Hotline's William Beutler Dissembles and Smears Liberal Blogs
by Matt Stoller, Sat Feb 18, 2006 at 06:39:46 AM EST
The Hotline is the trade political publication for insider staffers in DC. It fancies itself the arbiter of conventional wisdom, and has a lot of really good content, as well as quips and useful information. But like The Note, the Hotline has an institutional tendency to hew to right-wing talking points. For instance, William Beutler, who writes Hotline's 'Blogometer', has this piece out in the right-wing Washington Examiner. It's an examination of the liberal blogosphere, or rather, an attack on us with approximately zero reporting thrown in. Keep in mind that the guy who writes this also writes the Blogometer, which quotes hundreds of blogs a day. That he includes no quotes and cites no almost blogs should strike you as very weird.
A few weeks after the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, the unsuccessful filibuster attempt led by John Kerry is already ancient history in Washington. But for the left-wing bloggers who had strongly urged Democrats to support the filibuster, it remains a singular moment. Many of these Internet grassroots activists -- the "netroots," as they call themselves -- had already supported primary challenges to the Democratic establishment's favored candidates. But in the wake of that loss, there is a renewed determination to oust party moderates, known to many of these bloggers as "Vichy Democrats."
Notice how he doesn't name one single blogger. It's just 'liberal bloggers'. There was in fact a fair amount of heterodoxy on Alito, from me to Chris Bowers to Kos to Steve Clemons to Jane Hamsher to John Aravosis to Booman to Effect Measure to etc.... All of us agreed Alito was bad for America, but Chris Bowers, John Aravosis, and I overtly rejected the last-minute filibuster call as cynical pandering. At no point did 'Vichy Democrats' come up in a serious discussion of the filibuster. Beutler knows this, he was covering us.
A major reason why many Democrats actively court liberal bloggers is their ability to raise money. When a photograph surfaced of conservative Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, getting chummy with President Bush earlier this month, bloggers raised, in less than a week, more than $75,000 for his primary opponent, ex-Rep. Ciro Rodriguez. They are both competing for a safe Democratic district, but a Rodriguez win could be a big boost to bloggers' perceived clout.
Um, a bit more money at this point. Whatever. But Beutler is ignoring an important side effect; we unlocked money from Moveon, we piled on with unions, and the League of Conservation Voters endorsed. We created 'buzz', but we weren't alone. Lots of Texas Dems and Congressional Dems do not like Cuellar, and know he is a closet Republican.
There are existing or likely challenges from the left to Sens. Joe Lieberman, Maria Cantwell and Hillary Clinton, and there are blogger-backed challenges to several of the national party's favored Senate candidates, including Bob Casey (Penn.), Harold Ford (Tenn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) and John Morrison (Mont.). And the bloggers are pushing hard even though each of those non-incumbents stands a good chance of wresting a seat from the Republicans.
Once again, this is unsourced and attributed to 'bloggers'. I'm not backing Tasini in NY, or Pennachio in PA. I am backing Matt Brown, Tester, and Ned Lamont. But come on, like Matt Brown was created by the blogs? The guy is already Secretary of State of RI. This is bad journalism. And Beutler knows better.
Only a few of the standard-bearers' opponents pose legitimate threats, but a primary defeat is the least of their worries. Online activists such as Markos Moulitsas, founder of the influential Daily Kos Web site, argue that primaries increase name recognition and the blogs will then simply raise more money.
Where does he argue this? Kos maintains that blogs are not about raising money. And I find it hard to argue with the notion that primaries raise name ID.
But primary fights leave bruises, money is stubbornly finite, primary campaigns need time (and more money) to regroup for the general election and the Republicans will be ready to outspend them when they do.
Conventional wisdom, conventional wisdom, conventional wisdom. Was the long Presidential primary in 2004 bad for the party? No. It allowed Dean to figure out the internet, Kerry to refine his message, and four months of national Bush-bashing. It was good for the party. That's not really the point; Beutler is just echoing things he isn't proving.
For months, Moulitsas and others have been calling for the Democratic campaign committees to challenge every Republican-held House and Senate seat. But the money just isn't there. Bloggers could help raise some of the money toward this goal, but they don't trust the party committees, and won't help them do so.
Instead, they back feel-good candidates who will call Republicans "chickenhawks," yet don't have the organizational wherewithal to run effective campaigns. To wit: No candidate supported by Moulitsas has yet won a seat in Congress.
Um, Stephanie Herseth? Ben Chandler? This is absurd, and dishonest. It's also ripped directly from Redstate, which conveniently overlooks those special election victories.
What's ironic is that those targeting Cuellar are mimicking the anti-heretic tactics of the Republican-oriented Club for Growth -- which made Cuellar its first Democratic endorsement in late January. If the Club for Growth is the Republican Party's tax-cut enforcer, the liberal netroots are enforcers of a similar kind for the Democrats. Yet it's harder to know what they're enforcing, and woe to the politician who tries to guess the netroots' preferred position on Issue X -- and guesses wrong.
Just because Beutler don't understand what being progressive means doesn't mean that it's some random magical angry beast that slashes out randomly. Social Security, the war, health care, wiretapping - these kinds of things concern us. It's not rocket science.
There is another key difference between them: As a well-organized outfit, the Club raises and spends its own money and makes its own mistakes. The loosely confederated netroots mostly direct donations to campaigns. This is an improvement insofar as the candidate knows the district best, but if Rodriguez or other liberal challengers lose and the netroots don't feel responsible, they won't learn from their mistakes. The result could be greater resentment, to say nothing of another revolt in the next campaign cycle.
Let's rephrase this, and replace some key words.
The loosely confederated party insiders mostly direct donations to campaigns. This is an improvement insofar as the candidate knows the district best, but if Brad Carson or other conservative challengers lose and the insiders don't feel responsible, they won't learn from their mistakes.
See how easy it is to create Beltway wisdom? Beutler continues:
Unsurprisingly, this anti-establishment project is one no national Democratic group has endorsed. Even for a governing party, trying to pick off your own members is a risky strategy. Republicans have seats to lose, albeit fewer than in the past -- and the Club just might help liberal Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., lose his. But if Democrats want to regain control of Congress, there is little margin for error. And if it's the Republicans who pick up seats in November, the Internet battle against the "Vichy Democrats" will share some of the blame.
Yes, we will share some of the blame, because we're Democrats. All Democrats will share some of the blame. But if we win, it goes the other way.
Look at the end of the day, this is a smear job masquerading as journalism. It's the worst sort of grade level college essay that names no specific bloggers, quotes no one, and echoes an easily manipulated conventional wisdom.
And this is who Hotline put in charge of their blog coverage? Beutler needs to be reprimanded for this fact-free screed in an obscure right-wing rag, and the Blogometer should now be taken with a massive grain of salt.