Susie Madrak started blogging in 2001, just after Sept. 11, back when the country was hurtling head-first into war and the blogosphere was a mysterious frontier on the far edges of the Internet.
“It was infuriating,” Madrak recalled of the political moment that spurred her to start throwing her own commentary online. “I could see that they were fabricating the reasons for war. Blogging was what I did instead of throwing a brick through the window.”
She started her own site, called Suburban Guerilla, and it soon became one of the boldface blogs of the “Netroots,” a new network of engaged political progressives giving a voice they thought was missing in the mainstream press. In time, millions like her took to their own keyboards, and thousands of similar sites bloomed. The Netroots became the world’s first online grassroots political organizing effort, and the goal was nothing less than to remake the American political system by pushing Democrats leftward.
“We didn’t trust the traditional progressive movement—labor, the issue orgs, the party—because of a record of failure and futility,” writes Markos Moulitsas, founder of Daily Kos, in an email. “In turn, they didn’t like us petulant upstarts. A popular sentiment was, ‘What are those bloggers going to do, hit George Bush in the head with a laptop?’”
Now, however, the Netroots, which were once thought to do to the political left what evangelical Christianity was supposed to do to the professional right, are 10 years old. In that time they vaulted Howard Dean to within a scream of the presidency, helped Democrats take both houses of Congress and several statehouses across the country, and gave the party what many in the movement believed to be some much-needed spine.
But with another critical election two weeks away, politicians, political operatives, and even the bloggers themselves say the Netroots are a whisper of what they were only four years ago, a dial-up modem in a high-speed world, and that the brigade of laptop-wielding revolutionaries who stormed the convention castle four years ago have all but disappeared as a force within the Democratic Party.
Excuse me for a moment.
But wait! There’s more.
The not-quite on the money quote:
The beginning of the end, many of the current and former bloggers say, came during the great Democratic primary Civil War of 2007–08. Until then, the Netroots had been remarkably cohesive, lining up behind promising congressional and Senate candidates en masse to raise money and boost name recognition. Since Democrats had been rendered to minor-party status, disagreements were papered over.
But then came the wave election of 2006, and suddenly the presidency was in sight. But the Netroots, like most Democrats, were divided among Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards. During that campaign, the political blogosphere on the left became less known for sparking offline activism and more known for epic fights among those with divided loyalties.
“I supported John Edwards,” Madrak said. “And the Obama people were very vehement about what they thought about it. And they up and left the site if they thought you were being irrational about Obama. I still don’t know where they went. They just up and disappeared.”
Susie is too kind. I blame Obama and his supporters. The “Obama people” didn’t just leave a few sites. The Obots bullied and abused Hillary supporters. They attacked anyone who disagreed with them and literally drove people away from the online communities they had called home for years. They used various tricks to manipulate ratings at DailyKos and other blogs, and got people banned from blogs for the sin of not supporting Obama. They waged a scorched-earth campaign and now they are wondering where their dreams went and where all the ashes came from.
The big “A-list” bloggers either participated in this jihad against Hillary supporters or turned a blind eye to it. Many of the A-listers sacrificed their alleged principles for money. Many hoped to be power players in the new administration. Some were rewarded with paying jobs in the media they claimed to despise. Most of them got the cold shoulder after the election was over.
Was this unavoidable?
Consider the right-wing blogosphere. In 2008 they were defeated and demoralized. Many of them began to unite behind the Tea Party, but many did not. They participated in a big mid-term victory. Then came the 2012 GOP primaries.
The right-wing bloggers never united behind a single candidate. Sarah Palin had a large and vocal group of supporters, but as things unfolded she chose not to run. Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul all had sizeable groups of supporters. In the end, Mitt Romney won the nomination and the GOP is united behind him.
Things got a little heated at times, but at no time was there an online bloodbath between the various groups comparable to the left in 2007-2008.
Barack Obama is without a doubt the most divisive politician in my lifetime.