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The Kos Campaign

Liberal blogs like Daily Kos have made Joe Lieberman their first domino. But without a bigger vision, they may be the ones who fall.

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Illustration by Nick Higgins  

Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, founder and chief firebrand of the liberal blog Daily Kos, sounded weary in a post after the conclusion of his convention in Las Vegas last month. “I have a few pre-existing media obligations to finish off,” Kos wrote, “then I’m going dark for a while. At least that is the hope. The media glare is not something I crave.”

The temptation to wax incredulous here is nearly irresistible—given that Kos had just appeared on Meet the Press and sat down to chat with Maureen Dowd. But the truth is that his cravings are by now immaterial, since the media’s appetite for all things Kos is apparently insatiable. And so one day we read David Brooks opining in the Times about Kos’s hubris and caprice. The next we read about his feud with The New Republic over various allegations and betrayals. And still the next we read in Newsweek about “his plans to seize control of the Democratic Party.”

All along, Kos’s response to the attention lavished upon him has been admirably consistent: “[T]his thing really isn’t about me,” he’s written. The thing in question is, of course, the rise of the liberal blogosphere as a force in American politics. And, make no mistake, the story is indeed much bigger than one keyboard-tapping Berkeleyite. Up in Connecticut, Democratic senator Joe Lieberman’s career is hanging by a thread, owing to the blog-fueled primary challenge of businessman Ned Lamont. Down in Virginia, the blogosphere played a pivotal role in the nomination of Reagan-era Navy secretary James Webb to take on Republican senator George Allen. Meanwhile, among the crop of White House wannabes, hiring an A-list blogger is now de rigueur. Even Hillary Clinton—who, in an unusual display of devil-may-careness, blew off the Kos convention—recently hired former Kerry blogmeister Peter Daou.

The sudden Democratic obeisance to the Netroots fills many in the party’s centrist cadres with despair.

Let me say at the outset that, by and large, I regard the ascendancy of the liberal blogosphere—and its opposite number on the right—as a salutary development, both for politics and the media. That the Internet, which has transformed commerce and culture in ways too numerous to list, is in the early stages of transforming politics, too, strikes me as beyond debate. Yet it seems worth noting that, on the left, the rise of the blogosphere has as much to do with the weakness of the Democratic Party as with the intrinsic power of the Web; that Kos isn’t so much seizing power as stepping smartly into a vacuum.

Few liberal bloggers would dispute the notion that the national Democratic Party is a clueless, witless beast, profoundly disconnected from the views of its adherents. As Matt Stoller, an influential blogger at MyDD, wrote about Clinton’s taking on Daou and her decision to support Lamont if he defeats Lieberman, “Senators are completely bewildered by what’s going on ‘out there.’ . . . The move to upgrade their political machinery . . . means two things. One, it means that these politicians are now taking our concerns into account. Two, it means that when they make a political move that cuts against the progressive movement, they expressly know the political consequences.”

The sudden Democratic obeisance to the Netroots fills many in the party’s centrist cadres with despair bordering on panic—for they see the likes of Stoller and Moulitsas as “McGovernites with modems,” in the choice phrase of Marshall Wittman, a Republican apostate now ensconced at the Democratic Leadership Council. More than a few leading GOP lights agree, happily foreseeing the liberal bloggers’ leading the opposition down (okay, further down) the primrose path into lefty irrelevance. As Newt Gingrich put it bluntly in Newsweek, “I think the Republican Party has few allies more effective than the Daily Kos.”

In caricaturing Kos as a knee-jerk case, his enemies have some evidence to work with, provided helpfully by Kos himself. Consider, as Exhibit A, the New Republic dustup, in which Kos reacted with blind fury to the magazine’s touting of allegations that he plugged candidates with whom he or his friend and co-author Jerome Armstrong (now a consultant to former Virginia governor Mark Warner) had financial dealings. “If you still hold a subscription to that magazine, it really is time to call it quits,” he wrote. “The New Republic betrayed, once again, that it seeks to destroy the new people-powered movement for the sake of its Lieberman-worshipping neocon owners.”

But if, temperamentally, Kos comes across as a purity-enforcing commissar—self-appointed head of the Blogitburo—his substantive convictions make him rather harder to pigeonhole. “He’s a former soldier, pro–free trade, and anti–gun control,” notes Simon Rosenberg, president of the progressive New Democrat Network. “The resistance to him in Washington isn’t about issues—it’s generational. Markos represents a new generation taking control, asserting leadership, shaping the conversation. That’s why the old New Democrats are mad at the more partisan edge of the new New Democrats. They feel their power threatened.”


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