A few days ago Newsie8200 posted a diary over at Daily Kos which deserves serious reading. It makes some of the points I’ve made here and elsewhere, along with many new ones, and addresses many of the myths that have grown up in “the netroots.” A point from the diary:
Myth: Everyone who is a part of the base is reachable via the major progressive activist blogs.
Fact: No. In fact a lot of progressive and Democratic activity happens with little coverage in the netroots. Some Democratic base voters do not even have a computer at home.
Note the assumption that’s made in the myth – that everyone who is a part of the base is reachable via the major blogs. That’s an assumption that’s easily disproven. In a previous posting I talked about the numbers – the people who are registered Democrats versus the number who belong to or have registered for the major progressive netroots organizations in one form or another. In the best case, it amounts to just over 4% of the total party registration. Even that figure is misleading. Many people belonging to the progressive netroots tend to be concentrated in various parts of the country, while other parts have very few. For example, in my county I can tell you exactly how many people belong to one of the progressive sites. One. I’m it. In a recent congressional special election, the number of people on one of the major sites who lived in the district, and were participating on one of the major progressive sites were in single digits. The figure for a neighboring district is quite similar. Yet, if you listen to what is posted on various of the major blog sites, you’d come away with the impression that the netroots is a mass progressive movement, a major base of the party. The reality is that if you talk to many party officials in these districts and counties about “the netroots,” or mention the various major blogging sites, you’ll get a blank look. They’ve never heard of them. I know that from experience. That should be a wake-up call to the netroots. Why would the local parties and organizations be important? Newsie8200’s diary has this:
National party committees rely heavily on local and state parties and stakeholders (state and local party leaders, major individual donors, local labor leaders, state-based progressive organizations and activists, etc.) in deciding which primary candidates to back and what races to get involved in.
Note that: Local and state parties are what the national parties rely on. It’s there that most of the real action in a political party takes place. It’s also the area that the netroots has had a tendency to ignore. Why would I say it’s where the real action occurs? It’s because of how most political parties are structured. The Party for the State is made of up delegates from the local (county or district) parties. Those delegates select the State chair, and other officials. The State Parties are the major “voices” in the National party. Yet for many in the netroots, the local parties are ignored – as are the local elections.
If the netroots wants to become a “base,” it needs to start getting involved in the local party organizations. Why? Consider that most candidates recruited by parties have held some form of elected office before. The local offices – the village, town, city or county officials form the bench for the party. It’s the way a party identifies talent, and gives them experience in office – a record to run on – as well as experience in campaigning. So when the party is looking for primary candidates, or a candidate to challenge an incumbent of the other party, they look to their bench first. If there’s a shallow bench, it makes things much more difficult.
Besides developing a bench of future candidates for higher office, the local parties are the place where ideas are developed and tested. Far too often in the recent past, progressives have been suprised by the appearance of a “conservative” idea, or forced into defensive action because conservatives were able to get something implemented. Consider the running battles over creationism and the attempts to insert religion into various school curricula. It’s “shocking” to many because it became an issue. It shouldn’t have been, because that was one of the first targets of the religious right. We’re often dismayed by conservatives passing laws in cities and states that are profoundly disturbing in their implications. Why did they even get a chance to do this? The conservatives were targeting the local elected offices and school boards, while various progressive idealists were focusing on the national or international issues, and ignoring their own backyard.
There’s a couple of old sayings: “Ideas start at the bottom, and work their way up;” and “Think globally, act locally.” Both of them are true – and a means to act. It’s tempting to believe that the netroots are a real base, that blogging on a wide-read national site is the best means to effect change. It’s not. One of the oldest sayings in politics is “all politics is local,” and it’s time the netroots realized that. It’s nice to have the big picture in mind, but to really get things done means you have to focus on the small picture.