Solving the Rootsgap

by: Matt Stoller

Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 00:56

(I wanted more people to see this, and not just because I am running errands today and won't be able to blog until later. Best wishes to Matt, who for three years has been the best writing partner I could ask for. If our efforts to create a progressive governing majority are to succeed, we need people organizing on the inside, too. Also, Open Left isn't going anywhere, and over the next couple of days, we will have a series of announcements on our new content. Stay tuned
- promoted by Chris Bowers

Well, I suppose I had to make the announcement at some point, so here goes.  I won't be blogging at OpenLeft for some time.  I've taken a job inside the House of Representatives (more on that when I've cleared what I can say) to see how the place works and to help create the space for more progressive policies.  

Ultimately what I've learned, from many of you as much as from the task of writing for the public for the last five years, is that there is a serious leadership gap in this country.  And by leadership gap, I mean something very specific, so specific that I'm going to give it a name.  I call it a 'rootsgap'.  A rootsgap occurs when a leadership is dramatically out of step with its base or the public at large.  In the 1970s, the conservative base felt consistently sold out by its politicians, like Gerald Ford, who pushed centrist unpopular pieces of legislation, like the Panama Canal Treaty, through the levers of government.  Birth control, abortion, public sector unions, civil rights, consumer rights, the Equal Rights Amendment - all of these provoked a fierce reaction from the conservative base who felt betrayed by the Republican politicians who did not oppose liberalization fast enough.

Matt Stoller :: Solving the Rootsgap
In 1978, the first midterm election dominated by the New Right, conservatives undermined moderate Republicans and liberal Democrats all over the country.  They forced Carter to the right, and Reagan rode the conservative backlash into office.  The Club for Growth is only the most recent echo of the New Right, Karl Rove, Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist following along the well-grooved tracks created for them by the Phyllis Schafly, Milton Friedman, and John Olin.  After literally forty years of organizing, we are now in a situation where the town of DC is entirely populated by the ghosts of the New Right, in both parties.  Tax cuts are deified, the national security state is beyond reproach, and the economy of conservative political influence can prevent nationalized elections from having impacts on policy, as the election of 2006 showed.  The conservatives fully closed their rootsgap - their political leadership and their activist base are in many ways indistinguishable.  This is both useful for conservative ideologues, and a problem for the political system at large.  Politicians shouldn't be conservative movement activists, they should be politicians representing all the people.

The Democrats have the opposite problem.  Our politicians, who believe that the press is basically an honest mediator, and that expertise is honestly held within elite universities, do not consider the base particularly important.  And on the more difficult issues, the public is rarely considered a possible source of political support.

I first noticed the rootsgap problem during the impeachment of Clinton, when the 60 plus percent of the public supported him in office, but the Republicans, the media, and even some Democratic officials, did not.  That was when Moveon was created, via a simple petition that asked Congress to censure him, and Moveon.  This rootsgap, which we saw grow during the run-up to the war in Iraq, produced new leaders in the form of Howard Dean and Wes Clark, and new forms of communications and organizing, in the form of the blogosphere.  The public, having always preferred a war under UN auspices, turned against the Iraqi adventure as early as 2003.  It's been written out of history, but the $87 billion the administration requested for Iraq was opposed by more than 60% of the public.

The rootsgap has been the single most salient feature of modern American politics, at least since I've been paying attention.  It cuts across economic issues, media policy, foreign policy, national security, civil liberties, you name it.  Conservative (and often bipartisan) political elites ignore, usually the left but often the public itself, with almost no political consequences.  Joe Lieberman built an entire career, and even elevated himself to be the Vice Presidential candidate, on this feature.  A lot of people think Lieberman changed after 2004; I think such a view underestimates the consistent streak in his career, and how sharply the environment shifted after Bush's relection.  Lieberman was elected Attorney General in Connecticut based on family values issues in the 1980s, won his Senate seat by red-baiting Lowell Weicker on Cuba and drug policy in the 1980s, and was picked as VP because he was the most outspoken Democratic critic of Clinton's behavior.  It was only the primary, incomplete a response as it was, that saw some measure of reaction.  That was the first time this new progressive movement, which Chris and I tentatively called the 'Open Left', really tried to shift the calculus of leadership.  And we did.  But not enough.

The invasion of Iraq, the Protect America Act, the condemnation of Moveon, the $700 billion bailout, the Bankruptcy Bill, the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, the Patriot Act, and a thousand actions large and small were instances where the rootsgap maintained its hold on the political order.  In a lot of ways, Obama's triumph in the primaries was a response to this phenomenon; the caucus-goers who won it for Obama took Iraq very seriously, and took the nomination from Clinton, who had simply refused to apologize for her vote for the war.  The follow-on consequences of this decision, one by the Democratic rank-and-file, are not clear, but there are both depressing and promising signs.

This is not, of course, new.  Liberal leaders have ignored and mocked their base since, well, the good sensible liberals wrote Aaron Burr out of the revolution because of his proto-feminist and anti-slavery views.   So-called liberal journalists have carried this even further; Arthur Brisbane, who said that he took in "socialism with his mother's milk", didn't think much of the muckraking classic 'The Jungle'.  He told Upton Sinclair, the author that "a slaughter-house is not an opera-house", and gave him a nice "fatherly pat on the shoulder,".  We've always been called shrill, that's as American as apple pie.

The right presents us with a model, though an imperfect model, of organizing, of closing this rootsgap.  That is why Reagan is such a hero (or anti-hero) to people like Obama, because Reagan was the messenger for a wave of grassroots organizing that changed the country profoundly in a conservative direction.  But Reagan wasn't just a messenger, he both led the conservative movement by opposing detente, the Panama Canal Treaty, unionization, the Equal Rights Amendment, and abortion, and profited from the organizing work these people had done to lay the groundwork for his governance.  This syncretic approach is key to any successful movement.  Movements must have leaders, and these leaders must both listen to, lead, and be led by the activists and the public that supports them.  There must be bonds of trust, even with inevitable disagreement.  The right built up those bonds over forty yearss.

What we have now is a powerful political apparatus that can elect, raise money, engage in policy debates, work through our own media channels, push back on mainstream media channels, and a set of grasstops who organize on behalf of a progressive identity.  It's ten years old, and there are now thousands of trained organizers and millions of activists (like you).  What we're missing, among other things, is links to direct political leaders.  One of the reasons Reagan succeeded is because he had a political machine borne of the conservative activist class, one well-versed in the standard centrist trickery that led to such an infuriating rootsgap on the right.  His direct mail people and his evangelical liaisons knew what they wanted, and they knew they wanted more than what the mainstream GOP was offering.  While there are great people around our leaders, what is striking is how politicians are considered to be 'over there' making decisions, and activist movement people are considered to be outsiders and reactive to these decisions.  This doesn't make sense; cooperation can benefit everyone involved.

Now, I don't think the analogies of our party to the Republicans of the 1970s or 1980s are perfect; the Democratic Party has different problems than the Republican Party did back then, and different opportunities.  And it can't be emphasized enough that we believe in very different models of the ideal American polity.  But the rootsgap is a commonality, and the rootsgap is the space in which both New Right organizing and this new progressive organizing took place.  Ultimately, I don't think this problem of liberal organization can be addressed without more of us from the outside going into areas where we must take some direct (as opposed to indirect) responsibility for the decisions that happen.  I believe that the next few years are going to be very hard for this world, and we desperately need a vibrant progressive world, with strong leadership and good strong liberal policies.  Liberals have been correct about the war in Iraq, the financial meltdown, the Bankruptcy Bill, the deficit, the Patriot Act, and, well, pretty much everything.  What they haven't been is powerful enough to prevent the mistakes the country has made.  And this is a leadership problem that we can and will fix.

As a movement, we need to be promoting and helping our leaders make the right decisions, pick the right policies, and surround themselves with individuals who will frame policy choices in real human terms, without the weak bromides that mask the cruel impact of bad policy decisions.  That's the problem I want to start solving.  And so I'll be moving away from public blogging, though I'm pretty sure I will return eventually, perhaps soon.  Politics is always volatile.

I'm going to miss writing for you and being a part of these conversations tremendously.  I still feel honored that anyone reads our blog, and even a little shocked.  You have helped shape, pretty profoundly, the way I see the world, and the conversations here have always been interesting and lively.  Though I'll miss blogging, I'll be around, of course; this is my home, and I won't venture too far.  But with the new administration taking office in a few weeks, and a new Democratic Congress taking shape, it's time to experiment with different ways of making change, and different ways of taking responsibility for our great country.

As always, if you want to drop me a line, email me at stoller at  Onward.

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wow (4.00 / 16)
Very enlightening essay and I look forward to hearing more on the new position you're taking. Close that gap!

Of the founders that leaves Chris the one-armed bandit...

Congratulations on your new position (4.00 / 3)
I hope that you will be able to bridge that gap by holding true to your principles while in the service of Congress.

[ Parent ]
Awesome (4.00 / 4)
Sounds like you're trying on a campaign-for-office voice. Or maybe that's just wishful thinking...

Wow, Too! (4.00 / 9)
I'm stunned.

Obviously, you're creating a different sort of rootsgap, yourself!

I understanding your reasoning, and it makes a lot of sense.  Still, it's more than a bit of a shock.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

Ha! that's blogging (4.00 / 9)
You didn't get an email or anything before he posted this.  He just threw it up.  That's hilarious.

[ Parent ]
I've enjoyed your writing very much (4.00 / 13)
And you kept an outstanding blog.  There's a reason this is the only site where I bother to comment.  Debates here were interesting, enlightening, and helped me be a better thinker.

Give them hell.  And remember, you have a constituency that you can always come back to, so play like you have nothing to lose.

Mmm.... (4.00 / 1)
I haven't been around here long enough to say this, particularly to a founder, but I've been part of the left for a long-ass time -- more than forty years -- so I'm gonna say it anyway: beware the seductions of Leninism. The American right discovered Vladimir Il'ich rather late, and were rather too proud of turning him to their own uses, and look what it got them.

This may not be where you're headed, and I'm probably too cautious an old geezer to be warning a future I won't see, so take it with a grain of salt. That said, I certainly wish you luck, but above all, I wish you perspicacity. And now I'm done....

I can't speak for him ... (4.00 / 1)
but more of us need to work for Congressmen/women .. to get involved in local or national politics .. to see what it is like to work in a Congressional office .. stuff like that ... be the change we want to be

[ Parent ]
Yes, the "inside" can be very enlightening (4.00 / 1)

[ Parent ]
Getting Inside (4.00 / 9)
I actually thought that what you said was going to be the message of the post.

It's a very important idea I think.  We should be working to be the staffers and elected officials ourselves, not just working to influence them from the outside.

Another idea, sort of tangential but related (though fully in need of fleshing out): starting a fund to support candidates that emerge from our own ranks, as opposed to us funding candidates that come from the outside of the progressive movement or are not inherently progressive movement types.  

[ Parent ]
well do you think they're just bad people and we're just good people? :) (0.00 / 0)
or there might be some social and economic forces at play as well? :)

[ Parent ]
I find that the "cure" for this (0.00 / 0)
is to not take oneself TOO seriously, while at the same time taking these issues seriously. The issues are real and serious, but no one's take on them is perfect, and should not be seen or treated as such. Totally apart from the merits (or lack thereof) of their underlying ideology and values, today's right clearly takes itself WAY too seriously, and has become an insidious mockery of itself (e.g. achieve small government via huge government, manage the deficit by ballooning it, speak loudly and go ahead and use that big stick, etc.), and its downfall is to a great extent due to this. When you lose the ability and willingness to be self-critical, to accept criticism, and to just plain not take yourself too seriously, you lose one of your greatest tools--perspective. At which point decline is inevitable.

There are strains of this on the left, though, even if right now it's mainly fringe (e.g. some of the loonies who've made a muck of Digby's comments section). But now with the left back in power, it's going to become more common. Hubris happens. Always. We all succumb to it. The key is to always be on watch for it, and not let it get out of hand. We have to do this with ourselves, and with each other (and with folks like you here, William, I don't think that that's going to be a problem! :-) ). As Molly Ivins once said, what's the point of all this if you aren't having fun? This is important work, but it should also be enjoyable. So long as it is, there's less of a danger that we'll turn into doctrinaire lefty versions of the right.

Did Lenin have a sense of humor?

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

[ Parent ]
I wish you the best (4.00 / 3)
Lucky member.

On twitter: @BobBrigham

A very good analysis of the problem (4.00 / 5)
We'll see if you can do much to help resolve the Rootsgap from the inside. It seems almost worse now than it did for the New Right in the 1970s, who had Reagan as a standard bearer from 1966 onward.

I am hoping this post is suggesting that some inside the Congress realize how badly out of touch from reality they have become.

I guess I wonder what the (4.00 / 3)
point of being concerned about the "rootsgap" might be.

I look at where the netroots in particular has taken us in this election cycle, and truly can't see the point of them.

Yes, as you pointed out, the netroots and caucus activists lavished praise and support on Obama for opposing the Iraq war and excoriated Hillary because she refused to apologize for her vote for AUMF.

And what is the current product of all that agitating by the netroots/activists? Obama hires Hillary to be Secretary of Defense, and, with rare exception, those same netroots supporters and activists are completely cool with it. Likewise, anything else Obama does that deviates from positions previously held by these activists is readily excused.

So what did all this "listening to the roots" achieve for anybody? Why absolutely nothing, because the roots have no consistent position on anything, and can be led like children to endorse just about any position you can name with the right kind of rhetoric.

Really, the roots have no strong beliefs that are non-negotiable. They appear to all the world to be a mob, or a group of children, or your basic sheep. Angry sheep, sometimes, but with an anger that can easily be directed any way a clever politician might want it to be.

I repeat: what is the point of listening to such a group, and including them in any policy decisions? What does it avail?

Apart from their need to vent and to have their sense of self esteem stroked, what does it achieve?

Two points (4.00 / 1)
Worth a rec and thinking about, but two points:

*  Hillary Clinton is nominated for Secretary of State, not Defense

*  The key point for me and I believe for many others was not so much Senator Clinton's vote in favor of war but (1) her repeated insistence that it wasn't a vote for war but a vote for authorization of potential force, even though the character of Bush/Cheney/PNAC was well known at the time and was pointed out to her before the vote (2) her stubborn refusal to admit that she had made a mistake, leading to the conclusion that either she had been totally punked by Bush or that she truly was in favor of invading Iraq.


[ Parent ]
Sorry about the (0.00 / 0)
Sec of Defense instead of State -- it was very late at night when I posted. Though much the same point could be made about the Sec of Defense Obama actually chose -- it was unthinkable at the time these activists voted for Obama that they would have accepted that he might ever simply continue in place the same Sec of Defense that Bush had appointed. They would have considered any such suggestion an unconscionable slur on his rightful claim to being an agent of change. Yet when he does so, nary a peep from them.

As for Hillary's defense of her vote for AUMF, that's really quite irrelevant to the point I was making. The point was the complete turnabout in the activists acceptance of her on matters of foreign policy when she was blessed by Obama.

[ Parent ]
I think this is the point (0.00 / 0)
If I'm reading Matt correctly, I think his point is that there need to be some leaders among the mob/sheep. That the way to have politicians believe that the roots matter is to prove it.

Matt hopes to change the question. Not "what is the point of listening to them?" (which is certainly valid today) but make it become "what are the consequences of not listening to them?" (which is where liberal voices would like to be). As Matt explained, the conservatives built a power structure over decades so that they could close the rootsgap and change the question.

So that's what he hopes to achieve, if I understand correctly.

Karl in Drexel Hill, PA

[ Parent ]
And what "leaders" (4.00 / 1)
might those be, who can spur the mob/sheep into doing something driven by principles instead of by manipulative rhetoric?

The deep problem is this: on the left there exist no effective leaders for the mob/sheep who occupy the "roots".

This past election is proof of that. The "leaders" of the mob/sheep are every bit as bad, every bit as irrational and unprincipled and incoherent in their belief system as virtually anyone in the mob itself. They fall into line behind any kind of manipulation from the top as well as anyone else. They are told that X must be demonized, and so X is. They are told exactly what's ridiculous about X, and they repeat it and amplify on it. That's what being a "leader" amounts to in the left blogosphere. Every blogger in the left blogosphere who deviates from this role is subjected to savage attacks from other bloggers and commenters. It is the worst sort of self-reinforcing vicious cycle --rather than the left blogosphere promoting independent thought, it enforces the most rigid conformity.

And I'll tell you this much: in this respect, the left blogosphere is really only far worse than the right blogosphere. At least with the right wing, one gets the sense that they have eked out an identity and a set of principles independent of individual politicians. If politicians don't abide by those principles, they are criticized by them. Not so the left blogosphere.

[ Parent ]
I think the left blogosphere is more diverse than that. (0.00 / 0)
Certainly there are some places/sites and times where not toeing the party line will bring condemnation.  But not everywhere and not always.  (E.g. here during the transition people have been quite rightly contrarian.)

[ Parent ]
Leadership vacuum is an understatement (4.00 / 1)
the progressive roots excoriated Bush and Co for wasting hundreds of billions on the Iraq War, and now we're slipped into the economic precipice with 7 Trillion dollars in obligations made and another Trillion (and likely more coming). Trillions dropped on most favored sons like JPM and GS, made directly possible by the democratic congress and Obama, and nary a peep of complaint. All reelected this cycle for going against 300:1 anti-bailout call ratios. All we hear is to give them a chance, while Obama appoints the likes of Geithner, Summers, et al.

Where is the outrage? where is the on street protests? Change is just a zuitsuit, and accountability is a punchline reserved for the left's favorite scapegoats Rove and Bush, who aren't even in power any more.

Since 2003 the so called "netroots" have proclaimed (even issued several books) about the revolution it is creating. Yet in 5 years while activism online has blossomed, real political revolution is nowhere in sight. Lieberman was primaried, but ran independent against the Dem nominee, ran against Obama, and for this keeps his committee chair. Dems swept into both houses in 2006 on a anti-Bush platform and then did 100% nothing to oppose the administration. It's approval ratings fell below the president. The "netroots" shrugged. No its not enough to just make another phone call or send yet another pointless email if you want things to change.

Among the problems, what I see is that the top tier blogs still have not seized the moment to build on the ground activism. Activism for the "netroots" starts and ends at the keyboard. Everyone is satisfied to rant within their online choir, and boy they feel activited! oooh, send another email to harry and nancy. lets freep another cnn poll! While the rabble rabble, publishers are content to count unique page views and book contracts. Leadership vacuum is an understatement.

~* the * Will * to go on *~

[ Parent ]
Leadership is the problem, but is all a problem... (4.00 / 2)
To me the Right was successful in pushing their agenda because they took the opposite approach of the more radical Left.  The Right didn't take to the streets and protest, that was for the dirty hippies.  They organized politically and got themselves into the gears of government at all levels.  Taking to the streets is a momentary act of passion.  Getting organized and taking over the system is how to take that passion and get some action on it.

As you state, the unwashed masses of the netroots don't seem all that focused (or are perhaps easily led).  I think the problem is that we don't have the same unifying positions as the Right has.  This is both a feature and a bug, but while not being tied to tightly to particular policies allows us to be flexible it also leaves us without particular goals. Ironically this site has been mostly reactive in just the way Matt decries in his piece.  Other than EFCA and net neutrality most of the policy discussions on this site seem to be about picking apart those being offered by others rather than directing policy up front and taking an uncompromising position on it. Just what do the netroots stand for and what policies get us there?  I think we all agree largely on the first part, but there is no agreement on the second.

The netroots does have a leadership problem in that we have few players at any level of government and we have no set of plans that we are actively trying to get put into place.  I applaud Matt for taking this step and recognizing that government is where the real change has to happen, I just hope we can start developing clear policy goals for him to push onto the desk of Congress.

[ Parent ]
When (0.00 / 0)
you say that "I think the problem is that we don't have the same unifying positions as the Right has," I think what you are right about is that we apparently have no firmly held unifying positions as the Right has.

The problem is, activists, when it suits their desire to vent their spleen, behave as though they have firmly held beliefs -- whence the praise heaped on Obama for his position on the Iraq war, and the scorn directed toward Hillary for hers.

Let us remember: nothing was more basic in the primaries in terms of emotional appeal than the supposedly great chasm between Obama and Hillary on the war. Yet, when it becomes convenient for Obama to embrace Hillary, and appoint her as the person on whose judgment he will most depend in matters having to do with foreign policy, he is defended vigorously by these same activists.

How do you get around the contradiction inherent in that?

You don't. These activists are like angry, resentful children, who will tease and bully anyone who, for whatever random reason, is designated as the current scapegoat on the playground.

What's worth fighting for in such a pernicious social dynamic?

From a political point of view, from a social point of view, from an ideological point of view, the netroots is a net negative.

[ Parent ]
Not really sure who 'these activists' are... (4.00 / 1)
I have hardly seen any major sense that bloggers have uniformly fallen in line with every position Obama has taken.  In fact this site seems to constantly nitpick his every move.  Which would be fine if I got the sense there was an underlying set of policies for which we are supposed to be fighting.  

Perhaps you are talking about different people than I am talking about.  I don't know any activists except the bloggers I read.  So maybe the people that were out there knocking on doors won't accept anyone who doesn't tow the party line.  Maybe those are the people you are dealing with, the blogs I read seem to be pretty openly critical (often for different moves and policies!).

My frustrations are similar to Matt's.  Democratic politicians aren't doing their work for we the people.  Progressive activists need to either infiltrate the politicians' organizations or go out and get elected themselves.  While getting progressive activists into position to push an agenda is fine and well, it would probably help if those of us who donate and vote but aren't activists had some idea what that agenda looks like.

[ Parent ]
corrupting power of office (0.00 / 0)
i agree and disagree on the urgency of taking control of government offices. i understand the practical urge. however I feel power is always corrupting, and so the new occupiers becomes the new corrupt regime, so having a responsive govt based on holding offices is always an uphill battle. I think the right has an advantage here in that their goal is to exploit the offices for the benefit of their circle, so their supporters don't face the challenge of needing replace them when corrupted - in fact they want them corrupt. this is why I tend to lean toward making govt electeds live in fear just in general - then I dont have to worry about replacing anyone. Also I think a focus on controlling offices gets us to where we are now with few serious victories, and most people believing any "D" is better than an "R", while ignoring the lack of substantive difference. "Yay, another D was elected, I can go back to watching YouTube on my iPhone". but whatever, I can basically agree. one way or another however, the present leadership and the sheep of the sunday afternoon activist left aren't even doing a very good job of organizing for taking control of offices. how about radical calls to purge most D incumbents? Most everyone voted for their incumbent D congress person in their primaries - what a waste of a vote. why hasn't the online left organize the kind of campaign base Obama created well before Obama? its been sitting around for 5 years. It couldn't even organize an ideal candidate profile before the 2008 campaign. Markos sat around "not taking sides". How convenient. Where are regional activist groups, in person community building (no not this drinking laughing liberally fluff crap), real communities. Community centers, dedication to effecting local elections, doing street actions, etc. MoveOn hasn't even organized this way - its all email. how does anyone really expect to have a revolution via email? its so safe and pathetic. More books, more lattes, more blogging by remote control ipods; we're a parody of ourselves.

If I have to see one more book promotion on these left sites I'm going to burn down the local barnes and noble. (that's a joke Homeland Security).

~* the * Will * to go on *~

[ Parent ]
Yes, I think (0.00 / 0)
that, in the left blogosphere, we have created a monster.

We as a society and a polity are worse off than we were before the blogosphere existed. Policy is only more compromised; manipulation from the top is only more enabled with the blogosphere transmitting it and enforcing it; mob rule is only more perfect and more rapidly congealed.

Rather than being an engine of independent thought and action, the blogosphere has become an agent of stasis and conformity.

[ Parent ]
the "blogosphere" is big and amporphous (4.00 / 1)
and you've been reading only parts of it apparently.

[ Parent ]
Nope, (0.00 / 0)
the blogosphere is not in the main "big and amorphous" -- certainly not in terms of its larger effect on our society and polity.

The overall effect of the blogosphere is determined not by a few dissenting and marginalized voices, but by what in aggregate the blogosphere argues and agitates for. That's what counts in our politics and society. If 90+% of the blogosphere gets behind a politician or movement, of what account is the remaining portion?

And this is especially true because, in fact, what politicians pay attention to is where the money is. And when hundreds of millions of dollars go the way of a politician who can get activists and word of mouth on his side via the blogosphere, that's some serious money.

That, you see, is the true reason that politicians are now wishing to cater to the blogosphere. I have little doubt but that it lies behind whatever position Matt Stoller now has been offered in the House, however much they may pretend it was something nobler.

We are like the rich ugly guy who desperately wants to believe that women are falling for him because they think he's handsome and witty instead of for his money.

Such delusions die hard.

[ Parent ]
That's exactly the point (4.00 / 2)
I don't think anyone's arguing that a flush of money is suddenly changing the Democratic establishment's opinions, but the transition of Matt (and Mike Lux before him on Obama's transition team) into roles directly in the government is a significant change.

The importance of a move from rabble-rousing and money-raising into positions where they can have a direct influence of policy-makers is enormous.  This is the kind of access only lobbyists were able to get before.  The netroots raised enough money to get a seat at the table and the chance, just the chance, to do something with it.

Where before a member of Congress walking down the hall would bump into that nice lobbyist from Pfizer, now they'll be bumping into that nice Matt Stoller fellow now, too.

They can't change what politicians think and believe, but they can most definitely make them fear for their job security.  And when it comes down to it, as long as they vote the right way, I'm not too worried about whether it's because they believe in the principles or they're afraid of getting stuck in a nasty, expensive primary fight.

[ Parent ]
It's disorganised and confused (4.00 / 4)
Firstly, I think we need to distinguish between the netroots as primarily a leftist pressure grouping and the netroots as Democratic echo chamber and ATM.

The second attitude is probably the larger element, but also the less involved and less powerful element - the Clinton appointment got much greater criticism from bloggers than from commenters and much more criticism here than at DK.

The echo chamberists, I'd argue, aren't that different from the pressure group politically, but they value loyalty to leaders much more than ideology or the loyalty of leaders towards footsoldiers. Narrowing the rootsgap could fix that.

The netroots was born out of the turmoil of the Bush years, when the public was ignored and patronising. It's a fractious and entirely non-homogenous body and it's a lot better at shouting and denouncing than anything else. But it's not a band of chimps. Explain and bring them into the discussion, act upon their concerns and the idiocies will decrease in frequency.

Forgotten Countries - a foreign policy-focused blog

[ Parent ]
Netroots didn't drink the kool-aid (0.00 / 0)
While netroots was critical of Hillary's vote, not all were furiously unreasonably critical. And it would be someone particularly deluded today who would assume that Obama would steadfastly oppose the AUMF as a seated senator given all of his sops to the Republicans over the last 6 months.

The big issue with netroots is that it's not that big. Netroots has made a splash, but it's still a niche movement that can make an important marginal difference, but not big enough to say "my way or the highway".

I'm rather pleased with Matt's decision even though it will take away a blogger I quote quite a lot. Politics works from squeezing flesh and face-to-face encounters, not from blogs and position papers. Matt seems quite pragmatic overall, and I think the biggest reason netroots views are so out of favor in Congress is simply there's no one around the floor pushing them. If he can bring a little force to bear with "elections (and netroots support) have consequences", so much the better. Netroots actually had a setback this election cycle, sadly enough, and Matt's approach is one way to reverse course.

As for the other bloggers at OpenLeft, I've been quite happy with the transition over the last few months. I started out gritting my teeth a bit with David Sirota over the summer, but either he's improved or I've gotten used to him or both. And with the work of the other staff, it's no longer the two man show it seemed to be a year ago. Bravo.


Niche movement? (4.00 / 5)
I don't think so.

At YearlyKos 2007 in Chicago we hosted one of the first major democratic presidential candidate's debate in the election cycle, and every candidate attended ecept Joe Biden.

At Netroots Nation 2008 we hosted a 90 minute question and answer session with the highest elected congressional democrat, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and listened to a special message from the democratic presidential nominee, Senator Obama who was overseas at the time.

The dem leadership knows we are here and pay particularly close attentyion to us during campaigns. The harder part is to get them to pay equally close attention to us when it's time to govern. Like now.

[ Parent ]
Well, that's niche, ain't it? (4.00 / 1)
Candidates pander to all sorts of fringe groups during the elections and then ignore them for the next 4/8 years. Remember Log Cabin Republicans?

That's not meant to be critical - it's just the next stage to move from awareness to consultation.

[ Parent ]
My definition of a niche movement (4.00 / 1)
Would be one that politicians ignore both during election campaigns and during governing. Just sayin.

[ Parent ]
Rootsgap? How about the vertebrate gap? (4.00 / 3)
Matt, help those people up there find some spine. Help them stop playing not to lose. Winning feels good and solves a lot of problems. Antipathy toward the "roots" stems from fear of losing. Fear of guilt by association with DFHs. Fear of GOP cudgels. Fear of Villager disapproval.  The GOP has no such fears -- indeed, they use these very things to rally and move their roots.

Forget the Blue/Bush Dogs, Black, Latino, Progressive caucuses. What they need is a Full Set of Balls caucus. Get the FSB(tm) caucus in charge and ideology differences and roots gaps will resolve themselves in mutual policy victories.  In legislative victory there's room for a thousand fathers. Rootsgap is an orphan/product of fear and defeat.

Good luck. Have fun. Whenever and wherever you resurface in the blog world we'll look forward to your thoughts and insight.

Self-refuting Christine O'Donnell is proof monkeys are still evolving into humans

Good luck (4.00 / 2)
And tell us where you are going after that's OK.

So that's the symbolism behind Chris's ice skating accident: temporarily losing the use of his right arm.

I will miss your passion, but (0.00 / 0)
this is a real opportunity for you to take our party back from the inside.  Maybe uniforms would help them tell the good guys from the bad guys.

we ought to consider this: harry reid refuses (or so it would seem) to lead his senate democrats to stage any kind of meaningful fight against George W. Bush and his administration. despite 35 articles of impeachment and a list of 269 war crimes, and presiding over the senate as Wall Street robbed Main Street blind and was rewarded for it with a bail out WITHOUT any conditions . . . take a breath . . . this same senate majority leader reid seems content, instead, to make a stand against seating a legally appointed (albeit not completely certified) DEMOCRATIC senator and (apparently) caves, ONCE_a_fucking_gain to Republicans and agrees not to seat another DEMOCRATIC senator who, for the record, WAS certified yesterday and appears to be fully, legally a senator.
 And then there is Burris.  I certainly echo, WTF.

Good luck.  

best wishes (0.00 / 0)
And... good luck with all that.

I'm skeptical you'll be able to create much change on the Hill, but every drop in the bucket is one more drop. Still, I'm confident you'll learn a whole lot and... when you do move on to whatever it is you move on to, you'll be all the wiser and all the better able.

Meanwhile, we'll keep working to keep something like here, here, so there's a here for you to come back to when you're ready to come back. :-)

They call me Clem, Clem Guttata. Come visit wild, wonderful West Virginia Blue

Your analysis is excellent, but... (4.00 / 10)
unfortunately the fact that you can no longer blog while you are working on the inside is another reflection of the rootsgap. I'm not saying its your fault. I assume this is a condition of the job you are taking. But we need to be able to communicate with our allies within Congress, to know how the levers of power work. We want not just you but all of us to be able to push on those levers in order to have greater influence.

So please try to open up the lines of communication and come back to us as soon as possible - while you are still working on the inside. There is a desperate need to know what is going on inside the system, why our influence has been so paltry and how to make it real.

Thanks for everything, Matt (4.00 / 3)
You're one of my favorite writers and analysts.  If you were leaving for any other reason I'd be pissed off.  But hopefully you'll be in the position to really do some good, as opposed to just point out the malfeasance and what could be done if our leaders were more on our side.

Good luck!

Congrats. Thanks and good luck. (NT) (4.00 / 1)

Good Luck (4.00 / 1)
and have fun.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

I'm surprised (4.00 / 2)
But I shouldn't be.  I think you're doing what needs to be attempted.  Only so much can get done from the outside.  Congratulations.

sorry to see you go (4.00 / 1)
but im excited to see what you can do in your new role.  godspeed and good luck

Mazel tov, Matt! (4.00 / 1)
Best of success to you. Maybe my sister in the CBO will get to know who you are. (My sister will be doing a lot of work on infrastructure) (Yes, that's the same one who got married in Canada) (Breathes with relief that I was not particularly annoyed by Matt)  

Darkness has a hunger that's insatiable, and lightness has a call that's hard to hear.  

Good Luck!!! (0.00 / 0)
You'll be missed!    

Congratulations! (4.00 / 3)
Excellent essay.  Any chance you could rework it and get it published someplace like the Nation, the Atlantic Monthly or the Washington Monthly?  

I see a TNH analogy (0.00 / 0)
All of the posters were taken up by Daily Kos until it was "emptywheel's blog". Here two of the original three FPers have been taken into government.  

Darkness has a hunger that's insatiable, and lightness has a call that's hard to hear.  

Best thing you have written evah! (4.00 / 1)
Good luck on the inside trying to move those levers of power a little bit more toward the grassroots.

Best of luck (0.00 / 0)
You da man.

Mind the gap (4.00 / 2)
Good luck, Matt.

We'll miss you and then again you'll find ways to be around I'm sure at least to report on your adventures in the gap.

Thanks for all you've done and looking forward to hearing about your new achievements.


Well, Matt, off you go... (4.00 / 1)
I admit I chuckled when I saw Atrios post this:


Matt Stoller gets EATED by the House of Representatives.

Do hang onto yourself.  That environment isn't exactly known for enhancing a person's ability to recognize themselves as the Man in the Glass.

When you get all you want and you struggle for self,
and the world makes you king for a day,
then go to the mirror and look at yourself
and see what that man has to say....

I suspect the best defense you could have is to be sure and make some fun out of it.  
Best wishes!

Best wishes, Matt (4.00 / 6)
But I think that's bad analysis.  What you are calling a "rootsgrap" is a reflection of the fact that our politics and our politicians are owned by the people who they get their campaign contributions from --- corporations and a tiny slice of the very wealthy.

How do you  get to be Speaker of any state House or of the federal House of Representatives, or president of any state senate or of the federal Senate?  How do you get to be minority or majority leader in any of these bodies?  It's not based on your big ideas or your grand vision or your connection with the  popular base.  

It's based on the volume of corporate campaign contributions you can take in, the confidence that the givers of those funds have that legislative leaders, when all is said and done, will carry the corporate agenda, and not the  people's agenda.  That's not just how Newt Gingrich got to be Speaker in the 1990s or how Dick Armey and Tom Delay got to be majority leader and speaker.  It's how Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid get and keep their seat, and it's how the legislative minority and majority leaders of both parties in every state legislature keep theirs.

When Rahm Emanuel used DCCC funds to aid Blue Dogs and pro-war Democrats in primaries against antiwar Democrats in 2006 and 2008 he was enforcing the bipartisan corporate control of the Democratic party on behalf of the corporate contributors who put that money in his hand.

As long as the Democratic party is beholden to the same corporate contributors as the  Republicans --- they will never represent the people they depend on for votes.  That is  the  source of the gap between grassroots, netroots, whatever you call them, and our elected officials.  

Our  elected officials then, are not leaders in any real sense of the word.  They are following the lead of the mainstream media and the folks who make their careers possible.  Not us.  This is why, although people elected a Democratic congress in 2006 hoping it would stop the war, restrain or perhaps even impeach Bush, and instead found the Congress they elected continued to give Bush almost everything he asked for.  This is the institution you're going into, I hope with open eyes.

Good luck.

"If you want that good feeling that comes from doing things for other people, then you have to pay for it in abuse and misunderstanding..."
Zora Neale Hurston

Good luck, Matt. (4.00 / 1)
Excellent post.  I think you're on the right track.

Wow, I am very pleased, and impressd and inspired (4.00 / 4)
I'm going to miss writing for you and being a part of these conversations tremendously.  I still feel honored that anyone reads our blog, and even a little shocked.  You have helped shape, pretty profoundly, the way I see the world, and the conversations here have always been interesting and lively.  Though I'll miss blogging, I'll be around, of course; this is my home, and I won't venture too far.  But with the new administration taking office in a few weeks, and a new Democratic Congress taking shape, it's time to experiment with different ways of making change, and different ways of taking responsibility for our great country. Onward.

This above is, in part, one of the most important points of your article, even including what I consider the spot-on analysis. It is about the fact that blogostan is making a difference, as we suspect and hope, but we are helped by actual facts to warm our fingers. Part of the problem of Versailles as your blogmate calls it, is that it becomes self re-enforcing. You just never meet anyone outside of the accepted wisdom. Just for Washington to have an angry(dont give it up completely) denier of the accepted wisdom stalking the halls, is that it creates space for doubt. And boy does Versailles ever need a lot of second thinking. That it also needs a bunch of people retired is beside the point.
M$M and the DC eleutes, and the DC elite wannabes are in a cycle of drinking their own bathwater so to speak, nothing gets inside, its all the same regurgitated water all the time.

So One -Congratulations for helping to create a phenomenal Blog! Your spirit, thinking, anger and maddening disbelief has created a window in which discussions can begin to happen. Smart, progressive outside the lines thinking that can and will help do what you describe, end the split of the  deciders from the ruled, put people from outside into power and open the debate of not just how to run a giant democracy like this one, but also how to solve the problems we face now, while solving the same old damn problems we have always faced.

Two - Congrats on the Job! You deserve it, and I hope its exciting mainly because its a place where you can put your shoulder directly to the wheel of something important. Push Matt, Push Damn it!

Three Thanks for the article that inspires us so much, great writing, great points and timely exciting news.



The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

Good luck and good hunting (4.00 / 3)
I'm pretty stoked about this. I remember signing up here only a day or two after the site went live, and it's been a wild ride so far. Go forth and kick ass. We'll be waiting her when you come back.

Sniff All our front pagers are growing up... sniff

Good luck (0.00 / 0)
I'll miss your writing on this blog.  But I hope your new job goes well for you.

Good luck (4.00 / 1)
I hope you knock some heads there in the House of Reps., and convince more of those Dems to both have a spine and to listen to what the base of the party is saying.

Best of luck (4.00 / 1)
and keep up the good fight

Congrats, Matt (4.00 / 1)
Best of luck.  Don't forget about us.

The Seminal :: Independent Media and Politics

congrats (4.00 / 2)
this is very good news

Thank you and good luck (4.00 / 2)
Enjoy the new job, and stay angry.

Forgotten Countries - a foreign policy-focused blog

Matt, when we Mob our Reps with our views do they listen? (4.00 / 4)
Or rather how do they listen? In fact what exactly are the systems of listening that they deploy and use and depend upon? And then how can we bring the lessons learned in the blogosphere to inform and reform those systems.

Are they using spreadsheets to check off each call, email and letter? And then do they weigh those results with the other results, as measured by dollars and sense, of what their important donors are saying?

Can those systems be informally institutionalized? We register with a blog now. Couldn't our reps invite us to register with them? And then create polls where we "vote" where they could get instant feedback? The feedback could be weighted by the degree of un-anonymity. The results could be instantly fed back to us. We could organize into voting caucuses and possibly proxy caucuses for the purposes of some of it. And then when a rep votes formally in the house they could provide instant feedback to those who agree and also specifically to those who disagree.

Those are some of the directions I would like to see in my idea of "Open Source Politics".

Right now both the granularity and the timeliness of representative feed back is sorely lacking.

So see what you can discover along those lines and then get back to us. Please. :)

Jeff Wegerson

We could organize into voting caucuses and possibly proxy caucuses (4.00 / 2)
why bother with representatives at all?

your proposition is a threat to their very existence. representatives are the ultimate middlemen, skimming the arbitrage between voter sentiment and voter taxes.

~* the * Will * to go on *~

[ Parent ]
Well yes and (0.00 / 0)
I guess I'm referring to our honest broker progressive middle political vendors not the self aggrandizing reps.  

Jeff Wegerson

[ Parent ]
Congrats (0.00 / 0)
Working on the Hill was one of the best experiences of my life.  I don't want to go back but I really enjoyed it.  Good luck.

small favor (4.00 / 2)
I may as well be the first to ask you for a favor now that you've got a job inside the House of Representatives (I'm sure I won't be the last!).

Once you're settled in, if you have any bright ideas on how Leonard Boswell might be talked into retiring, could you give me a heads up? (desmoinesdem AT

If Boswell retires before the next election, Democrats will have a better chance of holding on to IA-03 following the post-census redistricting.

I know the DCCC isn't in the business of urging members to retire, but I wonder if there's any avenue activists could pursue that could help toward this end.

Join the Iowa progressive community at Bleeding Heartland.

Pseudonym? (4.00 / 2)
So, how about a pseudonymous backchannel? Maybe a sub-rosa twitter feed? I mean, you can't just go into the belly of the beast and not give us all an occasional taste of the Old Stoller Gonzo(tm).

Anyway, congratz. I agree with virtually everything you say, and I hope that more of "us" can find ways to don pink ties and begin the long march.

Stand strong.

Me | My Work | Future Majority

You will be missed here, Matt. Immensely. (0.00 / 0)
This blog has been instrumental in the distillation of my feelings, both positive and negative, about the place of the Democratic Party in American history and about the larger progressive movement in general.

Hopefully your presence will be felt in an even greater way on the Hill.

Best of luck!

Congrats (4.00 / 2)
It became obvious to me that you had a brilliant future when I realized that I still enjoyed reading what you wrote and thought you were a good guy even after you banned me from the list.

That said, I can't say that I would wish on my worst enemy the plunge into the sewer which is what working in U.S. House (even in its purportedly "progressive" configuration) amounts to.

To take one example out of many, is there a single member of congress who will come out and declare the simple truth? That Israel's incursion into Gaza is a war crime and atrocity and should result in the immediate cessation of all U.S. aid.

Maybe you can get your guy to do this. Or something equivalently unthinkable- calling for a redirection of 1/3 the defense budget to renewable energy to at least begin to head off the almost certain future of runaway global warming.

That all this seems like a fantasy is an indication of how far up shits creek we are, and how much paddling folks like you need to do for us.

Let us know if we can help!


Thank for what you have done so far (0.00 / 0)
and I hope you are able to do more in a new place.

Damn I love this generational transition stuff! Maybe someday I'll get to retire?

Can it happen here?

We Dropped the Ball in the 2008 Cong. Primaries (4.00 / 1)
We got off to a great start in 2006.  We beat Lieberman in the primary in CT, and threw one hell of a scare into Al Wynn a few weeks later.

I expected that we'd build on that start in 2008, but never did.  Oh, we finished the job on Wynn, and there were a couple of other primary challenges that went nowhere.  

And that was it.

The way we close the rootsgap is by making life predictably difficult for Dem legislators who have a low regard for the opinions of the people who keep them in office.

There are literally dozens of Dem CDs with Cook PVIs of D+15 or better.  Those are very safe seats - aside from the seat that Dollar Bill Jefferson just lost, not a single Republican holds a seat more Democratic than D+7, and even that won't last long when Rep. Michael Castle (D-Del.) retires.  Where these seats aren't occupied by better Democrats - not just in terms of voting, but in terms of speaking out - then we need to primary them.

For what it's worth, there are four Bush Dog Dems in D+5 or better seats: Dan Lipinski (IL-03, D+10), who we primaried last year; Jim Costa (CA-20, D+5); John Barrow (GA-12, D+5); and Jim Cooper (TN-05, D+6).

We need a continuing organization that exists for the purpose of recruiting, developing, and supporting primary challengers to Dems who are letting their constituency down.  It really should have been in place 18 months ago, but better late than never.

Good luck! (4.00 / 2)
I always thought the real problem was the House of Representatives didn't have enough trouble-makers...

I support John McCain because children are too healthy anyway.

Yeah, I'm kinda loving it… (0.00 / 0)
...that Open Lefters are being asked into the tent. But the second thing I'll miss most about Matt S. (the first is the clear-eyed thought-processes responsible for this rootsgap analysis) is that he generally refrains from whining about his hate mail. That temperament will probably serve him well during his tenure in the belly of the beast. Here's to keepin' on pushing...  

"This ain't for the underground. This here is for the sun." -Saul Williams

you're a good guy, stoller (4.00 / 1)
and extremely bright.  I wouldn't say this often about people I've never met, but I feel comfortable that you'll change politics more than politics changes you.

Keep an ear out for us :)  We'll be waiting for you when you're done :)

Best wishes, Matt (0.00 / 0)
You'll be missed here, but I respect your decision to try to reduce the "rootsgap" from "inside" at this point in time, and trust that you'll remain true to what you believe.  Give 'em hell when they deserve it, and build some bridges where that's feasible and beneficial.  

And keep us posted as best you can.

Congrats, Matt (0.00 / 0)
and if you're working for Donna Edwards, double-super congrats. Thanks for all the good stuff over the years, and good luck!

Good Luck to Matt (4.00 / 1)
(and try not to forget where you came from in the bell jar called Washington ;))

I think Chomsky calls this the 'democratic deficit' (0.00 / 0)
Personally I think so-called 'conservative' leaders largely ignore their base, as well (they never outlawed abortion when they had a chance), though conservatives leaders do throw them an occasional bone (Monica Goodling-types at Justice, right-wing judges, etc.)

Congratulations on your new position.  I hope it works out well for  you - and us.

I find it very rewarding to see progressives around me moving into positions of greater responsibility (DNC member, Chairs of local Democratic party groups, etc.)

I take it that you won't be working for Steny Hoyer (0.00 / 0)
Although, come to think of it, there's something to be said for being in the belly of the beast...

Good luck! Progressive power is gradually percolating up to the top.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

Good luck Matt (0.00 / 0)
I hardly ever comment here, but read and enjoy Open Left on a daily basis.  So I wanted to say thanks for all the great work, and best of luck in the new job.  

Great Piece, Best of luck (0.00 / 0)
Gonna miss your insights (this post is a case in point!) but am glad you're on to enact these ideals.

There's never been a better time for ACTION to be in the drivers seat, talk and reflection only copilots.  


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