Thanks for being part of this community, and thank you for letting me develop my voice and ideas in concert with your voice and your ideas. In 2007, Chris, Mike, and I started OpenLeft based on the idea that there was a new ideologically left-wing yet open set of actors on stage. I still think this is true, and perhaps, there's some of that going on right now in the uprisings in the Middle East. Though it's in fashion, I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on Egypt, except to note that Facebook will totally set everyone free. Thanks, Zuck!
The signs of a world undergoing profound change are everywhere. Wikileaks is a genuine social innovation, a new form of collaborative media that scales what Daniel Ellsberg did. The political blogosphere, and then the financial blogs, have sketched an open counter-elite that can truly challenge the existing financial oligarchs' intellectual stronghold on our social order. Much of the world is overthrowing the Washington consensus, and our elites are naked to the world in terms of their own incompetence and ignorance.
After OpenLeft, I worked for Congressman Alan Grayson, in what was the best job of my life. He used to joke when he hired me that most Congressmen have staffers, while I had a Congressman. Man did we have a good time, fighting the good fight. And we accomplished a whole lot - the first audit of the Federal Reserve in history is being done right now, in part because of Grayson. And actually, as I think about it right now, working for Grayson was a lot like blogging. Blogging is its own form of writing, at once conversational and collaborative. You aren't in a room, with the door closed, trying to think up the brilliant phrase that will turn the world on its head. You're riding the wave. You're interacting with thousands. You're getting steamed by commenters, the flame wars and the critics, and your friends gone right and gone wrong. At its best, blogging is a democratic space, a necessary ingredient of what Lawrence Goodwyn pointed out was a predicate to the great social movements in American history.
OpenLeft was such a space, which is why many of us are sad about today. It was a space to which all of us contributed. It's not that bloggers, commenters, and audience are going away, never to be heard from again. I'm still around, you can find me at @matthewstoller on Twitter, stirring up trouble and ideas. The rest of the gang is going to be on the internets as well. But there's a mixture that will be missing. I know this because of the people who called me when I worked for Grayson, some of my coworkers and interns, who were part of the OpenLeft world. There was a very specific, I don't know what to call it, but flavor, a code, perhaps, a way of seeing the world that we all shared, and share. When we got together at Netroots Nation, or in the comments sections, or when I meet a reader, we had and have a bond.
We can create that space again. I suspect it will be created, in much larger forums than we ever imagined. Humans can accomplish profoundly incredible feats when challenged. I keep seeing Egyptians saying that they never dreamed these days would come, when their people would rise up. I cannot right now imagine such a day for Americans, but that does not mean it won't happen. It means that it will happen in a way that I will not expect. Perhaps some of you will lead such a consciousness raising moment. The great social movements in American history worked that way, with generations passing down memories of dissent, until there was a disruptive break-out social innovation, like the farmer's cooperatives of the 1880s, the sit-down strikes of the 1930s, or the boycotts and marches of the 1960s. In Poland, Solidarity came from the memories of worker strikes in the 1950s, and I suspect that we will discover the roots of what is happening in Egypt come from something similar. Like Facebook! Zuck is so dreamy, did you see the Social Network? It was awesome! Oscars here we come!
I feel compelled to make a quick comment about the Axelrod/hippie punching moment in the blogger call yesterday, because I have been in Axelrod's shoes and know how tough those moments are.
I'll say at the outset that I have been extremely critical of the Obama political strategy much of the time over the last couple of years, including in a sharply worded post just a couple of days ago which Susie referenced in her question to David. I have been angry at the "left of the left" and "professional left" type of insults thrown out too often by this White House, not because I was personally offended but because I thought it was stupid politically and I want this President to succeed. I think the White House needs to expect these kinds of questions from bloggers when they dish out the insults themselves.
Here's the deal though: when your job is to speak for the administration, and defend it from attacks, you can't be passive when asked a question like that. Axelrod has been criticized for pushing back on Susie's question, but I don't think he had many options. I was on the call and all the questions up until then had been more traditional sounding questions in topic and tone, and then Susie went for it. I don't blame Susie for the question, not at all- like I said the White House needs to understand they will get these kinds of questions from bloggers. But I think David didn't have many options but to try and push back a little, try to form some common ground (with his "you're right, on both sides" line), but also to defend.
Look, a White House spokesperson can't just say "you are right, we suck" in reaction to that kind of question. And I have been in his situation, being forced to take the heat for things done by other people in that building. The irony here is that, admitting some bias here because David is an old friend, I think Axelrod is one of the good guys inside. From everything I have heard, he has been on the right side of most of the debates inside, has pushed back pretty consistently against folks like Geithner on policy and personnel decisions, and has been the leading advocate for a more populist message and policy. By all accounts, he was the leading advocate for bringing Elizabeth Warren in. And I am fairly sure I know who has done most of the anonymous left trashing talk, and it has definitely not been David, who I am consistently told is the leading advocate for reaching out to the base.
David's answer to Susie wasn't eloquent. The tone wasn't just right because he was caught by surprise. Having been in his shoes, I know these moments are tough. But I do hope people will cut him some slack on this, because I think he is one of the good guys in that building on Pennsylvania Avenue.
On Thursday, Sam Stein wrote a piece at HuffPo, "'Professional Left' Saga Says More About Media Than Obama". I think that headline overstated it--or perhaps, oversimplified it--but the article had a very good point: The media environement is continuing to shift and that shift is getting away from Obama. Here's how Stein put it in his lede:
Last week's feud between White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and the so-called "professional left" did more than just open a window into the fraying relations between the president and his base. It provided one of the sharpest illustrations to date as to how an ever-changing news culture has challenged even the most press-savvy of operations.
As Stein lays it out, the cable is becoming increasingly more like the internet, and the Obama Administration is falling behind the curve. I think it's pretty good narrative, but I would argue that there's a good more depth that could be added.
As part of his story setup, Stein notes that the Obama campaign posture of pretending to ignore the media was a ruse. What's new now is not that they're suddenly breaking character and paying attention, but that they're so clumsy and behind the curve:
Increasingly, press veterans say, the content aired on cable resembles material traditionally found online. No longer is the focus on securing interviews with top officials or reading the day's top stories. Rather, value is found in breaking news and hosting debates that draw an audience.
"Cable has traditionally been talent-driven," explained MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan, a chief purveyor of the new news structure. "Fuck the talent, pardon my language. But if you have the audience you win. I'm not talking about economics even. I'm talking about the soul of the show."
What's resulted from this orderless environment is the type of news coverage that has drawn the White House's ire, whether it consists of horse-race chatter or rumor-mongering. On Thursday, Pew Research produced a poll showing that of the 20 percent of the public who think the president is a Muslim, 60 percent said they learned as much from the media....
Even at MSNBC -- a network ostensibly more aligned with the administration on philosophical matters than its two competitors -- the story lines have been difficult for the administration to take. Over the past few weeks, there has been a consistent drumbeat of progressive displeasure over the job the president is doing. The topics and tone tend to reflect the type of copy published on the web and, not surprisingly, it has been an online story that often leads the news.
For the past few weeks, Cenk Uygur has played a pinch-hitter role for MSNBC, guest hosting for anchors and doing panels for daytime programs. Both he and others have described his style as "rants" -- the type of opinionated news reporting and analysis that is meant to entertain or infuriate viewers depending on their disposition. It's an approach that has pushed the envelope editorially. But it's also one that the brass seems comfortable with.
"We are getting great ratings," Uygur explained to the Huffington Post.
That's 100% in my book. And it dovetails with the substance of some critical things I've said in the past about improving MSNBC (more on that below). But as a dyed-in-the-wool believer in overdetermination and multiple causation, I'd go even farther: The liberal blow-back he's getting right now is not only a product of a shifting media landscape--though it most certainly is that, in part. But it's also a direct result of Obama's decision to play the left from the beginning. He could have genuinely embraced the progressive online community, instead he opted for a very clever strategy of co-option. Whether by temperament, ideology, sociology or simple calculation of political power, Obama decided to ditch his whole transformation change shtick, as Larry Lessig so perfectly nailed it (and as I quoted him previously in Why Gibbs' hippy-punching incident is pivotal, not trivial):
An article I wrote yesterday, Amateur Blogosphere, RIP, has generated a lot of discussion (apparently, a decent amount at Personal Democracy Forum, too). Even though it is a subject on which I have spent a great deal of thought, the article was written in haste, and so it did not convey the full context of my thoughts. As such, this afternoon I think it it important to provide some clarification.
My basic premise is that the progressive political blogosphere--and I am NOT speaking about other blogospheres, since I do not know much about them--is now almost entirely dominated by political and media professionals. But there is more to it then that:
Vast majority of bloggers still unpaid: First, let me clarify that the vast majority of progressive political bloggers are still unpaid hobbyists who blog as a labor of love. Like, over 99% still fall into that category.
Professionals dominate market share: What has changed since the formative days of the progressive political blogosphere in 2003 (and earlier), is that 95% or more of the audience share goes to three or four dozen bloggers who are now full-time media and / or political professionals. Over 95% of the audience of progressive political blogging goes to a small number of blogs anyway, and those blogs are now almost entirely run by people who take blogging and / or politics as their primary source of income.
The trend is very recent: Seven years ago, there were no professional, progressive political bloggers. That began to change when media outlets like the Washington Monthly hired Kevin Drum, when advertising services like Blogads became available, and when political campaigns decided it was time to start spending money to invest in the Internet. Those developments, all of which occurred in 2003, opened up the three paths to professionalization: 1) get hired full-time by a media outlet or non-profit, 2) make enough income to live off your own blog, or 3) parlay your blogging into political consulting work.
The trend is irreversible: We will never return to the days (some may say glory days) when the progressive political blogopshere is dominated by unpaid hobbyists. This is because it is virtually impossible for a hobbyist to compete with professionals who are actually paid to spend all day blogging. No one has enough free time to blog as much as Matthew Yglesias, David Dayen, or the front page of Daily Kos.
New voices will still emerge, but only within the professionalized context: Undoubtedly, new voices will still emerge from the hobbyist world. However, when they do those bloggers will emerge within established, professionalized blogs in order too attract an audience in the first place (hell, this was already the case by 2006, as I discussed in my first ever article on Open Left), Further, these new voices will have to become professionals themselves in order to sustain their efforts over the long-term.
I hope that helps provide more solidity and clarity to my thesis. I stand by it, but I think it makes a lot more sense with this added context.
Update: There is now a follow-up to this article, providing more context, qualification and clarity. You can here it here.
Today the New York Times announced that it will incorporate fivethirtyeight.com into the NYT website:
This summerThe New York Times will incorporate the political blog FiveThirtyEight into the political news section of NYTimes.com. Blogger, polling expert and founder of FiveThirtyEight Nate Silver will continue to oversee the blog and will also be a regular contributor to The New York Times and to The New York Times Sunday Magazine.
Only five years ago, the progressive political blogosphere was still predominately a gathering place for amateur (that is, unpaid or barely paid) journalists and activists unattached to existing media companies and advocacy organizations. Those days are almost completely over. Now, the progressive blogosphere is almost entirely professionalized, and inextricably linked to existing media companies and advocacy organizations.
This transformation has been brought about by three developments (fellow bloggers, please forgive me in advance if I fail to mention your or your blog as an example):
Established media companies and advocacy organizations hiring bloggers to blog, full-time: The Washington Post, New York Times, Politico, Center for American Progress, Salon, CQ, Atlantic, Washington Monthly, the American Independent News Network, and more have all hired hired bloggers to blog, full-time. Many of these bloggers, such as fivethirtyeight, Unclaimed Territory, or the Carpetbagger Report, operated their blogs independently of any established organization, and were key hubs in the "amateur" or "independent" progressive blogosphere. Now, those bloggers do pretty much the same thing they did before, they just (quite understandably) do it for a much better salary from an established organization.
Previously "amateur" progressive blogs became professional operations: Another trend, less common than the first, has been for blogs like Daily Kos, Fire Dog Lake and Talking Points Memo to transform themselves from hobbies into professional media outlets and / or activist organizations. These blogs have increased their revenue stream to the point where they can hire multiple full-time staff.
Bloggers translate blogging into consulting and advocacy work: Many bloggers have also found a way to make a living by combining their blogging with blog-friendly advocacy and consulting work. This is actually the path I am currently following, as are, I believe, Oliver Willis, Atrios, Jerome Armstrong, and more. This involves finding part-time or full time work in politics that is conducive to still maintaining a full-time blog (which also generates a part-time income).
Add up all three of these paths, not even to mention the emergence of the utterly dominant Huffington Post, and the progressive political blogosphere is now both thoroughly professionalized and integrated into the progressive media an political ecosystem.
That didn't take very long. The progressive blogosphere really first emerged onto the political scene in late 2002 over fights like the run up to Iraq, the 2003 Democratic primaries, and Trent Lott's comments at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party. In less than eight years, it went from a loosely knit, rag-tag network of amateur outsiders into a fixture in the world of professional political advocacy and media.
I want to make it clear that I know there are still "amateur" independent blogs around. Also, I do not begrudge a single person for taking any of these various routes to professionalism. Hell, I have wanted to be a professional blogger since Kos first began selling ads in late 2003. I am simply describing a trend that has, quite obviously, been underway for years now. In fact, my first post ever at Open Left was on this very subject).
It was, really, inevitable. Avant-garde, "outsider" developments which prove to have real support are invariably co-opted by any successful, institutional establishment. At the same time, these avant-garde movements are often willing to be co-opted, since established institutions usually have vastly greater resources than the independent, shoestring distribution networks of the avant-garde. Before I became a blogger, I was an ABD graduate student in English, and I was going to write my dissertation about this phenomenon in 20th century American poetry. I am quite thrilled that instead of writing that dissertation, I was able to participate in a real-life example of it.
Anyway, kudos to Nate Silver, and RIP to the amateur progressive blogosphere. It provided a regular feeling of revolutionary ecstasy while it lasted, but there was no way it could last very long. It was a transitional period into a new media and political paradigm, not a new paradigm unto itself.
There has been a lot of talk about Rand Paul's view on the Civil Right's act today. But, in addition to race, as long as the company in question does not receive any public funds, here are some more reasons that Rand Paul--and his supporters--thinks it should be legal for the owner of a private company to fire you:
Not being the same religion as the boss
Not having sex with the boss
Having children, or not having them
Not liking the same sports teams as the boss
Not voting for different political candidates than the boss
Further, in the context of 2010 America, I absolutely think that business owners ought to be able to serve whomever they damned well please - whether it's a bar owner wishing to cater to smokers, a racist wanting to exclude blacks, or a member of a subculture wishing to carve out a place for members of said subculture to freely associate with only their kind out of purely benign purposes.(...)
All that said, I agree with Doug that this is a pointless and harmful debate for Paul to get sucked into. This has been settled law since before I was born and a Senate campaign isn't a political science seminar. This is the sort of question that more seasoned politicians know how to dodge.
And his colleague, Doug Mataconis, in the same article:
I think the decisions are wrong, but they are the law of the land. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is not going to be repealed, and it serves no purpose for Paul to let himself be dragged into a debate about it.
Which is the main reason I cringed when I watched this unfold last night. It's fine for libertarian bloggers to debate this issue among themselves, but a politician can't allow himself to be trapped into a debate where he ends up defending segregated lunch counters in an election in the South.
Bottom line: Rand Paul is basically right when he says it is wrong for the federal government to do anything about discrimination, in hiring and serving, and when he implies that the Civil Rights Act should have been overturned by the courts. The problem is that he shouldn't say those things in public, because it makes libertarians look bad. Don't want the plebs to know what you actually think.
The days of launching a successful blog, independent of established, well-resourced media outlets or non-profits, are nearly over. Hopefully, the vision I present above will help them last a little while longer.
What blogs are you reading these days? What draws you to those blogs?
According to a recent survey by Pew, blogging is not the future of the Internet. Younger online users are already moving away from it:
Blogging has declined in popularity among both teens and young adults since 2006. Blog commenting has also dropped among teens.
14% of online teens now say they blog, down from 28% of teen internet users in 2006.
This decline is also reflected in the lower incidence of teen commenting on blogs within social networking websites; 52% of teen social network users report commenting on friends' blogs, down from the 76% who did so in 2006.
By comparison, the prevalence of blogging within the overall adult internet population has remained steady in recent years. Pew Internet surveys since 2005 have consistently found that roughly one in ten online adults maintain a personal online journal or blog.
Even if, in the short term, Americans over the age of 30 were able to compensate for the decline of blogging among Americans under the age of 30, over the long term it will not.
It is a pretty safe assumption that younger Americans who are currently turning away from blogs will turn back to the format when they age. It also seems safe to assume that the next generation of Internet users under the age of 30 are unlikely to turn to blogs at a higher rate than Americans currently under the age of 30. Those two assumed trends will eventually lead to a decline in blogging overall.
According to the same Pew survey, it appears that blogs will largely be replaced by social networking sites. At the risk of sounding old and crotchety, that is really too bad.
The rise of blogging over the past decade resulted in a significant shift of personnel with the national media hierarchy. Particularly in the realms of celebrity news and political news / commentary, large numbers of new public figures were able to rise to prominence without going through existing dominant institutions in those fields. Just take a quick look at the blogroll on Daily Kos for a rough look at the several dozen new, prominent, progressive public intellectuals. And that is just on the left-the right has also seen the rise of people like Michelle Malkin through blogging.
However, while blogs have created hundreds of prominent new voices in the national media, social networking sites like twitter have only reinforced the position of people and institutions who were already prominent in other media. Not a single person has risen to become a prominent national media figure just through their tweeting. However, popular TV shows, musicians, and politicians have gained two million followers or more through the medium.
Given this, it is a legitimate worry that the decline of blogging, and the rise of social networking, will mean that the media status quo that was once threatened by the Internet will now be reinforced by it. Rather than new media functioning as a democratizing force, it could become yet another tool of the status quo. Maybe once in a while it will be used by street demonstrators against a totalitarian regime, as it was in Iran, but most of the time it will just make the already famous and the already dominant even more so.
Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling says his polling shows the blogosphere is unrepresentative of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party:
You wouldn't know it from reading the blogosphere but liberal Democrats are actually pretty happy with the direction of their party right now. On our most recent national poll 76% expressed that sentiment.
Even though Open Left has pretty consistently offered criticism of the Democratic Party since its inception, and even though I am glad there are polling outfits like PPP to provide a valuable service, I still can't stand it when someone caricatures "the blogosphere."
The progressive political blogosphere is vast, has no clear boundaries, and quite literally involves millions of people. Don't stereotype.
Uh-oh for D.C. political writers: it looks like the Democratic retirements on Tuesday were actually a net positive for the Democratic Party's electoral chances. Colorado, too:
Now that Colorado Governor Bill Ritter has said he will step down rather than run for reelection, Democrats may be more competitive in this year's gubernatorial race. Ritter trailed former GOP Congressman Scott McInnis by eight points a month ago.
New Rasmussen Reports polling of likely Colorado voters shows that two of McInnis' potential Democratic opponents are a bit closer than that.
Three Democrats running for statewide re-election retied on Tuesday (a fourth Democratic retirement came from a Lt. Governor in Michigan seeking a promotion). The retirements in Colorado and Connecticut were helpful to Democratic causes, while the Democratic retirement in North Dakota was not. On balance, that makes so-called "Black Tuesday," almost universally defined as a negative for Democrats among D.C. political writers, a net positive for Democrats.
Of course, be wary when the first set of blind quotes you read from party strategists after a retirement is "[Fill in the blank's] decision may turn out to be a blessing." As we wrote above, that's probably true regarding Dodd.
And then, at the end of the same paragraph:
The fact is that retirements, party switches, etc. hurt a party -- period.
Yeah, retirements always hurt a party. PERIOD!!!!! Except that, at the start of this same paragraph, the author wrote that Dodd's retirement helped Dems. Awesome.
To put it in completely ungenerous terms, the claim that retirements are always bad for an incumbent party is just plain stupid. There are lots of cases where an incumbent retiring either is, or would be, good for the incumbent's party. Claiming otherwise is simply to cling to entirely qualitative, entirely fact-less, conventional wisdom rather than looking at the actual numbers.
Corruption cases are one obvious, glaring example that proves retirements can sometimes be good for an incumbent party. Take, for example, the Louisiana 2nd congressional district. There is no possible way Democrats would have lost that campaign in 2008 if the incumbent, William Jefferson, had retired. Further, take the California 50th congressional district as an example. There is no possible way Republicans would have held that seat in 2006 if Duke Cunningham had remained the Republican nominee, even if he had escaped jail time.
If an incumbent is unpopular, and his or her district is leans in favor of his or her party, then his or her retirement absolutely helps that party's electoral chances. PERIOD. This is why, as Kos pointed out yesterday, Democratic chances in Nevada and Arkansas would be improved with Harry Reid and Blanche Lincoln stepped aside, respectively. Reid and Lincoln are personally unpopular in Nevada and Arkansas, and a "generic Democrat" has a relatively better chance of winning either state. As such, their retirements would help Democratic electoral chances.
The same goes for Jim Bunning's retirement in Kentucky, which moved an almost certain Democratic pickup into toss-up / lean Republican territory. There is no hard and fast rule about whether an incumbent retirement, in and of itself, helps or hurts the incumbent's party. The effect of incumbent retirements needs to be examined on a case by case basis, using actual, scientific, empirical evidence (aka, polls).
Using such evidence, and engaging in such detailed examination, is not a strength of political writing from well-financed, established, national news organizations. And I'm not going to hide my agenda here: poor political writing from those organizations is what really angers me in this case. After spending years dismissing us, these well-financed, established, national news organizations are now stealing market share from smaller, independent, political websites by paying people lots of money to write "blogs" of their own. It pisses me off that they are able to do this even though those "blogs" are largely replicating the same, crappy conventional-wisdom and non-fact-based political writing that led to the rise of independent (in the institutional, rather than partisan sense of the word) political websites in the first place. They are beating us because they are able to pay people a lot more money, and because they are attached to well-established brand names, not because they have actually improved their writing all that much. This is exceptionally frustrating.
With the rare exceptions of people like Greg Sargent, Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias, who established themselves as independent bloggers before they became big media bloggers, most big media "bloggers" couldn't get even one million page views a year if they started independent political websites of their own. They certainly couldn't get the eight million page views of even a mid-range independent political website like Open Left. They would be nobodies without their institutions. Instead, they are well paid "bloggers" who help define the conventional wisdom. And yeah, as someone who has spent the last six years trying to make a living as an independent political writer, that really does piss me off. Effectively, with their move to "blogs," these news organizations are just yet more crappy superstores pushing small businesses to the side, to the benefit of absolutely no one except the superstore investors.
As has been written about all over the place, yesterday, NBC's John Harwood reported that a White House advisor dismissed bloggers as part of a left-wing fringe. Today, as Adam already discussed, senior White House communications advisor Dan Pfeiffer responded, saying those dismissive views do not represent those of the White House as a whole.
I accept Pfeiffer's email. Of course the entire White House does not hold such a dismissive view toward bloggers. While there are definitely some progressive blog haters staffing and advising in the White House, I doubt it is a majority opinion.
Even if you think a dismissive attitude toward the progressive netroots is widespread in the White House--and there really isn't any way to prove this one way or the other--it is important to remember that there are internal White House debates on virtually every policy and strategic choice it faces. This is as much the case when it comes to how to interact with the progressive blogosphere as it is with how to proceed on LGBT issues, troop levels in Afghanistan, how large the stimulus should have been, or whether or not to keep Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense. All of these issues and more are debated inside the White House, and the progressive view is almost always represented. Rather than there being a single, monolithic viewpoint among President Obama, his aides, staff and advisers, what the White House ends up doing is following the internal argument that wins the day.
This undeniable existence of this internal White House debate shows how facile it is to criticize progressive bloggers for criticizing the White House, or to dismiss the White House as uniformly conservative. There are very few, if any, progressive criticisms of major White House strategic and policy decisions that are not voiced within the White House itself. Take, for example, Miachel Tomasky's diatribe from last year against progressives who opposed re-nominating Robert Gates for Secretary of Defense:
And people who can't see that Obama needs to reassure the political establishment by doing things like re-appointing Robert Gates at the Pentagon precisely so he can have the establishment's good will, which in turn grants him the room to operate and to isolate the political opposition, understand so little about politics that it's not even worth the time it would take to spell out the argument to them.
You can only vent such spleen against progressive critics of keeping Gates--or any other major Obama administration decision--if you assume a preposterous scenario where there is absolutely no debate within the Obama administration about such decisions. After all, many of the idiots who Tomasky deemed too stupid to understand the impossibly brilliant strategic calculus of the Obama transition team were working on the Obama transition team:
The speculation over Gates' tenure has been most intense inside the Obama transition team. The team received a request from Gates that, were he to stay, he would want to retain some of his top civilian assistants. The request led to concerns among the Obama transition staff: "Gates is not a neo-con or even a hardcore Republican," a person close to the process noted, "but the people around him sure as hell are."
These debates extend far beyond decisions like keeping Gates or not. There is internal debate within the White House itself, from both the left and the right, on every policy and strategic decision it makes. Once you accept this, the frequent online arguments over whether some progressives are being too critical of the President Obama, or whether the Obama administration as a whole somehow hates progressives, start to seem almost entirely pointless.
The Democratic Party is currently debating many facets of how the government should be run. Joining in this debate is good for both democracy and progressivism. If progressives don't voice our opinion on these debates, whether on minor matters like White House interaction with the blogosphere, or important matters like the size of the stimulus package, then we reduce the chances of the White House taking our side. Even if we lose these arguments more often than not--and I think we are losing them more often than not--participating in them is still a lot better than continuing with the internal blogosphere argument about whether we are clapping too loudly, or not loudly enough.
Many of these progressives were eager to support the opt-out because they believed it would ease passage of the bill, create political problems for Republicans, and that few states would opt-out. However, there were always two major problems with the opt-out, problems that have not been alleviated during the five days since the start of the craze:
No one knows what sort of public option states would be opting out of. It has never been made clear what type of public option states would be opting out of. It could be the weak, Schumer level-playing field public option. It could be the negotiated rates public option. It could be the Medicare +5% public option. It could be a public option even stronger than that. However, no one knows what it actually is:
The group submitted the idea to Senate Majority Harry Reid's office on Tuesday. But as of Thursday afternoon, no official white paper existed for Senators to work off of.
All that existed, indeed, was a somewhat vague idea with a myriad question marks. What kind of national public plan would be established? How, exactly, would states be able to opt-out? Would consumers be allowed to cross state lines for insurance?
If we don't even know what type of public option is in the opt-out compromise, there is no justification for claiming it is a better compromise than Senator Schumer's "level playing field" compromise. For all we know, it might be worse.
We don't know if the opt-out gains any votes. 51 Senators on record in support of the Schumer "level playing field" public option. This means there are enough votes to pass that public option if it achieves cloture. The other nine Democratic Senators fit into two tiers of likelihood on the cloture vote:
High-level threats to vote against cloture: Evan Bayh, Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln and Ben Nelson
Low-level threats to vote against cloture: Max Baucus, Mark Begich, Kent Conrad, Joe Lieberman, and Mark Pryor
Five days after the opt-out craze hit the big-time, not a single member of the high-level threat group has come out in favor of the opt-out plan. The best it has done is to move Ben Nelson from not ruling out a vote against cloture on health care reform with a public option, to saying the opt-out idea is "worth looking at." But it isn't clear that is any movement at all, since Nelson has just moved from being noncommittal to being noncommittal. Nelson did seem open to Carper's "opt-in" proposal, but I think every progressive pundit listed above would agree the opt-in is nowhere near as attractive as the opt-out.
If the opt-out compromise does not gain any votes for health care reform with a public option--which so far it has not--then there is no justification for claiming it is easier to pass then other public options.
These two points--that we don't know what kind of public option is in the opt-out plan and we don't know if the opt-out plan will be easier to pass--render all other discussions about the value of the opt-out idea moot. Considerations such as how many states would opt-out, or the political problems an opt-out would create for Republicans, just don't matter if the proposal doesn't get us any closer to passage. Claims that the opt-out compromise is superior to the Schumer level playing field compromise cannot be justified if we don't know what sort of public option is in the opt-out compromise.
We progressive need to start demanding a higher level of detail and proof before jumping on board with the latest compromise craze. Specifically, we should be looking for Blue Dogs and Conservadems to be jumping on board with compromise crazes before we do. Otherwise, I fear we are just confirming the deeply held belief that progressives are more willing to cave to Blue Dogs and Conservadems than we are to forcing them into line. That is a belief we must dispel if we are going to have a more influential role in governing under the Democratic trifecta.
LESTER HOLT: John what we saw in that protest today, was it simply frustration or does it represent a serious problem the President is having with an important part of his base?
JOHN HARWOOD: As a practical matter Lester I don't think it's a serious problem. we've seen and certainly Bill Clinton learned that they Democratic President can get punished by the mainstream of the electorate for being too aggressive on social issues so for now I think the administration feels that if they take care of the big issues - health care, energy, the economy - he's going to be just fine with this group.
HOLT: But in general when you look at the left as a whole, have there been conversations about some things they thought would have been done but haven't?
HARWOOD: Sure but If you look at the polling, Barack Obama is doing well with 90% or more of Democrats so the White House views this opposition as really part of the "internet left fringe" Lester. And for a sign of how seriously the White House does or doesn't take this opposition, one adviser told me today those bloggers need to take off their pajamas, get dressed and realize that governing a closely divided country is complicated and difficult.
Here is what I have learned about running the country from this:
Mock those who do not dress to your standards, implying that their attire is reflective of deeper, intellectual deficiencies.
Believe that the country is closely divided even when you have a clear majority.
Give anonymous quotes implying that your boss doesn't take a group seriously even as your boss is speaking to said group.
Basically, it seems to involve simultaneously internalizing and projecting a sense of paranoia.
Which is, you know, a pretty sound technique for building up a political party, much less a country. The key to governing is to use anonymous quotes to stir up resentment against people who publish their thoughts through independent online mediums. Or, if bloggers don't work for you, really whatever other group of people you feel is useful to stereotype and build up public resentment against.
Over the past few days, the progressive blogosphere has engaged itself in yet another pie fight over whether or not President Obama is teh awesome or teh suck. This particular fight arose from comments President Obama allegedly made about how progressive groups should supposedly stop attacking conservative Democrats:
President Obama, strategizing yesterday with congressional leaders about health-care reform, complained that liberal advocacy groups ought to drop their attacks on Democratic lawmakers and devote their energy to promoting passage of comprehensive legislation.
On the one hand, many bloggers are taking this to mean that President Obama is a corporate lackey siding with the conservative Democrats and that he wants his activists to be silent on health care reform. On the other hand, many bloggers are taking this as yet another brilliant move of Deep Blue-esque, ten-dimensional chess from the administration that is beyond the comprehension of mere "humans." Or, having been involved in about 6,744 of these arguments myself, at least I assume many bloggers are espousing those competing views.
Look people--whoever you are as I am being admittedly vague--it doesn't matter what President Obama says about process matters like this. No superior, competing reading of what President Obama allegedly said is actually going to result in more pressure on conservative Democrats. Success in key legislative fights like health care will be dependent upon our ability to put the Democratic leadership in a position where progressives give them no other choice but to pressure conservative Democrats to accede to popular, progressive demands. If we accomplish that, then whether or not President Obama is teh suck or teh awesome will not matter.
The week before last (week of June 15), TPMCafe hosted a book club discussion of Eric Bohlert's Bloggers on the Bus: How the Internet Changed Politics and the Press, which was as much a forward-looking discussion of the future of blogging as it was a backwards-looking discussion of the Eric's book and the history it covers. One reason for this was that everyone pretty much agreed-Eric got it where earlier authors did not. So discussions of the past linked more naturally to forward-looking speculation than to criticism of Eric's narrative.
In the introduction of my book, Bloggers on the Bus: How the Internet Changed Politics and the Press, I highlighted a YouTube clip from 2006, right after the mid-term elections, when blogger Chris Bowers is talking into the camera (I think) of Matt Stoller and Bowers answers the question: What does it take to be a liberal blogger? He starts listing all the requirements: "If you have no children, no one to support, and no career ambitions, then you too can become a full-time progressive blogger, as long as you're wiling to do nothing else in your entire life."
There's more about Chris in that diary, so if nothing else, you should read it for that. But there's actually a lot more, with folks like Amanda Marcotte, Armando Llorens, Greg Mitchell and Duncan Black weighing in. I want to cite a few of the things they said, before adding my two cents about how the blogosphere--along with the rest of the online new media--may be able to help do even more than any of the contributors to that discussion have imagined. This is not, I hope, because of an over-inflated sense of the blogosphere's importance, but rather, because of a larger sense of its place within a broader inter-active, flat-hierarchy media environment and how that plays into some much, much bigger historical forces at work....