The Triumph of ‘Angry and Stupid’

TCS Daily,

January 4, 2006

Starting the New Year off much like he ended the old one, Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, the liberal dubbed “the most popular and important force in the blogosphere” by the Weekly Standard, hurls invective at the Bush administration and those who would sacrifice any measure of personal freedom in order to fight terrorists:

The breathtaking cowardice of the 101st Fighting Keyboardists knows no bounds. They hide behind the American flag and our genuinely brave men and women in uniform. It’s bad enough that they wouldn’t deign to join the boots in the ground in Iraq. But now they make a mockery of our Constitution, for the very values that motivated our Founding Fathers to put their lives on the line to combat the unchecked powers of the British monarchy.

Responding to this, National Review Online’s Byron York observes that, Kos is not some “fringe blogger.” Indeed, he is “closely connected to the Democratic party leadership” and he “speaks regularly with the staffs of Rep. Rahm Emmanuel, head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (and occasionally with Reid himself).” Kos was also a consultant to now-DNC chairman Howard Dean during his failed bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The Washington Monthly features a story by Benjamin Wallace-Wells on Moulitsas in its current issue called, “Kos Call — For America’s number one liberal blogger politics is like sports: It’s all about winning.” The piece paints the picture of an angry jerk for whom the end justifies any means and for concerning himself with tactics and not policy.

But Moulitsas himself makes no apologies for his approach:

I’m not sure where the notion that Daily Kos had to singularly encapsulate the entire VLWC [Vast Left Wing Conspiracy] came from. Everyone has a role. I see Daily Kos as part of our noise machine, with tangents into organizing, fundraising, and even think tank wonkery (like the energy policy work organized by Jerome). But at the end of the day, this site won’t replace the need for a network of think tanks to challenge CATO, Heritage, and the like. In fact, our book makes this very clear — there is no single solution to the problems facing the party. The blogs (like this one) are a piece of the puzzle, but it’s a big-ass puzzle with lots of parts.

Media Matters Senior Fellow Duncan “Atrios” Black wholeheartedly agrees,

If our team actually had some power we could be debating the merits of various universal health care proposals, or considering just how large a minimum wage increase might be appropriate, or various other wonky things. It would be good fun. But we live in an unserious age where the people running the government have no interest in policy and the people not running government have no ability to get anything passed without having anything good about it destroyed by the Republicans.

What is one to make of this focus on tactics over policy? Liberal blogger Kevin Drum, for one, is wistful:

All political movements have both tacticians and theoreticians, so there’s nothing odd that Kos is all about tactics and prefers to leave the ideology to others. But there’s more to it than that. To a large extent, I think Kos is symbolic of nearly the entire political blogosphere, which tends to be far more a partisan wrecking crew than a genuine force for either progressive or conservative thought.

Economic Policy Institute economist Max Sawicky, in a piece cleverly titled, “Wonk this Way,” adds, “You may be able to shout, but if what you have to say is crap, the volume isn’t much of an asset. Being angry and stupid isn’t good enough.”

The win at all cost mentality, which is more a function of the permanent campaign and the ever-increasing role of the federal government than anything Kos has done, is corrosive. There was a sense, as recently as the 1980s, that once the election was over, it was time to govern. Presidents who won elections were entitled to a honeymoon period and preparations for the next election were on the back burner. In recent years, though, the losing party immediately sought to undermine the legitimacy of the winner and brought out all the tools at their disposal to obstruct.

The win at all costs model, which is bipartisan, leads to politics being a sport where you merely root for whoever happens to be wearing the team colors at the moment. Ordinary voters are more likely to be turned off by the rancorous atmosphere and the core electorate will likely be more energized than ever to make sure that the “bad guys” lose.

Perhaps it’s a function of age and cynicism as much as actual change in climate, but this does strike me as genuinely recent. While I was a genuine enthusiast for Ronald Reagan and the Republicans when I was first seriously interested in politics, I never thought that Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, and Tip O’Neill—or even Mike Dukakis and Robert Byrd—were anything other than honorable men with whom I disagreed on some important issues of policy.

Indeed, I thought that way about Harry Reid until he took on the Chief Obstructionist mantle as Minority Leader. Now, it is rare for me to take a member of the Democratic leadership seriously. The presumption is that whatever comes out of their mouth is scripted for political advantage rather than motivated by genuine conviction.

The country would no doubt be better off if the debate returned to policy rather than politics. Sadly, there is no sign that’s about to happen.

Original article