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                                       politics + culture

Sunday, January 07, 2007

blog thoughts for a new year

I wish that I had a succinct and brief way to sum up where we find ourselves at the beginning of this new year in politics. For a taste of what's to come, I find myself looking back reflexively at last year.

It's weird to look back. Even my personal trajectory tells a story.

Starting immediately in the aftermath of the 2004 presidential election, I found myself focusing on 2006, Congress, local politics and local blogs. I wrote a piece about reforming the Democratic party called "To Be a Fighting Democrat" on Dailykos...and that term, which I think was already well in the air, only grew in usage and prominence as the election cycle wore on. In October of 2005, joining a chorus of early opponents of former Congressman Richard Pombo in CA-11, I wrote a piece here called "We all live in Richard Pombo's District." Again, that phrase, this time one I know that I coined, grew and took on a life of it's own eventually becoming a slogan that greeted every visitor to Congressman Jerry McNerney's campaign headquarters. Finally, in collaboration with Joshua Grossman, at the end of 2005, I wrote a piece called "Starting with the Districts" advancing the notion that there were 89 vulnerable Republican-controlled Congressional districts across the nation...including districts that virtually no one was talking about like Mark Foley in Florida, Jim Ryun in Kansas and J.D. Hayworth in Arizona. Joshua and I advocated that one of the key trends in advancing Democrats in these disctricts would be the power of local blogs.

Looking back, that's a pretty good track record of identifying trends and possibilities.

Even given that, however, I can honestly say that what DID HAPPEN in November of 2006 was an order of magnitude greater and more significant than anything I had anticipated.

It wasn't just the depth and breadth of the Democratic victories in State Houses, Governorships, the Senate and the U.S. House. I don't think anyone anticipated the underlying sea change in U.S. public opinion in regards to George Bush, the Iraq War and the Republican Party that has occurred. This is truly a new national political environment. There is virtually no area of American political life, from the national media, to the battles over policy, to the Supreme Court that won't be shaped by this new landscape. I had said before the November elections that they represented the beginning of a two-year battle for governance of the United States. That battle has, whether anyone realizes it quite yet, already fully begun.

In that light, here are a few trends to pay attention to as this battle develops.

1. The blogs aren't going away and will be taken, if anything, more and more seriously and professionally as the 2008 presidential cycle heats up.

This means something on all levels. It means that local and small bloggers will continue to have a significant impact on how candidates are perceived in their districts and states. The lessons learned from the netroots-led defeats of George Allen, Paul Hodes and Richard Pombo are REAL and POWERFUL. It also means that bloggers like Markos Moulitsas and Jane Hamsher and Joshua Micah Marshall will add to their already impressive and significant political clout. These folks are not just "not going anywhere"...I predict that these visible national bloggers will be seen, more and more, as hybrid pundit/operative media figures. Folks in D.C. are and will be paying attention...especially as innovative fundraising tools like ACTBlue become more and more used and prevalent.

Finally, the power of citizen journalism is not going away. Individual bloggers from the well-known to the obscure will still have the power to break stories in ways that change the political landscape. This could be someone posting a diary on dailykos, or it could be an anonymous blogger working off a free blogspot blog. The playing field has changed. It used to be that it was only Matt Drudge breaking "shocking" new stories...and all favoring one side. That's simply no longer true. We're not going back.

2. On that note, one of the major themes of 2007, and one I will write a future elaborated piece on will be this "perception change" about blogging and blogs.

Bloggers and the "netroots" are simply an insurgent political movement that came of age in the digital era and, hence, used blogs as a means of communication because they were there. In sum, blogging is just one part of this broader change in American political life. As the national media has gotten to know blogs and bloggers, they have often, naturally, focused on the nature of the medium, on citizen typists, on the "outrage". That's deceptive.

The best bloggers, whether local or national, are political operatives in the full sense of that term. Bloggers are getting more and more networked and working, more and more, at integrating their electronic activism with more traditional grassroots activism. Many of them, naturally, are looking for work as political professionals. As 2008 heats up in 2007, look for this reality to play itself out in the primary races for both national political parties.

3. I was not alone in pointing out that 2007 and the Democrat's newfound majority in Congress will mean a shift from a straightforward politics of outrage and opposition to an emphasis on policy and legislation.

In this new environment there will needs be new tools and new voices. Look for them as they emerge. There will also be a new, albeit less popular, politics of substance that will fan out through American political life. The do-nothing deadlock of 12 years of GOP control of Congress has been broken. Whether it is actual local debate on policy intiatives in a State context, or innvoating ways to have a national debate about the substance of national Congressional legislation, this will be an era of getting things done, with all the messy trimmings of democracy in action. Look for it.

4. the Constitution and the War in Iraq

Simply put, we are about embark on a national "meta-debate" about the meaning and import of the United States Constitution. This battle has been simmering for years now under the Bush/Cheney Administration. 2007 will be a year that will put the Constitution...and the crisis arising from the conflict between the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch, especially over the conduct of the War on Terror and the War in Iraq...front and center.

Look for this battle to shape important aspects of the battle for the presidency in 2008. This war is not going away. Nor are the significant consitutional issues it raises.

5. Global Warming and Energy Independence

This issue is live. It's "on." It's not going away.

6. Whose "sea change?"

Finally, in an era where real and meaningful reform of our government and society is being demanded from all quarters, look for the battle of 2007/8 to be about "who governs"...and in that context, to be about who best conveys to the American public that they represent the "sea change" in policy and ideals that seem warranted by our times and the election of 2006.

It may seem counter-intuitive to think that the GOP could switch gears so quickly into embracing a message of "change." But they will do exactly that. Look for a kind of "Howard Dean" insurgent moment within the emerging GOP presidential primary. It may well be that some candidate no one has yet anticipated emerges to convey a "new message" and a "new era" for the GOP.

We are in the midst of a battle for governance. How that battle gets shaped and fought will determine much of American political life for the next two decades. Big changes in American politics have always meant potential realignments. We saw the beginning of a potential realignment in the election of 2006 in the Mountain West and the Northeast.

It will be some combination of locally-focused political movements, national vision supplied by presidential candidates and an ongoing national debate about major topics like the War in Iraq, our Constitution and a new emphasis on substantive policy debate in Congress that will shape the countours of this sea change.

Much of it, for better or for worse, will remained focused on the remaining 25% of the disaster that is the Presidency of one George W. Bush.


  • Agree with most of what you say here. Great overview. Thanks.

    Today I started thinking about what progressives ought to be promoting as minimun standard for potential Presidents seeking our support in 2008. I decided that my minimum is some sense that should the US again experience a terrorist attack, the President should be someone who understands something about proportionality of response. Otherwise we'll be at war until we exhaust ourselves, incinerate half the planet (or sink under a rising ocean.) Wrote it up here.

    By Blogger janinsanfran, at 10:32 PM  

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