In the Boston Review, Henry Farrell on what “netroots” can mean for American democracy.
The “netroots”—an Internet grass roots that has set out to change the Democratic Party—are often maligned. These progressive bloggers and their readers, who emerged as an influential group during Howard Dean’s presidential campaign, are increasingly depicted as a sinister movement under the dictatorial control of Markos “Kos” Moulitsas Zúniga, the founder of the prominent political blog Daily Kos. The New York Times columnist David Brooks writes that Kos “fires up his Web site . . . and commands his followers, who come across like squadrons of rabid lambs, to unleash their venom on those who stand in the way.” The New Republic senior editor Lee Siegel (now suspended) warns portentously of the dangers of “blogofascism,” a movement bearing worrying similarities to the Fascist forces that transformed post–World War I Europe into a “madhouse of deracinated ambition.” When the netroots aren’t Nazis, they’re proto-Stalinists: Jonathan Chait sees them as heirs of the “McGovernite New Left,” possessed of the same “paranoid, Manichean worldview” and “humorless rage” as extreme-left radicalism.
These claims are hysterical to the point of near-incoherence. They’re also wrong. The netroots are becoming a power in the Democratic Party, but they aren’t under the control of any one person or clique. And while many netroots bloggers describe themselves as progressive, they are generally not leftists in the conventional sense. Certainly they aren’t committed to any program of fundamental political and economic reform. As Benjamin Wallace-Wells and Bill McKibben have both documented, the netroots aren’t complaining that the Democratic Party isn’t radical enough; they’re complaining that it’s losing elections. Netroots bloggers don’t share a common ideology. If they are united by anything, it is their harsh criticism of the Republican Party, their shared anger at the Democratic Party’s failures, and their rough analysis of how it could do better.