A number of people have asked me what I think of Jon Chait’s TNR article, "The Left’s New Machine." Here are my thoughts. I just finished reading Kos and Armstrong’s Barbarians at the Gates this morning. So I may merge some thoughts together.

First of all, this has tended to be discussed in the context of the "netroots", as a technological phenomenon. This is wrong. This new phenomenon is about changing and activating constituencies.

Second, the netroots activated people who were not part of some activist class. The labor movement has plenty activism outlets. The black and hispanic communities have them too. The netroots identify with the Democratic party before they identify with an interest group. They are Democrats because they are progressives. And progressives haven’t had an outlet. The netroots gave it to them. (In some sense, the internet is the 2000s version of the 1970s direct mail)

Third, because they are more interested in the Democratic Party than some interest, they can focus their energy on elections and the big defining issues, like the war, rather than petty infighting.

I do believe that there are lessons here for the right. One of them may be that Republicans have taken the character of interest group factionalization. There was a day when being pro-choice was the main test for moderation. Now there are taxes, abortion, marriage, the environment, campaign finance, Iraq, Iran, and so many more issues. Each of them is associated with an interest group, a donor base, etc.  Do Republicans have to shift from infighting to winning elections?

Another question is: Is the Republican Party ready to change its coalition at all?

Another question is going to be, from whom does the energy come? One option would be activating the elderly. Another would be college students.

And, of course, what tools do we use to reach them?

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Matt Browner Hamlin · May 10, 2007 at 9:12 AM

Third, because they are more interested in the Democratic Party than some interest, they can focus their energy on elections and the big defining issues, like the war, rather than petty infighting.

I think is an incredibly important point. The only thing that I’d add is that people in the netroots act in large part on the assumption that by operating under the progressive/electoral banner of activism an environment will be eventually created through electoral politics where the concerns of particular Democratic coalition interest groups can be addressed, without the in-fighting. It’s not that the traditional interests (labor, civil rights groups, environmental issues, etc) aren’t important to the netroots, but that there is an empirically based distrust of relying on interest groups to achieve movement-wide success.

This distrust is perfectly exemplified by groups like NARAL, Planned Parenthood or the Sierra Club endorsing people like Chris Shays, Lincoln Chafee and Joe Lieberman over Democrats who held similar or more liberal positions on abortion rights and the environment. Any politically-savvy person knows that who a person caucuses with cannot be separated from what the vote when a vote is finally called. That is, it’s never just the vote that matters.

All that said, I wouldn’t say the netroots is completely lacking in petty infighting, it just isn’t as prominent and occurring at levels where it impacts success.

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