Thursday, May 31, 2007

Too Little, or Too Much
I'm certain that I'm not the first person to whom this has occurred, but consider how differently the Bush administration and its congressional rubber stamp responded to two major problems of the current period.

When it came to Iraq and the threat of Saddam Hussein acquiring "the world's deadliest weapons," policymakers decided upon a proactive response. Some soundbites are so good you can't forget them even when you desperately want to: such is the case with then-National Security Advisor Condeleezza Rice somberly telling us, "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." More broadly, the administration has embraced the so-called "One Percent Doctrine": if there's even a very slight possibility of a terrorist threat, the United States should act as if it's absolutely certain. In the words of the vice-president, "It's not about our analysis ... It's about our response."

Contrast this with the administration's actions, or lack thereof, in the face of a threat that could and, many believe, will do damage on a scale that al Qaeda couldn't imagine: global warming.

Now, six and a half years into his disaster of a presidency, Bush evidently is moving closer to acknowledging the reality of climate change. Maybe the president who insists that history will vindicate his Splendid Little War is thinking uneasily about its verdict on a potentially much bigger question. But there remains a chasm between acknowledging a problem and working toward a solution, and Bush's approach here is still nothing more than wishing, hoping, and punting. And while the now-majority Democrats in Congress talk a better game than did their predecessors--the switch in attitude and aptitude from James Inhofe to Barbara Boxer is pretty dramatic--they can't really do anything substantial without presidential support, and with a very winnable presidential election fast approaching, they're probably too scared to try.

Had the administration taken the One Percenter approach on climate change, we'd presumably be investing countless billions in a Manhattan Project level effort to develop lower-emitting fuels. Had they taken the climate change approach to post-9/11 foreign policy, we would have left Saddam alone and hoped that he'd just die quietly, and maybe reached out to the rest of the Arab world with persuasion rather than coercion. It's hard not to suspect we'd be vastly better off on both counts.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Bush is Our Fault
This hasn't been a good week for my political peace of mind. The Democrats took an ownership share of the war and somewhat backed off their promsies of ethics reform, the US Attorneys purge reached new depths of tragicomedy, a bad immigration bill is going down to defeat largely because it isn't even worse, and the astonishing idiocy of George W. Bush was again on full display. This is a man who evidently fails to grasp concepts that a reasonably attentive 12 year-old would understand, and he's the most powerful man in the world.

If there's any grounds for hope, it would be that the public seems far ahead of its ostensible leaders. They (we) want out of the war, and they want the Democrats to lead on that and other questions. Of course, this only makes it even more baffling that the Democrats refuse to do so.

I've written here and elsewhere that the whole country, minus maybe 20-25 percent of the willfully ignorant or hopelessly detached, simply want the Bush Era to end and the Duhciderer to go home to Rancho Plastico and read boxscores, clear brush, and drink himself to death. But impeachment, the legal only way to make this happen before my dad's 66th birthday (1/20/09), is "off the table." Gary Kamiya, writing in Salon, explains why, in one of the most brilliant pieces I've read in a very long time. Kamiya makes the point that pundits, liberals, and just about everyone else either has missed or is afraid to say: Bush is our creation, and in an imperfect but very real sense, we enabled his disaster. It's worth quoting at length:

[T]here's a deeper reason why the popular impeachment movement has never taken off -- and it has to do not with Bush but with the American people. Bush's warmongering spoke to something deep in our national psyche. The emotional force behind America's support for the Iraq war, the molten core of an angry, resentful patriotism, is still too hot for Congress, the media and even many Americans who oppose the war, to confront directly. It's a national myth. It's John Wayne. To impeach Bush would force us to directly confront our national core of violent self-righteousness -- come to terms with it, understand it and reject it. And we're not ready to do that.

The truth is that Bush's high crimes and misdemeanors, far from being too small, are too great. What has saved Bush is the fact that his lies were, literally, a matter of life and death. They were about war. And they were sanctified by 9/11. Bush tapped into a deep American strain of fearful, reflexive bellicosity, which Congress and the media went along with for a long time and which has remained largely unexamined to this day. Congress, the media and most of the American people have yet to turn decisively against Bush because to do so would be to turn against some part of themselves. This doesn't mean we support Bush, simply that at some dim, half-conscious level we're too confused -- not least by our own complicity -- to work up the cold, final anger we'd need to go through impeachment. We haven't done the necessary work to separate ourselves from our abusive spouse. We need therapy -- not to save this disastrous marriage, but to end it.

At first glance it seems odd that Bush's fraudulent case for war has saved him. War is the most serious action a nation can undertake, and lying to Congress and the American people about the need for war is arguably the most serious offense a public official can commit, short of treason. But the unique gravity of war surrounds it with a kind of patriotic force field. There is an ancient human deference to The Strong Man Who Will Defend Us, an atavistic surrender to authority that goes back through Milosevic, to Henry V, to Beowulf and the ring givers, and ultimately to Cro-Magnon tribesmen huddled around the campfire at the feet of the biggest, strongest warrior. Even when it is unequivocally shown that a leader lied about war, as is the case with Bush, he or she is still protected by this aura. Going to war is the best thing a rogue president can do. It's like taking refuge in a church: No one can come and get you there. There's a reason Bush kept repeating, "I'm a war president. I'm a war president." It worked, literally, like a charm.

And many of the American people shared Bush's views. A large percentage of the American people, and their elected representatives, accepted Bush's unlimited authority to do whatever he wanted in the name of "national security." And they reaffirmed this acceptance when, long after his fraudulent case for war had been exposed as such, they reelected him. Lindorff and Olshansky quote former Republican Sen. Lowell Weicker, who justifies his opposition to impeachment by saying, "Bush obviously lied to the country and the Congress about the war, but we have a system of elections in this country. Everyone knew about the lying before the 2004 elections, and they didn't do anything about it ... Bush got elected. The horse is out of the barn now."

To be sure, the war card works better under some circumstances than others. It is arguable that if there had been no 9/11, Bush's fraudulent case for war really would have resulted in his impeachment -- though this is far from certain. But 9/11 did happen, and as a result, large numbers of Americans did not just give Bush carte blanche but actively wanted him to attack someone. They were driven not by policy concerns but by primordial retribution, reflexive and self-righteous rage. And it wasn't just the masses who were calling for the United States to reach out and smash someone. Pundits like Henry Kissinger and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman also called for America to attack the Arab world. Kissinger, according to Bob Woodward's "State of Denial," said that "we need to humiliate them"; Friedman said we needed to "go right into the heart of the Arab world and smash something." As Friedman's statement indicates, who we smashed was basically unimportant. Friedman and Kissinger argued that attacking the Arab world would serve as a deterrent, but that was a detail. For many Americans, who Bush attacked or the reasons he gave, didn't matter -- what mattered was that we were fighting back.
The unpleasant truth is that Bush did what a lot of Americans wanted him to. And when it became clear after the fact that Bush had lied about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, it made no sense for those Americans to turn on him. Truth was never their major concern anyway -- revenge was. And if we took revenge on the wrong person, well, better a misplaced revenge than none at all.
The problem is that the American people are not judging Bush by the standards of law. The Bush years have further weakened America's once-proud status as a nation of laws, not of men. The law, for Bush, is like language for Humpty Dumpty: it means just what he chooses it to mean, neither more nor less. This attitude has become disturbingly widespread -- which may explain why Bush's illegal wiretapping, his approval of torture, and his administration's partisan purge of U.S. district attorneys have not resulted in wider outrage.

This society-wide diminution of respect for law has helped Bush immeasurably. It is not just the law that America has turned away from, but what the law stands for -- accountability, memory, history and logic itself. That anonymous senior Bush advisor who spoke with surreal condescension of "the reality-based community" may have summed up our cultural moment more acutely than anyone else in years. A society without memory, driven by ephemeral emotions, which demands no consistency from its leaders but only gusty patriotism, is a society that is not about to engage in the painful self-examination that impeachment would mean.

Emphasis mine. Bush is simply the most egregious symptom of a disease that's been around in American history at least since Nixon, and probably further back that that. This is a wasting affliction; what it erodes is our shared commitment, regardless of personal politics or beliefs, to play by one set of rules that we agreed upon at the Founding and have periodically revised since then. The Law should not be seen as an obstacle course to navigate en route to some extra-legal goal, whether it's to launch a war of choice and vengeance or to politicize the institutions of government. It should be seen as a barrier that keeps us all from harm, an unscalable fence that separates safe ground from the minefields.

What Bush, Cheney, Rove, and their congressional enablers did was to cut a thousand holes through that fence, so much that the whole structure is now unsound, and it's no longer clear where the barrier is drawn, what's safe and what's not. But they couldn't have done this if we hadn't let them. And we let them because the unthinking, unreasoning desire for revenge--regardless of whether that revenge was justified or even rational--trumped the commitment we made. Under cover of war lust, an unprecedentedly political administration did the bulk of its grim work. We gave them that cover.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Prolonging a Nightmare
By now you've heard that the Democrats folded like the proverbial cheap suit on the "showdown" over the next round of funding for George W. Bush's Excellent Iraq Adventure. There are justifications for this--the votes weren't there, this will prove to be a pyrrhic victory for the Republicans, and so on--but those change neither the public perception ("President Wins Showdown") or, much worse, the underlying reality that we're committed to further deepening the hole in Iraq.

What bothers me most is that the vote in some sense validates and perpetuates the tragedy of Iraq, which itself exemplifies everything that's gone hideously wrong with our "democracy," so-called: the erosion of checks and balances, the disappearance of a constructively critical press, the terrifying indifference to the suffering of other peoples, how quick we are to toss away our own supposedly central values.

I read this piece on the way home tonight; I wish I could dismiss it as overblown, wild-eyed lefty ravings, but the diagnosis on Iraq seems to me almost inarguable:

Without question, the administration's catastrophic war in Iraq is the single overarching issue that has convinced a large majority of Americans that the country is "heading in the wrong direction." But the war itself is the outcome of an imperial presidency and the abject failure of Congress to perform its Constitutional duty of oversight. Had the government been working as the authors of the Constitution intended, the war could not have occurred. ...

Instead of uncovering administration lies and manipulations, the media actively promoted them. Yet the first amendment to the Constitution protects the press precisely so it can penetrate the secrecy that is the bureaucrat's most powerful, self-protective weapon. As a result of this failure, democratic oversight of the government by an actively engaged citizenry did not— and could not— occur. The people of the United States became mere spectators as an array of ideological extremists, vested interests, and foreign operatives— including domestic neoconservatives, Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi exiles, the Israeli Lobby, the petroleum and automobile industries, warmongers and profiteers allied with the military-industrial complex, and the entrenched interests of the professional military establishment— essentially hijacked the government.

Some respected professional journalists do not see these failings as the mere result of personal turpitude but rather as deep structural and cultural problems within the American system as it exists today. In an interview with Matt Taibbi , Seymour Hersh, for forty years one of America's leading investigative reporters, put the matter this way:

"All of the institutions we thought would protect us— particularly the press, but also the military, the bureaucracy, the Congress— they have failed… So all the things that we expect would normally carry us through didn't. The biggest failure, I would argue, is the press, because that's the most glaring…. What can be done to fix the situation? [long pause] You'd have to fire or execute ninety percent of the editors and executives."

Veteran analyst of the press (and former presidential press secretary), Bill Moyers, considering a classic moment of media failure, concluded : "The disgraceful press reaction to Colin Powell's presentation at the United Nations [on February 5, 2003] seems like something out of Monty Python, with one key British report cited by Powell being nothing more than a student's thesis, downloaded from the Web— with the student later threatening to charge U.S. officials with 'plagiarism.'"

As a result of such multiple failures (still ongoing), the executive branch easily misled the American public.

Iraq is a nightmare in every sense, from how we got there to how it’s unfolded and, worst of all, what it’s shown us about ourselves. When you’re stuck in a nightmare, all you want to do is wake up. The Democrats’ caving on the spending measure, tactically justifiable though it might be, is at bottom a guarantee that the nightmare will continue for at least a little longer.

Friday, May 18, 2007

An Even Less Convenient Truth
Check out this book excerpt from Al Gore's The Assault on Reason.

This is an insightful but profoundly depressing read. Gore grasps a point that should be obvious--modern American culture is defined by the passive experience of watching television, and that passivity has drained the vitality of the public sphere. He doesn't say, but could, that the fracturing of the culture was coincident with and reinforcing of the fracturing of the "vital center" postwar consensus. As we've stepped back into our little pursuits and niches, we've left the playing field of politics to those who have the most resources and interest in grabbing a piece, from interest groups at all points of the political compass to millionaire campaign bundlers.

Gore paints a dire picture of American democracy "in danger of being hollowed out." That at least he's got right. Unless and until there's a Great Depression-level economic crash (and I'm starting to think we know too much about the economy for that to be very likely) or a series of terror attacks that make everyone feel personally endangered, we are very unlikely to succumb to an overtly authoritarian form of governance. There will still be campaigns and elections and different levels and branches of government, all contested by different political parties. It just won't matter. The barriers to enactment of the popular will--from gerrymandering to unlimited corporate money to institutionalized trivialization of the news--will become ever stronger, while the popular will itself is thinned to nothing.

But he's not dire enough, or has a mistaken sense of the timeline. One can plausibly argue that this all has happened already, it's gone, and what remains is entertainment and ritual. It's not primarily corporate pervidy or trash TV or the rise of the political consultants that killed it; "we the people" just lost interest, because we don't collectively do great things anymore. We can't even really win wars, be they military or market-based. We're still coasting on what we were 60 years ago, the fluky comparative advantage we ended World War II with and then somewhat reinforced when the Cold War concluded. That ride will end, and then we'll start to become as fractured economically as we are in the other ways. In fact, that's already well underway too ("The Shrinking Middle Class").

Thus, the fights of the late Bush years, for those who care about the Constitution and think the system as enacted in 1789 and refined through the Civil Rights era was worthwhile and effective, are really just about trying to preserve the tools and framework of American democratic governance. For today, people are doing this to push back against individuals or factions that seek to abuse power--but for the longer term, the hope is that if the public ever feels like taking a real interest at some future point, they'll still have the capacity.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Just When I Thought He Was Out...
Maybe Mike Bloomberg really will run for president. I'm always loath to credit the Washington Moonie Times, but per Political Wire, that paper reports that he's set aside $1 billion and "lowered the bar" to potentially jump into the race. Charlie Cook's weekly political e-mail (unlinkable, alas, as it's not on a website so far as I can tell) speculates as well, specifically focusing on the possibility of a Bloomberg/Chuck Hagel ticket. (Hagel's certainly into it, though he might want to reverse the names. No way that happens, by the way--Bloomberg is nobody's #2. More likely, Hagel would be a de facto co-president, more or less running foreign policy, perhaps in tandem with a Democratic Secretary of State like Bob Kerrey, who represents for both Nebraska and NYC.) And the New York Times speculated again yesterday about a Bloomberg campaign, noting that he's reactivated his old campaign website.

I realize that it makes as much sense to complain about a partisan rag slanting its coverage as about a rabid dog biting passers-by, but I'm a little miffed that the Moonie piece evidently characterizes Bloomberg as "a social liberal and fiscal conservative." The first part is true, but the second is absurd. Bloomberg isn't a budgetary tightwad by any means: he's pledged $150 million of city money to the most ambitious anti-poverty campaign NYC has seen in at least 35 years, and potentially wants to obligate billions toward his "PlaNYC" campaign to manage the city's growth over the next 20 years or so. He did dig New York out of the $6 billion budget hole he inherited from Rudy Giuliani, but that's not "conservative" so much as "responsible"--especially considering that the biggest means by which he did this was a record tax hike on home owners. That assessment is actually the example par excellence of Bloomberg's pragmatism: it was steep and came in for understandable but brutal criticism--and as soon as the books were balanced, he started making good to those he'd dunned with big rebates and other goodies. You can't have a 73 percent approval rating with home owners still mad at you.

A Bloomberg/Giuliani race would be fascinating, considering that New Yorkers themselves (ourselves) overwhelmingly prefer the current mayor both in that job and the presidency. I could see Rudy running against New York even as he presents himself as its, and the nation's, defender against the turr'ists. But I don't think Rudy's getting to the general election, which would obviate the awkwardness of Bloomberg running against the guy who (like it or not, and I don't) basically gave him the mayoralty in late 2001.

But the real intrigue would be Bloomberg versus Hillary Clinton.

For thinking Democrats, particularly the more progressive activists who disdain (or detest) Hillary and are currently supporting Barack Obama or John Edwards, this will be a conundrum. Bloomberg's a better manager, he would have vastly more ability to get legislation passed, and in some respects he could run to Sen. Clinton's left--he's simply a much stronger social liberal, with a demonstrated commitment to economic justice. But he's not a Democrat (anymore). The unions probably would back Hillary... though the NYC unions don't hate Bloomberg, and Clinton's top advisor, Mark Penn, has some pretty ugly anti-labor credentials that Bloomberg's team would be quick to exploit. She'd have African-Americans, probably, though Bloomberg is sufficiently popular with black leaders in the city that he could send out a bunch of plausible surrogates and probably do at least as well as Bush did in '04.

I've almost convinced myself that this could happen. If ever the country were ready for a "short, divorced Jewish billionaire" who doesn't pander or dumb it down, it would be after the disastrous years of Bush, who is Bloomberg's polar opposite. If the Democrats really do nominate Hillary, that will block off millions of independents and moderate Republicans who would be open to some Democrats but not to That Woman. None of the Republicans really look credible in a general election; Fred Thompson has huge flaws that will come into focus if and when he gets in, McCain is too tied to the war and carries the baggage of his past good deeds; and Romney is just sort of pathetic.

It still feels like a stretch that the country would recognize Bloomberg for the excellent president he could be. But not nearly as much as it did a few months ago.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Al Gore and the Buyer's Remorse Primary
Josh Marshall's blog reports that a collection of onetime Al Gore staffers met for dinner last night in Washington, and the sense was strong that Gore isn't running in 2008 after all. While Democrats looking at their presidential selection pool haven't expressed the same level of dissatisfaction bordering on despair that Republicans seem to be suffering, there's no question that Gore's absence from the race leaves many partisans a bit sad and unfulfilled.

As someone who disdained Gore in 2000 but has come to admire him very much since then, I somewhat share this sentiment. HIs being denied the presidency through cheating, lying and strong-arm tactics set the tone for the disastrous years since then, with the worst administration in American history; if only they'd been as incompetent at winning political fights as they've proven to be at everything else. That Gore has grown in stature, figuratively as well as literally, since then, just adds salt to the wound of the Bush years.

I still maintain that his not entering the race shouldn't surprise anyone: fat people can't win in America, and Gore is big as a house. But there's time to drop the weight, and I don't think the "news" from this dinner really changes a thing.

Gore won't "jump into" the race in that he'll run in the primaries; he doesn't want to come down from the clouds, and after what the press did to him in 2000, it's hard to blame him. Not to mention that this was a guy who, unlike the president he served from 1993-2001, never seemed happy or even comfortable engaging in the theatrical aspects of politics. But he will keep his powder dry and stand ready to come to the rescue if/when the party needs him next year.

The scenario is that there's either a deadlocked convention--not very likely IMO--or, far more likely, a massive case of buyer's remorse after Hillary Clinton wins the nomination with 35-45 percent in every primary and polls show her losing to McGuliomney by 5-10 percent, despite the 20 percent advantage a generic Democrat has over a generic Republican.

Right now, about 50 percent of those polled from the general electorate claim they won't support Hillary no matter what. A year from now, that number could go even higher: I believe that for Hillary to win the nomination she'll have to throw the patented Clinton sharp elbows--and, in doing so, will alienate supporters of Obama and Edwards to the point that they'll be open to a third-party candidate who broadly shares their values and worldview. My man Mike Bloomberg still could be that guy, though the polls don't show much potential support for the short, divorced Jewish mayor who's enjoyed drugs and talked some smack over the years. But if it's not Bloomberg, it'll be someone else--Oprah, Jim Webb, a former general or two. Polls will bear out this hunger for a third option, and they'll also show that as HRC sinks, Al Gore rises. The pressure will build for him to get in.

Would he do it? Who knows. But if you're determined to hope for a Gore '08 candidacy, that's your scenario: he wins the Buyer's Remorse Primary.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Baseball-Related Despair
The Philadelphia Phillies cause me a lot of misery and countless (well, uncounted) wasted hours every year, but I'm not sure I've ever gotten to the moment of bleak resignation that, yes, they're going to fall short again, as quickly as I have this spring. Barely five weeks into it, I'm waiting for the end. After the usual hope-inducing winter and spring, the team staggered out of the gate to their annual 1-6 start; they rallied to within two games of the .500 mark, then went out on a ten-game road trip that mercifully concludes tomorrow night and fell on their collective face again. Now five games under the break-even point and 6.5 behind both the Mets and Braves--two well-run organizations that aren't going to collapse--the season *feels* over, whether or not it actually is.

Readers of The Good Phight probably have picked up on my despair, but if a man can't fully wallow in the sadomachistic psychological mire of his obsession on his own blog, then where to do it? Here's what's wrong with the Phillies, as I commented on another Phils site Tuesday afternoon:

1) The fish rots from the head, and bad process leads to bad outcomes. The poison unquestionably starts with principal owner Bill Giles, who should be put in jail for what he's done to a great franchise (while making unfathomable money!) since making the purchase in 1981, and team president David Montgomery, who seems sufficiently dumb it's a wonder he can dress himself. Regardless of what you think of Charlie Manuel as a manager (myself, I think he's about average--his positives and negatives more or less cancel out, though right now the negatives are on display given how little margin for idiocy the bench and bullpen give him), he was hired because the team's best player at the time loved him. That's no way to do business. And GM Pat Gillick, though nominally an outsider, seems to be the epitome of the 1970s/early '80s mindset that has suffused the organization ever since.

2. The roster is unbearably top-heavy. I'm working on something for TGP to more fully tell this story, but it's hardly an original observation that this team has about 5-7 really valuable players (Utley, Rollins, Hamels, et al), a similar number who are fine for now (e.g. Geary, Moyer)... and another dozen guys who are stealing money. Incredibly, this has been the case for three years now: an island of excellence in a big lake of stinkola.

3. None of this is likely to change. Great players will emerge, bearing hope, and leave, trailing bitterness. (Sometimes we call this "The Rolen Cycle.") Near-great players will come in and suddenly stink. The front office will be characterized by indifference, proud and belligerent ignorance, and near-transparent contempt for the fans. We only get released when the schmucks sell, and they won't do that until Giles dies, based on his own statements.

Another commenter on that same site offered this bon mot on the Groundhog Season Phillies: "Its beyond heartbreaking. It's just plain tedious."

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Counterforce
Over the last few years, as liberal-leaning websites have grown in size and importance and evolved into something one can describe as a true political movement, I've watched and to some extent joined in with eighty percent gratitude and excitement, twenty percent anxiety and concern. In a real sense, the convergence on the left has served as a defender, one of the strongest defenders, of American democracy in its time of challenge from a dangerous and coherent movement on the right, led by the Bush administration. That convergence has pushed the Democratic Party to stand its ground, rewarding those who do so with financial and logistical support, and has called to account a media that had been steadily adopting right-leaning contexts and premises. Starting with the Howard Dean campaign of 2004, focusing through Daily Kos, and spreading out to dozens of mid-size blogs and thousands of small ones, the online progressives have hosted countless helpful discussions and arguments, given new candidates and embattled incumbents platforms with which to reach people open to help, and more broadly built a sense of community and hope among millions of us finding little grounds for either in conventional and mainstream political life.

That's the eighty percent. The twenty is that the online progressive movement, like all movements, has drawn to itself dogmatic thinkers, self-appointed loyalty enforcers, and would-be demagogues who often seem eager to seize upon the near-crisis context of the Bush years for their own ends.

Assuming our society persists long enough, no doubt there will be weighty books and seminars and college courses and all the other media of collective remembrance in years to come that will seek to explain, track, analyze and spin this movement. But it's The New Republic, ironically enough, that might be first out of the gate with an explanation of how the online progressives emerged, and why they matter, in a great piece by Jonathan Chait. Here's a taste:

The 2000 recount is an apt birthing ground for the netroots. It perfectly fits their view of U.S. politics as an atavistic clash of partisan willpower. And their analysis of that episode, while somewhat crude, has a certain truth. The liberal intelligentsia, and much of the Democratic establishment, tried to hold itself above the fray. During the recount, liberal pundits were concerned above all with maintaining civility and consensus, and they flayed Democrats for any hint of partisanship or anger. (In a New Yorker editorial, Joe Klein scolded that Al Gore "reinforced his partisan reputation by challenging the results in Florida" and cautioned that "vehemence of any sort--ideological, political, analytical--seems ill-advised.") Elite liberal opinion-makers insisted that their side play fair. Gore, they declared, must allow for the possibility that his opponent could win a fair recount, must renounce street demonstrations, must be intellectually consistent--permitting, say, military ballots that did not fulfill the letter of the law to be counted. Members of the Gore recount team like William Daley and Warren Christopher, seeking to uphold their reputations as statesmen, nervously complied.

The contrast with the Republican side could not have been more stark. The only complaint conservative pundits had with the George W. Bush operation was that it was too soft. (George Will wrote that there was a "ferocity gap"--but, in a classic case of projection, he insisted that Democrats were more ferocious.) Bush never conceded the possibility that he could lose. Nor did he feel any obligation to maintain intellectual consistency. His campaign demanded the letter of the law be carried out in those instances when it suited his side, and it flouted the letter of the law in those (military ballots, illegally submitted absentee ballots in Seminole County) when it did not. It whipped up a mob to halt a recount in Miami-Dade County that at the time appeared potentially decisive. Conservatives celebrated these developments without a hint of dissent. While Democrats in Washington constantly undermined the Gore campaign by telling reporters that Gore should concede, Washington Republicans maintained ranks. Through their greater resolve and partisan discipline, the Republicans triumphed.

All the lessons the netroots have gleaned about U.S. politics were on display in this noxious denouement, and those lessons have been reinforced time and again throughout the Bush presidency. The Democratic leadership and the liberal intelligentsia seemed pathetic and exhausted, wedded to musty ideals of bipartisanship and decorousness.

Chait spends considerable time discussing the element of the online progressive movement that I'm most ambivalent about: its willingness, or perhaps eagerness, to take on other actors within the center-left coalition in pursuit of larger (and longer-term) strategic objections. To my mind, there are moments when it's useful, or even necessary, to smack your sometime allies: the Democratic Leadership Council, to take perhaps the most frequent and notorious of online left frenemies, has undercut the progressive message, and triangulated for the sake of triangulation, so many times that it was vital to create consequences and pushback for their doing so. And the primary challenge to Joe Lieberman last summer was justified both by Lieberman's evidently pathological wish to be accepted and loved on the right, exemplified by his more-Bush-than-Bush stance on the war, and by the fact that the circumstances were in place--a solid blue state, a viable challenger, and sufficient money--to mount the campaign.

But there's sometimes among the lefty blogs a certain joy in attacking organizations and leaders who might agree with you on 75 percent (or 95 percent) of the issues. David Sirota, whom I've come to call "Der Kommissar," might be the worst offender here, but there are dozens if not hundreds of high-profile posters across the liberal blogs who sometimes do the same. Again, sometimes I think this is justifiable--see Clinton, Hillary--but when you're attacking Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid or Barack Obama for this or that sin of political noncomformity, it's very questionable whether you're doing more good than harm. The same question can be asked of whether it makes sense to lump in groups and publications generally in agreement with the Forces of Evil:

Just as the Goldwaterites reserved their strongest contempt for the moderates who controlled the GOP, the netroots are at their most single-minded in their opposition to the moderates who they believe control the Democratic Party. The netroots often identify this enemy in amorphous, populist terms--"the Beltway," "the D.C. establishment," etc. When it comes to identifying its adversaries more specifically, the two institutions named most often are the DLC and tnr. Netroots activists speak of these two institutions in stark terms. "This is the modern DLC--an aider and abettor of Right-wing smear attacks against Democrats," wrote Moulitsas, who proceeded to threaten to "make the DLC radioactive." In a posting about tnr, titled "tnr's defection to the Right is now complete," Moulitsas wrote that this magazine "betrayed, once again, that it seeks to destroy the new people-powered movement for the sake of its Lieberman-worshipping neocon owners." Both the DLC and tnr are perpetually described as "dying" or "irrelevant," yet simultaneously possessed of sinister and ubiquitous control over the national discourse.

In reality, of course, the DLC is a political enterprise and tnr a journalistic one; each has on its staff individuals who do not always agree with each other; and neither institution exerts total control over every individual on its payroll. While both the DLC and tnr supported the Iraq war, both stridently opposed almost every other element of the Bush agenda. The overwhelming majority of DLC missives and tnr articles are perfectly congenial to mainstream liberalism and perfectly hostile to the Republican Party of George W. Bush. But these sorts of subtleties generally escape the Manichean analysis that pervades the netroots.

What makes such internal enemies so dangerous is that they engage in self-criticism. It is not that the netroots forbid internal debate. Far from it: They indulge in all sorts of disagreements, tactical and substantive, just as conservatives do. What they consider treasonous is any criticism of any part of the Democratic Party or its activist base from the right. You can attack the Democratic leadership in Congress for failing to force a troop withdrawal from Iraq, but you cannot attack it for opposing a troop surge. ... It is permissible to divide the party from the left, by opposing a moderate Democratic position. But if you divide the party from the right, you are an enemy of the movement.

I'm not sure we'll really understand the true nature of the online progressive movement until the crisis moment passes and a new president, likely a Democratic president, takes office. I can see the push for "unity" in the context of an opposing movement that, even now when its popularity is in the toilet and some of its adherents fervently wish the standard-bearer would go home to Rancho Plastico, still pushes inexorably for an unbound unitary executive, war without end, and de-distributive taxing and spending policies. As Paul Krugman pointed out, the "loyal Bushies" (including the Dobsonites and Norquisters) are a "revolutionary power"; pushing back the rabidly partisan challenge they've posed to the established American system merits a higher degree of partisan discipline on the other side.

My question is how the liberal bloggers and netroots will respond if and when we have a Democratic president--especially if it's a relative progressive like Obama and Edwards--and Democratic majorities in Congress. Mark Schmitt recently published a thoughtful article (also in TNR) about how the experience of 1993--the last time Democrats held unified control of government--is informing, or haunting, party leaders today. Back then, the Democratic coalition was different, and more obviously divisible against itself; if history repeats in 2009, the question might be whether the netroots activists can reconcile their enthusiasm and impatience with a system of checks and balances that, even after Bush (and happily so), isn't really conducive to rapid major changes.

A second concern will emerge if and when Democratic leaders start to show the same propensity for corruption and self-dealing that helped undo the Republicans in the middle years of this decade (and hopefully is continuing to do so). Already, there's a sense that the 110th Congress is less prone to self-dealing and special-interest pandering than its predecessor--but that's a low bar. There's William Jefferson, the corrupt Democratic congressional backbencher from Louisiana who unfortunately won re-election last year while waiting for federal charges; he hasn't been embraced, but he hasn't been kicked out of the caucus either. What happens when a more prominent Dem comes under serious allegations of self-dealing? Will the online progressives stick to their principles, or try to explain away the misdeeds as so many Republican apologists have done in the DeLay/Bush era?

As always, we'll see. I don't think anyone of progressive outlook can disagree that the rise of the online left has helped bring American politics back into something resembling balance and served to counter the rabid right that organized itself through talk radio and church-related institutions. But all movements carry the seeds of their own undoing: self-righteousness, hypocrisy, and overadherence to dogmatic thinking. That this is an essentially conservative fear may or may not be ironic.