Hail the center

Well, look at this: I did read and am now linking to a NY Times op-ed column, because I agree with it and have been saying this for sometime, only not as well. David Brooks today debunks the power of netroots and endorses of the power of the center and Hillary Clinton’s dominance of it. That’s why Bill Clinton still holds a special spot in the admiration of many — because we respect the center. He writes:

The fact is, many Democratic politicians privately detest the netroots’ self-righteousness and bullying. They also know their party has a historic opportunity to pick up disaffected Republicans and moderates, so long as they don’t blow it by drifting into cuckoo land. They also know that a Democratic president is going to face challenges from Iran and elsewhere that are going to require hard-line, hawkish responses.

Finally, these Democrats understand their victory formula is not brain surgery. You have to be moderate on social issues, activist but not statist on domestic issues and hawkish on foreign policy. This time they’re not going to self-destructively deviate from that.

Both liberals and Republicans have an interest in exaggerating the netroots’ influence, but in reality that influence is surprisingly marginal, even among candidates for whom you’d think it would be strong.

My fear is that commentators equate the internet with netroots and will try to marginalize the large, large tree above those small roots.

  • Eric Jaffa

    Jeff Jarvis –

    If you agree with David Brooks, then tell us which liberal bloggers are in “cuckoo land.”

  • It would have been a better piece if it had been a better piece.

  • David

    Yes, well, David Brooks should know by now that there are crazy people everywhere in America. The only difference is that on the web they each can pick up a megaphone.

    To Jeff’s point, propaganda aside, I just don’t see the “netroots” as being as monolithic as they are described by the pundits. Granted there’s certainly IMO an echo chamber effect among certain political _bloggers_ but it remains to be seen whether this holds true for their audiences as well.


  • Jeff won’t name names. Politicians won’t name names. Hillary won’t call out MoveOn by name. They are afraid. It’s all one big game of bluff with many people (including capitalists) hoping that Hillary et alia are just placating a fringe minority meanwhile the fringe minority believes the triangulators are in their pocket, bought and sold, but just are trying to get elected before getting statist (or is it “activist”?).

    The public would be better served if everyone just spoke plainly and then stuck to their promises.

  • tonynoboloney

    Jeff, nice to see your still in biz. I just accessed you from Michelle Malkins site, (I’ve since drifted right). Yours is the very first blog site I ever found!! Still good stuff, keep up the good work.

  • How is David Brooks’ “nice things about Hillary” at the NYTimes different from Josh Green’s spiked story at GQ and the Christmas cover? IOW, how can we trust anyone who says nice things about Hillary when her Praetorian Guard body slams the wallets of any who might saying something less-?

    Brooks may be right. He often is. However, watching the Hillary-Squad take all the claims about Bubba and Bush media manipulation to the “on-steroids” level makes it hard to trust anything said by anyone-?

    Yeah-yeah-yeah we all know that tree-killers pay the bills… But when they run in a pack, why should we bother to read them? With seven out of eight TV news organization saying the same thing every night… Why are we watching-? Oh-! That’s right… We aren’t… and advertisers are noticing. Could that be why we don’t buy newspapers-like before?

    Given the hatred for Brooks by the Commentors at press Think, I’m surprised you ventured forth in support… But then you always walk your own path… It’s nice to read someone who has integrity….

  • Taken from “cuckoo land“:

    “The territory Brooks sees as ‘cuckoo land’ is in fact where the majority of Americans live: wanting withdrawal from Iraq and not wanting war with Iran. That includes the moderates and Republicans Brooks thinks Democrats can lure in by acting more like Republicans, pushing war with Iran.”

    I agree.

  • It gives me great pleasure to say that I totally disagree with you, Jeff, and think Brooks is an extremist of the center who distorts things–like what are the Netroots doing–for ideological reasons, main one being keeping Beltway elites in charge of the boundaries of what’s real and acceptable in American politics. Check out what Matt Yglesias has to say about it.

  • Good, we do disagree. I think the important points Brooks makes are (1) they do not have an electoral sense — they don’t care about the practical matters of getting elected (see: Howard Dean, see: Connecticut 2006, see: John Edwards) and (2) they are self-righteous bullies. Now I suppose Matthew, in his good post, and you might say that’s what it has taken to push the Democrats to the left. But I think that’s taking way, way too much credit away from the American people. Health care isn’t an issue because MyDD said it was; it’s an issue because it’s fucked up in this country and its fuckedupedness has finally passed the tipping point of tolerance among voters. Co2 and the environment are issues because the media have been hammering on them nonstop and they can because there is a public receptive to the issue. Kos and MyDD didn’t do that, either. So add another adjective to Brooks’ assessment of netroots: self-important.

  • brook

    The first tactic is merely the most commonplace conceit of the standard Beltway pundit: Brooks takes whatever opinions he happens to hold on a topic, and then — without citing a single piece of evidence — repeatedly asserts that “most Americans” hold this view, and then bases his entire “argument” on this premise. Thus, the only way for Democrats to have any hope of winning elections is to repudiate their radical, rabid Leftist base and instead follow Brooks’ beliefs, because that is “centrism.” This is actually a defining belief of the Beltway pundit, and it is as intellectually corrupt as an argument gets.

    There is now this new invention called “polling data” which reveal what “most Americans” actually think about virtually any topic. Yet when Beltway pundits claim that “most Americans” think X (and, invariably, X = “the opinion of the Beltway pundit” which = “conventional Beltway wisdom”), they rarely cite polls because those polls virtually always contradict what they are claiming about what “most Americans” think.

    Instead, Beltway pundits believe that they are representative of, anointed spokespeople for, the Average Real American, and thus, whatever the pundit’s belief is about an issue is — in their insular, self-loving minds — a far more reliable indicator of what “Americans believe” than something as tawdry as polling data. Nobody uses this manipulative tactic more than David Brooks.

    The other Brooks tactic is also a defining feature among pundits and a central prong in the Washington Establishment’s orthodoxies. No matter what polls or elections show, Brooks’ overriding goal is to “prove” that “most Americans” favor a “hawkish” foreign policy whereby America will rule the world by military force, most importantly in the Middle East. As he put it earlier this year, citing absolutely nothing (as always)


  • Brook that is a well articulated comment.

    Just a minute ago I read some pundit implying that most Americans care about CO2 and healthcare – though he did kind of hint that these were media driven issues.

  • Eric Jaffa

    Jeff Jarvis –

    How are the bloggers at MyDD “bullies”?

    Are all bloggers bullies? Are you a bully? Please explain.

  • Eric Jaffa

    CaptiousNut –

    Brook was quoting Glenn Greenwald.

  • My bad. Makes sense no matter who said it.

  • brook

    Sorry Nut, I should have made it a little bit more clear. I can only hope that someday i can write as well as Glenn Greenwald.

  • I consider myself a Centrist, but I can comprehendf the frustrations of the Left and how those frustrations might lead to their acting the way they do against their own interests. The MoveOn.org ad was just politically clumsy. The only political traction it gained was among those seeking higher office, and once the primaries are over watch them blow MoveOn off. Jeff says — rightly — that the far left doesn’t have any electoral sense. When was the last time a Centrist was elected as opposed to the ease with which conservatives are elected within the Republican Party. Not Bill Clinton and not with the technocratic Carter. Not Kennedy either, for that matter. Perhaps we, as Centrists, have monopolized the Democratic Party; it is not inconceiveable that Left anger against Centrists is in direct proportion to the amount of time that they have been excluded from real decision-making — at the Presidential level — powers within the party. Being out in the wilderness leads to such astonishingly naive behavior as throwing one’s vote away in 2000 voting for Nader. I am a Centrist, but it seems to me the only cure for the far left is not Joe Klein calling them “wingnuts,” or Al Fromm arrogant scoffing. The only way for them to get that electoral sense is to let them have a tatse of the excercise of power.

  • brookLYN

    Here is the last part of Greenwald’s article on David Brooks. Its really good:

    “What the Beltway Establishment believes more than it believes anything else is that the U.S. should continue to intervene in other countries, dominate the Middle East, and rule the world by superior military force. Thus, no matter how many Americans come to reject that mindset, affirming that mentality will remain a prerequisite for Seriousness and for being approved of by the Beltway class. Any politician, Democratic or Republican, who rejects these basic orthodoxies, no matter how unpopular the orthodoxies become, will be relegated to “cuckoo land.”

    The real goal of the Beltway class is to eliminate all real differences, all meaningful debate, on these central questions. The Beltway class demands bipartisan agreement on the most important issues. Along with the belief that crimes committed by the revered Beltway elite should never be investigated and especially not prosecuted, they venerate this harmony above all else.

    And even when the American citizenry rebels against this bipartisan consensus — as it plainly has done with regard to Iraq specifically and generally concerning our imperial behavior in the world — the Beltway class, led by the likes of David Brooks, will simply take to lying, falsely claiming that “most Americans,” the good pure Heartland, really do agree with them and that Democrats therefore must continue to embrace these shared Beltway pieties if they have any hope of winning. And because David Brooks and David Broder and the like rule the Beltway opinion-making world, Democrats listen and follow.

    Thus, this is what we hear: The Democratic controlled Congress has reached new depths of unpopularity, but what they are doing is politically smart. Most Americans really want us to stay in Iraq. Bloggers are espousing views that most Americans hate. Views held by most Americans are the province of the “radical angry Left.” Democrats can only win elections by supporting the popular President’s policies, avoiding any real differences, and scorning their own base. The only hope Democrats have is to adhere to prevailing Beltway orthodoxy.

    That is the only real point of what David Brooks and most of his pundit comrades say and do over and over and over. And as their assertions become more and more transparently false, they just increasingly invoke misleading and deceitful tactics in order to maintain them.”

  • brookLYN

    And Jeff,

    I don’t understand you today. Everyday on your weblog you preach everything directly contradictory to what he is saying. You are all about Social Media, and he is completely against this principle! Only him and select few should have a voice in the media. HE THREW YOU UNDER THE BUS RIGHT THERE IN THE ARTICLE!! And you still agree with this moron? C’mon

  • I find myself vacillating between admiring Brooks’ ability to find the tactful thing to say about the left while giving the nod to Mark Shields on his take on the Right…and not trusting him. Most of the time I see him keeping his eyes on Mark Shields during HIS commentaries, and I can usually see the wheels turning. Overall, I get the sense that he’s not terribly removed from a kind of Nixonian shiftiness… one of the most ‘political’ political writers I’ve encountered…

  • Jeff: I think for both you and Brooke a desire to stick a pin in the Netroots, so called, is interfering with what you see. And I don’t think anyone is saying that health care is an issue because MyDD blogged about it. That’s crude.

    I have a link and an idea for you.

    The Link.

    See Jonathan Chait, New Republic, “How the netroots became the most important mass movement in U.S. politics,” I would love to know your take on it . From the heart of the everything-they-know-is-wrong press comes an analysis of some things the Netroots had very right. The Netroots did not care for much of what Chait was saying, but I am curious how you would see it.

    The Idea.

    If the very clumsy two party system we have is going to work at all, we need the parties plus social movements. That’s the only way they become responsive to the people who aren’t represented professionally at the capital. Social movements force responses and even though the parties may only co-opt and not truly accept the movement’s ideas and war cries, it is exactly these approximations that shift political space about and get the blood flowing again. You need social movements, which live off participation from outraged and inspired people, and you need stable parties that cool some of that down and try to govern with it. The parties calcify without movements. They become captive to their full time professionals. Movements need the parties to complete their act on the political stage.

  • Well, Jay, Mathew — and you, via the link – are trying to give netroots credit for health care as an issue. That’s what’s crude in its raw ego; netroots wants credit. I think you are wishing too much on the netroots star. Was there mass hypnosis at the Yearly Kos? That, I believe, is — to use your phrase — interfering with what you see.

    If you looked at coverage of netroots vs. its actual impact on politics and its ability to sense the political will of the nation, I think you’d see that its importance is overblown. I think you’d also see that the center of the nation is wiser than you and Matthew are giving it credit for. I’ll take that populist high road.

    I absolutely agree that we need to find the means to use the internet to coalesce around movements and issues. I wrote about that in this column on the question of the political nature of the internet and my conclusion that it has none; it enables us to coalesce. And our political system needs to figure out how to adapt to the parliamentary nature of the internet, the adding up of coalitions to equal political victory.

    Don’t presume that because I dare to question the power of netroots I don’t believe in the power of social movements. I even believe in the power of netroots. I just don’t believe it’s quite as powerful as it thinks it is.

    (Wish I could read Chait’s piece but I can’t; it’s behind a pay wall. Being just a poor prof and blogger, I’m not paying. If even the NY Times knows that paying doesn’t pay, the New Republic should get the message.)

  • I thought they had made that article free; I guess they changed their minds. Too bad.

    I just don’t believe it’s quite as powerful as it thinks it is.

    Fair enough. But who are you listening to that’s claiming all this power for the Netroots? Who are you refuting? I think it has significance, because it’s a shift in pattern for the Democratic Party, but I don’t think the movement has a lot of power yet.

  • Jarvis–I agree with Rosen on this. Who are you listening to that is claiming all this power for the Netroots?

    You quote Brooks as saying: “Both liberals and Republicans have an interest in exaggerating the netroots’ influence, but in reality that influence is surprisingly marginal…”

    It seems you and Brooks belong to a third group that has the same interest in exaggeration. Let’s call you Straw Man Anti-Activists–centrists who are in the business of claiming power for their own already powerful position by imagining inflated claims of power by the activist Netroots in order to minimize those claims.

    This is Hall of Mirrors arguing. Of course the Netroots are more marginal than the power centers. The margins are the location where social activist movements organize.

    Substitute Born Again Christians for Netroots and Republicans for Democrats and a symmetrical argument could be recapitulated.

  • Andrew, Jay,

    I’d say the level of coverage of the Yearly Kos alone is one indication. I’m also referring to reporters who’ve interviewed me and the narrative I’ve heard from them, conflating netroots with internet.

    And, yes, Andrew, I do believe that the influence of born-agains is inflated (witness my reporting on the supposed outcry over indecency on TV that turned out to be manufactured by one organization).

    You are implying that I have no basis for my observation and you are demanding links. Fair enough except that I don’t have those links in my back pocket; they were additive. But that, too, is a rhetorical technique and I will turn that around: If you say that coverage does downsize or properly size the coverage of netroots, show me the coverage that does that.

  • Jeff–

    Fair enough, I offer no links either.

    Still I am confused…

    …is the argument about whether media coverage inaccurately inflates the truly marginal influence of social activist Netroots vis a vis a powerful center (in other words a media criticism argument)?


    …is the argument about the actual power of the Netroots in the body politic (a political science argument)?

    According to the Tyndall Report’s work on the most mainstream of the MainStreamMedia — the broadcast networks’ nightly newscasts — I have to provide a lack of links to demonstrate my argument that the Netroots’ true existence is at the margins (not that that is a bad thing). None of the network newscasts considered Yearly Kos to be newsworthy enough to warrant a correspondent to cover it — although Markos himself was invited onto the political talk circuit (Russert, Rose, Stephanopoulos et al) to publicize his simultaneous book.

    The fact that the Netroots (or the Born Agains for that matter) exert what influence they have from the margins towards the power center — rather than from the center itself — seems self evident. That is why I called arguments such as the one by Brooks that you quoted a Straw Man.

    My reading of the crass “General Bertay Us” ad, for example, was that it can be a Netroot badge of honor — and tool for fundraising and organizing — to use rhetoric that is inadmissable in polite political society.

    The proper discussion here, in my opinion, is how much salutary influence activist pressure from the margins can have on the political center — and whether journalists are portraying that influence in an accurate fashion, without resorting to Straw Men.

  • The lead of the Washington Post’s review of Bai’s book:

    Any doubt about the growing influence of the liberal blogosphere, aka the netroots, on the Democratic Party was laid to rest in August. At the Yearly Kos blogapalooza, the bloggers were flanked by a who’s-who of the party’s New Order (who have rallied behind the new kids on the block) and Old Order (who are now jumping on the bandwagon). Most tellingly, all the major presidential candidates showed up for a debate — including Sen. Hillary Clinton, whose vote authorizing the war on Iraq has rendered her almost persona non grata to the netroots community. And moderating the debate was Matt Bai, a reporter for the New York Times magazine whose unsparing, incisive and altogether engaging book is a must read for anyone unaware of the seismic shift that’s afoot among the Democrats.

    And The Hill says: “…netroots that form a key portion of Democrats’ political base…”

    That’s from just a three-minute search during a break in class…

  • Jeff: It sounds to me like you are frustrated with press coverage of the Netroots that isn’t very sophisticated. If reporters equate “the Internet” with the Netroots, which is just one movement using the Net, that’s ill-informed and lazy shorthand. If Yearly Kos was over-covered (possible) it might have something to do with the fact that all the candidates but Dodd were there, but it isn’t proof that the people in the Netroots have an inflated view of their power such that you and Brooks have a duty to pop their balloon.

    I didn’t demand a instant trove of links. I simply asked you who are you listening to when you write of the Netroots movement, “I just don’t believe it’s quite as powerful as it thinks it is.” Are you listening to the political press and its hype?

    I’m sure you’re aware that over-covering and over-simplifying every new thing is necessary so the new thing can be debunked and deflated a few hundred news cycles later, making way for the next new thing. First you ignore it, then you celebrate it and make inflated claims for it, then you debunk those claims without really examining who made them in the first place. All three steps can be accomplished without studying the phenomena in question. If this has happened with the Netroots and its annoying, welcome to the club of the annoyed!

  • And see this from Huffington Post:

    The epicenter of Democratic politics can be found in downtown Chicago this weekend as 1,500 activists, the entire Congressional leadership, and all but one of the party’s presidential candidates converge at the Yearly Kos convention. The event is an outgrowth of the influential political blog the Daily Kos, a site started only five years ago by Army veteran Markos Moulitsas Zuniga. The presence of the Democratic establishment at the event is yet another sign of the centrality of the internet and its grassroots activists, the “netroots,” to the Democratic Party. Some, however, are saying it is an indication that the Democratic Party is tilting further and further to the left.


    Horse’s mouth, I’d say.

  • Jeez-a-roni: Epicenter for a weekend, Jeff. Not epicenter of the party! And when you have all but one of the candidates, plus the traveling press corps, plus most of the major constituency groups represented there, it’s a plausible claim– for a weekend. Anyway, if you’re debunking the Yearly Kos event and coverage like that, it’s press claims that have you agitated. That piece was a review of press commentary on the convention.

    But let me understand this. Are you saying, contary to The Hill’s, “… form a key portion of Democrats’ political base…” that the Netroots are not an important portion of the party’s base?

  • It is still not clear what the BuzzMachine’s point is here about the “epicenter”

    Is it criticizing Huffington Post for hype, falsely inflating the power of Yearly Kos?

    Or is it criticizing the Democratic Party for embracing Yearly Kos at its epicenter, an alignment accurately depicted by Huffington Post?

  • You’re challenging me for demonstration of the overblowing of the netroots importance in media or from the roots. You challenged my and Brooks’ argument that anyone is saying they are overly important.

    Jay: “portion” and “key” are very different words.

  • And I’m privileged to be debating with two such Village sages. I’ll be syncopated, though, joining in only during breaks in the class.

  • I bet we’d agree that descriptions of someone like Kos as a power broker who must be bought off or handled–a new boss–are miscast, and a lot of hype.

  • I bet we’d agree that the recent Iraq debate demonstrated MoveOn.org’s lack of inside-the-Beltway clout compared with the publicity-and-promotion campaign orechestrating the testimony by Gen David Petraeus.

  • Jay,
    Unless his power to get press is outsized by his power to influence voters and agendas, in which case one still may need to handle or buy him, as you put it.

    Another role for MoveOn and Kos is as attack dogs who can say things others can’t say.

  • So Jeff — what is your analysis?

    Do you see the Netroots as playing the useful — and intentionally marginal — role as the Democrats’ “attack dogs who can say things others cannot say”…

    …or, as you approvingly quoted Brooks, do you concur with his characterization of the private detestation of the Netroots by many Democratic politicians for their “self-righteousness and bullying…drifting into cuckoo land”?

  • Andrew,

    I thought it was clear — for many of the self-declared leaders of the self-declared movement, the latter.

    As a centrist Democrat, part of my fear is that we can be led astray by listening to this vocal and well-publicized fringe — that is, led to defeat. They would have us nominate John Edwards. They wanted Howard Dean. They damned near lost the Senate for the Democrats with their anger-over-victory strategy in Connecticut.

    As a blogger and net citizen myself, part of my fear that through sloppy coverage, as Jay points out, netroots and net will be conflated and we will all be assumed to be angry young turks. That’s clearly wrong but PR matters, especially in politics.

    Now clearly, I am all for more voices and viewpoints. In the column I linked to above, I celebrated the net’s ability to help us coalesce around issues and interests and then to form coalitions that can take action and someday even win elections. So, of course, I treasure netroots as part of that ecosystem and discussion. I have no problem with that and if I did I’d be undemocratic. Instead, I think the danger is in how they and those watching them overinflate their significance. And I agree with Brooks that victory in the election will come from the center; that center is, indeed, shifting, but I don’t subscribe to the belief that netroots are responsible for that shift. And that’s where we started.

  • brookLYN

    I am proud to be an angry young turk. Nobody in our “traditional media” or in politics represents me, especially “centrists” like Hillary and Brooks

  • Compare the Netroots’ influence now with Pat Robertson’s role in the Republican Party in his failed candidacy of 1988. His was a fringe campaign — “vocal and well-publicized,” to use your words — but doomed to defeat. Yet it paid off for the GOP in the long run by establishing it as the reliably pro-life party for election cycles to come, despite diffidence on the issue from titular leaders such as the first President Bush.

    So Howard Dean’s failed candidacy in 2004 helped establish the Democrats as the reliably anti-war party when the midterms of 2006 came around, even though most of its leadership — Kerry, Rodham Clinton, Edwards, Biden et al — had voted in favor of the war before it began. You say the Deanites’ influence nearly brought about defeat in the midterms because of their tactics in Connecticut; on the contrary, I say it enabled the Democrats to take advantage of the anti-war vote despite the fact that their leadership had been pro-war. Dean’s legacy was an essential fig leaf.

    Brooks sees the Netroots’ role in the Democratic Party as influential and destructive; I am inclined to see it as marginal and useful. Just like the Born Agains are for the GOP.

    Brooks criticizes “liberals and Republicans” for exaggerating the Netroots’ influence. But he, and you too Jarvis, are complicit in the same hype.

  • Jeff,

    The nut graf of the Brooks column you praise is this: “Now it’s evident that if you want to understand the future of the Democratic Party you can learn almost nothing from the bloggers, billionaires and activists on the left who make up the ‘netroots.'”


    You can learn almost nothing from them? And that’s true into the future?

    You’ve changed your argument over the course of the thread. Now you are saying the media misses a lot in its coverage of net politics, which is true (as evidenced by Brooks himself).

    Does the center matter? Sure, and Brooks does say that. I guess I just expect a guy with your web-cred to read the rest of his argument a bit more carefully.

  • Jeff has honestly learned nothing in the last four years. Zip. Zero. Zilch. The supposed far left bullies in the netroots were against the war in Iraq when Jeff was still cheering it on, love Bill Clinton and promoted the heck out of John Kerry for president. Jeff is still pushing the strawman of Howard Dean as left wing wildman when he was right on Iraq, a fiscal moderate, and given a high rating by the NRA. The same Howard Dean who presided over a Democratic party who supported and fielded such moderate to conservative Democrats as Heath Shuler, Jim Webb, and Harold Ford. All candidates who got lots of support from us supposed left wing bullies in the netroots.

    For a guy who portends to be so wise, you continue to be stunningly clueless on these issues in order for it to fit into your silly narrative.

    If we listen to you and David Brooks, the logical conclusion is that if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, folks in the netroots will be against her and turn to some Naderite character. Because of course, we are intolerable bullies far away from the center who want radical change like an end to the Iraq War, Universal Healthcare, and a working government to provide basic Homeland Security to America.

    Oh, wait, that’s what every normal American wants. And whoever the Democratic nominee is will have the full support of us netroots crazies because all the Democratic candidates believe in making those things happen.

    Loons, we are. Jesus. Nothing learned. Years and years and not a thing learned.

    David Brooks, like you, also thought the Iraq War was a good idea. Morons like me thought otherwise.

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  • Eric Jaffa

    Jeff Jarvis wrote, “They (the netroots) damned near lost the Senate for the Democrats with their anger-over-victory strategy in Connecticut.”

    In 2005, few people were expecting the Democrats to take back the Senate in 2006.

    The candidacy of Ned Lamont showed that an anti-war message resonates with the electorate. That message helped Jim Webb to win. He had the early support of Daily Kos. So did Jon Tester of Montana.

    In spite of Democrats succeeding in taking back the Senate, with the help of the netroots in close races, Jarvis takes a topsy-turvy view that we should be angry at the netroots that Senate races were close.

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