Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Flimflam Men

“Jesse Ventura just didn’t realize that wrestling is real and politics is fixed.”

- Kinky Friedman

My reading lately has confirmed the old adage – “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

This morning, as is my habit, I browsed through RealClearPolitics and found three pieces that caught my fancy, John Nichols’ “Hillary Clinton Sees Feingold’s Wisdom,” Harold Myerson’s “Lieberman’s Real Problem,” and Noel Sheppard’s “Is the Daily Kos About to Implode?”

In the Nichols piece, Hillary Clinton is portrayed as having seen the light Vis a Vis her support for Joe Lieberman, Democratic senator from Connecticut, is his primary race against anti-war Democrat Ned Lamont.

Lieberman has recently said that if he loses to Lamont in the primary he will run in the general election as an independent. That, in turn, has created a problem for Hillary:

“Clinton is actually closer to Lieberman on the question of when U.S. forces should withdraw from Iraq - the issue that led to the Lamont challenge after Lieberman emerged as the loudest Democratic support of the occupation in particular and Bush administration foreign policies in general.”

“But Clinton is politically smart. As a potential 2008 presidential candidate, she recognizes that she needs to keep on good terms with the party's base. That base is overwhelmingly anti-war, a fact confirmed by the strength of the Lamont challenge to Lieberman.”

Oh, the agony, the horror!

To solve the problem, Clinton has pledged her support to Lieberman in the primary and to the Democratic Party candidate, whoever it might be, in the general election. Is this a case of Hillary practicing statecraft or is it political triangulation of the worst sort? Given the recent history of the Democratic Party (Al Gore and John Kerry), I’m guessing the latter.

In his op-ed, Myerson puts the blame for the Democrats problem in Connecticut squarely on Joe Lieberman’s shoulders:

“My colleagues also finger those crazy lefty bloggers as the culprits behind the drive to purge Lieberman from Democratic ranks. (The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait recently wrote that in the Los Angeles Times.) They see a self-destructive urge for party purification sweeping over Democratic liberals, to the detriment of Democratic prospects.”

“Lieberman himself certainly does. My Post colleague Ruth Marcus recently spent some time on the campaign trail with Lieberman and reported on a talk he gave in Danbury. “Are the extremes going to dominate?” Lieberman asked. “Do you have to be 100 percent in agreement with an elected official or it's not good enough?”

“Well. I don't blog; I columnize. But count me with the bloggers on this one. No great mystery enshrouds the challenge to Lieberman, nor is the campaign of his challenger, Ned Lamont, a jihad of crazed nit-pickers. Lieberman has simply and rightly been caught up in the fundamental dynamics of Politics 2006, in which Democrats are doing their damnedest to unseat all the president's enablers in this year's elections.”

To compound matters, the “crazy lefty bloggers,” most notably Daily Kos, have issues of their own:

“It appears that the post-Yearly Kos month from hell is continuing for Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, the proprietor of the Internet’s premier liberal blog Daily Kos. After receiving some extremely negative press from major publications such as the New York Times, The New Republic, and Newsweek immediately following his seemingly successful bloggers' convention in Las Vegas, Kos is now faced with an even greater challenge: dissension within his ranks.”

At the heart of the problem are potential conflicts of interest, intimidation, and money, the stuff of politics these days:

“As reported here on June 30, revelations about Kos's friend and former business partner Jerome Armstrong - from stock fraud allegations to accepting consulting fees from not so liberal candidates - have cast a cloud over the blog and its leader. This pall has also undermined the stellar relationship Kos has had with the traditional media up to this point.”

“Yet, maybe more important, these revelations - along with the way Markos and his Kossacks reacted to them - have caused some prominent DKos bloggers to question the behavior of Zuniga and his devotees. Such a civil war within the liberal blogosphere certainly has the potential to further discredit it, while likely making the mainstream media as well as the candidates they revere less apt to associate with this developing train wreck.”

In one case, Richard Silverstein and Maryscott O’Connor, Kos regulars, questioned:

“The propriety of a blogger accepting funds from a political candidate. His honesty was not well received by the Kossacks, and it appears their response has been eating at O'Connor ever since:

“Increasingly, I have begun to feel intimidated or wary about writing my thoughts and doubts about these issues, lest I be set upon by a pack of Defenders of the Kos.”

I rarely read the Daily Kos, and when I do I go directly to the comment threads. It’s these comments, and not the blog content, that are most instructive. To say they’re overflowing with hate is an understatement of the first order. Having read them occasionally has given me a great deal of empathy for folks like Silverstein and O’Connor. When Silverstein wondered aloud, for example, that being a member of Kos was akin to being a member of a cult he wasn’t kidding:

“But I have to say that behavior like what I've described above-not just behavior by members, but apparently behavior aided and abetted by the site administrator/s-allows me to understand some of the criticism of Kos and his site flung at him by his critics. My treatment made me feel more like I was participating in a cult in which I'd insulted the chief leader and was receiving the deep six treatment in response.”

It all started innocently enough. Markos Moulitsas Zuniga started a blog. One visitor hit became another and pretty soon he found himself the leader of a large army. One comment became two and pretty soon you’ve got thousands of “Kossacks” preaching the party line. One day you’re a lonely soul expressing your point of view. The next, you’re a king and a king-maker. One day you’re a man of principle. The next, you’re the king and the rules you make don’t apply to you. One day your followers advance ideas and principles. The next, they’re fearful of insulting the great leader or departing from the party line. Like the false prophets of Daniel’s day, these latter day seers must now parade around proclaiming, “O king, live forever,” denouncing anyone who refuses to bow before the throne.

Historically it’s all too often has been the case that movements launched in “statements of principle” eventually disintegrate into cults of personality and fear. It’s the reason pipe fitters like Nikita Khrushchev rose to power in Stalin’s court. It’s the reason we’ve had fuehrers, ayatollahs, baathists, and North Korean fruitcakes. At the movement’s birth the faithful are told that wealth will be re-distributed, that the trains will run on time, or that the fundamentals of faith will become the order of the day. Then, once in power, the great leaders build the gulags, the concentration camps, and the ovens.

Now the Kossacks have the Democrats scrambling. They’re sticking their fingers into the political wind so they can figure out what they stand for. They’re terrified. The party’s base has shifted to the far left and they feel the need to appease them. Hence, Hillary’s hedging her bets on Joe Lieberman. It won’t be long till she triangulates herself into a rabid anti-war position. It’ll have as little to do with principle as Markos Moulitsas Zuniga's views have to do with ethics.

And that is the Democrats problem. They stand for whatever the loudest and most strident voices stand for. As Joe Klein observed in “Politics Lost – How American Democracy Was Trivialized By People Who Think You’re Stupid” –

“McKinnon could easily imagine his old colleagues hunkered down and sweaty, arguing over the precise details of Gore’s position on global warming – labor needed this, the tree huggers wanted that. Democrats had trouble seeing the forest for the tree huggers.”

This all brings me back to where I started. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The Democrats are acting like flimflam men, triangulating and desperately trying to figure who has the longest coattails. By the time the mid-terms this year and the presidential election in 2008 roll around, fear and intimidation are going to be the order of the day for the Democratic Party. Any Democrat who doesn’t comply with the wishes of the left might just wind up in some political gulag, or worse yet thrown to the wolves at the Daily Kos.

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