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Obama's Rise Sidelines Bloggers

By Jose Antonio Vargas
MANCHESTER, N.H. -- As Sen. Barack Obama continues a strategy of appealing to Republicans and independents, an influential and vocal group within his own party -- the liberal blogosphere -- faces an identity crisis of sorts.

Last week, Markos Moulitsas, founder of the popular liberal blog Daily Kos, accused Obama of embracing a "right-wing talking point" as he campaigned and said, "I don't want to go into the next election starting off with half the country already not wanting to vote for Democrats. We've done that in 2004, 2000." In a blog post headlined "Obama slams Gore," Moulitsas wrote: "Psst, Barack, slamming John Kerry and Al Gore is what Republicans do. Last time I checked, Gore won his election. And really, is Obama going to argue now that the nation was divided because of the Democrats' fault? Is that the latest right-wing talking point he wants to peddle?"

A blizzard of comments came pouring in, some 256 pages in all. Many agreed with Moulitsas. "Obama seems to be running against the (failed, ideological, divisive, etc) Democratic party as as whole, more than he runs against Republicans," one reader wrote. "This makes me VERY uneasy about him." Others did not. "What's wrong with trying to work together? If Hillary is elected, is anything going to change?" a reader asked. "Red will still hate Blue and will still hate Red. As a country we need to move past this."

At the heart of the tension lies an important challenge for a growing community that has helped redefine and re-energize the left wing of the Democratic Party. What happens to the brawling, highly partisan netroots movement when the party's leading candidate campaigns on bipartisanship -- and wins on it?

"The netroots is still trying to figure him out. Obama doesn't fit our style. He's not combative. He's not aggressive. He doesn't talk about Republicans the way the way you'd hope he would," said Dean Barker, co-founder of Blue Hampshire, a leading Granite State blog. Laura Clawson, another Blue Hampshire blogger and also, as MissLaura, a contributing editor on Daily Kos, adds: "I've gone to a lot of events here in New Hampshire and have seen Obama up close. I myself have been struggling to get a handle on him -- how to fit with him, what the excitement around his candidacy means."

While the netroots has no leader or spokesman -- Moulitsas, now a columnist for Newsweek, is arguably its most recognizable face -- it is, at core, a loosely knit community of intense partisans who want to elect Democrats and move the entire national conversation to the left. In 2003 and 2004, the then-newborn community overwhelmingly supported former Vermont governor Howard Dean, now head of the Democratic National Committee, in his bid for the presidency. (Moulitsas even did some consulting work for Dean's campaign.) This cycle, however, the community hasn't thrown its arms around a candidate. "There hasn't been a unifying figure," Barker said.

The results of the monthly straw poll on Daily Kos have been telling. Clinton's vote for the Iraq war and association with the 1990s Democratic strategy of triangulation -- anathema to today's liberal activists -- quickly saw her relegated to the bottom of the heap as a symbol of the Washington establishment. For the first six months of 2007, she didn't make it past 4 percent in the Kos poll.

John Edwards, in contrast, has consistently led the straw poll -- thanks, in part, to a more than two-year courtship of liberal bloggers. Today, his campaign is overseen by Joe Trippi, Dean's former campaign manager and a certified netroots hero.

But Obama has never won it. And his relationships with big-name bloggers, such as Jerome Amstrong of MyDD, Jame Hamsher of Firedoglake and Matt Stoller of OpenLeft, has been strained. "What Obama did in Iowa, getting all those young people to vote, was really inspirational. It was a miraculous achievement," Hamsher said. "But the idea that you can reach out to Republicans and they'll work with you isn't so convincing to people who have watched the Republicans in Congress. There are those who are worried that it's a false hope he's giving."

Peter Leyden, director of the New Politics Institute, a San Francisco-based liberal think tank, has an explanation for this evolving dynamic between Obama and the netroots. "Markos and company are the warriors. And they are still in battle mode, and are very hardened about the capacity of the Republicans to truly play hard ball. They have their guard up and are waiting for the counter punch," Leyden said. "It's hard to get your head out of war mode. But they will come around."

Two years ago, Obama tried reaching out, frustrated by bloggers' reaction to Sens. Patricky Leahy and Russ Feingold after they voted to confirm Supreme Court nominee John Roberts (Obama voted against his appointment). "According to the storyline that drives many advocacy groups and Democratic activists -- a storyline often reflected in comments on this blog -- we are up against a sharply partisan, radically conservative, take-no-prisoners Republican party," wrote Obama in a posting on Daily Kos. "They have beaten us twice by energizing their base with red meat rhetoric and single-minded devotion and discipline to their agenda. In order to beat them, it is necessary for Democrats to get some backbone, give as good as they get, brook no compromise, drive out Democrats who are interested in 'appeasing' the right wing, and enforce a more clearly progressive agenda.

"I think this perspective misreads the American people. From traveling throughout Illinois and more recently around the country, I can tell you that Americans are suspicious of labels and suspicious of jargon."

Since that posting, Obama has had little interaction with the netroots besides attending the Democratic debate at last summer's Yearly Kos convention, the netroots' annual gathering. David Axelrod, Obama's chief adviser, said that although Obama believes there's a "great passion on the Internet and a great sense of anger" about what's happened in the country, "Obama thinks that we can't affect change unless we build the largest possible coalition -- Democrats with independents and Republicans."

Even before last week's online onslaught, Obama was a subject of intense online criticism. Obama was attacked when Robert F. Bauer, general counsel to his campaign, argued for pardoning Scooter Libby in order to return the focus to President Bush. Hamsher of Firedoglake wasn't convinced. "It's an extremely cynical argument, and I really can't imagine what the Obama campaign was thinking," she wrote. When a bill granting immunity to telecoms who have aided the Bush administration's domestic surveillance program was supported by Senate Democrats and Republicans, bloggers asked their readers to contact Dodd, who's against the bill. Wrote DailyKos' Moulitsas: "Dodd is now the go-to guy. Losing faith in Obama." Things got worse when John Aravosis of Americablog pointed out that among those participating in Obama's "Embrace the Change" gospel concert tour in South Carolina was singer Donnie McClurkin, who has talked about his own fight against gay tendencies and has called homosexuality a "curse."

Following Obama's win in Iowa, MyDD's Armstrong voiced further skepticism.
"Obama doesn't want partisan Democrats like the netroots on his side, so we'll see if, when we start having Democratic primaries, he can win on his own terms or not," he told the Trail. "I was rooting that it would come down to Edwards and Clinton -- that to me represents a battle of Democratic values and ideas. Obama's candidacy is really just personality-driven, wrapped with quasi-religious overtures of 'believe' and 'hope' and 'unity' and 'trust'. He's the first mega-church candidate."

By Web Politics Editor  |  January 7, 2008; 4:10 PM ET
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Posted by: thirdrailradio | January 21, 2008 6:24 AM | Report abuse

I think that the two 'boys' (Edwards and Obama) are gang bangers. They clearly have banded together against a woman. I smell a backstage agreement, by these two school yard bullies, to get Mrs. Clinton out of the way. It is like the actions against Helen Gahagan Douglas - a strategy that worked and gave us Nixon. If this cowardly action works - we deserve what we get. Why don't they attack men?

Posted by: firstrodney | January 8, 2008 2:46 PM | Report abuse

Obama has campaigned against the Democratic Party, which is pretty odd given that he wants the party's nomination. I would go so far as to say he doesn't care about the Democratic Party.

Since declaring for President, he has called Social Security a 'crisis', attacked trial lawyers, associated unapologetically with vicious homophobes, portrayed Gore and Kerry as excessively polarizing losers, boasted as his central achievement an irrelevant ethics bill, ran against the DC establishment while taking huge amounts of cash from DC, undermined Ned Lamont in 2006, criticized NAFTA while voting for a NAFTA-style trade agreement, compiled opposition research on the most effective liberal pundit in the country (Paul Krugman), refused to promise that American troops would be out of Iraq by 2013, and endorsed the central plank of the Bush-Cheney foreign policy doctrine, the war on terror.

Is it any wonder the blogosphere hasn't warmed up to Obama? And for the myopic Obama supporters, I have this question for you:

The fact of the matter is that either you have the ability to bring people together, or you don't. Obama claims he does. He claims that as the biggest reason why we should be inspired by his words to make him our next president. But in a political climate where our biggest problem has been the unbridgeable distance between Democrats and Bush-and-Bushies, he has done absolutely nothing to actually demonstrate his much-touted power to bring people together.

Talk is cheap and when the times require action, cheap talk--no matter how fine it may be--is unacceptable.

Posted by: cab91 | January 8, 2008 8:38 AM | Report abuse

My issue with bloggers is that each of them has their own agenda. While they are a great source of news, their personal views are no more important that anybody elses.

If Obama appeases these activist bloggers and the online community as Howard Dean did, he will make himself just as unelectable (this coming from someone who STILL considers himself a Deaniac).

I like John Edwards as much as the bloggers and the community who visit these sites, but he isn't going to win a general election. He had his chance just 4 years ago and it didn't work out when he was pitted against the dullest guy we've sent up in recent memory.

Posted by: kissman24x | January 7, 2008 11:51 PM | Report abuse

I should point out Moulitsas FrontParger Houle was booted within a blip of a year for essentially making a j@ck@ss of himself and consequentially, Congressman Hodes. Now he's whiffing around Michigan, maybe "Star"-blogging in his undies even. While online nobody knows you're a dog, Houle was and still is seen as a lightweight, pompous @ss by seasoned campaign ops. The lightweight pompous @ssery charge pretty much holds true on all of these pee-ons. (sic)Thanks for the $$$ though...LOL.

Posted by: fugeddabowdid | January 7, 2008 11:32 PM | Report abuse

Also, rrinfamilia, look at the outrage THIS POSTER ON DAILYKOS,

A Former Obama/ turned Hillary / turned ??? Supporter HAD to say..

This young lawyer and Moulitsas Associate was encouraged by Moulitsas to reregister under another pseudonym. Appalling, this scandalous behaviour actually drove people, donors and prospective votes AWAY.

One of Moulitsas key allies and FrontPage Pallaverer, Dana Houle screen name DHinMI, managed to finnagle a Staff Slot for Freshmen Rep Paul Hodes for political rube-ery. Another budding Party operative, who goes under the handle "thereisnospoon" has a record of holding forth, rationalizing how unconsentual drunken coitus ISN'T date rape. At least the Diplomatic Corps will be spared of such incisive analysis.

Yeh, Obama is Just DYING to be associated with Moulitsas' Amateurs from the Drunken Frat Party. Just hanging on every word.....LOL.

Posted by: fugeddabowdid | January 7, 2008 11:17 PM | Report abuse

LOL, fugeddabowdid. The DailyKos has always had it's fame attached to it's service to the Democratic establishment in Washington DC. It's a moneymaking racket for the Democratic party, which is why it is hyped up as being important. The Democrats won in 2006 because... the Republicans sucked. The netroots proved themselves all but useless.

Posted by: errinfamilia | January 7, 2008 10:20 PM | Report abuse

The last thing Obama needs is the support of the netroots. They couldn't even get Ned Lamont elected. Remember him? He's about the only Democrat that DIDN'T win in 2006.

And the reason Markos Moulitsas and Karl Rove are now employed by Newsweek is because they are yesterday's news. The DailyKos jumped the shark long ago.

Posted by: errinfamilia | January 7, 2008 10:17 PM | Report abuse

Moulitsas and Dailykos are irrelevent.The others you mentioned even less so, LOL, save chatty gossip, the occasional marvelous recipe or interior design advise. Other than an astroturfed cheerleading / rubber-room for delusional middle class armchair Political pundits with a few bucks to fleece, his operation is MEANINGLESS. Funny thing is, Moulitsas is playing these people for fools, cashing in while Featuring the Leadership of Reid and Pelosi, or writing a Man-Love piece last year that all but happily applied tanning lotion to Ahnold Schwarzenagger in Cali. Mostly, it allows the "little people" the illusion that their oines matter to the Powers that Be. Such Rubes, their readership who can't even sort out the policy continuum of Leaving contingent troops in Iraq, or both Clinton and Obama Priming the Pump for engagement in Pakistan.

The Incumbency clearly could give a sh)t about ANYTHING they thought during this Congress. At least the Party Hacks know it for what it is - an inflated, Party organ-grinding operation with the occasional flattery of mushy, digital Circus Peanuts provided to political greenhorns pretending to be sought after DC-Insiders from the convenience of their homes in DC-Could-Givva-#%@&-Ville, USA.

Other than a few, most of these "bloggers" will be lucky to bag a job in the County Parks Department. What's Hillarious WRT Obama, is he doesn't need these twerps online and is no worse for the wear.

Posted by: fugeddabowdid | January 7, 2008 10:15 PM | Report abuse

I consider myself a Liberal Democrat. Have been all my life. But it is clear the ways of old Washington do not work anymore. Like a lot of people I am sick and tired of the fighting at every turn. I'm tired of the politics of stagnation. Netroots or the blogosphere might want to take a breath and come out of battle mode.

Barack Obama can help us bridge the divide and find those Republicans who share goals and objectives with Democrats so that we can finally get something done.

Posted by: jade_7243 | January 7, 2008 10:11 PM | Report abuse

What the netroots don't understand is that they are a small constituency. They are militant radicals. They are loud and shrill, can move some quick cash around, can get some headlines, but they don't control large voting blocks. The reason why they don't is because their radical ideas really aren't supported by large voting blocks. Obama's success is based on his charisma, his American Dream story, and tapping into a climate of dissatisfaction amongst the electorate as a whole. However, like the netroots, it all falls apart when it is time for actual solutions.

Posted by: j.bergquist | January 7, 2008 6:19 PM | Report abuse

Obama's What Party Does he Represent

Does Barack Obama stand for the Values & Ideals that represent the Democratic Party?


Posted by: usadblake | January 7, 2008 6:11 PM | Report abuse

Latest RASMUSSEN poll from South Carolina: Obama 42% Clinton 30%! How I wish that Stephen Colbert was still in the race.

Posted by: JakeD | January 7, 2008 5:10 PM | Report abuse

I have plenty of Republican friends who are expressing strong support for Obama -- especially the pro-choice Republicans -- consider that even John Kerry got some Republican votes in 2004. And, don't forget about the Log Cabin GOP.

Posted by: JakeD | January 7, 2008 5:02 PM | Report abuse

Political junkies need to learn that "reaching out to Republicans" means reaching out to people who tend to vote FOR Republicans. Obama has one of the most liberal voting records in the Senate AND he sees that there is plenty of room for agreement with people on the "other side" when it comes to the electorate. How else will this country ever move past partisan gridlock?

Posted by: matt_ahrens | January 7, 2008 4:54 PM | Report abuse

I find it laughable when I read that Obama is "appealing to Republicans". I have yet to meet a Republican who is supporting this left-winger. More liberal spin...

Posted by: gsmith | January 7, 2008 4:45 PM | Report abuse

Last I checked, Rush Limbaugh was trashing Mike Huckabee more than either Obama or Clinton.

Posted by: JakeD | January 7, 2008 4:32 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps the liberal blogosphere will one day figure out that their agenda is more likely to be reached if they figure out how to work with the opposition, rather than trying to out-demonize them. From what little I've heard from them, they seem equally delusional as the Limbaugh talk-radio types.

Posted by: bsimon | January 7, 2008 4:25 PM | Report abuse

That's right, bloggers -- Obama is interested in 'appeasing' the right wing -- I told you so!!!

Posted by: JakeD | January 7, 2008 4:19 PM | Report abuse

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