The Activist Class War Continues
by Chris Bowers, Tue Feb 14, 2006 at 07:55:05 AM EST
I have stayed almost completely silent about the Hackett-Brown primary on MyDD. I am not going to offer a candidate preference in this post, but I am going to try and offer an explanation for why the netroots and the blogosphere gave more support to Hackett than Brown, and why there is so much anger over how the primary came to an end.
Two weeks ago, in a post about Hillary Clinton, I posited a class-based view of the progressive movement that I feel strongly applies to what has happened in the Ohio Senate race. My general theory is that if the world of progressive activists is understood as a discrete entity, one can look inside of that entity and see massive class stratifications based upon the greatly differing levels of power over that entity. My theory goes on to postulate that almost the entire audience of the progressive political blogosphere is drawn from the world of progressive activists. While progressive activists of all classes of power use the blogosphere, those with comparatively little power over the direction of the progressive movement greatly outnumber those with moderate or high level of power. It is from this perspective that one can understand why the blogosphere is so regularly angry at what it calls "the establishment" of the Democratic Party and the progressive movement:
The audience of the blogosphere is full of political activists, and the blogosphere has emerged as the primary means for progressive to communicate with a large segment of their activist class. That segment is perhaps best understood as the "creative class" segment of the progressive activist class. (...)I would like to think that the furor surrounding Hackett's withdrawal from the Ohio Senate race that has been expressed over the past day on Dailykos, MyDD and other sites has gone a long way toward finally convincing a large number of journalists and members of centrist Democratic organizations that what the progressive netroots and blogosphere want from the Democratic party is not simply a hard push to the left. Hopefully, witnessing the online anger over the Ohio Senate primary being handed to Sherrod Brown, who happens to be the only Democratic member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus to ever run for statewide office (Bernie Sanders is also a member of the CPC, but he is not a Democrat), has caused more than a few people who have simply dismissed the netroots as "hard left" to reconsider their views. I would like to think that, and I would like to hope that, but I am probably asking for too much. Viewing internal struggles within the Democratic Party and the progressive movement as always arising from ideological differences in a simplistic, left-center-right, linear matrix has become an all too easy way for lazy minds to conceptualize the American political scene. I suppose if, after Howard Dean and Wesley Clark, after the online outcry against further campaign finance regulation and the Kelo decision, after the frequent blogger collaboration with the New Politics Institute, after the total collapse of Nader's support online, after the netroots support for Ben Chandler, Stephanie Herseth, and Paul Hackett in their special elections, anyone who was still viewing the netroots as simply an online uprising of the left-wing of the Democratic party wasn't paying enough attention to actually understand the netroots and the blogosphere anyway. As with many people who view the world in purely ideological terms, no amount of actual evidence to the contrary will help uproot their comforting belief that the netroots and the blogosphere differ from the rest of the Democratic Party mainly on ideological grounds. The fact that the majority of the netroots activists who were invested in the race are upset that the only Democratic member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus to ever run for statewide office just won his primary probably won't change too many minds on this subject either.
Within the progressive activist class, there is also a very real class stratification. While the blogosphere and the netroots may not be "the people" within America or the Democratic party as a whole, within the world of progressive activists, they are definitely "the people,""the masses,""the rank and file," and any other populist term you want to throw out there. I believe the main mark against Hillary Clinton within the blogs and the netroots is the degree to which she is perceived as the uber-representative of the upper, aristocratic classes of the progressive activist world.
Within the world of progressive activists, from the viewpoint of the working and middle class progressive activists, Hillary Clinton is seen as hopelessly aligned with the establishment activists, with the insider activists, with the wealthy activists, with the well-connected activists, and with every possible progressive activist "elite" you can possibly imagine. Is it thus in any way surprising that the activist base, which is largely on the outside looking in, generally does not harbor much positive feeling toward her? The progressive activist base considers the progressive activist elite to be the main culprit in progressives losing power around the country. We keep losing, and we blame them. Thus, why should it be a surprise to anyone that we dislike the person who is viewed as their primary representative? We literally hold her, and what she represents within the world of progressive activism, to be responsible for the massive progressive backslide that has taken place over the past twelve years.
The real reason so many people are upset that Hackett left the race has less to do with ideology than it has to do with the ongoing class war within the world of progressive activists. Online, Hackett's support came primarily from those activists who have very little power within the progressive movement as a whole: the working class within the progressive movement. By contrast, Sherrod Brown's support came from the aristocracy within the progressive movement: those who, like Charles Schumer and Rahm Emmanuel, have a lot of power over the direction of the progressive movement. Class, in this sense and in the world to which I am applying the term, is not determined by income. Rather, it is determined by power and ownership over the progressive movement. The outrage comes from the generally accurate perception among the progressive activist working class that the progressive activist aristocracy used their vastly greater power to remove Hackett from the race in favor of Brown. The outrage comes from the fact that, like in IL-06, they made this decision on behalf of a candidate of their choosing without consulting the progressive activist working class. The outrage comes from the very real fact that the activist working class places the blame for the nation's continued conservative backslide squarely on the progressive activist elite.
Don't believe me? Check out this excerpt from the diary that is currently sitting on top of the recommended list at Dailykos:As I right these words, right above Kos's post making excuses for the power play that stabbed Hackett in the back, is this quote:
Crashing the Gate is a refreshing, bold exposé of the status quo party politics that are threatening to make Democrats the permanent minority party. -- Donna Brazile
Now then, leaving aside for a moment the question of whether or not DONNA FREAKING BRAZILLE of all people can ever be an effective or serious critic of status quo politics (by the way Donna, have I thanked you yet for running Gore's campaign with an ineptness that would make Michael Dukakis' campaign manager go "Damn, that was inept"?) does anyone see an inherent contradiction going on here? You won't see many complaints about Brown not being progressive enough in the comments of these and other similar diaries at Dailykos that have been popping over the last sixteen hours. You will, however, see a lot of complaints about insider power plays, about the ineptness of "DC Democrats" in picking candidates who can win elections, and about the anti-democratic nature of the Democratic Party itself.
This is about power and class within the world of progressive activists. This is how the netroots and the blogosphere primarily diverge from the rest of the Democratic Party. Over the past four years, the blogosphere has emerged as the primary messaging medium for the progressive activist working class. While progressive activists of all levels of power participate within the blogosphere, for every Hill staffer who reads blogs, there are one thousand small donors, canvassers and envelope stuffers who read them. For every elected official or high-level campaign who starts a blog, there are one thousand political blogs written by people who have little or no connections within the progressive establishment. Event today, with the rise of highly trafficked institutional blogs such as Think Progress and The Huffington Post, for every person who reads a blog produced from established powers within the progressive establishment, there are five or six people who read blogs written by people like me who started blogging without any institutional power or connections whatsoever. Paul Hackett had the support of the majority of the online, progressive, activist working class. He was forced out of the race by the aristocracy of the progressive activist class. That is where the anger is coming from.
The anger is also coming from blame for the continued failures of the progressive movement over the past twelve years. The activist working class blames the activist elite for our losses since 1994. They frequently don't trust the decisions the elite makes, especially when the elite does not consult with them when making decisions, and especially when the decisions seem primarily to benefit the progressive powers-that-be (like this one). Considering the recent track record of progressive in the political arena, can anyone really blame them?
The anger is also coming from being taken for granted. The activist working class is not employed in the world of politics. They do not derive their income form politics, but they do spend their income and their free time on politics. When people who re running the show keep losing, the activist working class sees its hard earned money and precious little free time go to waste. The anger comes form people growing tired of offering their resources to leaders who seem to be making nothing but bad decisions that lead to defeat. They feel as though they are expected to keep giving, as though the resources they are offering aren't precious to them.
The anger is also coming from a newfound class stratification within the online world itself. Many bloggers, myself included, who were once total outsiders in the progressive movement have definitely leapfrogged a few class levels within the progressive movement. Markos is no longer just someone with a blog who regularly joins in the comments sections to his posts. Now, he is a media mogul with an audience approaching one million readers per day. He can raise tens of thousands of dollars for candidates. He can make news with a single blog post. He can call a Senator and have the call returned by that Senator, not by a form letter photocopied by a staffer. And I shouldn't single out Markos on this front either. A lot of us, myself included, now have a lot more access and power than we ever imagined we would. In the last two months, I have met Howard Dean and Russ Feingold. I have been to a meeting in Harry Reid's office, not fifteen feet from the Senate floor itself, with many high level consultants I had only seen on television or heard quoted in the newspaper. Presidents of major advocacy organizations will sit down and talk with me personally. I have interviewed more than a handful of federally elected officials, and several major news outlets have interviewed me myself. I was actually able to commission a full-fledged public survey, for crying out loud.
This is another way the anger is coming out here. The same bloggers who were once total outsiders, average community members, and representatives of the progressive activist working class online are no longer members of the progressive activist working class. They have become upper-middle class--sometimes even higher than that--but they are still running the blogosphere that is the primary communication with the activist working class. As our position within the class structure of the progressive activist world changes, it is almost inevitable that our perception of the world changes as well. We are not as good at representing the activist working class as we once were. Not two weeks ago, I begged MyDD readers to take me back to school and re-educate me as to the psychology of the netroots. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I was gradually growing more annoyed with, and dismissive of, the same community that I once found so incredibly stimulating and insightful.
The way that the Ohio Senate primary ended, and the anger that ensued online, is another example of the ongoing and constantly evolving class war within the progressive movement. I am not saying that I have the solution to this class stratification, but I think we would all be better served if we started recognizing it and talking about it.