Despite my best intentions to do otherwise, I made a return to Daily Kos a few weeks ago. I gave in to the e-mails from some of the communities I’d belonged to there, as well as twitter links from people I follow and “check this out” links on other blogs I frequent. With my usual poor timing, I returned right as Daily Kos was undergoing- or was still going through – a major “pie fight” and all I’ve come away with is the conclusion that I’d have been better off staying away altogether.
What I did find was that there’s a number of people there who have a seriously deluded sense of how “influential” or “important” their particular group is. I’ve pointed out in the past what a base is, and really, they’re not it. But besides that lack, they also overestimate just how influential they are. In real terms, they’re not. They’re not influential in numbers, voting turn-out, candidate selection, or in financial terms. They’re not even the biggest group on the major blog sites. Yet, somehow, they keep insisting that they’re the base.
What do I mean looking at the numbers? If you look at the “progressive” organizations, one of the largest – if not the largest – is MoveOn.org. It claims some 3 million members. Now, I happen to know, from having been a “member,” just how that figure was arrived at. Another organization that claims a large membership, some 300,000 supporters, is the PCCC. Again, I know how that figure was arrived at for the same reason as I know about MoveOn.org. What it is, is the number of people who are on their mailing lists, who have at some point signed a petition or may have donated to them. In terms of hard membership, it’s not a reliable figure, it’s more of a popularity poll. Now, three million, or three hundred thousand, sounds like an impressive figure, and it’s not to say that it isn’t one. But, as a “base” of a party? Well, that’s something else. If you look at the registration figures for the Democratic Party in this country, you’d see that there are some 70+ million members. Which, doing basic math means that MoveOn consists of just over 4% of the Party. PCCC consists of just over 0.4%. That’s assuming a few things – that all of the claimed membership is a real membership, and that all of the people who belong to them are also registered as Democrats. What that means is that even in the best case scenario, the “true progressives” are a very small number inside the party.
That picture gets even worse when you look at what is called the “progressive netroots.” The number of purists – the “true progressives” as they call themselves – have shown a remarkable ability to disrupt various Internet forums, but a cold hard look at their actual numbers shows them to be a very small number indeed. In terms of influence in a national party, of being a true base of the party? Not a bit. they’re not even all that financially influential. A look at the figures of political donations for candidates in 2008 from those sites show that it was not a glamorous figure. For example, the “Orange to Blue” fund on ActBlue raised some $50,000 for candidates in the 2008 election cycle. Looking at the more recent filings from some of the “progressive” PAC’s, you see that they raised anywhere from a few thousand to just over a million dollars, and often most of that was spent on – themselves. In terms of what they’re supposed to be doing, their impact has been minimal.
But if you read their Internet postings, you’d come away with the impression that they are a major political force. One of their complaints is that politicians don’t listen to them, that they don’t “stand firm” in accordance to the wishes of “their base.” Yet if you challenge them on this (and I have), you’ll quickly be told how wrong you are. They’ll point out any number of other organizations and groups that are “progressive” and are major fund sources for politicians. What they’re doing is hitching their horses to someone else’s wagon. They, themselves, don’t have influence, but someone else who “agrees” with them does. “It’s the same thing” in their minds – except that it’s not. The organizations they point to often have an agenda that may diverge from – or even be in opposition to – large parts of the “true progressives” agenda.
That’s why politicians don’t follow them. That’s why they don’t have the ability to get their agenda worked on. They’re not a base. Their only influence is to poison the discourse, to disrupt reasoned discussion and constructive criticism in the progressive netroots. That, they’ve been good at. They’re not the base, and we shouldn’t forget it. If the progressive netroots wishes to become a base of the Party, it needs to start doing the work to make it that way – and that means that we need to stop believing in the claims of the “true progressives.” They’re not. Let’s call them what they are – the radical fringe. True progressives make progress. The fringe just makes noise.