A New Democratic Confidence
by Matt Stoller, Fri Apr 27, 2007 at 09:34:19 AM EDT
One of the most fascinating things about how technology changes politics is in how it shapes internal culture. The letter on behalf of Reid and against Broder is a good example. When Broder wrote his column, he immediately found massive resistance from Talkingpointsmemo, Atrios, Kos, FDL, etc and readers of the Washington Post. If you printed it out, his column had 46 pages of comments, most of them negative and outraged at Broder's comparison of Gonzales and Reid. The letter originated from Schumer's office, and it happened because bloggers and Democrats reacted so vociferously to Broder. The confidence boost to insiders is immeasurable. Not only did fellow Senators feel confident enough to back Reid, but staffers internally worried about whether they are doing the right thing when faced by criticism from someone like Broder are being told that it's ok to ignore him. And then Broder becomes less relevant because of the internal cultural changes that internet activism has engendered within the party. It empowers progressives and partisans, and disempowers televised elites, Republican or otherwise. This is going to happen one day soon to Tim Russert, as more evidence comes out that he is just an unethical embarrassment.
It's unbelievable that 50 Senators were corralled in a few days to respond to a media outlet they formerly respected, and basically call Broder a liar. The legacy of triangulating against your own party to appear strong, at least within the Democratic Party, is over.
In the 1970s, new technology changed the culture of politics within both parties and the media to empower a different set of actors. It created incentives for antipartisan behavior, for triangulation, and for appeasement to business coalitions. Within those coalitions themselves, it enabled the most paranoid and unethical to seize power and change the internal culture of American business entirely towards greed and power. On the left, the antipartisan behavior, most epitomized by Nader in 2000, was the norm.
Anyway, it's just interesting to note that new confidence and newly partisan behavior has firmly penetrated the Senate. And Democrats now know that being strong on Iraq is a winning strategy. For thirty years, Democrats have been taught not to fight, and activists have been taught to not respect party structures and work outside them. Both of those trends are in full reverse, and while we won't see the full effects of this trend for twenty years, this is a very promising development. One major party candidate now feels confident enough to argue that there is no Global War on Terror, which is a big departure from the triangulating model of politics and an embrace of George Soros's controversial and important argument. And Edwards is doing this because he thinks it's a winning strategy. Even his critics should be emboldened by his choice - if you think he's pandering, it's kind of neat that there is an incentive to pander in this direction.
Anyway, we should note these little moments that are suggesting very different behavior. The policy world is not penetrated by this model, but it will be eventually as the open left gets more sophisticated and broader. And in 2009, a fair number of innovators are thinking about how government will change based on these new trends. The effect of technological innovation and new organizing models on internal culture is often small at first, but it can be enormously impactful over time.