a fiction. But most of us worship old gods of the night.

  24. smarter kossack permalink
    November 5, 2013

    Obama won because he lied through his teeth, preyed on naive young people, used his brilliant speeches to manipulate everyone, wasn’t Clinton, and was black. He pushed all of the buttons to make the liberals “feel” good and seal the deal. Prior to Obama, I became an ex-Democrat. Because of Obama, I became an ex-liberal. If dailykos and the people at the blog are progressive, it is abundantly clear what is wrong. There is no left.

  25. November 5, 2013

    @ Jerome Armstrong

    From where I was, campaigning for Dean on the ground and being a member of blog communities including dKos, but not in a position to direct or particularly influence either, I can only say that what I witnessed was less a movement and more a temporarily successful marketing campaign.

    Of course the way the political game is played for public consumption is mostly marketing in any case, but it seemed to me, especially when the primary results came in for Dean at barely ten percent of the vote, that blogger triumphalism had badly miscalculated the breadth and depth of the movement. Not for the first or last time either.

    In other words, no matter how wonderful it looked, the People had other notions — and the blogospheric proprietors seemed to have a hard time recognizing that.

    We did get Dean elected DNC chair, and that was a big success, but look how small the DNC electorate was — a few thousand at most, all of them keyed in to the Party. Party success is one thing, political success with the public is something else again. Dean as Chair showed how to do it — 2006 and then 2008 were spectacular Party successes, though obviously not “progressive” ones — but as soon as he was gone from Party leadership, it pretty much fell to pieces, and the disaster (for the Party) of 2010 was the result.

    Neither Dems nor Rs serve the interest of the people today; neither party did in the 1890′s, either, though the Dems were more populist than the Rs. (Old Line) Progressivism emerged via the Rs to stop the populist Dem surge that looked to become the leading political factor in the country in the 1890′s.

    Though an aristocrat and a Republican, TR was the first Progressive president, accidental though it may have been.

    At least by then, Progressivism had a more or less coherent set of values and a nascent ideological framework — even if it was mostly a matter of practical operations, getting things (mostly necessary) done.

    We’re not at the point of progressive practical operations and getting things done yet; we see that what gets done — whether wars or the ACA or what have you — primarily benefits the elites, not the people. Popular grumbling hasn’t yet resulted in a positive political movement for change ; instead, what change there is seems to be going in the wrong direction: a pseudo-populist revolt funded and managed by billionaires, intent on destruction of the very concept of public interest and institutionalizing its opposite, elite private interest above all.

    As yet, there is no progressive — let alone leftist — political populist movement. The evolved OWS is the closest thing to such a movement, but it is still largely apolitical, refuses to form parties or in most cases to participate in the current corrupt political system. It sidesteps the whole thing as much as possible.

    Whether any formidable leftish or even progressive third party populist political movement emerges remains to be seen. It didn’t happen through the blogs. Whether either of the major parties adopts a progressive agenda, the way the Rs did at the turn of the 20th century, and Dems later decided they could, too, is still a mystery. Neither party’s leadership shows more than superficial and cynical interest in the rabble anyway.

  26. David Kowalski permalink
    November 6, 2013

    Totally off topic but I wanted to share some really good news. I’ve had congestive heart failure for nine years and was just told this morning that I’m on the list for a heart transplant. No more pump with constant medicine 24/7, no more pacemaker/defibrillator to shock the **** out of me when it chooses and it will be much easier to take a shower (don’t have to cover the bag up in plastic), travel and get around. The heart transplant patients I’ve seen (always two or three of them per visit to the doctor) are all full of pep and vigor and look better than their age which they happily share with everybody.

    Just to add a scoop of ice cream to the pie (haven’t had those in a while), the operation is expected to add 15 to 30 years to my life and the number is growing rapidly. The doctor has been doing it for 25 years and has personally done 450 heart transplants, the hospital has the third largest program in the country. Yes, I really am ecstatic and so are nearly everybody else I’ve told except for my dog and my brother. The dog heard first but she actually cares about me.

  27. Ian Welsh permalink*
    November 6, 2013

    David,

    very pleased to hear it! Keep us updated!

  28. Paula permalink
    November 8, 2013

    I started reading blogs (including DailyKOS, OpenLeft/MyDD, Eschaton, FireDogLake, etc.) because, at the time they began appearing, I felt completely alienated from (by?) other media. Coming off the years of Cablenews conspiring with repubs to bring down Bill Clinton, followed by the unforgivable crowning of GW, it didn’t seem to me that my outrage or horror was remotely recognized by what we now call Mainstream Media.

    At that time, you have to remember, it was all new. People who paid attention to politics and current events were having to come to the realization that we couldn’t trust sources in which we had previously invested full faith. At that time we didn’t really know what was happening — only in hindsight did it become clear that media consolidation was, increasingly, silencing all voices that threatened to weaken what would become the iron grip of the 1%.

    We knew nothing about ALEC; we didn’t know that all sorts of media figures were getting payola to advance corporate and conservative interests; the effects of the ending of the Fairness Doctrine were still relatively subtle. We just knew that things weren’t right but at the time it was really hard to articulate just what was wrong, and why, and how.

    My husband and I were telling friends and family things that it took them literally years to believe or accept. They do believe those things now. But they resisted, fiercely. Why? Because to believe them was to call into question practically everything we’re taught about our country, our system, etc.

    Now, while you had a small segment of people like us who were following events through the blogosphere and developing a worldview shaped by that, you had another segment of people being captured by the continually growing right-wing machine. And, as always, you had a far larger segment of people who remained generally uninterested in politics and largely uninformed. Those people were not served well by the MSM, and still aren’t.

    But the leftwing blogosphere began as an outlet; as a response to failed media. As time went on, a number of external forces exerted all sorts of influences, and blogosphere residents and activists went off in all sorts of directions and experienced a variety of successes, near-successes, and failures.

    But I think considering the blogosphere to have “failed” is to have invested expectations in it that are/were misplaced. To me, the “blogosphere” is a communication resource or tool — activists can use it, but can’t “be” it. “It” isn’t and never was “the answer”. It’s a tool, not a solution.

    The underlying challenge is, and has been, figuring out how to clearly articulate what’s “wrong” and present a viable path to something “better”. When the changes needed require what amounts to a massive overhaul of worldview, unquestioned assumptions, lifetimes of conditioning, etc. the word “challenge” is an understatement.

    Ian’s column about 44 steps to a better world is filled with challenges to the prevailing order. Such changes don’t simply threaten the 1%, they threaten how most Americans view themselves and the world.

    One of two things has to happen — a long slog of steady education by enough activists convincing enough others to achieve “critical mass” OR massive dislocation/disaster caused by either climate change or some irretrievable overstep by the 1%, significant enough to literally break through people’s quite normal resistance to change.

    In my view, we need to proceed with the former and hope the latter isn’t required.

  29. markfromireland permalink
    November 9, 2013

    @ David Kowalski November 6, 2013

    Coming late to this but congratulations I hope it goes really well.

    mfi

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