Last September, I published an essay laying out what I saw as the scope of blog influence, with 'influence' defined as the capacity to alter or create conventional wisdom. I used a triangle construct to set out the relationship between the netroots, the media, and the political establishment: "Looking at the political landscape, one proposition seems unambiguous: blog power on both the right and left is a function of the relationship of the netroots to the media and the political establishment. Forming a triangle of blogs, media, and the political establishment is an essential step ... Simply put, without the participation of the media and the political establishment, the netroots alone cannot generate the critical mass necessary to alter or create conventional wisdom."
I concluded that "if the netroots alone can't change the political landscape without the participation of the media and Democratic establishment, then there's no point wasting precious online space blasting away at Republicans while the other sides of the triangle stand idly by."
The NSA scandal and the Alito confirmation hearings are just two more examples of the left's broken triangle and of the isolation of the progressive netroots. A flurry of activity among bloggers, online activists, and advocacy groups is met with ponderously inept strategizing by the Democratic leadership and relentless -- and insidious -- repetition by the media of pro-GOP narratives and soundbites. It's slow-motion-car-wreck painful, and most certainly NOT where the left's triangle should be a half decade into the new millennium, as the Bush-propping machine hums and whirrs, poll numbers rise and fall, Iraq bleeds, scandal dissolves into scandal, terror speech blends into terror speech. The landscape is there for everyone to see, to analyze. Enough time has elapsed to make the system transparent. It is dismaying for netroots activists to see the same mistakes repeated despite the benefit of hindsight.
As the presidential primary season draws to a close, and the congressional primary season begins to heat up, I feel as though Daou's description of the political scene two years ago has changed little. Like 2006, Democrats are badly losing congressional fights, only the issues are things like Iraq instead of Alito. Then, as now, the Democratic leadership in Congress doesn't allow progressive media a seat at the strategizing table, and so to no one's surprise congressional Democrats and progressive media are on different pages during the important fights. Then, as now, when the progressive grassroots seeks to change Democratic behavior after these defeats by supporting a series of primary challenges, not a single Democratic member of Congress supports a single one of the primary challengers (which is actually worse than 2006, given Rep. Maxine Waters support of Ned Lamont in 2006). Then, as now, the media narratives about the two major stories of the day, Iraq and the Presidential campaign, are not remotely similar to the blogosphere narratives on those subjects.
We are told that the surge is working, Iraq is being taken off the table, and that voters are tired of partisanship and ideology from the left. If the progressive media wasn't in the wilderness, would any of these narratives be prominent right now? There is nothing factual to support any of these narratives: their dominance is entirely a function of superior media manipulation by the right. First, even apart from questioning what "working" means in Iraq, one could easily argue that withdrawal and ethnic cleansing have "worked" in Iraq, since both of those have also taken place. Second, Iraq is still easily the number one issue for voters, according to all but one poll taken this year. Third, Republicans and conservatives continue to run far more right-wing primaries and successful filibusters of popular legislation than Democrats and progressives, yet Democrats and progressives are supposedly equally to blame for stagnation and polarization in Washington. None of these narratives are true, but they all dominate because Republicans, and even some Democrats, are on the same page as conservative media. No one, however, is on the same page with the blogosphere and other forms of progress media. We are in the wilderness.
There have been some successes, mostly arising from times when progressive media and leading Democrats were on the same page because they strategized together (residual forces), or because they simply acted the same way (the Bush Dog S-Chip campaign). Chris Dodd's success on FISA can also probably be put in this category. As Peter Daou predicted, when progressive media and prominent Democrats are on the same page, victories seem to happen pretty often. As Peter Daou lamented, when progressive media and prominent Democrats are not on the same page, victory seems to pretty much never happen. Without prominent Democratic validaters, we in the progressive grassroots and progressive media can't win these fights on our own. Without progressive media, prominent Democrats have virtually no hope of winning any conventional wisdom formation fights against Republicans.
We-progressive media--remain in the wilderness because we are not given a seat at the strategizing and decision making table. However, the wilderness also goes both ways. I have seen all sorts of "theories of change," about how Obama, Clinton or Edwards will get things done when they are President. However, unless a new Democratic President is willing to bring new progressive media into the strategizing for the fights they will face, I doubt they will get much done. A Democratic administration that maintains a stand-offish, managed, one-way decision making approach to communication strategy will, in the end, find itself taking pretty much the same beatings the first Clinton administration faced from 1993-1994. Even with a solid electoral victory and large congressional majorities, the new President will lose almost every single fight for progressive legislation s/he will face, because the triangle of single narrative of convention wisdom will be closed against him or her. In other words, the new Democratic President will succeed in passing conservative favorites like NAFTA, but fail to pass progressive favorites like Health Care reform.
The simple fact is that we will never have a progressive governing majority in America unless, when major legislative fights are on the horizon, progressive media is given a seat at the strategizing table with leading Democrats on those fights. Since the Alito fight two years ago, Daou's analysis seems to have been proven correct again and again. If Democrats want the advantages that new progressive media offers them, such as not losing every single media fight ever, then they need to do more than tell new progressive media the strategy after the decision has already been made, and then manage new progressive media participants via a series of liaisons. When we are engaging in shared fights, we need a seat at the strategy table. Otherwise, we will all remain in the wilderness, and continue to lose fights even when 70% of public support is behind us.