Netroots: Do they Matter?

(cross posted at kickin it with cg and motley moose)

As a marketer I have noticed some interesting trends in recent months.  Namely that traditional media (print, radio, TV) has started to decline in both consumption and advertising revenue.  Here in Canada, budgets are being slashed by international accounts and belts are being tightened.

What is interesting is that not 5 years ago, media outlets were 'throwing in' internet advertising as a bonus with a traditional media buy.  Well those days are long over. As a medium, the internet has exploded bringing with it much good and bad - especially in the political scene.  

Which naturally leads us to the effect of the Netroots, which is described as follows:

Netroots is a recent term coined to describe political activism organized through blogs and other online media, including wikis and social network services. The word is a portmanteau of Internet and grassroots, reflecting the technological innovations that set netroots techniques apart from other forms of political participation. In the United States, the term is used mainly in left-leaning circles.

Further - the origin of the term is suggested to be traced to:

In a December 2005 interview with Newsweek magazine [4], Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, founder of Daily Kos, described the netroots as "the crazy political junkies that hang out in blogs." He is also the co-author (with Jerome Armstrong) of the book Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots and the Rise of People-Powered Politics (ISBN 1-931498-99-7).

William Safire explained the term's origin in the New York Times Magazine on November 19, 2006:
"    ... the Nation's Web site [5] cited the unabashedly liberal Jerome Armstrong's praise of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee "for reading blogs and being ready to work with the netroots." From these citations and a few of the million and a half others in a Google search, the word netroots has a left-of-center connotation. The earliest use I can find is in a Jan. 15, 1993, message on an e-mail list of the Electronic Frontier Foundation from an "rmcdon[ell]" at the University of California at San Diego, apparently complaining about an internal shake-up: "Too bad there's no netroots organization that can demand more than keyboard accountability from those who claim to be acting on behalf of the 'greater good.'" ... Popularizer of the term -- unaware of the obscure, earlier citation when he used it -- was the aforementioned (great old word) Armstrong on his blog, MyDD, on Dec. 18, 2002, as he went to work on the presidential campaign of Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont.... headlined his entry "Netroots for Dean in 2004" and told Internet readers where to get the first inkling of a groundswell: "O.K., so Dean is still polling 1 to 4 percent nationally, so what. Look at the netroots."[1]

Whatever its origin, the Netroots most certainly has had an effect on the media.

Clearly, bloggers aren't a monolithic group. But it's fair to say that liberal bloggers -- and the more activist-oriented members of the Netroots within that group -- have been calling out the media's campaign coverage with far more regularity than just four years ago. And it's not simply because there are more activists who know how Moveable Type works.

Pushback against the media has been aided by the growth of more sophisticated liberal news sites, such as Talking Points Memo and The Huffington Post. In 2004, TPM founder Josh Marshall didn't have any paid staffers; this year he has nine. And Arianna Huffington's arsenal of nearly 2,000 bloggers didn't exist until President Bush was already six months into his second term. Not to mention, liberal watchdog group Media Matters -- which provides ammo to many bloggers -- has grown in that time from about 20 staffers to near 100, according to a source familiar with the organization.

This effect can be seen in driving MSM stories.  Be that as it may, a particularly inflammatory article by James Kirchick entitled Barack Obama doesn't fear the enraged, impotent Netroots contends that:

Indeed, the only people who seemed to give a fig about Lieberman were the "Netroots." Along with abandoning Iraq to Iran and Al Qaeda, punishing the "traitor" Joe Lieberman was their paramount concern (know that in the minds of Netroots, Lieberman hasn't only committed treason against the Democratic Party; a quick perusal of the more popular liberal blogs will also find the words "Zionist" and "Likudnik" attached to his name). Most Americans probably recognize Lieberman as the guy who ran with Al Gore in 2000. But to the Netroots, Lieberman is an obsession, an individual who inspires mania. He is the worst thing possible: not only someone who disagrees with them about foreign policy, but a liberal who disagrees with them on foreign policy.

"No matter what Joe Lieberman does," wrote Jane Hamsher, proprietor of the popular liberal blog Firedoglake, "the people who are protecting him hate you much more than they hate him." The Netroots are all about hate; its denizens are incapable of seeing shades of gray. (And Ms. Hamsher knows a thing or two about hate, having doctored a photo of Joe Lieberman in blackface during his primary battle against Netroots favorite Ned Lamont two years ago.)

Good for the Democrats for ignoring these people. Allowed to exercise more influence over the party than they already do, the Netroots would have the same disastrous effect that the presidential nomination of George McGovern did in 1972.

While the article reeks of disdain for 'liberal bloggers' Kirchick does raise a point worth examining...

The Netroots:  Do they Matter?

Tags: do they matter, Kos, MyDD, netroots (all tags)



they better...


by canadian gal 2008-11-23 04:44PM | 0 recs
I think the netroots helped sink Bayh

for VP, and in my mind that is HUGE. He could have been the frontrunner for the 2016 nomination.

by desmoinesdem 2008-11-23 07:05PM | 0 recs
Re: I think the netroots helped sink Bayh

If Bayh had been the VP nominee he'd be the frontrunner in 2012.

by Michael Bersin 2008-11-24 10:13AM | 0 recs
Re: Netroots: Do they Matter?

Perhaps it's presumptuous of me, but I think they helped Obama win.  Obama brought in other grassroots supporters for sure, but the 50 state strategy and much of Obama's campaign ideas had their roots in the Dean campaign.

They also helped expose McCain and Palin's lies by keeping people talking about them and writing the MSM.  Aside from that, look at how much money they helped raise, not just for Obama but for other candidates.

I don't think anyone expects Obama to do exactly what anyone tells him to do, and on Lieberman it seemed to me like opinions were somewhat split.

by Renie 2008-11-23 05:16PM | 0 recs
presumptuous? lol.

i totally agree with you.  but its not exactly like this audience is unbiased in this matter ;)

by canadian gal 2008-11-23 05:21PM | 0 recs
Re: Netroots: Do they Matter?

Yes, but now the he can he is removing all our imprints in the DNC and replacing them with his own people--people who aren't beholden to us at all, or are only in agreement with us by chance. Hence we no longer have any power there either.

by MNPundit 2008-11-23 06:34PM | 0 recs
Oh, we have power.

In politics money is power and we have money and are willing to donate to worthy candidates.

Before liberal blogsites, how often did you donate to a congressional or senatorial candidate that wasn't in your own state?  If you are like me, you didn't know which races were tight or which candidates could use a little boost.

As long as we are able to raise millions to help candidates get elected we will have power.

by GFORD 2008-11-23 09:03PM | 0 recs
I think they helped his case

with the superdelegates between February and May. Again and again we heard about "the math" that proved Obama could not be beaten, even though his pledged delegate lead was narrow, and nothing required the superdelegates to support the pledged delegate leader.

The vitriol against Hillary at Daily Kos and other blogs was so ridiculous on one level, but it was quite useful for Obama's people to demonstrate that "the base" would never tolerate Hillary "stealing" the nomination with the help of the superdelegates.

by desmoinesdem 2008-11-23 07:15PM | 0 recs
I think you are wrong on this.

Hillary's negatives were always high, even when she was ahead in the polls she was still running close to 50% negative perception.  Her supporters emailed the superdelegates incessantly to try to sway them but they did as they said they would.  They waited to see who won the pledged delegate count.

This 'math' to which you refer was the point at which it was obvious that Hillary could not catch up.  She stayed in the game to the end but most people, including many in her campaign and possibly even Hillary herself, realized the outcome was inevitable.

by GFORD 2008-11-23 09:09PM | 0 recs
Re: I think they helped his case

I wonder if any of that vitriol was merited though, I mean, think about her campaign, it was, to say the least, in due of some revision and probably needed a dash of class, no?     But yeah, I'll agree with you, that site did have a lot of hate for the Clintons, but I could really care less, except when it was unmerited.   At the same time the amount of bullshit fake Pro-Hillary/Puma/masked Republican run hate sites were numerous, small legions of pathetic fucks commisserating online.  But then again, they don't have as much of an audience, so I guess that's why they aren't mentioned or discussed.

by KLRinLA 2008-11-23 09:31PM | 0 recs

The vitriol was expressed by two different groups.  One group really believed what they were saying.  The other group expressed it to make the point you just made.

We can see the separation between these two groups in the SoS story and how it has been received.

by iDemocrat 2008-11-24 08:17PM | 0 recs
Re: Netroots: Do they Matter?

you think???  wow, i'd say it was a central factor in his win.

by swissffun 2008-11-24 10:22AM | 0 recs
Re: Netroots: Do they Matter?

The netroots matter in the long run, not the short run. We can never expect fair treatment in the media, because their crappy record is our entire raison d'etre. But when you compare where things were in 2001 and where they are now, it's clear that we've had an effect. Who would have thought universal healthcare would be one of the less contentious things we could be doing?

by vcalzone 2008-11-23 06:06PM | 0 recs
Re: Netroots: Do they Matter?

Yes and no.  Probably more to the media and the participants than national politics.  Interestingly, Obama tunneled 'through' the existing netroots, so to speak, creating his own parallel network rather than applying, as Edwards seemed inclined to do, to the gatekeepers of the existing high traffic websites with 'outreach.'  On the other hand, when it comes to the movement of information, money and activity like petition-signing the power of the 'netroots' is obviously immense, as Michelle Bachman would attest.  It seems more effective, at this point, in local primaries and down-ticket races when it comes to actual fund-raising and political activism.  

In national politics it seems clear the 'netroots' failed to pick a winner in this campaign and my experience was that there was quite a bit of 'progressive netroots' antipathy to Obama's candidacy at the beginning.  If we had followed the strongly asserted lead of most 'progressive' blogs we would have nominated a candidate who dropped out relatively early in the piece and whom ultimately could have proved to be quite an embarrassment, though that is incidental to the politics of the thing.  Obama leveraged the Internet on his own platforms, the contribution to his campaign of the 'netroots,' at least during the primary, not so much.  Although it was heaps of fun to blog in support of his campaign here I'm not sure just how much effect it actually had.  I'm convinced the Clinton campaign had 'professional' bloggers here and there during the campaign and I don't think it was worth their effort, in the final analysis.  There are exceptions, of course, one wonders how much impact the Huffington Post achieved, but they seem to be crossing the line into 'advocacy journalism' rather than attempting to build a genuine movement-based constituency, which is what I understand the 'netroots' to be.

I think the most significant aspect of the 'netroots' however, is that it vastly expands the universe of informed, aware and arguably 'radicalised' citizens.  That can only be a positive for 'progressives' as reality bends our way.

by Shaun Appleby 2008-11-23 06:15PM | 0 recs
Re: Netroots: Do they Matter?

i think your analysis is v. good.  i would add that i most certainly believe that obama also had paid bloggers as well.

i cannot say if anyone else did since i started blogging when there were only 2 left in the field.  but do you recall that blogger with the 300 donations? cant recall his name right now.  but once it caught, he easily achieved his goal.  really amazing.

by canadian gal 2008-11-23 06:50PM | 0 recs
Re: Netroots: Do they Matter?

Kudos, by the way, on the excellent in-depth background you've given on the etymology of the term and it's early usages.

by Shaun Appleby 2008-11-23 08:10PM | 0 recs
Re: Netroots: Do they Matter?

Barack Obama does not fear us because since he dipped his toes in the water back in 2005 at DKos, he realized we were what was wrong with the system. We are fiercely partisan, we want to alter the institutions of government to remove republican advantage, and we seek to marginalize the crazed-GOP. These are all things that are anathema to Barack Obama's statements and philosophy.

He wants to unite and bring along Republicans, we don't think that's possible because Republicans don't compromise until they get everything they want and demonize you to do it.

So instead of working with us, he created his campaign and in particular the internet division so he could create a parallel structure so we would be frozen out. While the structure resulted in more control for him, and I think it was his primary motivator, it had benefit to his mind of marginalizing us, since the people who connected online to him could and did remain ignorant of the netroots.

His donations were through his site, he communicated with his people in his own ways (texts for example) and he's centralizing the diffused power we used to have in terms of state-by-state organizational ties.

Look at his behavior during something like FISA. He doesn't give a shit about what we actually think. His response to the MyBO group was ridiculous. He might share some goals with us, but otherwise he won't listen no matter how much we try to pressure him because he has no reason to. He can tell us to go Cheney ourselves because he doesn't need us: and that has been his intention since he realized who we are back in 2005.

He is not our enemy but he is an ally only by necessity and we had best remember that. The work of taking the party over must continue.

by MNPundit 2008-11-23 06:32PM | 0 recs

you're hardcore.

by canadian gal 2008-11-23 06:51PM | 0 recs
Re: wow.

Nah, just pragmatic, with a hard core vocabulary.

by Michael Bersin 2008-11-24 10:16AM | 0 recs
I disagree.

First of all, the netroots is not independent of the rest of the world.  During the campaign we were volunteers and activists.  We are the people who got him elected.

I helped elect Obama because I trust him to have my best interests in mind as he does his job.  That would be my best interests as an American and includes the best interests of my community and my country.  I don't expect him to do the job exactly how I would do it.  In fact, it's a good thing he won't because I have some pretty wild ideas.

by GFORD 2008-11-23 09:22PM | 0 recs
I remember in October 2007

when the Donnie McClurkin fiasco was in the news, the monthly DKos straw poll showed Chris Dodd surging into second place behind John Edwards, with Obama way back.

All of a sudden Obama supporters started posting hit diaries on Dodd, not just at DKos but also at the Iowa progressive community blog Bleeding Heartland. It was so ridiculous and transparent. As soon as Obama was back in second place in the November DKos straw poll, his supporters forgot about Dodd.

I think the Obama campaign was trying to build a parallel structure online, but they also valued the support on the traditional blogs and didn't want to cede that territory.

by desmoinesdem 2008-11-23 07:12PM | 0 recs
The parallel structure

I believe that's called astroturfing.

by iDemocrat 2008-11-24 08:19PM | 0 recs
Re: Netroots: Do they Matter?

it's revolutionary, unthinkable just a short time (for me) ago.  They're dying for copy and they troll these places.  It's a form of free market research, those companies probably have demo-breakdowns on blogs, to adjust for bias, or whatever it is that statisticians do.  There used never to be a way to organize anything, no way to get the attention of a public person.  There aren't direct one-on-one reactions from any political influence groups, but blogs represent lobbies in that they gather voices passionate about something or idea they have in common, and then they have the possibility of speaking with a collective voice - and deliver votes which is all any of them pay attention to, if that's not too cynical.  

If they say blogs don't matter and give no evidence, it's a wish.

It's easy enough to do, just conduct a few random pools on Lieberman, and find out if a lot of non-bloggers also see him as a fathead.    

by anna shane 2008-11-23 08:03PM | 0 recs
I'm with you on this.

I think any Democrat who saw Lieberman attached to McCain at the hip thinks Lieberman is a traitor and a total jerk.

by GFORD 2008-11-23 09:25PM | 0 recs
Re: I'm with you on this.

if bloggers write about 'truth,' it's still truth, whether or not the party does a poll and finds that truth resonates with lots of people, including bloggers.  Do they want to know what we think?  A good place to start asking is to look on blogs and find out what's being expressed.

by anna shane 2008-11-24 04:44AM | 0 recs
Re: Netroots: Do they Matter?

I think that the netroots only has power to amplify sentiment out there and to get people to donate or volunteer.  As a means of protest/expression/approval it seems that events like PUMA and l'affaire Lieberman at least show that it doesn't quite have the influence it thinks it has (this isn't meant as a slam).

I think it would be interesting to put forward a paper as to why this is so.  My guess is that it has something to do with the psychology of communication.

by AZphilosopher 2008-11-23 11:15PM | 0 recs
Re: Netroots: Do they Matter?

One of my clients this cycle was a centrist congressional Dem from a swing state who didn't owe the Netroots a damn thing after his election.  But as soon as he started thinking about the possibility of higher office and the difficulty of raising money for re-election, he was planning online videos and liveblogs galore.  Not because he necessarily agreed with us, but because he knew we had the potential to empower his future opponents (Ned Lamont, anyone?) or to seriously raise his national profile, assuming he treated us like a respected constituency group.

We're noticed, we're feared and respected, and we're on the minds of every Representative who wants to be a Senator or Governor.

by Jay R 2008-11-24 01:17AM | 0 recs
Re: Netroots: Do they Matter?

Right we're noticed for the potential positives but not so much the negatives.

by AZphilosopher 2008-11-24 01:31AM | 0 recs
Re: Netroots: Do they Matter?
Well done Canadian Gal. Great thread and comments.
Short answer, yes they do matter.
by durendal 2008-11-24 04:53AM | 0 recs
I can't get past...

...the notion that we're going to abandon Iran to Al Qaeda.

Kirchik writes for Even The Liberal New Republic, doesn't he? There ain't an editor in the house who has a basic idea about the Sunni/Shi'a thing? Or maybe Uncle Marty gives a bonus if demagogue this blatanly (and to everyone outside Peretzland, pathetically).

Says a lot about the state of our politics that Kirchik is considered Very Serious and I'm some dumb guy in his bathrobe in his parents' basement (I am, as it happens, wearing a bathrobe at this moment, but I haven't lived with my parents for more than twenty years).

Not at all coincidentally, Lieberman on at least three occasions, all on FoxNews, referred to the threat to this country posed by "Al Qaeda in Iran".

by BlueinColorado 2008-11-24 08:34AM | 0 recs
Re: Netroots: Do they Matter?

Not as much as we think.

The internet matters, as Obama's campaign shows.  But MyDD, Daily Kos, Open Left, firedoglake, etc., are good places to raise money for candidates, but their influence is much less than we think.  It certainly is with Obama.

by TomP 2008-11-24 10:20AM | 0 recs
Re: Netroots: Do they Matter?

I think that the netroots can get certain things done.

For example, the Prop 8 protests across the country that took place two weekends back were organized in less than a week through social networking sites and blogs.  A seed of an idea grew into a multi-state political action almost overnight, an accomplishment that the Human Rights Campaign, National Gay & Lesbian Taskforce, etc., haven't been able to do in decades.

What is the Human Rights Campaign up to in the meantime?  Cosponsoring fundraisers for itself with Bloomingdales and capitulating on removing transgenders from proposed federal employment nondiscrimination legislation.

by Dreorg 2008-11-24 01:22PM | 0 recs
Re: Netroots: Do they Matter?

I find it to be interesting that the primaries are continually being relitigated.  It is at least a little relevant towards relevance of the blogs that the raison d'etre of sites that would want to relitigate has at least temporarily gone away.

There is nothing currently to be done on the primary election front, be it opposing Pres.-elect Obama's agenda (if that is what one thinks should be done) or fixing things at the DNC.  So if there is nothing to be done, why are these sites up and running as if nothing happened?  One would think there would at least be a small amount of consolidation that side of the blogosphere.

by AZphilosopher 2008-11-24 04:20PM | 0 recs
Re: Netroots: Do they Matter?

great point. people of all stipes and colours are refighting the primary.  but it seems people cannot get away from the defensiveness and point-scoring that both sides engaged in.  as a wise person said yesterday,

if I admit to... I'm somehow denigrating myself, my candidate, my movement

put another way - if you were to write a diary discussing the revamping of the caucus system, inevitably the conversation at some point would turn to the primary.  but i wholly disagree about the latter part of your comment, there is much to be done ;)

by canadian gal 2008-11-24 04:41PM | 0 recs
Re: Netroots: Do they Matter?

The main problem with the constant relitigation is that there will constantly be two communities one where "otherness" will be defined either by talking about the sexism or denying that it occurred.  And each one views the other as the "dominant" ideology.

So EACH SIDE IS ENGAGED IN CULTURAL CRITICISM OF A SORT (sorry for the shout but that is the important point). The difference is that the cultural critique of one side is society at large and the cultural critique of the other is the blogging community.

The job of cultural criticism is all about carving the society into two, those in power and those at the margins.  Usually in this particular form of communication, then the person at the margin is given a wide berth in acceptable forms of communication.  However the game of cultural criticism never ends well because the individual in question is still out of power and the society is still carved in two.

So the question is how to eventually overcome cultural criticism.  The answer is to express one's will in an institutional environment to affect change.

Sorry for harping on that point and this conversation in general, part is that I'm trying to process what is going on in political thought, partially because I'm trying to see a way past it and partially because I'm always aware of these power dynamics because I teach philosophy.

by AZphilosopher 2008-11-24 07:22PM | 0 recs


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