Conflict Avoiders

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scherer continues,

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

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

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

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