Not so long ago, the Republican right expected to dominate American politics for generations to come. Karl Rove, the balding “boy genius” of the G.O.P., believed that his generation had achieved a partisan realignment that would relegate Democrats to irrelevance and overturn the progressive achievements of the past century.
Now those confident predictions have been proved false, amid the crashing failure of George W. Bush and the rise of a new progressive politics powered by the Internet. What traditional pundits once dismissed as the unwashed peasantry of the blogosphere have risen up to raise millions of dollars, elect Democratic candidates, and demand real change in domestic and foreign policy. Having inflicted a terrible defeat on the Republicans in last year’s midterm election, the “netroots” progressives are preparing to achieve historic victories in 2008.
Naturally, the would-be bullies of the right have not taken this development very well. As reactionaries tend to do, they have reacted with fear, anger, and attempted intimidation.
The Murdoch empire, operating as the Fox News Channel, has mounted a crusade against DailyKos.com, the largest progressive political Web site, and YearlyKos, the site’s annual blogger convention, which will take place in Chicago next month. On his nightly broadcast, Fox News sage Bill O’Reilly charged that the proprietors of Daily Kos are “hatemongers” like the Ku Klux Klan or the Nazis—and targeted JetBlue for serving as a sponsor and the official airline of YearlyKos. Not surprisingly, Mr. O’Reilly’s ranting and raving frightened the JetBlue suits into withdrawing their sponsorship, or at least asking Daily Kos to remove the airline’s name from the YearlyKos promotion.
Then came Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, another Murdoch minion, who tried to frighten the Democrats away from Daily Kos. “Every Democratic presidential nominee is going to the Daily Kos convention,” he sniffed. “That’s the left-wing blogger who was not respectable three or four years ago.… Now the whole party is going to pay court to him and to left-wing blogs.” Clearly he meant to warn that the Democrats would suffer from their association with those disreputable leftists—and that the netroots are a fringe, extremist element.
The most obvious answer to these reactions from Messrs. O’Reilly and Kristol is to urge them both to look in the mirror. To listen to the Fox News host—who has publicly urged the destruction of the entire city of San Francisco and the entire nation of Iran, among thousands of other equally charming remarks—is to hear corrosive hatred distilled into a nightly dose of poison. The occasional outburst on a liberal blog, almost always in the anonymous comments section, cannot compare with the daily outpouring of vitriol on Fox.
As for Mr. Kristol, he is no longer in a position to accuse anyone else of extremism, if he ever was. His chief allies have long been among the theocratic evangelical rightists. For many years he has provided the worst possible advice to the Republicans, habitually promoting divisive and violent policies. During the Clinton administration, he led the neoconservative drive for impeachment, urging the Congressional majority to ignore public disapproval and vote to remove the president. This stupidity led to a Republican rout in the 1998 midterm election.
Having failed to learn that lesson, the Republicans listened to Mr. Kristol’s intense advocacy of invading Iraq, back when he assured everyone that war would be easy and fun and that any talk of Shia-Sunni conflict was mere “pop sociology.”
Liberals can only hope that crackpots like Mr. Kristol maintain their influence over the Republicans for a few more years, reducing the right-wing party to a permanent minority.
But are the bloggers somewhere on the opposite extreme? For those who have yet to make his acquaintance, the creator of Daily Kos is Markos Moulitsas—an Army veteran of Salvadoran and Greek extraction who grew up in the Midwest and now lives in the Bay Area with his wife and two children. He is a business entrepreneur and a serious sports fan. He also happens to be a liberal Democrat with a determination to win and occasionally a hot temper.
He and the other leading voices in the netroots seek a Democratic politics that is both pragmatic and principled. Antiwar, but certainly not anti-military, they have fostered alliances with veterans of Iraq. They avoid rigidity, dislike identity politics, and apply few litmus tests. In 2006 the bloggers raised money for many of the candidates deemed conservative by the Washington press corps.
In truth, the bloggers share the values of most Americans, who also want to end the war in Iraq, establish universal health insurance, reduce global warming, increase the minimum wage and preserve Social Security. It is the ideologues such as Messrs. O’Reilly and Kristol whose opposition to those values locates them on the fringe, despite their loud megaphones and corporate backing. And what Murdoch bullies prove whenever they try to stigmatize the citizen bloggers is how much they fear a fair (and balanced) fight.