Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Sunday, September 17th, 2006.


My Cause Is My Country

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blogging, Democratic Party, liberalism and progressivism

We’re still dealing with the fallout of the meeting with Bill Clinton. Yesterday I provided some links to the Boobapalooza Brawl; here are some more: My buddies Julia of Sisyphus Shrugs and Lindsay B. at Majikthise, as well as Jessica herself, offer opinions. I have nothing more to add.

A more legitimate criticism is that all of the attendees were white. I think it was a major gaffe that Steve Gilliard wasn’t invited, although Steve says he wouldn’t have gone, anyway. “If the choice is loyalty to a politician or loyalty to my supportive, generous and desperate for information readers, that isn’t really much of a choice is it?” he writes. That’s fair, but that was not the choice offered by the meeting. Mr. Clinton neither asked for our loyalty nor said anything particularly surprising or newsworthy in the off-the-record portion of the meeting.

The most controversial things Mr. Clinton said involved mild criticism of some other Democrats (although no one currently running for office) and some nudges at the Right in general. None of this was a big whoop-dee-doo, so why off the record? Because, I suspect, if there’s a massive blowup over somebody’s boobs, for pity’s sake, what would rightie bloggers do with nudges at the Right? Or any mention in any context of Republican politicians? Or suggestions that maybe so-and-so made a mistake when he campaigned on such-and-such an issue? And may I add that Mr. Clinton didn’t say anything that wasn’t extremely mild and tolerant compared to the stuff I say about the same people.

But did he say anything off-the-record that was really blogworthy? That you readers would find fascinating and illuminating?

Not really. Of course, you’ll have to trust me on that.

The overall purpose of the meeting was to open more dialogue between liberal bloggers and the Democratic Party. And when I say dialogue, I mean dialogue. As in a two-way conversation. Clinton praised liberal bloggers — not just the ones in the room — for our ability to respond quickly to the Rightie Media Noise Machine with facts and logic. He’s come to realize that the Democratic Party is nuts to treat us merely as ATM machines and believes the Dems should start listening to what we have to say.

This is all good, I say, for all of us, whether at the meeting or not. This is what many of us have wanted from the Dems for a very long time. We’re all hoping the meeting was only a first step in a process that will involve a far larger group of bloggers in the future.

(And may I also say to those who want to fight about who was invited, and who wasn’t — I choose not to participate, thanks. I’ve got quite enough neuroses of my own to manage without trying to deal with yours, too. So, feel free to snark away, and I will continue to ignore you.)

Christy Hardin Smith says that she checked with Peter Daou, who told her some African American and Latino bloggers were invited but could not come on such short notice. The meeting was thrown together quickly. I had known for about a week that a meeting was being planned, but didn’t know for sure if it was really going to happen (and where, and when) until the day before. I suspect a lot of people had to make a mad dash for the nearest airport to be there, although for me a trip to Harlem takes about 17 minutes on the Metro North Railroad.

There’s one seriously misreported detail I want to correct — I say it was red devil’s food cake (with cream cheese icing), not cherry cake.

On to the main issue: The question of how the Dems and liberal bloggers might work together is problematic. The Right Blogosphere more or less functions as the web auxiliary of the Republican Party. That’s not a model I want to follow. Yet when we — liberal bloggers and Dems — do pull together on an issue (the recent “Path to 9/11” flap being a good example) we’re a whole lot more effective than when we work separately.

As Peter Daou wrote in the first “triangle” essay:

Looking at the political landscape, one proposition seems unambiguous: blog power on both the right and left is a function of the relationship of the netroots to the media and the political establishment. Forming a triangle of blogs, media, and the political establishment is an essential step in creating the kind of sea change we’ve seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Simply put, without the participation of the media and the political establishment, the netroots alone cannot generate the critical mass necessary to alter or create conventional wisdom. This is partly a factor of audience size, but it’s also a matter, frankly, of trust and legitimacy. Despite the astronomical growth of the netroots (see Bowers and Stoller for hard numbers), and the slow and steady encroachment of bloggers on the hallowed turf of Washington’s opinion-makers, it is still the Russerts and Broders and Gergens and Finemans, the WSJ, WaPo and NYT editorial pages, the cable nets, Stewart and Letterman and Leno, and senior elected officials, who play a pivotal role in shaping people’s political views. That is not to say that blogs can’t be the first to draw attention to an issue, as they often do, but the half-life of an online buzz can be measured in days and weeks, and even when a story has enough netroots momentum to float around for months, it will have little effect on the wider public discourse without the other sides of the triangle in place. Witness the Plame case, an obsession of left-leaning bloggers long before the media and the political establishment got on board and turned it into a political liability for Rove and Bush.

The larger question surrounding the meeting is who is using whom? I’ve been amused, but not surprised, at the number of people who assume the meeting was about Hillary Clinton’s alleged presidential ambitions. Let me be clear. First, the Senator’s political career was not discussed at all. Second, most of us in the room have long been on record that we do not want Hillary Clinton to be the Democratic presidential candidate in ’08. I can’t speak for everybody, but no amount of fried chicken is going to change my mind on that.

Of course, some people are still going to interpret either Clintons’ every bleat as part of their campaign to re-take the White House, no matter what I say.

Other complaints can be found in this comment thread at the Guardian “comment is free” blog. Like this guy:

The Usual Suspects were present for the soiree with Clinton because they represent the “left” that constitutes brand-name consumers. They would vote for *anything* labeled ‘Democrat,’ and Clinton knows it.

Yeah, like we all supported Joe Lieberman … oh, wait …

As I wrote in the same comments thread, why is it everyone assumes Bill Clinton is using us? Why can’t it be equally true that we are using him?

Yes, the man is flawed. Yes, he did things as President I think he shouldn’t have done, and I’m not just talking about conduct, but policies, as well. But I if the man offers himself as a tool to enable my agenda, why not take advantage? Access to power, even a tiny bit, doesn’t exactly fall into my lap every day.

If you look back at history, you see that everyone who has ever accomplished anything was flawed. Abraham Lincoln was a racist. Isaac Newton, the father of modern science, messed around with alchemy and astrology. Most of the great men of history, including the historical Buddha, were sexist. Show me somebody who accomplished anything who was without flaw or foible, and I’ll show you someone who paid off his friends to keep their mouths shut.

So to those who claim we bloggers somehow sold out our feminism or liberalism or anything else by meeting with President Clinton, I say: Bite me.

So what is my agenda? As I also wrote in the comments thread, I got into blogging to help restore some sanity to America’s sick political culture, which has become so skewed and twisted we can no longer engage in rational political dialogue, never mind make rational political decisions as a nation.

More than 50 years ago the historian Richard Hofstadter wrote that the hard right-wing fringe of American politics was creating “a political climate in which the rational pursuit of our well-being and safety would become impossible.” Folks, they have succeeded.

The Right’s got a big chunk of the electorate conditioned to vote against their own self-interests. Mindless repetition of Republican talking points has replaced dialogue. The mainstream news media shuts out true liberalism, and in the heads of most “pundits” the extreme Right is now the “center.” Our political institutions are dysfunctional except as engines to move power and money into the hands of those in control.

In truth, the federal government of the United States of America is no longer functioning as a representative democracy. Congress and the White House are just going through the motions. If we don’t turn this around, pretty soon they won’t even bother to go through the motions.

Restoring enough sanity to my country that it can function as a representative democracy again is my cause. Beyond that, I hope that once people remember what government is supposed to be about they will stop being afraid to use government for progressive ends, such as establishing national health insurance. I want to move the political center back to, you know, the center. I want to see balance and responsibility in news media. But the overall aim is healing the sick political culture so that the government can be a government. What happens after that is, well, what happens after that.

Blogging is a means to that end, as is the Democratic Party and Mr. Clinton. But blogging or Mr. Clinton or the Democrats are not my cause. My cause is my country.

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