Explaining The Fantasy Based Community

Conn Carroll /

Why The Netroots Aren’t Rejoicing Over Obama’s Caucus Win

It finally happened. The droves of young voters motivated to ‘change’ Washington finally showed up in large enough numbers to give a ‘movement’ candidate a surprising and convincing electoral victory. If this was 2004 and the candidate was Howard Dean, the netroots would be ecstatic. Instead, prior to last night’s results, Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas wrote: “Not rooting for any of these candidates, election day isn’t as exciting. Then again, I won’t have to relive the pain of Dean’s crushing defeat again. That’s a definite ‘plus’ for maintaining a cool detachment.”

So what gives? Considering the deep mistrust between Hillary Clinton and the netroots, why isn’t Obama’s victory a reason to rejoice? The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder provided a clue when analyzing Obama’s closing message to Iowa voters: “Obama’s closing argument is more audacious than it seems; it’s an end-run around the established interests of the Democratic Party. He is angering — often deliberately — some of the party’s core constituencies.” Specifically, the community is upset that in the closing week of the campaign, Obama ran right on health care and social security, attacked trial lawyers, and suggested that John Kerry and Al Gore were divisive.

But Obama’s troubled history with netroots has a longer history. Obama once insinuated that Daily Kos was boring, and many in the community feel as though he has triangulated on Iran and Iraq since coming to the senate. Others believe Obama has cultivated his centrist appeal by avoiding controversial votes. More recently Obama issued a press release attacking progressive movement icon and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman on social security.

The Krugman dust up is particularly illuminating because Krugman’s broader criticism of Obama (that his “different kind of politics” are really just Big Table Fantasies”) hits on a core belief of the modern progressive movement: Fundamental change can’t be accomplished by a politician who shuns partisanship. Open Left’s Chris Bowers writes: “If Obama really believes that he is somehow post-ideology, post-partisan, and capable of bringing contemporary Republicans to actually engage in real compromises over legislation in good faith, then I can’t help but think that, despite his background, he is oddly naïve.”

But Obama’s naiveté isn’t their deepest fear. As the Des Moines Register’s pre-caucus poll shows, the majority of Obama’s support comes from independents and Republicans, not registered Democrats. This is the progressive movement’s second worst nightmare: a Democratic President, elected by independents and moderates, who rhetorically rejected progressive elements to get elected. Ezra Klein blogged: “Obama’s comfort attacking liberals from the right is unsettling, and if he does win Iowa, it will not be a victory that either supporters or the media ascribe to the more progressive elements of his candidacy.” Bowers has similar thoughts: “Obama just isn’t using the same arguments or rhetoric that the progressive blogosphere uses about Republicans and Democrats. He is also … building his own, in-house activist movement instead of working with the existing progressive movement. And so, even though he is clearly at least the second favorite in the progressive blogosphere, if he wins, it will be in spite of the progressive blogosphere, rather than because of it.”

And that’s why the progressive movement is wary of an Obama victory. They fear that an Obama win will be remembered as a victory for some kind of fuzzy Obama-ism founded on bipartisan compromise and not the first victory of what they hope will be an enduring progressive coalition.