The Emergence of a New Progressive Conventional Wisdom
by Chris Bowers, Mon Mar 20, 2006 at 01:12:48 PM EST
For example, we all saw this last week when almost everyone in DC, Republicans and Democrats, elected officials and political commentators, staff members and political consultants all agreed, long before any polling data came out, and even before there has been any substantive public debate on the topic, that Feingold's censure move was both motivated by his desire to run for President and highly unpopular nationwide. It was astonishing to witness how almost every single establishment voice in DC immediately agreed with these two basic ideas. The conventional wisdom almost immediately closed around Feingold in a strongly negative fashion, and polls on the subject demonstrate the impact this had. In particular, look at the Newsweek poll on censure that came out this weekend:Newsweek Poll conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International. March 16-17, 2006. N=1,020 adults nationwide. MoE ± 3 (for all adults).
"As you may know, Senator Russ Feingold has called for Congress to censure, or formally reprimand, President Bush over the issue of his warrantless wiretapping program. Censure is a way for Congress to express strong disapproval of a President's actions without going so far as impeachment. Would you support the censure of President Bush by Congress, or not?"
(Support / Wouldn't Support)
All: 42 / 50
Dems: 60 / 30
Inds: 42 / 51
Reps: 20 / 75
"Do you think Feingold and other Democrats who support censuring Bush are doing it more for partisan political advantage, or more because they believe it is the right thing to do?"
(Partisan / Right Thing to Do)
All: 53 / 33
Dems: 33 / 51
Inds: 55 / 31
Reps: 79 / 14 This is one of the most illuminating polls I have seen in a while. First, it shows that Feingold's censure resolution wasn't nearly as unpopular as the pundrity implied. While the country was slightly more against it than for it, in the same poll Bysh's job approval rating was 36% approve, 58% disapprove. In other words, Feingold's move was more popular than Bush
Second, and more importantly, the poll shows just how effective DC conventional wisdom on a breaking news story is at shaping public opinion. While those opposing censure held only an eight point edge on those favoring censure, those believing that Feingold acted to bolster his standing with in the Democratic Party have a twenty-point edge on those who believe he acted out of conscience. Because those who buy into the DC conventional wisdom have tremendous control over the communication apparatus that helps to create the national conventional wisdom, their cliquish beliefs that Feingold was acting to bolster his 2008 prospects quickly became the national CW. In fact, this message was so powerful that over 20% of the people in the poll who support the censure of Bush also believe that Feingold was acting primarily to bolster his 2008 prospects. With both Democrats and Republicans, consultants and staffers, elected officials and pundits all simultaneously voicing the same opinion on Feingold's motives, the narrative triangle was closed around Feingold, and DC conventional wisdom became national conventional wisdom. Suddenly, perhaps the most principled man in DC became yet another merely calculating politician, all because that is what a small clique of people in DC thought of what he did..
However, at almost exactly the same time, I noticed something else of great interest. In my frequent talks with other bloggers, and in the immense amount of time I spend reading other blogs, it finally dawned on me last week that the netroots has developed its own, entirely separate conventional wisdom. Almost universally, people were in favor of Feingold's action. Almost universally, we discerned that the Democratic strategy in DC was simply to step aside and let the Republicans implode. Almost universally, we agreed that was a really poor strategy. It surprised me how quickly we were all on the same page on virtually every facet of the censure issue. We have developed out own ability to manufacture and alter conventional wisdom, and to transmit that conventional wisdom within our own little confined world: the netroots and the blogosphere.
Much more on this in the extended entry.
I don't know how this happened, or when it happened, but it has happened. Somehow, through all of the blog posts we have written, all of the conversations we have joined in the comments of those posts, all of the email list-serves we have joined, all of the conference calls we have organized, of the link exchanges we have maintained, all of the informal meetings and Meetups we have attended, all of the campaigns where we have worked together, and all that we have done in this four year conversation that just started with just a few of us banging out our own, disparate thoughts on lonely keyboards has somehow developed into a fully-blown counter-conventional wisdom on the direction the progressive movement needs to take. In my assessment, the leaders of the progressive blogosphere now all appear to be on more or less the same page on what direction we need to move as a party and as a movement of progressives. Generally speaking, that conventional wisdom is detailed, based on significant research and experience, and stands in contrast to the conventional wisdom of Democrats in DC.
As just one example of this, from about 11:30 am until 1:50 pm today, I wrote an article entitled Are Democrats Doing Better in 2006 Than 2004?. Apparently, when I was almost exactly halfway through writing that post, kos posted an article entitled The GOP advantages in 2006. Even though kos and I haven't talked about this subject well, ever, either over email, phone or in person, and even though neither of us was aware of what the other person was writing before we posted, somehow the pieces ended being remarkable mirrors of one another. I started my piece with an indictment of the Democratic "step aside and let Republicans implode" strategy, just as he did. He emphasized that Democrats are doing a lot better in objective measures of election status, which was the focus of my piece. We both emphasized how we still believed that we could blow this huge advantage. The only difference was in content emphasis, as I emphasized how much better our opportunity was, and he emphasized the many ways we could still blow it. It was as though we were sharing the same mind. And it was a lot like other pieces that a lot of other high profile bloggers have been writing lately.
These two sets of conventional wisdom are in active conflict with one another, both in DC on in the netroots. There are a minority of progressives in DC who subscribe to a reformist vision for the progressive movement very similar to the one espoused online, as there remains a minority online who ascribe to what I have termed the DC establishment view. Neither "camp" is monolithic, there are of course a large number of variations within each line of thought, there are no officials "centers" of either school of thought, and there are also several other schools of thought both online and in DC with a smaller number of adherents. Even so, any regular viewer of the political scene can see a number of major disagreements between these two schools of thought being played out on a regular basis:
- Long term fifty state strategy versus short term selective targeting;
- Being a partisan Democrat versus an ideological Democrat of some sort;
- Directly challenging Republicans versus letting Republicans self-destruct;
- Changing progressive infrastructure versus changing progressive policy;
- Altering the conventional wisdom versus accepting the conventional wisdom.