Iraq: The Failure Of Activist and Netroots Leadership

Chris Bowers writes:

If our vote totals on key pieces of legislation are actually going backward in Congress, then no one in the Democratic field is successfully leading on Iraq in Congress. Good leadership isn’t just about proposing legislation (which all current members of Congress have done), sending out press releases announcing how you will vote beforehand (which a couple of candidates did this time), exhorting your colleagues in Congress to vote a certain way (which at least Dodd has done among current members of Congress running for President), and then casting the right votes (which pretty much everyone does now, even though none of the Senators running for President did so last year). Successful leadership is actually causing the debate to bend in your direction, and gathering support where none previously existed. According to this criteria, when it comes to the impact of the 2008 Presidential field on the Iraq fight in Congress, no one has done that. To varying degrees, they all have tried-or at least made it look like they were trying-but no one has succeeded.

I think that is a fair criteria for all of us. And by that criteria, I think it is fair to say that the leaders of the Netroots have utterly failed. It is ironic that Bowers criticizes people like Chris Dodd (for his post is really a pushback against Dodd’s little surge in the Daily Kos straw poll while his preferred candidate, Bill Richardson, had a meltdown) for their efforts in Congress without even considering his own failures and that of the other leading Netroots lights, like Move On. Interesting use of blinders there. More.

Over at daily kos, the top rated diary says:

The MoveOn ad worked. It worked very well, indeed.  That’s what has them so scared and angry.

Let’s look at the results that accomplished with their ad. MoveOn says that their $142,000+ expenditure yielded them something on the order ofb $500,000 in contributions in just one day.  Measured simply on the financials, the ad was a good move by

It was a good move FOR Move On apparently. Played for suckers yet again. As for Move On’s success in the Iraq debate in Congress, see Bowers. Move On’s support for the Iraq Capitulation bill in the Spring and its strategy of ratcheting up the pressure on REPUBLICANS in the Summer have been abject failures. But no matter, it ran a stupid ad, became fodder for the GOP, and then raised a lot of money. Very successful, in its way, has been Move On. Barnum knew what he was talking about.

Consider however, if the activists had joined Feingold, Reid, Dodd and the Out of Iraq Caucus in adopting and agitating for the only strategy that can work on Iraq – the not funding strategy. Suppose we had jointly and tirelessly urged our representatives, from the begining of the year, to sign the pledge?

Dear Mr. President:

We are writing to inform you that we will only support appropriating additional funds for U.S. military operations in Iraq during Fiscal Year 2008 and beyond for the protection and safe redeployment of all our troops out of Iraq before you leave office.

More than 3,600 of our brave soldiers have died in Iraq. More than 26,000 have been seriously wounded. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed or injured in the hostilities and more than 4 million have been displaced from their homes. Furthermore, this conflict has degenerated into a sectarian civil war and U.S. taxpayers have paid more than $500 billion, despite assurances that you and your key advisors gave our nation at the time you ordered the invasion in March, 2003 that this military intervention would cost far less and be paid from Iraqi oil revenues.

We agree with a clear and growing majority of the American people who are opposed to continued, open-ended U.S. military operations in Iraq, and believe it is unwise and unacceptable for you to continue to unilaterally impose these staggering costs and the soaring debt on Americans currently and for generations to come. . .

Where might we be on this fight? Sadly, we did not. We have not led on this issue. The Netroots has been an utter failure this year.


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    • Armando on September 25, 2007 at 3:34 pm

    in the face.

  1. now…… raised instead of deeds done?  Hypocrisy to the right of me and hypocrisy to the left of me while all within the borders of Iraq suffer mostly needlessly.  Putting up a clip I caught last night of some Rightwing hypocrisy but just a small note the leftwing……it would be nice if you guys would lose the goal of only being the lesser hypocrite and challenged yourself to better goal.  Yeah you might break a sweat but leadership always has the biggest payoff and leadership with some integrity thrown in and a few ethics is absolutely priceless.

  2. once said:

    “If you are making money off the movement you aren’t helping.”

    This was years ago, and of course said leader was right.

    I liked the concept of MoveOn, the way you could vote for certain topics and issues, but it was shown very quickly that an online democracy is easily manipulated by pawns for the right.  This is probably what happened with the latest MoveOn thing.

    It suffers from the same problems affecting wikipedia, not enough fact checking, relying on opinions instead of data.

    Leadership for leadership’s sake may get us over the bridge but empowering the right leaders will get us to where we want to go.

    Also, our leaders won’t necessarily be politicians.

    • snud on September 25, 2007 at 3:54 pm

    That de-funding the war is the way to go. As you’ve rightly pointed out, Armando, there will be snowballs falling in hell before Dubya allows anything that’ll get in the way of his debacle and will wield his veto pen on any half-assed attempts at timelines to draw down troops, etc. – and that, really anything short of de-funding is, for now, our only hope.

    (I’m not even convinced a new Dem president will bring them home as quickly as we’d like, judging by some of the rhetoric from some of them.)

    I’m guessing you might agree with this diary posted last week over at DK.

    And the diary you site in your link, may have made a few points you didn’t quote. I say “may” because only time will tell:

    But the shrill response that the ad drew from the right wing, the media, and from the Liebercrat wing of the Democratic party is truly the gift that keeps on giving.  The value of the free media that the advertisement drew (and continues to draw almost two weeks later) is probably incalculable…


    As a result of all this media noise, instead of being able to run puff pieces about how things are turning around in Iraq, the media’s attention has been focused on the professional and personal credibility of its architect,  to the detriment of Gen. Petraeus’ professional and personal credibility.  Remember, the talking heads can’t attack MoveOn without repeating everything MoveOn said or implied about Petraeus and the failure of the surge.  That’s the reasoning behind controversial ads.


    As the right wing bashes us, they nonetheless keep repeating the basic message over and over: the Bush administration is lying about Iraq and the surge (and the war in general) is a failure.  It’s a trap for them, they’re caught in it, and I think they know it.

    It sounds like the blogger isn’t totally unrealistic because I must say I certainly agree with this:

    At this point, I wish I could write one of those party-unity paragraphs where I get to point out how congressional Democrats are really very clever in the way they deliberately feigned outrage at as part of the Senate leadership’s strategy to end the war.  Unfortunately, there’s no evidence that the Democratic Senate caucus is that clever or focused.  A large part of the Democratic Senate membership is simply risk and conflict averse to the point of total ineffectuality.  So be it.  The Democrats’ handwringing just gives the message even more high-credibility free exposure.

    and finally…

    Remember, the message isn’t aimed at the left (rather few antiwar liberals favored the surge, I suspect) or at conservatives (dead brain tissue cannot be regrown) but at the low-interest segment of the electorate (the ones who catch these stories in snippets as they channel surf on the way to the next installment of American Idol, and who make up their minds anecdotally), who will tend to internalize the message even as they tsk tsk at the messenger.

    So perhaps the glass is somewhat half-full. Again, I think time will tell.

    Gotta run and visit my dad in the hospital. I’ll be back later.

  3. to the fact that the democrats have become anti-war as a political position, but not as a priority for governance. 

    and i think its been well and fully established that i tend to miss the nuanced and also blatant political gaming….but its clear to me that DOING something isnt a priority in the congress. dems think they need the war to run against in ’08…and dont want to have to defend the debacle that withdrawal will most certainly create.

    im almost resigned to it.  i still send the emails and make the phone calls and sign the petitions and send the letters i think i must…and ive snapped my checkbook shut, they get NO money from me until something’s done…but as to thinking that ‘we’, the netroots, can force a withdrawal…i dont even dare hope.

    if there’s a better strategy, id love to hear it.  id try almost anything at this point.

  4. trying to figure out how to be relevant in an off-election year.  The netroots proved itself to be quite unexpectedly relevant last year — taking itself by surprise.  There seems to be no model, though, for how to influence the conventional wisdom (influencing which actions count as examples of “political realism”) in an off-election year.

    I assume it’s a truism that politicians (on the whole) are extremely, extremely conservative with their votes; therefore that the political climate must be such as to make it very very very easy for them to vote this way or that way.

    The netroots has done a very poor job of consistently working to shape narrative, and has flailed about in varying attempts at relevance.  This is not entirely the netroots fault — it may be that in off years the net just flat has less of an ear in Washington.

    However, it seems that, in an effort to be relevant, one move that gets made is moving on the direction or “realism” — that is, altering the netroots message so as to conform more closely to the conventional wisdom; thus making it easier for Washington to meet us halfway.  This is an obvious thing to try, of course, but it seems not to have worked, to put it mildly.  In an off-year, no one cares to meet us half-way.

    These strategic failure contrast strikingly with what ought to be extraordinary, almost history-book-worthy, successes.  The netroots — in fact, a small subset of the netroots — nearly single-handedly brought down the Attorney General.

    This is remarkable.

    My sense is that Washington Democrats are kind of embarassed to have had to deal with the ouster of Gonzales.  It was too provacative, too forward.  Okay, okay, the net showed Gonzales was a crook, and now we have to act, so lets get him out as quickly and painlessly as possible, and move on.  Sheesh.  Don’t those people have any decorum?

    Getting back to the point, though, some folks in the netroots argue that we oughtn’t to push for political moves which are not politically realistic.  It seems to me, though, that in off years the only influence we can have to is to help shape what counts as “politically realistic”.  By making decisions very very easy for our team.  By making it so the talk-show discussions are merely embarassing for other team, if they try to raise their points.

    I don’t know how we do that.  Certainly consistency in pushing for straightforward proposals like Armando’s seems like one thing that ought to work — or at least be tried.

  5. Missing because none of the essentials are present.

    To start:

    Statements of mission, vision and values/virtues

    Consensus-driven achievable agenda

    Clear leaders

    Owned, clear and consistent message

    Articulated benefits of membership

    The blog editor kicked me out all day yesterday, but I have a draft ready to go of leadership attributes and criteria for measurement contrasted with the faux fights that continue to drive progressives in multidirectional frenzies which dilute and distort messages and effectiveness. Will try to post once more.  If not, you can read it, if you desire, at my own little blog asteroid.

    Excellent points, Armando. Can’t move forward if the essential foundation is not in place.

    • ANKOSS on September 25, 2007 at 4:04 pm

    Our “elected” officials are merely the hand-puppets of General Electric, Boeing, Halliburton, etc. They will never betray their masters. Read Glenn Greenwald’s superb takedown of DiFi, the “lilberal” senator from California.

      Worthless Beltway Democrat

    The only practical possibility for progressive political reform is a struggle against delinquent and malignant corporations. I will be publishing an essay on this topic here soon.

    • fisheye on September 25, 2007 at 4:13 pm

    What’s that?
    Your own incessant dismantling of the Move On. ad amplifies the parodox of ‘netroots leadership’. No more Yearly Kos, sigh, because the egalitarian premise of the ‘netroots’ won’t allow the kind of leadership that galvanizes a truly cohesive message. It seems many netroots leaders inevetably just go their own way to a new site. There may be some closed group meeting the netroot masses are not privy to? But would the proprietors then attempt to shape debate? I remember hearing about a blog ethics panel some time back. It seems to me blog ethics and netroots political leadership on specific policy would be inherently at odds. Armando’s name is dropped far and wide across the netblogleftroot system. Who are you?
    I’m really glad you wrote this. The whole concept of ‘netroot leadership’ has been cunudrum in my head for a long while. Kos as msm pundit? ?. Glen Greenwald reads much better than he sounds on camera. “Not one red cent”? I’m not seeing that banner on the front pages. How many blog sites would banner a single cause such as your ‘pledge’? for consensus building beyond a diary’s day long duration. How about front page netroot wide polls on strategy?

    I think we might find though that the netroot leadership that is now, as I see it, simply the rating systems, judging the quality of reasoned egalitarian debate diaries and comments will continue to manifest in elections, even if it can not contort the static beltway non confrontational othodoxys of our midterm politicians.

  6. midyear of 2004?  In light of what happened subsequently, do pay attention to the well-researched article in Counterpunch on John Kerry… we are, now as in 2004, being manipulated…

    • Turkana on September 25, 2007 at 4:24 pm

    that by not focusing on the fundamental criminality of the bush administration, we legitimate their behavior. it all spirals down from there. democrats don’t confront them on the war, fisa, torture, subopoenas, or any other critical issues because they have already ceded right and justice. the netroots have been so torn apart on that fundamental issue that it’s little wonder they’ve been able to cohere around a workable strategy to end the war.

    move on is a distraction. judging from the number of move on diaries that continue to dominate the big orange rec list, the ditraction is working.

  7. we were all yelling at each other to toe the party line.  That criticism of Dems could wait for 2007 — after we’d won.

    I wonder if, now, we should even bother criticizing Republicans, who are doing a good job of making fools of themselves on their own — Giuliani going so far as to take phone calls from his wife in the middle of campaign speeches, which is very nice of him.  (Then again, TPM put together the video of that.)

    • robodd on September 25, 2007 at 5:54 pm

    netroots leaders supporting defunding would have worked?  Nope.  We can’t even convince the congress to compel compliance with FISA or to restore habeas, etc.  In fact, they extended the power to invade our privacy.

    I think the focus of your last several posts has been regrettably wrong.  The fault is to laid solely and exclusively with a spineless congress and nowhere else.

  8. We should not discount the effect the Netroots is continuing to have on the political process, nor should we declare defeat at a time when we are getting closer and closer to victory.

    Much of the disappointment people are naturally feeling is based on unrealistic expectations that the Democrats would actually live up to their rhetoric after last year’s electoral victory.  (Of course you can’t blame folks for wanting to believe, especially when pols like Nancy Pelosi say things like ‘my highest priority, immediately, is to stop the war in Iraq.’)

    What most did not understand at the time, however, is just how beholden the Democratic party remains to those same corporate and financial interests that are driving our continued presence in Iraq, and just how much work we still have to do if we want to reform the party into a true champion of Progressive values.

    Yet while it is natural that some should despair at their loss of innocence about the Democratic Party, missing from all of the current hand wringing is the recognition that, in the last six months, we have indeed begun to see the beginnings of a sea change in attitude from the DC establishment about this obscene war. 

    Case in point, Hilary Clinton: whose Iraq rhetoric is continuing to evolve from Thatcherism to at least a semblance of old (Bill) Clintonism.  Edwards and Obama are also hearing their political voices change to a deeper, more Progressive tone, even if at times they still croak like adolescent boys not quite comfortable with the new sound.

    Likewise, the Dem Congressional Leadership’s corporatist agenda has stalled for the moment, as it continues to put off important votes on the war, FISA, free trade, and other coporatist sops.  These delays are a direct result of pressure from the base as articulated by the Netroots, which has made the Leadership acutely aware that, unlike last Spring, it will be not able to quell the backlash with hollow promises of future spinefullness.

    Bottom line: The Netroots victory in November 2006 was not a tsunami, but part of a slow, steady movement that inexorably continues to top the levees the DC political leadership erects to stop it.  And while it still has a long way to go, we should not declare the movement a failure simply because it has yet to reach high tide.

  9. Late again.

    Some thoughts.

    There were basically 3 approaches being debated by the netroots in the time you mention:

    1. Defund
    2. Increase pressure – convert some Republicans
    3. Impeach

    Your approach was actually in the middle of the other 2. The inability to settle upon the best approach hurt us.

    In a micro-meta manner, you were IMO building up a coalition to your preferred approach when you got the legs cut out from you over on the Big Orange.

    But I believe even if we had settled on an approach I think the fundamental issue is numbers. Total numbers – we’re not there yet.

    The netroots is growing, but we don’t have near the active membership they have on the right. When immigration was the hot topic of the summer, Rush, Hannity et al were able to mobilize their base in a way we just can’t match.

    We’ll get there, but unfortunately not today.

  10. Hell, they haven’t even been identified.  By his own words, Kos says “I am not a leader”…indeed, he’s just a blogger who does a pretty good job of tracking political races and relaying information and opinion from other bloggers…I don’t see anyone else claiming ‘leadership’ of the netroots, either…and maybe that’s not too important right now.

    The ‘netroots’ as it is called has yet to assert itself as a viable political entity in this country(Okay, Lamont beat Lieberman in the primary, but guess who still took office?)…the powers that be (bush, the GOP, the DLC, the DCCC, and even the SPEBSQSA for chrissakes) are still in the process of figuring out how to respond to, and in some cases, control (through the extinction of net neutrality) this whole netroots thingymajig.

    …okay, maybe the Society for Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America is innocent in all of this, but I was short on acronyms.

    • MO Blue on September 25, 2007 at 6:49 pm

    they unite on strategy and ACTUALLY get their audience to ACT on that strategy.

    IMO there does not need to be across the board agreement on every little issue but getting agreement on things like lobbying our Representatives to sign the pledge should be a no brainer.

    While I agree with most of your positions on the actions required, I’m not sure that infighting among the Netroots organizations is the way to achieve the necessary results.

    Across the board we need to be much, much better organized and reach agreement on a few actions that we will consistently pursue. Personally don’t see why the major players can’t come together on at few action items and promote them relentlessly on their sites.

    When the religious right wants something from Congress, all the groups reach out to their base in a coordinated effort and the phones ring off the hook with basically the same message.

    OTOH we always seem to start addressing everything way to late too make a difference.

    • oculus on September 25, 2007 at 8:52 pm

    (1) “Some” bloggers are invited to participate in a conference call with Harry Reid;
    (2) “Some” bloggers are invited to participate in a conference call with Wesley Clark when he announces he is supporting Hillary Clinton;
    (3) Democratic presidential candidates agree to appear at YK 2 in Chicago;
    (4) Kos repeatedly discusses on the FP why Dodd is the candidate working to uphold the Constitution and get us out of Iraq now; and
    (5) Daily Kos straw poll shows increase in support for Dodd. 

  11. nomination is also the leading hawk on the take and a conservative to boot and you wonder why there is a problem, Armando?

    The MoveOn ad calling General Petraeus “Betray us” was undoubtedly juvenile and perhaps counterproductive but your own condemnation betrays an attitude all too common among Democrats.

    General Petraeus was all too willing to support the patently fictitious lies generated by the White House to keep killing and mutilating Americans and Iraqis for no good purpose at all.  Doesn’t seem to me a man that anyone should have tremendous respect for.

    When the netroots concentrates more on doing what is right and less on what is expedient, the problem will be solved IMO.

    Best,  Terry

  12. Democrats, progressives and left are apparent, we seem to have one side who feel that strategy is all that counts and that politics consist of numbers and deals in which we forever pursue the stupid maxims the enemy of the perfect, or political reality, or the art of the possible etc. Which just makes suckers, over and over for their lame opposition. The congress needs to try, as none of the base net or grass is buying this shit. Congress both partys are creating the myths that allow them to not defund or for that matter offer up any opposition that is effective. they will continue with this as long as we buy into the fictions they create. Including the one that yacks on about the Bushdog democrats having to play to their conservative states. If this were the case why is the Congress lower in the polls then the hated Bush. 

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