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Netroots Politics 242

Posted by samzenpus
from the power-to-the-people dept.
Michael Gracie writes "I picked up "Crashing The Gate - Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics" from the DailyKos website, albeit apprehensively. The Kos community has a "reputation," and some would suspect that any printed material associated with the site would parallel what is said there. Nevertheless, I was curious to hear what Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas Zuniga would say, knowing they wouldn't have to deal with the instant (and often aggressive) feedback the "Kossacks" dispense. For the most part, I was pleasantly surprised." Read the rest of Michael's review.
Crashing The Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics
author Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas Zuniga
pages 196
publisher Chelsea Green
rating 8
reviewer Michael Gracie
ISBN 1931498997
summary A must read for constituents on both sides of the fence


As background, the authors are no strangers to the Internet or its political enablement. Armstrong is a household name in the arena, having started one of the first political weblogs, MyDD.com, and assisting with the Howard Dean campaign's blogging efforts. Zuniga is just as well known, if not more so. He founded DailyKos, which is likely the most popular political group weblog site in existence. In other words, these guys should know their stuff, and for the most part they seem to.

As pure reading material goes, the book ("Progressive Partner Special Limited Edition") is precisely 196 pages of 100% post-consumer waste recycled, old-growth forest-free paper, including 14 pages of reference notes and indices. The type is large, well spaced, and generally easy on the eyes. I knocked this puppy off over three afternoons, including note taking.

While I didn't fact check every line of the book, what I received was a pretty thorough, analysis-driven opinion of what has gone wrong with Democratic Party politics. It starts with a definition of "the enemy," the "cons" of the Republican political thought process. Corporate insiders, right-wing think tank graduates, religious leaders, and old-school mindsets are overstuffed in a barrel. What pops out is the realization that the Republican Party is less a tank mowing over everything in its path than a loosely bound, fragile coalition that has succeeded not by Borg-like assimilation, but through sheer patience and will.

Onward to the "failing" side, in which Armstrong and Moulitsas slice and dice their political party in what can only be described as a semi-hostile, scathing rebuke of the disorganization, the infighting, and the selfishness which has kept it divided. The authors are, however, quick to point at two examples of success (in Colorado and Montana during 2004). In those cases, campaigns took decidedly different approaches, but one thing seemed certain - anything BUT the status quo could work.

Diving deeper into the situation, "Crashing The Gate" now hits the hot button that is going to piss a lot of Progressives off - the wholesale pilfering of campaign dollars by political/media consultants, who enrich themselves fabulously while using worn out techniques that lead to failure after failure. The D.C. power base, showing no inclination to stop the madness, is not forgotten either. If any one point becomes perfectly clear to readers, it will be that big money has and is wasted in extraordinary magnitudes.

At this point, J & M point to McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform, as the tipping in the power struggle over Progressive direction. McCain-Feingold redirected high-dollar contributions from direct-to-politicians pockets into 527 organizations that cannot "explicitly advocate the election or defeat of any candidate for federal office." What it really did, according the authors, is force Democrats to look to "the people." Numbers no longer followed dollar signs - they had to follow individual support roll counts. Then Howard Dean captured the Internet's imagination.

The authors give Howard Dean a lot of credit for initiating the "grassroots movement," something I found unsurprising considering they were in the middle of it. By engaging a myriad of internet tools managed by foot soldiers, Dean quickly proved McCain-Feingold naysayers wrong. The Democratic stronghold eventually trounced Dean - they took it upon themselves to define him as "unelectable," and turn Dean's overzealousness into perceived nuttiness. It was a concerted attack, and not without casualties. First and foremost, John Kerry lost the Presidential election, and that is where I inferred that the tables really turned. While "wounds were being licked" offline, Internet activists maintained engagement as thought the battle wasn't over. As described, after Terry McAuliffe (Chairman of the DNC) departed, the bloggers made their presence hard to ignore, uncovering dirt on hand-selected McAuliffe successors, one after the other. Howard Dean maintained his loyalty to those folks, and the end result...he is now Chair of the Party.

The last chapter, entitled "Inside The Gate," follows up on some successes for the Democratic Party in places like Montana and Virginia, and infers that "grassroots" campaigning, not "netroots" organization, was the primary motivating factor. In many campaigns, however, "netroots" did play a role, and even when losses were incurred, the efforts succeeded in draining opposing candidates of funds and energy while giving good reason for progressives to relish in their newfound power. Fair warning - the net was not to be ignored.

No review of a political reference would be complete without some conclusion for those so inclined. Rather than air my personal views, I will provide some perspective-based alternatives:

A) If you are anything close to Progressive (which I suspect many readers will be), you may at first feel a bit betrayed by your leaders, and certainly enraged by the pilfering of contributions that came from your pocketbook. Your suspicion that what is being suggested is emulation of the long-term strategies of the enemy is not unfounded. Crashing The Gates sometimes infers just that, albeit with a bit of a "net twist." Be patient until the end - you may wind up wanting to blog for your favorite local candidates - but it won't be an easy road. I'd say I concur with the authors that there is no short-path to election success, no matter the effort - the authors are making no promises, and that is refreshing from any set of written words deemed political. And be forewarned - what led to victory in a particular place and particular situation, might not work the next time. I interpreted that by reading between the lines.

B) If you lean right you will feel warm (and smug) over your Party's triumphs, and a little confused as to why someone would so openly lay out a potential roadmap for defeating you. You may be inclined to read the book again, just to make sure you have a game plan to thwart any such attempts. Alternatively, you might brush off any thoughts of a grassroots movement ever having a chance of taking your team to the mat. You have a "big machine" on your side, one constructed over decades - how could any grassroots effort put a dent in it? This reader, having a meager understanding of how "new media" communications spreads, says the latter take might not be a wise one. Conservatives have their pundits, but they should ask themselves whether they could engage armies of them.

C) If you sit in the middle, a most likely social liberal and fiscal conservative, I'd say you may still feel a bit lost. You have choices: go the route of the ultra-organized "idea generators," but risk more betrayal on the fiscal end while you turn blue over the social fanaticism; or, you can bet on those who still haven't gotten their act together, but have a lot of momentum, gained recently, in the new media realm. Yes, the progressives have a "new machine," but can they effectively control it as it grows? The conservatives have certainly proven they can steer theirs, and it is anything but small. Either way, you'll solidify your previous view that politics is about big money, intensive recruitment, and, ultimately, some form of indoctrination. You might not exactly get the "warm-fuzzies" if you fancy yourself an independent thinker.

I said my satisfaction with the read contained some caveats. It did, and they affect my rating of the book as such.

1) I found the historical elements of the book the very compelling - again, while I didn't check facts, I didn't feel I needed to. The first couple of chapters were relatively unbiased - at times I almost felt like the authors were glorifying Republican efforts. Then, wham, they actually say Republican strategies are "brilliant," while describing their party's entitlement participation philosophy (meaning, one should be happy to have a job on a Democratic campaign, even if you electricity just got shut off) in comparison to the well paid, constant grooming and care that Republican "students" usually received.

2) I was hoping for a complete separation between the web diatribe the authors are associated with, and their view to initiate change through hardcopy publication. Unfortunately, I found at least one element of major distraction, on pages 114 through 118, which referenced events regarding politically motivated compensation for both old and new media input. It hinted, unnecessarily, of some bitterness, while I would rather have heard a token "Oh well, that is how the game is played." The section in question was hard to shake - it followed me for the last sixty or so pages. Additional anecdotes describing "normal, sane" candidates having the ability to win elections left me chuckling a few times as well, meaning I had some difficulty disassociating the authors with some of what I have read at DailyKos.

3) The title conflicted with some of the nuances within. For someone sitting on the fence (as described above), I thought the authors would have tried to harder to convince that the supposed "progressive revolution" isn't just more of the same. The dollar signs strewn throughout made me think more about all the money that politics engulfs (even if it is raised by citizen journalists) than the power any individuals have to instigate real change. I sometimes felt that the subtitle could have included "people-powered fundraising."

4) As the authors point out (as excuse or not), the manuscript was scrapped late in the process. They started from scratch, under considerable time pressure, and I can respect that. In my eyes (assuming it is true), they scored some points here for admitting the need to start over, and re-working on the fly.

I know Slashdot readers have their opinion of bloggers in general, and it is not always the most favorable. However, as a consistent reader of both Slashdot and several major political blogs I have to say "Crashing The Gate" is a heck of a job from a couple of "bloggers." I am now intensely curious to see if Glenn Reynolds's "An Army of Davids" paints a different (and/or alternative) picture of the "netroots" phenomena.

As a final offering, Armstrong and Zuniga note that the world of progressive bloggers could already be four to five million strong, with extraordinary growth predicted for the future. In addition, they offered that anyone, anywhere could contribute. But, a democratic system requires mutual acceptance, healthy debate, and a willingness to accept a role alongside, not hands above, the rest. The online world already seems to be straying from those core tenets, with clubby recruitment gatherings, A-list bloggers and too much crosstalk. Without some correction, I wonder whether the growing political force the authors portray can sustain itself long term, or whether new media will turn out like old media - sensationalist, untrustworthy, and begging to be ignored."


You can purchase Crashing The Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.
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Netroots Politics

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  • Success... (Score:5, Informative)

    by christopherfinke (608750) <chris@efinke.com> on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @03:34PM (#14877680) Homepage Journal
    Didn't all 17 or 18 of the political candidates that Kos openly endorsed lose? I'm not sure what in this kind of track record would qualify Markos to write a book on the subject...
  • Trippi's book (Score:4, Informative)

    by lunartik (94926) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @03:44PM (#14877777) Homepage Journal
    I thought Joe Trippi's book on the Howard Dean campaign was interesting and I am not at all in the Dean or Kos end of the spectrum. If you think the Kos book sounds like it might lay on the politics pretty thick, try checking out The Revolution Will Not Be Televised : Democracy, the Internet, and the Overthrow of Everything. It speaks more to the use of technology for fund raising and organizing and leaves a lot of the politics in the background.
  • Re:"Progressive" (Score:5, Informative)

    by Photon Ghoul (14932) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @03:49PM (#14877823)
    Noam Chomsky

    Just to be clear, Chomsky is neither "liberal" nor pro-"big, tax-supported bureaucracies". He's an anarchist. That means a distinct lack of "big, tax-supported bureaucracies".

    Right-wing hacks typically lump him in with the left-wing ones simply because he's uses a critic's eye when looking at the past and present actions of the U.S.
  • by sheldon (2322) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @04:09PM (#14878011)
    Perhaps.

    Most of kos's pushes for candidates are fringe. Promoting a primary challenger to Lieberman democrats and such. They haven't been successful perhaps, but the point again is to change the dynamics of the discussion. He wants to see competitive primaries and general elections. By making things competitive, you force the opposition to defend on multiple fronts.

    I'm not sure where the freakin hippy comment comes from. If you've ever seen a picture of kos, or myself or numerous others now involved in the debate. We ain't hippies. We also didn't wear pink polo's in school either.
  • Re:Success... (Score:5, Informative)

    by _KiTA_ (241027) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @04:40PM (#14878287) Homepage
    Not exactly. Kos forced the other side to spend (some would say "waste") resources on "sure bet" areas, that suddenly were competitive in and in play. In this, which was his state goal, he succeeded admirably.

    The "Kos endorses no one but losers" is a meme that comes from sites such as RedState and the like, and it used as political FUD to try and detract from pretty much any discussion about Kos -- even the supposedly liberal New York Times has ran hit pieces with this FUD in it.

    The Democrats seem to feel that they can ignore 90% of the country, as long as they win the swing states. That any state that's "too red" is a lost cause and to give it up. Dean and Kos believe that tying up resources in these "too red" states is a way to make sure the Republicans can't flood "too blue" states with money to win elections.

    Kos has proven, quite effectively, that even "lost causes" should be fought, tooth and nail. These rather unknown canidates were going up against very well known and well connected incumbants, with almost no help from the official Democrats, and still managed very strong showings. Not bad for a blogger, I have to say.
  • by Flamerule (467257) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @04:56PM (#14878431)
    Anybody remember his infamous "screw them" moment? [littlegreenfootballs.com]

    Of course you don't, because kos disappeared it because the backlash was so great.
    This is false. You may want to look into actually reading the links you post -- your page links directly to Kos's comment.
  • Re:"Progressive" (Score:3, Informative)

    by Valdrax (32670) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @09:28PM (#14880020)
    To be more technical, I'd put Chomsky firmly in the corner of the anarcho-syndicalist. He distrusts all top-down structures, from government to corporations, and supports just enough government to prevent the private sector from turning into top-down fiefdoms.
  • by linguae (763922) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @09:45PM (#14880096)

    Of course, when advocating for an end to government regulation on utility monopolies, Liberatarians place all the blame for their existence on the government and offer no concrete ways in which total deregulation will get past the problem of entrenched infrastructure and economies of scale.

    I'll counter with a quote from Milton Friedman inside of this Wikipedia article: [wikipedia.org]

    Nobel economist Milton Friedman, said that in the case of natural monopoly that "there is only a choice among three evils: private unregulated monopoly, private monopoly regulated by the state, and government operation." He said "the least of these evils is private unregulated monopoly where this is tolerable." He reasons that the other alternatives are "exceedingly difficult to reverse," and that the dynamics of the market should be allowed the opportunity to have an effect and are likely to do so (Capitalism and Freedom).

    I'd rather deal with an unregulated monopoly than a regulated monopoly (as long as that unregulated monopoly doesn't try to monopolize another commodity). I am firmly against government intervention in the economy. Natural monopolies can still be defeated using market techniques if you really want to defeat the monopoly. Regulated monopolies are government sponsored and can never go away. We don't want nationalized or heavily regulated industries; they hurt the economy and the consumer more than an unfettered natural monopoly does.

    [What] "libertarian" state will you point to to show your point? There has never been one...

    Somalia -- the world's only free market economy. This is the "paradise" you dream of when you wish to eliminate the government monopoly on deadly force. It's not a happy place, because when there is no monopoly on force, rule of the strong becomes the rule of law.

    WRONG. Somalia is not a libertarian state, it resembles an anarchocapitalist state. Learn your definitions. Sorry, kiddo, you lost major points with your argument.

    Libertarians recognize that the government has a monopoly on force. Libertarians, however, recognize that there are legitimate usages for using government power (the military and law enforcement are big examples). That is what separates libertarian from anarchocapitalism. When you start bringing up Somalia in an anti-libertarian tirade, you lose major points in your argument. It clearly shows your ignorance of libertarianism.

    Poverty is oppression; wealth is freedom and power to take wealth from others. A system with no checks and balances on the wealthy is a system that increases the number of people falling into poverty.

    A government that steals money from those who are economically successful is an illiberal, Robin Hood-esque government (and I'm using liberal in the classical sense here). Why pick on the rich? Oh, yeah, silly me, I forgot. (Picks up a red book). This red book here says that rich people are greedy and selfish, so they need to be heavily taxed. Getting back to the topic, redistribution of wealth doesn't help the poor improve their economic situation; it only keeps the poor impoverished, and the poor remain dependent on the "safety net" forever. Poor people are also hurt by lack of capital, lack of property (real estate), and lack of education. Egalitarianism makes everybody equally poor, and egalitarian goals like redistribution of wealth are completely opposite to the goals of liberty. Read this article [mises.org], and then read another quote by Milton Friedman:

    A society that puts equality - in the sense of equality of outcome - ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality or freedom. The use of force to achieve equality will destroy freedom. On the other hand, a society that puts freedom first will, as a happy by-p

We have a equal opportunity Calculus class -- it's fully integrated.

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