More On Vast Left Wing Conspiracy Process Stories

After exhausting what they can write based on the intricacies of my all-powerful Blogads account, another aspect of the emerging progressive movement, The Democracy Alliance, gets the process story treatment from the established media. From the WaPo:
An alliance of nearly a hundred of the nation's wealthiest donors is roiling Democratic political circles, directing more than $50 million in the past nine months to liberal think tanks and advocacy groups in what organizers say is the first installment of a long-term campaign to compete more aggressively against conservatives.

A year after its founding, Democracy Alliance has followed up on its pledge to become a major power in the liberal movement. It has lavished millions on groups that have been willing to submit to its extensive screening process and its demands for secrecy.(...)

Judy Wade, managing director of the alliance, said fewer than 10 percent of its initial donors have left, a figure she called lower than would be expected for a new venture. And she said the group's funding priorities are a work in progress, as organizers try to determine what will have the most influence in revitalizing what she called the "center-left" movement.

"Everything we invest in should have not just short-term impact but long-term impact and sustainability," she said. The group requires nondisclosure agreements because many donors prefer anonymity, Wade added. Some donors expressed concern about being attacked on the Web or elsewhere for their political stance; others did not want to be targeted by fundraisers.

"Like a lot of elite groups, we fly beneath the radar," said Guy Saperstein, an Oakland lawyer and alliance donor. But "we are not so stupid though," he said, to think "we can deny our existence."

This article is based on interviews with more than two dozen Democrats who are members of the alliance, recipients of their money or familiar with the group's operations. None would speak on the record about financial details, but all such details were confirmed by multiple sources.

Democracy Alliance works essentially as a cooperative for donors, allowing them to coordinate their giving so that it has more influence. The article does not really report anything all that interesting about the group. It contains two typical aspects of any process story about Democrats: that we are supposedly in turmoil / disarray and that we are too left-wing. It says that some people are irritated about who has gotten he funding and who hasn't, but when we are talking about this amount of money, is that surprising in the least? There would simply be no way to distributed money in this amount without some people being unhappy with how it was distributed.

The article also lists a few organizations that have received funding, and mentions that some people are concerned that the complete list of members of the Alliance is not public. Considering that some people in the new progressive movement think that it is wrong for me to join an email listserv without notifying the entire planet that I have done so, and that it is further wrong for me to not make the contents of every email I have ever received public, obviously people are going to want to know who the members of the Democracy Alliance are. Progressive demand a transparent and accountable government, although sometimes there are people who fail to see the point where transparency becomes both an invasion of privacy and an impediment to political organizing. (For example, I'd really like to see how well union organizing campaigns would go if organizers told management exactly what they were going to do, and if all conversations held by those involved in the campaign were emailed directly the CEO of the company).

Behind all of these process stories, the truth is that since the 2002 elections the progressive political ecosystem in America has undergone a dramatic transformation. Several new power centers have formed, such as the netroots, The Democracy Alliance, and Change To Win. These new power centers have new ideas on how progressive should do battle with the conservative movement, and new institutions, new leaders, and new communities have been formed in their wake. No matter their differences, all of the major new players share a common belief: that the Democratic and progressive response to the conservative movement has been inadequate since at least 1978. From 1978-2002, the progressive and Democratic establishment continued to act as though they would govern forever, that nothing had to change, and that the conservative movement either did not exist, or was not a major problem to worry about. The major Democratic and "progressive" response over the last two decades has been primarily one of self-destructive compromise in the mold of "third way" politics that only hasten the rise of the conservative movement to power. Since late 2002, a different style of retaliation has begun, and it has taken on forms such as the netroots, The Democracy Alliance, and Change to Win.

I am not saying that it isn't worth writing about, because I believe it most definitely is. What I am saying is that most of these process stories miss the point of the emerging new progressive politics. Here are the points, as I see them:
  • 1. We are not changing just for the hell of it. We are changing because our old ways led to nothing but defeat. If we don't change the progressive political ecosystem in America, the right-wing will only continue to rise in power. It is not going to happen on its own, and the right-wing is not going to stand still. There is no natural pendulum swing where things will just magically get better in due time (a belief that Simon Rosenberg accurately calls "the Harry Potter school of organizing). There is no spontaneous grassroots action decided upon in a realm of pure democracy. In the netroots, we are a people-powered movement, and we believe that our bottom-up nature gives us strength the right-wing can never match in the long term. However, as much as we try to be open, there will always be flaws, there will always be exclusions, and there will always be cliques. The important thing is to not become disheartened by these problems, and to recognize that they are an inevitable side-effect of the organizing process. We have to take the initiative in order to succeed, and sometimes we have to talk in private in order to be effective. If told the right-wing everything we were doing, there was now ay we could catch up to them, much less surpass them.

  • 2. We are not simply replicating the conservative movement through mirror institutions. Instead, we are crating new institutions with fundamentally different operating principles than currently exist int eh conservative movement. This a good thing. Quite frankly, I think the Democracy Alliance is not only a counter to the right-wing think tank funding apparatus, but that it is both a more effective and a more progressive (it is a co-operative, for crying out loud!) means of funding a political movement than what exists on the right. I think it compares very well to totalitarian operations such as the K Street Project or the generally disorganized right-wing funding apparatus of the so-called Six Angels (or whatever term is used these days). This can also be seen in the progressive netroots. Our new power comes form institutions created whole-cloth, and has no accurate right-wing analogue. Further, despite whatever protests come about, the netroots remains populist, people-powered, and extremely bottom-up. You won't see that on the right.

  • 3. We wont' fail because we are too "left-wing." For starters, I'm not really sure how left-wing many of the leaders of the movement actually are. I am pretty far left, but I speak for myself alone when it comes to that. Second, the country isn't really that ideological. While about half of the country is willing to identify as either conservative or liberal, if you really push people, it is entirely possible that less than 10% of the country is truly ideological (at least that is what my political scientist friends tell me). Most importantly, the entire "move to the center" response of third-way politics from 1985-2005 was a complete failure that actually validated the rise of the conservative movement (if we have to move to meet them, we are implicitly stating that the conservative movement is moving in the correct direction). If we are going to improve the progressive response to the conservative movement, we cannot simply replicate our past failures. This isn't about saying we were wrong, and trying to compromise with the right by meeting them halfway. This is about defeating the conservative movement altogether, and governing with an entirely different vision for an extended period of time.
The establishment media should be writing process stories about the dramatic changes that have taken place within the progressive political ecosystem over the past four years. These changes are important, and will inevitably even transform the media establishment as well as the political establishment. There may be a time not long from now when right-wing versions of Rob Stein and David Brock and crating powerpoint presentations and writing books that explain to their fellow conservatives how progressives built their new movement and their new power. Maybe I will even end up in those presentations and books (I certainly hope so). When that happens, and when we have power back, it will because of the new emerging progressive infrastructure. These minor bumps and worries we have had along the way will seem utterly irrelevant, even if outlets such as the WaPo cannot stop themselves from labeling it "turmoil" now. .

Tags: Fundraising, Ideology, Labor, Media, netroots, progressive movement (all tags)



Re: More On Vast Left Wing Conspiracy

This is precisely what we need.  The DLC and other inseide the beltway groups are rightly concerned about the Alliance, for the simple reason that it will (rightfully) diminish their influence.  After the DLC and other groups have lead us into defeat after defeat, in spite of the fact that the majority of issues clearly favor us, it's time for a fresh approach.  With all of the unapologetic right-wing think tanks out there, the only way to effectively counter their influence is with unapologetic, unambiguously left-wing groups.  As has been proven by the growth of the right-wing media, the inevitable result of debate between the right and centrists is something to the right of center.  As progressives, we tend to take pride in being reasonable and open-minded; that has not served us well in recent years.  We need rabid progressives with the resources to get out the message to effectively counter the right-wing lunatics.  As a result of our failures in the last 40 years, by today's standards Barry Goldwater would be to the left of center.  That has to be changed.

by joetalarico 2006-07-17 11:18AM | 0 recs
Re: More On Vast Left Wing Conspiracy Process Stor

I'm upset about the distribution of characters, as well.  Where's my $5M?

by nathan 2006-07-17 11:21AM | 0 recs

You know, on the one hand I agree that discussing all of our grand strategies and funding out in public is a bit foolish.  On the other, I wonder how we can guarantee that the Democracy Alliance isn't just pissing the money away?  I suppose I don't have any right to decide one way or the other how some people spend their own money, but isn't it possible that this huge pool of resources will get wasted?  For the time being, decisions like CAP and Media Matters certainly seem smart, but who knows what comes next?  I don't have a solution to the problem, just sayin.

by Shai Sachs 2006-07-17 11:48AM | 0 recs
Re: Accountability

On the other, I wonder how we can guarantee that the Democracy Alliance isn't just pissing the money away?  I suppose I don't have any right to decide one way or the other how some people spend their own money, but isn't it possible that this huge pool of resources will get wasted?

If you think about it, that's really the whole point of the Alliance's existence. To do the vetting so that these influential progressive donors give their money effectively.

That's not to say they can't screw up. (With a similar charter, the DLC has managed to screw up rather notably.) But I like the Alliance's chances. It looks like some smart people doing something smart, from over here in the cheap seats.

by KB 2006-07-18 05:34AM | 0 recs
Re: More On Vast Left Wing Conspiracy Process Stor

I don't expect you to publicize everything about Townhouse, but would you be willing to answer these questions (from Kid Oakland)?

1. Who founded Townhouse?

2. How do you join? Does the group have open membership?  ie. Can someone who wants to join...ask to?  

3. Is the membership list public? Are members free to disclose that they are members?  

4. Are people from "groups and organizations" representing those groups, or just themselves?  If they are representing their do they do keep Townhouse "off the record?"

5. If membership is not open, what criteria are used to include or exclude members?  Who decides?  And what was the rationale for creating a closed group?  Could the same purpose have been served another way?

6. What is the rationale for the "one big rule" that the group's discussions be off the record?  And how does that square with "open source" and "people powered" politics?  How does Townhouse square with "Direct Democracy?"  

7. What is the extent to which the "off the record" rule applies to Townhouse members? Ie. is Townhouse a blanket "off the record" discussion group where everything discussed...even the discussions themselves...are off the record?   Or is there a less stringent standard?

by The Cunctator 2006-07-17 11:54AM | 0 recs
Re: More On Vast Left Wing Conspiracy Process Stor

I hope you will answer at least some of these questions, Chris, because I'm curious, too.

What I'm afraid of, with closed membership, is that this group is in danger of becoming the next gated community that future "barbarians" will have to crash their way into.

Carolyn Kay

by Caro 2006-07-18 08:40AM | 0 recs
Late to the party

The establishment media is always late to the party. It's not just politics. By the time something hits the big media outlets, it's already past its peak (like "values voters"). They'll be writing about us only after we've taken the power back -- until then, they'll have no clue.

by LiberalFromPA 2006-07-17 12:34PM | 0 recs
Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom -- Chairman Mao
The Townsend Group, all the left over progressive candidate groups from '04, thousands of blogs.  We need them all, each plays their own role.
 If you don't like what some of these guys are doing  then invest your own energy and/or time & build your own organization.
   Chris, you've written a number of posts like this and I think you're right on target.  We are all centers of power if we choose to ACT!
by NeoLeftist 2006-07-17 02:31PM | 0 recs
bottom up

you keep saying that.

who chose these netroots candidates, the bottom.

basically, it's not bottom up, I don't understand why you guys say that if you really believe it.

flatter?  sure it's flatter, say that.

but it's not bottom up.

right?  I'm not even saying it has to be bottom up, hey, it's private property blogs, publishing houses, you use what power you've gotten and people could take that power away, so fine, it doesn't have to be bottom up... so why keep saying that.

and I don't buy bullshit arguments about accountability, chris, that we wouldn't buy from conservatives.

it's not ok when the "netroots" does it.

by pyrrho 2006-07-18 01:00AM | 0 recs
Re: bottom up

I'm trying to parse your semi-coherence. What's not bottom up about it?

How could anyone give you bullshit arguments if they can't understand what you're trying to say?

Maybe an example (or a proofreader) would help.

Not being snarky. Honest. I really can't tell what you're trying to say.

by KB 2006-07-18 05:40AM | 0 recs
clearing it up.

not being snarky? sounded snarky.  Maybe you have a mental block against what I was trying to say.

it's not bottom up.

the candidate the "netroots" endorses were not voted on or nominated by readers or a general population, they were chosen by a small group.

that's not bottom up.

HERE, I'll explain my post and the confusing errors:


>bottom up (none / 0)

>you keep saying that.

chris and kos and many other of the high traffic bloggers keep saying "bottom up" and also "people powered movement".

>who chose these netroots candidates, the bottom.

this is probably where you got confused, it should be, "who chose these netroots candidates, the bottom?"

as in, did the BOTTOM chose the candidates and send them "up" to Kos and Jerome and Chris etc?  Or is Chris and the rest just saying they are the bottom (and the top)?

>basically, it's not bottom up, I don't understand why you guys say that if you really believe it.

basically, it's NOT bottom up, I don't understand what these guys really mean to say or if they really believe that.

>flatter?  sure it's flatter, say that.

the organization is more flat than, say, the Democratic party.  It is not as steep a hierarchy, it is "flatter".  It's a standard term about how egalitarian a given hierarchy is.  The so called netroots is a flatter organization, but it's not "bottom up" that I know of.

>but it's not bottom up.

bottom up? no.


this part is where I ask if chris thinks I'm right to point out it's not really bottom up.

>  I'm not even saying it has to be bottom up, hey, it's private property blogs, publishing houses, you use what power you've gotten and people could take that power away, so fine, it doesn't have to be bottom up... so why keep saying that.

I'm pointing out I don't think it even HAS TO BE bottom up, that's not an assumption I want anyone to read in my point. However, I'm not fond of populist rhetoric like "bottom up" from people that do not get their candidates and positions from a "bottom" of an organization, but just chose according to their own opinion. I'm all for blogging being about peer to peer communication, people speaking for themselves, but this "bottom up" stuff is when people claim to to speak for others.  "The bottom sent us these candidates and ideas, up to us, where they are heard".  

>and I don't buy bullshit arguments about accountability, chris, that we wouldn't buy from conservatives.

Chris did not argue in response to me, but in response to charges, and the bullshit is when professional political workers claim accountability doesn't really apply to them.  "People are never satisfied anyway, so we don't really need transparancy" and "they want to know when I blow my nose (and join mailing lists)" are old familiar rhetorical tactics which I consider "bullshit".  I believe in transparancy, and the idea that not ALL information will be out there doesn't go so far... who is funding your organization is something that should be transparent as a general rule if you want to claim transparency or ever demand it of others.  As for joining mail lists, I don't care, I just think that if you isolate yourself into a subnetwork then you will be made obsolete and routed around.  It'll be too bad if you take resources with you, for example, by convincing people you represent them, but eventually that works out.  Besides I endorse private person to person communication.

Still, the argument against a need of transparency seems like bullshit.  That's what we call an opinion, not to be too snarky myself about it.

>it's not ok when the "netroots" does it.

I think Chris, surprisingly to me since I've always respected Chris, is making an argument that can only be sensible if we are to think that the demands we make of conservative organizations are not suitable demands for liberal organizations.  I don't believe that is right.  We should wonder what kinds of transparancy we would demand of others and apply that to ourselves.

The argument also seems to be, "we can't win that way"... we also cannot win by becoming them.  Some people that get interesting jobs out of it can "win", but as a movement of citizens, we don't win that way.  Those of us not interested in changing careers, who take part in this as progressive citizens to connect with other citizens, cannot "win" by giving up our progressive standards.

and in the end, any incoherence, this time, was due to the fact that I'm really getting sick of all the populist rhetoric in a oligarchic "netroots" which is simultaneously "people powered" and "bottom up" in rhetoric, but also increasingly under attempts to centralize coordination of it.

I feel to be ethical they have to chose one or the other... which is it?  If it's bottom up, the netroots, then those candidates should have been designated through a public and democratic process.  If it's private property blogs where individuals speak their own mind, then stop with the populist rhetoric.

Was that more clear?

by pyrrho 2006-07-18 03:42PM | 0 recs
Re: clearing it up.

Much clearer. Thanks.

Btw, I said I wasn't being snarky precisely because I realized it could have been read as snark.

by KB 2006-07-24 05:07AM | 0 recs


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