One unremarked change in the netroots that happened after the 2006 election was a dramatic upward swing in approval ratings for Democratic leaders. And when I say dramatic, I mean simply exceptionally large. Nancy Pelosi, who was disliked by 52 percent of Daily Kos readers prior to the election, saw her approval rating skyrocket to an 85 percent approval rating and her disapproval plummet to 14. Harry Reid, already at a very good 70/24, moved to 80/19. Chuck Schumer, who had a seriously hostile fight with liberals during the 2006 primaries, jumped from 27-62 to 74-25.
In other words, Pelosi and Reid saw moves upward of nearly 50 points in approval ratings. This love from the netroots was reciprocated somewhat by Chuck Schumer, who blogged on Daily Kos and gave credit to bloggers for recruiting Jim Webb, and democratizing the political process. In Chris's excellent post on stagnating traffic levels of progressive blogs, he notes that the blogosphere may be becoming a subset of the elitist political establishment. This is borne out by another trend, the whiteness of the netroots. It's also hard to deny that the netroots didn't particularly drive the protests in DC, nor did we use them as a signpost of movement building. In fact, there was explicit ambiguity about what these protests meant and whether they were effective, which suggests a real split between the netroots as a piece of the party and the standard 'left' represented by The Nation magazine, Jane Fonda, and Code Pink.
The radical love towards the Democratic Party leadership within the netroots suggests that the netroots are far less cynical than the traditional left-wing of the party, and far more willing to compromise. In the netroots surveys, it came out that we are more liberal in our personal politics than the Democratic Party at large, but also much more willing to compromise to achieve electoral victories. We believe I suspect in a heterodox political system, where disagreement is tolerated and even encouraged. There are no purity tests here. And winning cures a lot of doubters, though not all (Rahm didn't get a huge bump within the netroots).
During the time the Democrats were in the wilderness, from 2001-2006, there was no leadership in the party, no boldness, and very little explicitly liberal and partisan content in American society. So it's no surprise that the progressive netroots exploded in popularity. It should also not be a surprise that, starting in late 2005, after the elections of Democrats all over the country and Bush's failed Social Security push, the progressive netroots stagnated. We began to see leadership within the Democratic Party, and didn't need to go to the internet to find it. After the 2006 elections, there's a perception that our Democratic leaders represent us, and we will back them.
This netroots was created by the scars of the late 1990s and the Bush administration, a time of deep political cynicism and Democratic cowardice. I guess it's no wonder that Obama and Edwards, who represents an antidote to that cynicism, and Gore, who represents strength, are doing well online. But there's another piece here, a sort of Netroots 2.0. We were generation one, but there's another generation right behind us, people who are about to get involved in politics. We are mentoring them with a new open model of politics, one they take for granted but that we had to fight for. They don't know what it's like to be insulted by the party, but that was our formative experience, the crucible by which we organized ourselves.
Our challenge is to make way for this next generation of activists, to help them see how to put pressure on the political system to make change. Right now, it seems that the netroots has chosen to become an appendage to the Democratic Party, flowing money in one-way to leaders and consultants. A small minority of these leaders are 'of the netroots', but that's increasing as every successive cycle of candidates becomes more netroots friendly.
2008 is going to change and shape the netroots in ways that we don't understand yet. I believe that 'movement progressives' that operate to ideologically realign the country, are in a weak spot right now because of the level of trust placed in Democratic leaders after the 2006 election victories. Pushing Edwards to the left on Iran, which happened because of the arguments of movement progressives, just isn't seen as particularly important. The 'Democratic regulars' are in ascendance, as they have access to funding streams and well-understood arguments.
These two groups are complements, not competitors. We need both, in fact, as the movement progressives will never be as interested in supporting Democrats as the Democratic regulars, and the Democratic regulars will never be as interested in governing or ideological realignment as the movement progressives.
Right now, movement progressives have a lot of work to do. We need to self-define, and work to establish our own funding channels, stars, and base of operations. If we don't, we'll go the way of the New Left of the 1960s, which, while incredibly effective in stopping the Vietnam War, fell into disarray and allowed the right-wing to reemerge in a stronger and more cancerous version.