Waiting To Hear From Edwards

I have a pretty vicious rant and an important action alert lined up, but I am waiting to hear from the Edwards camp about the fate of Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan before doing anything. The Salon story is not credible and cannot be verified at this time. The campaign is still involved in internal discussions.

The Edwards camp faces a series simple choices right now:
  • Are you with the people who work their asses for you, or are you with right-wing extremists who hate you?
  • Are you willing to point out the double standards and hypocrisy behind this story, or will you cave to even the mildest pressure from the Republican Noise Machine?
  • Do you have any loyalty to the netroots, or was it all just sweet talk, where loyalty actually only flows uphill and shit actually only flows downhill?
But like I said, I am waiting before letting loose. This is a big opportunity for his campaign. Whether he stands up or backs down will be a turning point for his campaign online. Either way, he won't be tied with Barack Obama in Dailykos straw polls anymore. It will be hard in one direction or the other.

UPDATE [by Matt]: When I was hired by the Corzine campaign, right-wing blogs dug through my past and tried to smear me with what I had written. It hurt and it sucked, but the campaign ignored it to their credit. Obviously there were differences between Corzine in 2005 and a Presidential candidate. My point is that candidates don't have to take responsibility for what their bloggers or staffers say while not under their employ unless they make the decision to do so.

Philadelphia Machine Circles The Wagons Around The Drain

Back on Wednesday, a poll came out on the Philadelphia mayoral election (PDF) showing multi-millionaire Tom Knox surging into a clear second place behind Representative Chaka Fattah, and even within the margin of error. Knox's rise has been fueled almost entirely though a series of expensive, self-financed television ad buys over the last two months. This development is a huge shock to pretty much everyone involved in Philadelphia politics. As pretty much a complete outsider to the political scene here, no one had expected Knox to be a significant factor in this election. Six months ago, he was registering only 1% support, and was in a distant seventh place. Considering his current rate of increase and his seemingly unlimited ability to self-finance, it may not be long before he becomes the frontrunner in the campaign.

Also on Wednesday, almost immediately after the poll showing Knox's rise was released, the Philadelphia City Council decided to respond to Knox's surge by introducing a bill repealing their recently installed campaign finance law that limited campaign contributions. Seriously--the plan to repeal their own recently imposed campaign donation limits was hatched the same day the poll came out. At 4 p.m. on Wednesday, about six hours after the poll was released, Young Philly Politics reported the following:
In response to the success that Tom Knox is having with spending his bags of money, I heard through the grape-vine that certain City Council members are going to introduce a bill to suspend or repeal the current contribution limits.
Now, Young Philly Politics is reporting that by mid-afternoon today, the bill to repeal the new campaign finance law had enough co-sponsors to reach a majority. So, in the span of less than two days, after the release of a single poll showing a rich outsider becoming a serious contender, the city went from challenging a court's ruling that the campaign finance law was unconstitutional, to creating legislation that would allow them to repeal the law themselves. Nice.

There's more...

Questions On The Professionalization of the Netroots

Looking at the announcements of the new Edwards hires, Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan, I am struck once again by the ongoing exodus of prominent players in the netroots to professional positions as campaign, congressional, and consultant staff. At this point, I now personally know multiple people working as Internet / netroots staffers for Edwards, Dodd, and Draft Obama. I know at least one person working for Vilsack, Richardson, and Clinton. Additionally, I know people who work for all party committees, for Harry Reid and for Nancy Pelosi, as well as for a number of individual Senators and Representatives outside the leadership, including Louise Slaughter and Russ Feingold (and droves of freshmen). I have known people not working for any of these candidates or members of Congress who worked netroots for Kerry, Dean and Clark in 2003-2004. I know several netroots coordinators for advocacy organizations, including the various unions, ACLU, PFAW, Media Matters and the Center for American Progress. There are also people who are employed by netroots organizations, such as Democracy for America and MoveOn.org. There are also those who operate as netroots consultants for Internet based consulting firms like Blue State Digital, @dvocacy, Wired for Change, and, until recently, Echo Ditto. And the list goes on and on.

By this point, netroots activists have spread to virtually every corner of the professional Democratic and progressive ecosystem. In most cases, they have been co-opted into existing infrastructure, although frequently that is in order to perform a new task (netroots and / or Internet) that existing staff is unable to perform. There are also some, though fewer, cases where netroots activists have been able to build up their own, new infrastructure, such as ActBlue, the Progressive States Network, and MoveOn.org. Whether inside or outside, whether filling existing staff positions or creating new ones, it is now entirely possible for someone to have a full-blown career as netroots-focused political professional. This is because, to virtually the same extent as areas of focus such as communications, field, fundraising, and policy, "netroots" and / or "Internet" has become its own department within any large political operation. Commensurate to this development, a new group of political professionals has emerged, one that is drawn largely from independent netroots activists, and from younger, "junior staff" politicos who were originally from a different area of focus in professional politics, but who engaged and participated in the progressive netroots during its formative stages.

This change is perhaps the most interesting development in the world of professional politics since the rise of Wingnut Welfare in the form of the Republican Noise Machine starting in the 1970's. Quite a bit needs to be written about it, and I would like to start with these questions and thoughts:
  1. As a potential agent of change, to what extent are the netroots and the progressive movement helped or hindered by its professionalization? Certainly it always helps to have "people on the inside," but if your main source of employment comes from existing institutional structures, inevitably your ability and willingness to challenge and change established structures is reduced. Perhaps the questions is better rephrased as follows: with "outside" elements joining the "inside," who will change more, the outside or the inside? Also, are the netroots better served by creating their own institutions and campaigns, or by continuing to join existing ones? These last two questions are always important for any successful avant-garde movement to answer once it reaches this level of maturity.

  2. To what extent is a "professional" and "amateur" divide emerging within the netroots and progressive movement? If there is such a divide, will those people who live as full-time movement operatives develop competing interests with the largely part-time, volunteer activist base? Specifically, I am wondering if there might be a danger that a new "netroots elite" will end up holding the same dismissive attitude the "serious pundits" currently hold toward the activist base, or if the activist base community will turn away from the "professionals," in disgust at the sell-outs.

  3. Will the netroots community be able to continue to function as a semi-coherent entity with so many of its members working on behalf of competing candidates and campaigns? While everyone was on the same side in 2005-2006, the potential for dilution and division certainly seems ripe to me in 2007-2008.

  4. How long will it last? Will there come a point where the netroots is so familiar to Democratic infrastructure, that rather than being a separate department of large political operations internet and netroots instead becomes blended into every other department? Will there be new technological developments that make current "netroots" staff obsolete? Will the new political professionals just decide to move on to new careers in different fields before long?

  5. Finally, what happens when these junior staffers and new political professionals continue to age and move up in the ranks of the progressive and Democratic ecosystems? What cultural differences are there among this new professional class that will result in an overall cultural shift in progressive politics once the participants involved move from being junior staff to senior staff?
So many questions, so few answers right now. I don't even know if the average reader of MyDD will find this development the least bit interesting. It certainly connects to what I wrote last Thursday, about the one-way flow of progressive movement money. This could be yet another way in which the netroots are reifying established infrastructure, rather than changing it. It's not like I am free from this either, since I have been a consultant for varying campaigns and organizations over the past two years.

This is a pretty wide-open post, mainly because I am not sure where to begin this discussion. Hopefully, just by raising these questions, we can find ways to start narrowing the conversation, and developing a better sense of the issues involved. The outside is becoming inside, and vice versa. What does it all mean?

Michael Steele's No Substance Strategy

I'm watching Maryland politics with tremendous interest.  On the heels of Al Wynn's stolen election, I see Michael Steele attempting to run a campaign entirely based on African-American resentment of Democratic fecklessness and institutional racism.  Gregory Kane at BlackAmericaWeb sums up this attitude.

So, once again, black folks in Maryland got chumped by the Democratic Party.

Think of it as a quadrennial tradition. In 2002, Maryland's Democratic Party chumped black folks. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, then lieutenant governor of Maryland who was running for governor as a Democrat, overlooked dozens of qualified black Democrats to choose a white running mate.

She lost.

Republican candidate Robert Ehrlich, then a congressman, chose Michael Steele, a black Republican, as his running mate. Ehrlich is now governor of Maryland, running for a second term. The first black candidate elected to statewide office in Maryland -- lieutenant governor -- was a black Republican, not a black Democrat.

This year, two black Democratic candidates ran for statewide office. Former congressman and NAACP president Kweisi Mfume ran for a U.S. Senate seat. Stuart Simms, a former Baltimore state's attorney who headed both the state departments of juvenile services and correctional services and public safety, ran for attorney general of Maryland.

Last week, both Mfume and Simms lost, rejected by the majority of Maryland's Democrats. And what were the Republicans doing? What the Democrats failed to do in 2002: Making history.

...

By this time, Republicans are saying "been there, done that" regarding putting a black candidate on the gubernatorial ticket. They've moved on to making a black candidate running on his own the party's nominee for a statewide office.

And what are Maryland Democrats doing? Like I said before, chumping black folks.

The rejection of both Mfume and Simms should provide Maryland's black Democrats with some food for thought and prompt some questions. And the first question should be why white Maryland Democrats don't vote for black Democratic candidates for statewide office in the same proportion black Maryland Democrats vote for white candidates for statewide office.

This resentment isn't fake, and it could have political resonance.  Political and social icon Russell Simmons endorsed Steele, and the anger at Mfume's loss in the primary might boomerang.  At the same time, Michael Steele's signs are identifying him as a Democrat.  He's not talking about Iraq, taxes, social justice, or anything substantive, and has called George Bush 'my homeboy'.  

Michael Steele's campaign is that of a dilettante, completely devoid of real political discussion.  It's sort of working, with the polls tightening in Maryland.  Before Cardin's primary win, it was conventional wisdom that Cardin would just kill Steele, and that Mfume was the less viable of the two.  I supported Mfume in the primary because I never bought this line, and while I don't expect Steele to win this, it's important to realize that the resentment that Steele is playing on is very real.  Despite a very large cash advantage, Cardin only narrowly beat Mfume, 43.8 to 40.4 in the primary.  Cardin's a good guy, and a real progressive, but he's an insider who is tied into the Hoyer machine and isn't the heroic candidate-type that plays well in 2006.

Both the New Jersey race and the Maryland race are closer than they should be at this point, and I'm not really worried about either of them.  But the fact that we're not destroying these largely superficial candidates with a President as unpopular as Bush in very blue states suggests some real structural weakness in both states.

What I expect in Maryland going forward is that Steele will run two campaigns, and will have a strategic vulnerability that Cardin can exploit.  One campaign will be targeted at African-Americans, and will involve discussions of ethics and independents.  It will hinge on the narrative of Democrats taking black voters for granted, but will largely skirt substantive discussion of what Steele would do in the Senate.  It's a protest vote strategy, and blurring the lines between the parties is key.  The second campaign will be done with direct mail, and will involve getting GOP base voters to the polls with traditional extreme right-wing rhetoric.  

Maryland Democrats must find the right-wing direct mail that Steele is sending out or that is being sent out on Steele's behalf, and put it online.  Cardin has to point out that Steele isn't being straightforward about who he is, and that's why he lacks substance.  

Update: Gilliard says I'm wrong about Steele's appeal to African-Americans.

There's more...

Reformists in the African-American Community

Over the next few years, I expect the African-American political blogosphere to explode in importance.  I've met enough African-American reform leaders to make me believe that there's a African-American 'Crashing the Gates' movement happening right now and that it's about to come online.  The NAACP suffers from the same institutional inertia as NARAL and the Sierra Club, and that means there's a market for new leadership.

For instance, the Republic of T has an important post on Bobby Rush and his support of the COPE Act.  The CBC is an important battleground in the fight over net neutrality, paralleling the fight that we're having now over liberal boomers cutting deals with the right to hold onto power.

That may be the reason Bobby Rush takes big checks from telecoms, to make sure, as one of the articles above puts it, to make sure that the "right" neighborhoods get faster downloads and that his constituents' communities remain the "wrong" neighborhoods. Keep the internet out of the "wrong" neighborhoods, or impede access to it, and you keep potential political power out of the "wrong" neighborhoods and -- more to the point -- out of the hands of the people who live in those neighborhoods.

At Jack and Jill Politics, Jill is fighting for the character of the Congressional Black Caucus and the open bragging by Al Wynn of his stolen election.  On the non-blog front, I've also recently started getting emails from ColorOfChange.org, a group asserting leadership on progressive black issues.  And I just noticed ForwardPAC, a PAC to support progressive African-American women.

The net neutrality is a very important signaling fight, because it cuts right through the rotten core of our political system.  The Mike McCurry's and the Al Wynn's are part of the same generation of political operatives, the post-1974 group that decided that collusion with right-wing interests made strategic sense.  Beating them back is going to take time, but it's happening all over.

There's more...

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