The Open Left
by Matt Stoller, Tue May 01, 2007 at 07:24:37 PM EDT
Update [2007-7-9 14:45:20 by Jonathan Singer]:If you're looking for Matt and Chris' new site, Open Left, it's available at OpenLeft.com.
Jon Chait wrote a long and coherent cover story in the New Republic on the netroots. As smart as he is, Chait doesn't really get what the blogs are about. He portrays us as a disciplined group of vicious propagandists, liberals with attitude who win regardless of the obstacles put in our way by more detached liberals and party regulars. We emulate the right in our strategic ruthlessness, and promote partisanship above all.
I just don't think that's right. Here's a piece I wrote in TPM Cafe that tries to situate us historically. Basically, we're a group of people who feel very betrayed by the leadership of our country, our media, and our party. We care about ideas because bad ideas implemented tend to kill lots of innocent people, and we don't like that. We are liberal because we believe in liberal ideas, and by and large, we've been proven correct. The Iraq war was a terrible idea. Bush has been a horrible President. Running on Iraq in 2006 was a good idea. Stopping Social Security privatization was possible and necessary. A 50 state strategy made sense because a wave election was foreseeable. Don't trust the telecom companies with the internet. Let's figure out this global warming thing.
We don't necessarily distinguish between politics and policy, or activism and journalism, and we don't pretend that there is an above the fray and an 'in the muck'. Most of all, we respect ideas because ideas, when implemented, have immense power. Ideas matter. Conservative ideas have affected us personally, whether it was growing up in a suburb or having no health care insurance. And to the extent that you create ideas or appropriate ideas and organize around them, you can build a new society. That's what the right did, which is why we respect the right.
This is sort of the kernel that Chait gets wrong.
The netroots are scornful of single-issue liberal groups--or, really, any liberals at all who are not wholly dedicated to the cause of Democratic victory. As Stoller has written on MyDD, "To the extent that I have a political hero, it's probably Grover Norquist, not Ralph Nader." The netroots' dream is of a liberal army of grassroots activists, pundits, policy wonks, and politicians all marching more or less in lockstep.
I guess sometimes unity makes sense from a strategic standpoint, but the lockstep idea is a bit silly. Boingboing, Grist, and DailyKos are very different places, yet it's possible to situate all of them under this big tent. If there is a core philosophy to what I call the 'Open Left', it's a respect for pluralism, openness and participation. We like to hash things out. And hashing things out tends to create a sense of community and natural discipline, since you kind of figure out where the obvious areas of agreement are and move in that direction.
I guess most of all, and this is why I can't call Chait's piece particularly insightful, we don't gloss over substance or fake civility. More than any other forum with the exception of town halls, the internet allows us to learn what our politicians are going to do. Where else are you going to find arguments about a cap and trade versus a carbon tax? Where else are you going to be able to read about net neutrality resolutions in California, or offshore drilling in Virginia? The local blogs are incredibly substantive in their states, and I like to think that we go into depth into subject areas on MyDD and the rest of the blogs as well. And let me point out that Moveon's emails are incredibly rich with information, so this is not just a blog thing. It's a moment in history where the public is much smarter and mature than the elites, and we're kind of representing that.
We have serious problems in this country. We're looking at 20 years of stagflation, a tremendously scary climate problem, nuclear proliferation, and the need to demobilize about a trillion of a useless militarized economy. This is stuff we care about and need to work on. What the blogs and the Open Left represent is the outlines of a way of working on these profound problems. I wish Chait had gotten to that, instead of rehashing the 'they are mean and partisan and editors don't check everything they wrote so sometimes it's wrong'. He's a smart guy, and I'm sure he'll get there. But he's not there yet.Update [2007-5-2 0:33:11 by Matt Stoller]:: Let me clarify a bit, since some of you think that the piece is good. It's not. It's dishonorable and quite silly. Chait called the netroots prone to dishonesty and propagandizing. What he thinks is propagandizing is actually talking about stuff we think is important and want to see happen. If Chait wants to call us dishonest he ought to, oh, point to some systemically dishonest pattern in our work. Which he doesn't do. And that's not ok.