A few prominent bloggers have taken to calling themselves the “netroots”, and imagining themselves to be a prominent force in shaping national politics. Leaving aside an horrible neologism and some delusions of grandeur, what is the political content of this Internet “left”? Economist Max Sawicky gets off a great polemic, calling them “a mostly brainless vacuum cleaner of donations for the Democratic Party”.
This hits the mark I think. And the infantile response to Sawicky’s intervention certainly suggests he hit a nerve. The depressing thing about MoveOn.org, the Howard Dean campaign, and so much besides, has been the lack of coherent political analysis or principles. For all the talk of imitating the right’s tactical acumen, there’s too little on the Democrat side to compare to the ideological rigor of the more devout neoconservatives, libertarians, or evangelicals. All too often, it just seems to be about winning elections and raising money.
A number of dangers arise from this. One is that with Democrats in power, a politically rudderless constituency will allow them to get away with backsliding into Clintonian centrism. Another, specific problem that Sawicky raised is: if we don’t have firm anti-imperialist principles, what’s to stop us from falling for the next insane war proposed by the Democrats?
And finally, there’s Barack Obama. Sheesh. I volunteered on his senate campaign in 2004, and at the time I was optimistic that he could become a genuine progressive leader like Paul Wellstone or Jesse Jackson Jr. Boy, was I wrong. Turns out, he’s a middle-of-the-road, vague-principles, Clintonian pain-feeling kind of guy. The media and the netroots have latched onto this guy the same way they glommed onto Howard Dean–because he looks like a winner, not for any substantive political reason. And frankly, I wouldn’t mind if Obama’s campaign came to the same ignominious end as Dean’s. Much as the guy personally rubs me the wrong way, John Edwards looks like the best of the presidential pack at this point. His domestic policy talking points are pleasingly social democratic, and he’s the only one with the guts to call for a withdrawal from Iraq. Obama may have had the better position on the war back in 2002, but Edwards is out in front in 2007.