Just over a year ago, I decided that I should start a personal blog. Something that I could use as a place to blog about the various things that interested me, play around with various ideas, and generally muse on the world in general. If someone read it, great, if not, great as well. Which was where things were going along. I had a small audience, mostly of a few fellow bloggers and friends, but otherwise was generally ignored, and I was pretty satisfied with the 20 to 30 hits a day. Then came December 5′th. When I look at the statistics graph, it looks like my traffic ran into a wall. There’s my normal, steady, “average” traffic and then that day. Traffic skyrocketed out of the blue, and has stayed there. I knew who to thank for that, but it caught me totally by surprise. A pleasant surprise, but a surprise nonetheless.
While I’ve covered a lot of topics here, ranging from state parks to humorous, one of my more frequent targets (besides the right wing) were the frustrati. While they’re one of my regular topics, and it seems to crop up as a regular topic elsewhere, what I’ve found is that in real terms – actual influence and power – they aren’t very much a factor.
One of my early postings here was about a common mistake that gets made, confusing popularity for influence.
It’s seductive to think that your blog’s popularity is a measure of your influence. You have thousands of people reading you, and many of them will be telling you just how much they agree with you, and how wonderful, insightful, and brilliant you are. It’s great for your ego, but translating that into political influence and the ability to push your agenda requires actual work, time, and the development of face-to-face, personal connections. It’s easy to sit a keyboard and spout off. Doing the behind the scenes, day-to-day work of politics is not. But that is where you develop real political influence.
The ground work is where the frustrati have been notably lacking. Some other conversations started me thinking about just how large a group they are, and after doing some math, the answer turned out to be a remarkably small percentage. After doing some more thinking, I realized how they’d mistaken their perceived influence for actual influence.
It’s here that many of the “purists” – or “purity trolls” – of the progressive netroots make their mistake. It’s exacerbated by their being in an echo chamber of mostly like-minded people. When you can do a “count” and see that on Daily Kos or other progressive blogs you’re getting plenty of recommendations and comments from people who tell you how right you are, it’s tempting to believe that this is the way the majority of the Democratic Party feels. But what you’re really looking at is a very small, self-selected group that is not necessarily representative of the overall Party. It’s the equivalent of my assuming that because all the African Americans in my area are Republicans and the national Republican Party has an African American Chairman, African Americans prefer the Republican Party.
Because they tend to live in “solid blue” areas, and in both real life and on the Internet associate with like-minded people, they’ve come to assume that they are the majority opinion – the base – within the Party, instead of being able to step back and look at the large-scale picture. While that was just my looking at raw numbers, and some financial reports leading me to the opinion that they were mistaken about their power, it wasn’t the only thing I looked at. If you looked at their actual capability when it came to delivering on their “promises,” it turned out they were just threats, not promises.
I watched the Tea Party turn out candidates across the country to challenge almost every Republican who didn’t meet their notion of “purity.” I watched a number of incumbents go down to defeat, while the rest were racing to get on the far right side. When you looked at the other side of the aisle, at all the Democrats who had not met the purity tests imposed by various of the loudest voices on the left, you saw …. not much. The large number of progressive challengers, the mass turn-out of left voters that had been promised? Nowhere to be found.
Which is an important point. When you look at “how things work,” it turns out that you need to get involved with the local party, and develop a “bench” of good candidates so that you have viable contenders when you wish to primary an incumbent, or run successfully against one of the other party. The harsh truth is that most local party officials in the country have never heard of the “netroots,” let alone the various progressive sites. It doesn’t mean they’re unaware that the Internet is out there, or that it can be a useful tool, it means that the people who are the loudest on the Internet sites are conspicuously absent when it comes when it comes to the nuts-and-bolts of politics. The stuff that matters to party officials – voter registration, canvassing, fund-raising, vetting candidates for various offices, and getting out the vote – is not something the frustrati are interested in. What the 2010 election showed more than anything is that the so-called “pure progressives” were almost totally lacking in that capability. When it comes right down to it, if you can’t identify and recruit candidates in districts across the country, and turn out voters in primaries to get those candidates taken seriously, you are not a national political force. Period.
It’s necessary to realize this, because while there are attempts to paint the Party and the Administration as “out of touch with the base” by the Professional Left, it turns out that the polls show something quite different. The reason is actually simple – the real base, the real power structure of the Party, the people who are doing the day-to-day work of keeping things going are not the frustrati. They’re the pragmatists. They’re the ones who have been mostly silent until recently. Now, as the work begins again to take back the House, and to re-elect the President, their voices will grow. The frustrati will still scream and moan, but we should never forget – they’re all sound and fury, but signify nothing.