Reviewing The Year – The frustrati

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 worktime, 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.

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31 Comments

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31 responses to “Reviewing The Year – The frustrati

  1. mem from somerville

    What? You looked at data? What are you thinking? That’s so banal.

    Recently I specifically asked one of them:

    If anyone could point me to a list of the netroots accomplishments in the same time frame (since Jan 2009) I’d like to see it.

    I was told they don’t need data of that sort.

    By their nature, the accomplishments of the Netroots aren’t susceptible to the sort of banal laundry list of empty “accomplishments” that the supporters of the Administration are wont to parrot.

    Yeah. We’ll work around them. It probably won’t be that hard, now that I think of it.

    • I know, it’s a bad habit of mine. I blame it on all those years of working in a science lab. 😈

      Seriously, the reason they deflect like that is simply because they have so very few accomplishments to point to. If there’s an actual accomplishment, it’s usually because they jumped on an bandwagon and claimed credit for the bandwagon.

  2. Nina

    A few of those bloggers have definitely confused popularity for influence, and may also have incorrectly assumed that there may be more money to be made outside of their bubble than there actually is. While I don’t know how financially rewarding some of those blogs may be, if their traffic declines, the financial rewards may decline as well.
    A few seem to have made some feeble efforts to latch on to TV guest appearances, etc, and this may turn out to be an endless feedback loop (works for Buchanan et al. on the one hand, but where’s Judith Miller these days), but I am not sure if their marketability is the same (Maddow may have made it but I’m not convinced there’s room for many more “new faces”).
    It’s like something is happening, but they don’t know what it is.

    • I can tell you where Judith Miller is – she just signed on with Newsmax. 😀 The financial rewards will definitely decline if their traffic does – the amount of money they make from them is directly proportionate to it. I think you’re right about the other sources – I notice that they tend to write a lot of books which they’ll shill on their television appearances (Kos’ last one bombed). I did notice that most of them – and it’s a small circle – really thought that their blog’s popularity actually translated to real influence in the political arena. As Jane Hamsher found out the hard way, it doesn’t.

      • Nina

        Newsmax for Dame Judith, eh? I was hoping she might end up doing something more useful (cooking? community service?) for the world than her usual made-up stuff, but it is a good match for her… talents. I guess that touting the benefits of mystery gels won’t do the damage that lying about WMD did though, so that’s something useful, however unintended.
        Yep, some of those bloggers sorta mistook the signifier for the signified. Journos once enjoyed some deference in the world but that has waned. Some of those bloggers seem to want deference too, just for opinionating, but it’s hard to generate that level of deference in opinionating these days (TV, papers or blogs)–the power really is local and means that “it’s not about you” but what you can do. Mobilize voters? Provide an action forum? Talk about things that interest you 🙂

  3. majii

    “I did notice that most of them – and it’s a small circle – really thought that their blog’s popularity actually translated to real influence in the political arena. As Jane Hamsher found out the hard way, it doesn’t.”

    And it has not caused them to examine their motives more closely, either. Their blogs are still h3llbent on trashing President Obama’s every move. I really wanted to attend the Netroots convention in LV last year, and now I’m glad I didn’t. I had even entertained the idea of attending the one for 2011, but it’s out of the question now. I’m going to use some of that money to support local food banks. I find it ludicrous that these individuals eschew data collection and interpretation, except for purposes that fit the meme they want to push at a particular time. All of them need to review yours, Norbrook. They’d see that their real impact on elections is negligible.

    • mem from somerville

      examine their motives more closely

      Precisely. I was also hoping/expecting that after the election that they would examine the outcomes–and that was a massive #FAIL on my part. They have no self awareness–at all. You can’t work with people who refuse to course-correct in the face of reality.

      That’s when I knew all I could do was change my direction–and make it away from theirs.

      • They did examine the outcomes, and decided it was all Obama’s fault. 🙄 It took them all of a millisecond to examine the data and come to that conclusion.

    • I can look back at all of the people they talked about “targeting” for primaries in 2009. Then all I have to do is look at the number of those targets who were actually primaried. What it comes down to is almost none. Yes, they got Halter to primary Lincoln (lost, too), and then jumped on Sestak’s bandwagon when he primaried Specter, only to watch Sestak lose the general election. Even giving them that, they weren’t a factor, and they couldn’t scrape up candidates to primary their “worst offenders” in the House.

      Jane’s big mistake was thinking that her getting to meet politicians and introduced around DC was because she ran FDL. It was really because she was Andy Stern’s girlfriend at the time, and once they broke up, pretty much any attention that was paid to her in the political big leagues disappeared. There’s a difference between the political clout of a major union president and a blog site owner.

  4. kittypat

    Volunteered for the incumbent in one of those primary races, he won handily, even so it was NOT easy. The campaign had already begun before most volunteers showed up, in fact it had been in the works the year before. One lesson they (the frustrati) need to learn is that you can’t just jump on a bandwagon and expect success, you have to BUILD the damn bandwagon first. Which involves less talking, more doing and developing the ability to work with a diverse group of people who don’t all share your ideas and ideals. It also includes the need to raise an enormous amount of cash to fund the campaign, no one enjoys it but it is a harsh reality and it will not change unless public funding of campaigns becomes mandatory and Citizen’s United is overturned.

    As usual NB you have treated us to another reality based post which I appreciate.

    • Exactly right. I know that the Presidential campaign has already kicked off – that’s one of the things you’re seeing now in the reshuffling of the White House staff. People are leaving for Chicago to start gearing up the campaign. I also know because I’m on so many different mailing lists, that the fundraising never stops. 🙄 For example, I guarantee you that Sestak was considering a run for the Senate before Specter switched parties.

      I know that at least three Representatives who were high on the frustrati’s “hit list” last year, and not a single one of them drew a primary challenger. The idea that you have to a) find a candidate; b) get a campaign staff together; c) raise money (lots of it); and d) get on the ballot is something they don’t think about. It’s stuff that happens long before a primary election, but they’ll show up to blog about it about two or three weeks before voting begins. 🙄

      • And be right there to criticize the votes and floor statements of people who have to get elected again – of course without the help of the frustrati, who will reduce their local support by badmouthing them.

      • gobrooklyn

        What they want is for Obama to support their choice of a primary challenger. They got very pissed when Obama supported the incumbents. No, Obama is supposed to use the party’s resources and his image to support their candidate. They don’t want to to do the work.

        • Exactly.. But the real problem was that most of the time, there was no primary challenger. 🙄 Even more, they never seem to get that it’s standard that a party leader (and apparatus) always supports the incumbent. 🙄

    • Nina

      Absolutely. I worked very hard for Kerry in ’04, going to NH almost every weekend for months, establishing a database of Boston voters, coordinating call campaigns for my ‘hood, giving rides, opening/locking up etc., but others had laid the planning for that well before I stepped in. I later did similar work for Patrick (excluding NH), but again, the blueprint was there already, I just hopped on the bandwagon.
      Obama got my efforts in NYC, but the bandwagon was there for me to hop on. I don’t know much about building them but when they are built well, they sure can move!

      • The other thing that requires advanced planning is the filing deadlines. They can often be well before the election, so if you’re not aware of when they are, you’re not going to get on the ballot. There’s different requirements in each state for getting on the primary ballot in the first place. Now, that’s for an open primary – if you’re running against an incumbent, it’s going to be tougher since the normal party apparatus that would handle a lot of that for you isn’t going to be there. Unless, that is, the incumbent has managed to seriously antagonize the party committees, or the party committees decide to “stay neutral” – which only happens if there are enough people (cough) who are on the committee in the first place.

      • kittypat

        The work you did for Kerry and Patrick and the President is another thing many of them aren’t familiar with Nina, I don’t think they realize the number of volunteer hours that go into campaigns.

  5. Norbrook, “out of the park” with this

    “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.”

    When I was a pure issues activist, I had no idea that you had to help do the Party’s work (become a PC/ask me) in order to gain influence. Makes sense

    I live in Arizona and the only thing that matters is somehow getting the State Party to field and support local candidates to build a bench and educate the public as to what is really happening (corporate theft, not “brown” theft), to actually change anything here. It is slow, tedious, often contentious, quite often boring work – Of all the PC’s in my district, only 5 or 6 actually even have a facebook account, much less blog.

    • It is slow, tedious, often contentious, quite often boring work

      Yes, it is. I know from having helped my aunt and cousin (who were on the party committee) all the boring stuff that goes on – meeting potential candidates, trying to figure out who – if anyone – could be induced to run for some office, trying to get everyone on the same sheet of music, and then actually getting money to run various campaigns. Personally, I’d love to never sit through another one again, although I see in my future I’m going to be doing just that 😀 It never really stops, either – 2011 is when we have local elections. So everyone has to pivot from the big state/national races this year, to figuring who is going to run for town councils, magistrate, etc.

  6. BTW, Norbrook, I think you pointed me over to BPI, and I am excited to tell you I have been invited to be an Author on the new room, Evening Focus, starting in January.

    Also on my own new baby blog, “Open Hearted Musings,” I have opened a “page” to have a conversation as to how peoples’ faith or religious views impact their political views. The Religious Right have no corner on faith and I think that should be talked about. I opened the page after a brief conversation over at BWD/s place last night, someone said the frutrati dissed anyone who was religious so something that is really important to many people never even gets discussed. Also the renewed bigoted prosecution of Muslims is troubling me and many others. So far just a statement about my own mystical eclectic views, but I do hope there will be people who want to have an ongoing conversation. http://wp.me/P1fCJ5-S

  7. angee

    “all the African Americans in my area are Republicans. ” As a black woman, where the HECK do you live? lol

    • The North Country of New York. It’s actually funny, because they irritate a lot of the local people who are also Republicans. Not because they’re black, but because they’re dogmatic conservatives, where most of the people up here tend to be pragmatic conservatives. 😀 Go figure.

  8. I Love OCD

    Funny how wandering around the internet keeps leading me to names I recognize, people I admire, and information I need to have. Been here before, and always feel grateful for you and people like you.

  9. Aquagranny911

    Just a quick ♥ to you, Norbrook and to your readers.

    My best wishes for a more fulfilling & prosperous New Year. Here’s to better days, people because we are willing to not just talk but to work for them!