Conflict Avoiders

Few of us leftie bloggers have endorsed a Dem presidential candidate, and much is being made of this. Michael Scherer writes,

Even some of the netroots founding members have begun to take notice. “The bloggers are I think in many ways taking themselves out of the debate by not participating in it,” explained Jerome Armstrong, the proprietor of, who co-wrote a book with Moulitsas on Democratic blogging. “They are becoming sort of conflict avoiders in the primary.”


Another prominent blogger, Matt Stoller, who recently co-founded, described what was happening to progressive blogs as a temporary loss of liberal momentum. “People feel confused,” he said. “Because that’s what happens to a movement that hopes if you get Democrats elected it will solve some of our problems, and then our problems aren’t solved.” He predicted that the blogs will again find their voice on intraparty matters once it becomes clear that the current crop of presidential candidates do not sufficiently represent the liberal cause on everything from telecommunications laws to military withdrawal from Iraq.

What I don’t think Scherer sees clearly is that “netroots” bloggers are not exactly “Democratic Party” bloggers. Progressive bloggers on the whole see the Dem Party as a means — and just a potential means, at that — not an end in itself. Progressive bloggers may work for, with, and through the Party, but most of ’em are not of the Party.

I can speak only for myself, but I haven’t endorsed a Democratic presidential candidate for the simple reason that, so far, no one has stood out at THE candidate I want to support above all others. They all have pluses and minuses. Of those candidates with even a snowball’s chance in hell of being nominated, there are none I would not support over any Republican in the general election, and certainly none I would not vote for in the general election. In contrast to the clown show that is the Republican candidate field, the Dems on the whole are serious and accomplished people.

It’s just that there isn’t one among them whose nomination will cause me to melt into indescribable bliss. And, frankly, that’s OK with me. I don’t fall in love with candidates any more. I am old and jaded and have been burned too many times.

Some people are, I think, drawing a false comparison between support for Howard Dean in 2003-2004 and today. Glenn Greenwald’s new book has a section on the Dean campaign, which reminded me that as governor of Vermont, Dean was essentially a moderate, DLC-style Democrat who balanced budgets and stayed on good terms with the National Rifle Association. He became a lightning rod in 2002-3 because he “stood up and objected to the uncritical national war dance,” as Glenn says. Pretty much the rest of the party was tripping over itself to declare support for whatever Bush wanted.

But just as the Right flew into Total Demonization Mode over Dean, so too did many Netizens of the time latch on to Howard Dean as the Only Pure Candidate. I wrote in January 2004:

Is it me, or is there an unusually high level of nastiness going on between the candidates’ camps? For example, some Dean-supporting web buddies, people with whom I have had a warm virtual relationship going back several years, recently turned on me like a pack of rabid pit bulls.

And why would that be? I like Howard Dean, I think he’d make a good president, and I often defend him against the unfair smears of the pundits and other candidates. But I am tainted because I also like Wesley Clark. So, now I am brainwashed; I have been dazzled by the uniform. I am told President Clark will declare martial law and start World War III as soon as he takes the oath of office (I’ve been brainwashed?).

Democrats who complain that the Republicans are a pack of intolerant, knee-jerk partisans are turning into intolerant, knee-jerk partisans.

That part about Deaniacs accusing Clark of declaring martial law and starting World War III was no exaggeration. I stumbled into a nest of Deaniacs who actually believed that. Some people had become a tad unglued.

Both Howard Dean and Wes Clark gave excellent speeches at YKos, btw. These are both very smart guys who see our lunatic political situation with more clarity than I’ve seen from any of the candidates. Dean in particular is probably the best thing that’s happened to the Democratic Party since John — nay, Jackie — Kennedy. But, folks, none of ’em walks on water.

Even though our situation remains dire, for many of us it feels less desperate. The very fact that all but one of the official Dem presidential candidates came to our convention and performed for our approval is proof that much has changed. I think we’re all appraising the merchandise with cooler heads these days.

Scherer continues,

Last summer, when YearlyKos met in Las Vegas for its inaugural convention, such harmony was difficult to imagine. Prospective presidential candidates seemed desperate to ply bloggers with drink and attention. Wesley Clark threw a riotous party for bloggers at the Hard Rock Casino, while former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner spent around $50,000 to entertain bloggers with a John Belushi impersonator and a chocolate fondue waterfall at the top of the Stratosphere casino. At the time, all the buzz was about which candidate could win over the blogs. Even Moulitsas got caught up in the frenzy, comparing the Warner party to a “first date.”

Poor Mark Warner spent all that money on the Las Vegas party and got nothing to show for it. The infamous YKos 2006 Warner bash even drew criticism from the hair-shirt purist crowd on the Left, who seemed to think a few free drinks amounts to corruption. So no parties paid for by candidates this year (thanks loads, hair-shirt purist chumps).

A year later, it is hard to see how any single Democratic candidate emerges before the primary as the prohibitive choice of liberal bloggers. Instead the various campaigns are fighting a battle of margins. Not a single candidate or campaign threw a party at this year’s conference. “There is just not critical mass moving to one candidate right now,” said Joe Trippi, the former Dean campaign manager who is now overseeing the Edwards campaign. “Every campaign has been competing like crazy for every inch they can get on the Internet and the blogosphere.”

Yes. And this is good. If they want our support, what’s wrong with making them work a bit to get it? In the 2004 campaign cycle we complained that the Democratic Party thought we bloggers were just a bunch of web ATM machines, and if they coughed the Boilerplate Bullshit at us we’d respond with buckets of cash. Now, I assure you — Joe Biden excepted — they are at least a bit more respectful.

14 thoughts on “Conflict Avoiders

  1. This selection process going on is all critical. It is, I think, how the political process does and should work. ‘Tis rough and some good people may stumble, but it is a good test for the office, and a good forum for defining the ideas from which to govern.

    GWB didn’t avoid this testing without reason.

  2. i was born in 1942, we had our first television in 1949. i remember the first convention i saw was for ike 1952. it made me so mad that all 3 stations, the only 3, had that stupid convention on all day and evening. my dad was in real estate, he developed subdivisions then sold the homes as the real estate agent. i remember him saying from 1952 until he died (before bush) that with republicans in control, we the little people will always loose. with democrats, the little guy has a fighting chance. he kept charts of his income/sales from 1952 on. every time a repubic was in control the little guy had no money for house purchase. with dems in control there was money. not always alot but more than when the repubics were in office. i will vote for a dem until the day i die unless the dem is a repubic crossover.

  3. I think it’s more an issue of having a plusses and minuses, so-so product. Imagine the Deaniac frenzy if Al Gore or Wes Clark were running (I was breathless when Clark joked about this during his speech). Because someone so steller is not in the race, people are being more down-to-earth careful about the choices they do have.

    Too bad that whoever wins the Dem nomination (apart from a rock star candidate like those above), the blogosphere can be counted on to grumble, but work our arses off to push this person over the top in Nov 08. So great is our contempt for the alternative.

    Too bad about the hairshirt purists, or maybe the whole situation has matured to the point where even the candidates understand that lavish parties like Warner’s were a waste of cash. Showing up is enough, and it’s good that most of them realize it’s an important thing to do.

  4. Why are bloggers supposed to declare both a party affiliation and a candidate preference months before the primaries even begin?

    Who is Scherer endorsing?

    Maybe bloggers are reluctant to endorse candidates for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is they don’t want candidates to be blamed for what they (the bloggers) say, like what happened earlier this year to the Edwards campaign.

    As for myself, I don’t yet know who I will vote for, other than it will be a Democrat. I don’t even know what my options will be by the time I get to cast a vote, so how can I decide now?

  5. Somehow, some where one would hope the Dems will stand up to Bush. If Congress can’t/won’t, then why should we expect the candidate/nominee to stand up to the neo-con noise machine.


    A liberal, progressive 3rd party candidate will put a Republican back in the White house.

  6. There’s another factor which, I think, will soon become apparent. We have been joined (in opposition to Bush) by a large number of ex-Reaganites (Markos himself, I believe; Americablog…). Take Bush out of the picture and all of a sudden we’re not so united.

    Add to that the fact that Rove has fractured the GOP alliance beyond repair, and I think we’re in for a huge realignment in both parties (which often means a 3rd party taking a decent chunk in one or two elections).

  7. Maha,
    Like you, and so many other of your readers, I have not begun to make a decision, for all the same reasons that you say. I also want to riff on what myiq2xu said. Why are the campaigns starting earlier and earlier? I think it’s because the parties want to wrap it all up as early as possible. But conditions in US politics and the feelings of the electorate are quite opposed to this. I don’t know about other people, but I absolutely do not want someone to get a “lock” on the nomination, as myiq2xu says, months before the primaries even begin. Because as soon as that happens, the democratic process is already over — before most people really have begun to pay attention to the campaigns. Then the primaries become a joke and the convention even more of a joke. And they begin very early as it is. We have quite a few decent candidates. I want them to have to prove themselves to the voters, If they insist on starting so early, I want voters to hear what they have to say and be able to make an intelligent choice. If the netroots or blogs, by holding off endorsements, can influence the process in that direction, that alone would be a valuable contribution to American politics. And it is surely not the only valuable contribution made by the blogs.

  8. I haven’t endorsed a candidate for a number of reasons.

    1) Why should blogs endorse anyone, particularly ones dedicated to opinion and analysis?

    2) It’s nobody’s damn business who gets my vote.

    3) The election is OVER A YEAR AWAY. It’s like telling everyone what you think of a book that’s months away from even being published, merely on the basis of speculation. That is to say, absurd.

  9. One of the problems with a blogger endorsing a candidate is it colors everything they say afterwards.

    Say I were a top-tier blogger and I endorsed Edwards. If I were to subsequently say anything critical of Clinton, the responses would almost invariably include my lack of objectivity because I was an Edwards supporter.

    If I change my mind about Edwards, I’m a flip-flopper. If I criticize him, I’m disloyal. And, as I pointed out before, if I say anything that someone finds offensive, Edwards gets blamed.

    If bloggers start making endorsements it will corrupt them. Candidates will woo them, and the traditional media will treat them as kingmakers. Vanity is one of the seven deadly sins.

    One of the great things about the blogosphere is it gives the 2nd and 3rd tier candidates an opportunity to be heard.

    The traditional media have for far too long limited our choices for President by annointing a “front-runner” and a “challenger,” long before a single vote was cast. All others are simply ignored.

    Then the whole meme becomes who is leading, who is trailing, etc., and the candidates stands on the issues are only evaluated on the basis of whether they help or hurt the candidate’s campaign, not whether the would be good policies or not.

    But bloggers can, without endorsing a candidate, state which issues they agree or disagree with the candidate on, and why.

    Instead of a horserace, we can have a debate, where the people AND the candidates both participate. A Presidential campaign where the candidates express thoughtful, nuanced positions instead of 30 second soundbytes.

  10. I seriously doubt that my “endorsement” will make the front page but I have decided on the candidate who will get my vote.

    I sense a lot of frustration among progressive voters who still see no fundamental change with leading Dems all going through phases during which they try to demonstrate that they would protect the fearful with our military if need be. They expect no fudamental change on campaign reform and they are concerned that the sweet sounding alleigance to universal healthcare will be watered down to nothing by a succession of compromises.

    Many feel like they’ve been reduced to voting for the least worst, though the dem candidates show much more promise than the republican Bush knockoffs.

    My guess is that fundamental change can only be accomplished by more turnover in the congress and the senate. Only then will those seeking the presidency gain the courage to stand for something in particular rather than everything in general.

    Personally I think there is a candidate that promises fundamental change but I avoid internecine rivalries when so much is at stake and taking sides in a class struggle is apparently no longer in fashion, despite the near destruction of the middle class during the reign of Bush.

    In lieu of a compelling independent I will vote for the dem contender, though I’d vote for Barney Frank if he’d run.

  11. Welcome back, Maha. I too just got home….in my case, from visiting in Colorado where I have a new grandson!

    I think it is just right and relieving that the candidates have come to recognize the power of the bloggers. The blogs have [yea]become a very much needed countervailing force to the corporate media. In short, the blogosphere is the emerging citizens’ union in our shared world that’s been jerked around by absentee ‘management’. Pretty good for democracy in the long run.

    myiq2xu, I agree with your screen name. You make some great points in #9 above. Ditto for Pat in #10. Thanks.

  12. Pat in #12 wrote:

    My guess is that fundamental change can only be accomplished by more turnover in the congress and the senate.

    I wish I could give you some links, but I recall reading several, hopeful, gloating articles in DailyKos about how this is in the queue for 2008. IIRC there are a lot of seats up in 2008, and more importantly, many of them are likely to go Democratic. Of course this doesn’t help (much) those who are running now, but it gives us a chance to cut away more dead wood, to send the DINOs packing.

  13. As a regular contributor and browser on DailyKos and reader of other center-left political blogs, I sort of disagree with the premise. We may not be ready to endorse and go to work for a single candidate. But we do have our favorites, perhaps one favorite, or two, or a rank order.

    For example, of the “big three”, I am undecided between Edwards (slight lean to him as outsider that beltway clearly is going after) and Obama (good history as real progressive; now over tacking center to be a safe respectable black man). And Clinton distant distant 3rd of 3. Dodd aint bad. Heart would be with Kucinich. Wish Gore was running… wish Wellstone was alive.

  14. I agree with those upthread who say that openly endorsing now is simply a trap. At the same time, I’m not being particularly secretive about my partiality for Edwards at this early stage of the game: I’m also pretty open about the fact that there are a couple other candidates I could also happily endorse, and that any and all of this could change in the coming year.

    In other words, Edwards and I are dating, but not married. He seems like a nice enough guy, but we need to get to know each other better before I’d be willing to declare an engagement. And if I decide to break it off before that point, I don’t expect anyone to be particularly startled by that. It’s nice as long as it lasts; but I don’t have to commit to anyone for upwards of a year yet, and I do reserve the right to keep those options open.

    Great to see you at YKos, Barbara. Sitting with you at PastorDan’s service is one of my favorite memories of the whole event.

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