So What Have We Learned from William Beutler?

Here are some initial lessons I'm taking away from our exchange.  My initial post is here, and focused on Beutler's conflation of facts and conventional wisdom.  His post is here, and rehashes his basic attitude that power flows in a certain reactionary fashion.

I've enjoyed this exchange, and hopefully we'll keep this discussion going. I know Beutler has learned that Kos been a part of several winning special elections, and backed candidates like Obama that are bright new stars of the party. And this is what I learned about the assumptions undergirding Beutler's work.

  1. Primaries are bad for a party.
  2. Primaries have little effect on name ID or party organization.
  3. Money is the only determining factor in politics.
  4. There is a fixed pot of money to be had by all candidates.
  5. Candidate positions as described in their press releases are the only meaningful way of evaluating someone's ideology or fitness for office.  
  6. Left-wing candidates are 'created' by blogs, while moderate candidates are 'created' by the establishment.
  7. It is impossible to understand the netroots; we are unpredictable and unreliable.
  8. The netroots opposes the establishment out of misplaced anger and strategic naivete.

Now, these aren't necessarily wrong or right, they are simply his assumptions.  And it's hard to say they are wacky.  Money is critically important.  Primaries can be destructive.  ButI would observe that these assumptions are deeply undemocratic in terms of their impulse, and paint politics as a deterministic chess game of money raised, primaries cleared, and poll-tested press releases gamed to appeal to constituency groups.  

Everyone in positions of power in Democratic DC reads the Hotline.  To the extent that one can characterize the whole of insider DC, this is how the Beltway thinks.

Tags: conventional wisdom, establishment, Media (all tags)



Re: So What Have We Learned from William Beutler?

Netroots unpredictable?

I duno, I've been around the netroos for a while, and I can pretty much predict most of our reactions to things.

Maybe if they want to understand us, they should, I dunno, talk to us?

by Pachacutec 2006-02-20 11:44AM | 0 recs
Re: So What Have We Learned from William Beutler?

I will say that some of the netroots stuff brings with it strategic naivete.  

I think there are many who comment who don't really understand how to build an insurgent social movement that affects national politics, wins and changes the direction of the party.

But I would say that the netroots' flagship bloggers   do not lack strategic intelligence.

Disagreement with the establishment does not equate to naivete.  Particularly when the establishment's chief credential is a history of consistent losing.

by Pachacutec 2006-02-20 11:48AM | 0 recs
Re: So What Have We Learned from William Beutler?


Furthermore, folks are assuming that Beutler's arguing in good faith.  He's not.

Kos pegged it in a comment in this thread -- a comment that too many people apparently haven't seen, or this thread would have taken a different turn:

Beutler's a Republican; he told Kos this himself.  And as a Republican, he has a vested interest in trashing the liberal part of the blogosphere.

by Phoenix Woman 2006-02-20 07:34PM | 0 recs
Re: So What Have We Learned from William Beutler?

Left-wing candidates are 'created' by blogs, while moderate candidates are 'created' by the establishment.

I didn't really take that from Buetler's post.  But it is demonstrably not true.  As an example, I present Paul Hackett.  He is to the right of the "establishment" Sherrod Brown on most any issue you could name but is much beloved by the netroots.

by Jay 2006-02-20 11:50AM | 0 recs
Re: So What Have We Learned from William Beutler?

Matt also disputes my stating that "No candidate supported by Moulitsas has yet won a seat in Congress." I'm afraid my phrasing was imprecise -- I was talking about the "Kos 15" from 2004. Now, Markos has argued to me the strategy of expanding the playing field rather than winning every race, and I respect the long-term thinking. That said, 0-15 is still notable. Matt lists Stephanie Herseth and Ben Chandler as Kos-backed candidates. I tend to see these as moderate, establishment-backed candidates that bloggers accepted as well.

by Matt Stoller 2006-02-20 11:55AM | 0 recs
Re: So What Have We Learned from William Beutler?

I would say that Chandler was establishment.  He was attorney general and a credible gubanatorial candidate before the netroots ever looked at him.  Herseth as well, I would say.  She comes from a much loved political family in South Dakota and the entire state party there was behind her.

That said, they are both on the right side of the Democratic party and a counterexample to any assertion that the netroots won't support moderates.  

In fairness, I noticed some gnashing of teeth on the part of some here and at Kos when Herseth (in particular) showed up and started voting according to her constituency.  It seems that some people didn't really pay attention to what they were buying into.  I suspect that the same thing would happen f Hackett had won either of his races.

by Jay 2006-02-20 12:12PM | 0 recs
It is not really a question of establishment

If we tabulate every move of an elected official we will always be disappointed. It is my belief that we need candidates that will shake up the status quo, we need warriors with leadership skills. That is why Hackett was backed by the netroots.

by Citizen80203 2006-02-20 12:23PM | 0 recs
Re: So What Have We Learned from William Beutler?

The netroots opposes the establishment out of misplaced anger and strategic naivete.

Heh. It doesn't occur to him that some of the establishment is actively involved in the netroots?

Yeah, I see the point. They only use it when the telegraphy lines are down...

by Michael Bersin 2006-02-20 11:53AM | 0 recs
Re: So What Have We Learned from William Beutler?
William Beutler is right, we suck. We are stupid in realizing that the same old politics is going to keep working. We are stupid in thinking that the DLC just MIGHT not have ALL the answers.
We are stupid in backing change candidates. Candidates who don't represent the failed politics of our party. Beutler is right, we suck.
by PatMN 2006-02-20 12:01PM | 0 recs
It seems that he wants...

total predictability when it comes to candidates and the party structure. Not much room for corrections there, eh?

It truly amazes me that a losing strategy is our best hope for recapturing power. Elect all the moderates and conservatives (unchallenged of course) in the primaries so we can have money and legitimacy in the general election. This is a status quo formula and last time I looked the status quo is not even an opposition party but a minority party.

by Citizen80203 2006-02-20 12:12PM | 0 recs
The best list
That is the best list of DC-based assumption with which the blogopshere disagrees that I have ever seen. And any other disagreements we have are rleated to at elast one you already listed.

If only we coudl make that list then items long, and post it on stone tabelts or something.
by Chris Bowers 2006-02-20 12:56PM | 0 recs
The thing is...

...Kos pegged it it the last Beutler thread: Beutler's a Republican; he told Kos this himself.  And as a Republican, he has a vested interest in delegitimizing the liberal part of the blogosphere while promoting the conservative portions that he likes.

by Phoenix Woman 2006-02-20 07:36PM | 0 recs
Re: So What Have We Learned from William Beutler?

Some would say that there is a zero-sum struggle for power between a left-wing netroots activist base and "The Establishment" within the Democratic Party.  A false dichotomy, I am sure.  I view the ideal party as a coalition rather than a monolithic, unified front and I think that is possible.

A case could be made that the netroots strategy is to cause crisis within the Democratic Party with the idea that the sooner everything is brought crashing down, the sooner we can rebuild from scratch.  The characterization of netroots as an insurgency fits within this narrative.

I am of the belief that moving public opinion is often a matter of generating the perception of crisis, whether or not that shapes reality.  (But, then again, when it comes to politics, perception is often reality.)  The Democratic Party lost the 2004 presidential election in part because there was no strong push on the part of the eventual candidate to tar a second Bush term as a potential crisis in the making.

I do think the Democratic establishment does need to make changes, but I don't think that it is necessary to threaten them to cause change any more than I think that the death penalty is a deterrent to crime.

I think some in the lefty blogosphere are unnecessarily angry and would choose a strategy of crisis-manufacturing and insurgency to get their way even if other plausible methods exist in the same way that the Bush administration seems to think war is the only solution to terrorism and nuclear proliferation.  I think some in the lefty blogosphere are naive to not be able to think of other possibilities.

The progressive movement may in the end need all-out internal war within the Democratic Party to be advanced, but it's not going to happen if the leaders of the movement lead with their hearts instead of their brains.  The netroots have to demonstrate to the establishment that they have depth and subtlety beyond a certain "Netroots good! Establishment bad! Hulk smash!" perception.  That may not be purely democratic, but it's probably more reality-based.

by Anthony de Jesus 2006-02-20 01:15PM | 0 recs
"moderate v liberal" is a delusion

The real error is in accepting the Republican framing of liberal versus moderate.

it seems to me that the divisions over the Iraq war have exaggerated the differences between the party's liberal and moderate wings.

But Jack Murtha, a conservative Democrat, is a hero to liberal Democrats, just as Sam Ervin, a conservative Democrat, was a hero 30 years ago. The issue is not conservative versus liberal but something more fundamental. That's why if Chuck Hegel stakes out a pro-constitution, pro-bill-of-rights position, he will be more admired by many of the leftie blogs than DiFi or Liberman - even though both of those score high on Sierra Club and other "liberal" issue groups score -cards.

by flyoverperson 2006-02-20 01:19PM | 0 recs
Re: So What Have We Learned from William Beutler?

You have to love this:

6. Left-wing candidates are 'created' by blogs, while moderate candidates are 'created' by the establishment.

7.    It is impossible to understand the netroots; we are unpredictable and unreliable.

In other words, bloggers are all wild-eyed doctrinaire libruls... and they're unpredictable.

This is exactly the line of attack the GOP used on John Kerry in 2004, that he was both the most liberal Senator in the nation AND a flip-flopper.  "That Kerry is unpredictable.  He goes from liberal... to liberal..."

That meme was apparently swallowed whole and now applied to the blogging left.

by dday 2006-02-20 01:24PM | 0 recs
Re: So What Have We Learned from William Beutler?

To some extent the netroots movement is what it is because of a dissatisfaction with the insiders of the Democratic party. We have watched a confluence of two streams: (1) the insiders have moved the party to the right of mainstream America, and (2) the insiders are losers.

Either of those could give rise to a countermovement. Taken together, there are a perfect storm of dissent. In regards to both those points, the insiders are completely out of touch with Americans, not just netroots advocates.

Americans like candidates who believe in something and then stand up for their beliefs. That is why McCain is popular. It is even why Bush is as popular as he is/was.

Why is Murtha a hero? Because he stood up and told it like it was. I'm sure the insiders would have advised him to be more moderate and temperate, if he'd bothered to ask. Then look at the reaction of other Democrats. How many lined up behind him? Hardly any.

Even with Murtha out front to take the flack, the spineless wimps in our party hemmed and hawed and equivocated and left him hanging out there pretty much by himself. And I'm damn sure it was the inside-the-beltway consultants that advised them to do that.

The important thing to understand about the DLC insiders is they are losers. They took a party that controlled the presidency and both houses of congress and handed all three branches over to the opposition. And they managed that feat, at least in the past few years, with an unpopular Republican president pushing an unpopular war.

Amazingly, they keep trying the same failed strategies over and over. I guess they believe that the reason they lost is because they didn't try it hard enough or long enough or something.

They can't even seem to learn from their opponents. Their opponents take stands. Their opponents don't run scared from interparty conflicts. Rove famously goes after his opponents strengths. What do the Dem insiders advocate? Running away from national security, because it is the Republicans strength, and we can't win there.

The cluelessness of the DLC types is just staggering. They not only lose elections, but they turn the Dems who do win into spineless appeasers, who give the Republicans everything they could ask for, because they're afraid of being obstructionist. They have one tool that might get them a seat at the legislative table -- filibuster -- and they refuse to use it, because they are "saving it."

It is really impossible to overstate how detrimental these clowns are to the Democratic party. The problem isn't that Rove is such a genius. Rove comes right out and tells us what he's going to do. Then our insiders proceed to take the course that gives Rove the best chance of success.

It may be that the netroots is politically naive. However, are egos are not locked into failed strategies. Even throwing darts at a chart of possible strategies would have a better chance of working that what the insiders advocate.

Democrats have close to ZERO power in the national government. It really isn't possible to do any worse than the insiders have done. The netroots represents new blood. There is nothing this party needs more than new blood and new ideas.

by shargash 2006-02-20 02:02PM | 0 recs
Re: So What Have We Learned from William Beutler?

I don't think that the "DLC types" and the "Democratic Party establishment" are synonymous.  I lump old-line liberals like Ted Kennedy in with centrist DLCers as people whose time has come and gone.

Murtha's a hero to the left because of his stance on Iraq, but they accept him only so long as he plays his role as strident voice on the war.  The left would turn on him instantly if he decided to parlay his new-found prominence into a Senate bid in his state because of his stances on other issues.

Now, Joe Liebermann appears to be a Democrat who is not afraid to take a strong stand on an issue.  Unfortunately, he's a jackass who takes the wrong stand on the wrong issues.

The Republicans do have inter-party squabbles, but they do more arm-twisting in the back rooms.  Party discipline is weak for the Democrats.  They avoided the filibuster not because they don't want to be obstructionist, but because they couldn't win in the end and Alito was sure to be confirmed, yet another demoralizing political loss if the filibuster was pursued whole-heartedly.

Abraham Lincoln waited until a major Union victory was won before delivering his Emancipation Proclamation.  He also refused to replace U.S. Grant because he was fighter despite huge casualties.  I think there is some lesson in both those tidbits.

by Anthony de Jesus 2006-02-20 03:11PM | 0 recs
Re: So What Have We Learned from William Beutler?

 The left doesn't applaud Murtha for parroting lines, they applaud him for standing up to Bush's violation of the rules of politics. The "irrational anger" of the left comes from a situation where the Republicans have consciously decided that democracy, rule-of-law, compromise, and the constitution  should be discarded and the establishment Democrats keep pretending that we are just having a liberal/conservative political argument that can be settled in the center. The long train of abuses starting with the sabotage of the Iran Contra prosecutions and including such things as a Bush administration lawyer telling the Supreme Court that "trust us" trumps habeus corpus, is one that has elicited fearful and timid response from many so-called liberals. Strong stands in favor of the controversial ideas of an accountible constitutional republic get thunderous approval from those of us on the wacky fringe, no mattter what.

by flyoverperson 2006-02-21 05:51AM | 0 recs

It all seems to boil down to what I said way back in 2003, in one of the many Dean threads.

There are two ways of looking at how power and/or wealth are handled in a democratic system of govt.

1. The people allow their representative to hold disproportionate power and/or wealth in order to get the results they desire.

2. The people exist solely to provide power and/or wealth to the representatives. Demands for results are an annoyance which is occasionally to be pandered to to maintain power and/or wealth.

Too much of DC operates on option 2.

by ElitistJohn 2006-02-20 02:44PM | 0 recs
Everyone here

assumes that William Beutler doesn't have ulterior motives.

He does. He's a Republican (he told me so) who has his party's best interests at heart. And that includes discrediting progressive bloggers in right-wing rags and promoting the likes of Tim Russo in his blogometer.

by kos 2006-02-20 03:43PM | 0 recs
Re: Everyone here

I'm kinda astonished that I'm the only person who seems to have picked up on your post, Kos.  Knowing that Beutler's a Republican definitely puts his comments in a totally different light.

by Phoenix Woman 2006-02-20 07:39PM | 0 recs
zero-sum game

Much of the DLC-type beliefs about electoral politics seem to relate to the implicit idea that elections are a (two-person, perfect-knowledge) zero-sum game. Which is in the most literal sense true - you win or you lose - but untrue regarding most other details.

The idea that there's a fixed amount of money and other resources, to go around, that the center comprises the only swingable votes and they are swung by 'moderate' positions, that there's only one way to win and it's essentially the same for every race, that the goal of the party is to put as much control over every aspect of politics as possible into the hands of the wise few, that there's not really any such thing as a productive loss... all of these make a great deal of sense if you think elections are a rather simple game that you know all the rules to.

If, on the other hand, you think that most of america is disaffected from politics but cares about important things, that people's opinions can be changed, that the zillions of americans who don't vote might, that vast resources are out there for the taking, that 'control' is not necessarily the most important thing in a political campaign, and that in general politics is not simple or fixed or understandable or tidy, you might be one of us...

by ijk 2006-02-20 03:57PM | 0 recs
Re: So What Have We Learned from William Beutler?

#3 Money.
That's the 800-lb gorilla that nobody wants to talk about.  Two and a half cheers for this topic for beginning that discussion.

Without money, you can't win - say the Beltway guys.  And they're right.  Cater to money and you distort the message of the Democrats - which weakens the party - say the bloggers - and they're right too.

If this dialog continues I'd like to see more discussion of this point.  Unfortunately, it's usually where dialog breaks down.

by sTiVo 2006-02-20 04:17PM | 0 recs
Re: So What Have We Learned from William Beutler?

Not entirely. Where is think the issue gets muddled is that the Beltway gang dominates the discourcem, and therefore sets the rules they want them.

For example, lets assume the "limited funds" thing is correct. We are all wasting our money by supporting non-annointed candidates in the primaries, instead of just donating to them instead.

Okaaaayy. One problem. By definition, that would mean the DSCC and DCCC are also wasting limited resources sticking their noses into contested primaries. But this obvious extension of the logic is never brought's against the rules of discourse allowed. Lowly types donating to primary candidates = "waste". Proper connected types donating in primaries = "a good thing".

First the terms of debate have to be defined in a neutral manner, where 1 + 1 = 2 and red is not green, before one can have this discussion.

by ElitistJohn 2006-02-20 04:24PM | 0 recs
Do they even READ the blogs?

 All these blog-bashers from the "inside" of the Democratic Party -- the insiders who, I presume, have had an enormous hand in the party's smashing successes over the last five years -- have they ever really taken the time to sit and read the content on MyDD, Kos, Orcinus, Digby, and other high-level lefty blogs?

 Because if they did, they'd find some enormously talented and insightful writers and thinkers who could be incorporated into the party infrastructure for a fresh, vibrant perspective the current insider crowd seems to be lacking. You can bet that if, say, David Neiwert were a Republican, he'd be drafting policy statements for the party at this point and huddling with RNC messaging specialists.

 The blogosphere is not all about candidates. It's not even PRIMARILY about candidates. It's about policy, strategy, messaging, about BEATING REPUBLICANS, about GETTING DEMOCRATS IN POWER -- goals we theoretically all share.

 Just in today's front page here we have a strong, well-researched posting on Cokie Roberts' pro-Republican media bias. This is the kind of item that, one presumes, would be of interest to a Dem establishment trying to figure out why they can't win lately. There's an expose of John McCain's blatant hypocrisy. Are "insider" Dems even AWARE of these kinds of things? We've got bloggers doing all this work for FREE, and the insiders' response is to dismiss them.

 This isn't productive.

by Master Jack 2006-02-20 04:40PM | 0 recs
Re: So What Have We Learned from William Beutler?

Are we disagreeing?  I don't think so.  If we can get Beltway Dems into a disucssion that even toys with the possibility that accepting certain campaign contributions can be a net negative for the party, I personally don't care what they think of me.

by sTiVo 2006-02-20 06:03PM | 0 recs


Advertise Blogads