The blogger who has done the most to help me get on my feet and pushed me to keep writing and thinking is Lowell Feld of RaisingKaine. He and I do not necessarily agree all the time, but it is thanks to him that Leesburg Tomorrow is here today...I’d have to second that. When I first began blogging, I wrote something about Jim Webb and the next thing I knew I got two comments, one from Lowell and the other from Josh Chernila, both of RK. I didn’t even know who they were. That’s how naïve I was. I had just started blogging and was writing mostly about national level politics, economic populism, and religion. Then, I met Lee Diamond, who was handing out a petition to get Jim Webb on the ballot for the primary. That was how I found out about Webb. Since one of the big issues in Webb’s primary was outsourcing and economic justice at home, I jumped on the bandwagon. I'd been reading and linking to Paul Krugman as much as I could precisely because of his take on the economy.
Then, after reading Lowell's and Josh's comments, the next thing I knew, my blog was listed on their blogroll, they asked me to cross post on RK, I began to get more readers, and somebody suggested that I also get my blog put on Lefty Blogs. Suddenly, I was part of the the Virginia Netroots.
Lowell has done more to encourage and promote me than almost anybody else, except my former neighbor Ben Tribbett. And that was before Lowell ever even met me. So, I’m proud and honored now to put up a link on my blogroll to his new website, Netroots Rising. Not only does it promote the book with excerpts and interviews, but it’s fascinating reading even as a stand alone.
Lowell’s interview with Donnie Fowler, the son of legendary South Carolina DNC Chairman, Donald Fowler (whom I had the pleasure of meeting once), gives a very good, balanced assessment of the new Netroots medium. Donnie, who grew up living and breathing politics, was General Wesley Clark’s first campaign manager and here’s what he had to say:
Fowler: At the risk of being critical of the netroots, there’s a sense in the netroots….lots of them are new to politics, the 2003/2004 campaign was their first real political experience. There’s a sense that there was no grassroots before the internet came along, that’s just a misunderstanding. The grassroots has always existed. What technology has done has allowed us to do the most traditional politics much better and much faster. There’s nothing actually new. The netroots sometimes believes that they invented the grassroots, or some completely highly advanced super charged steroids-full grassroots.Fowler fought for the netroots when the Beltway professionals came in and took over Clark’s campaign. But he’s right that there always was a grassroots composed of loyal foot soldiers who get out the vote election after election, often with little personal reward beyond seeing their candidate win and getting a few of their favorite causes implemented as policy. The ‘net and netroots simply make communication and the exchange of ideas easier. The ideal, as Lowell has often said, is a new electronic town square, where the entire globe can be our village.
Fowler: The underlying feeling that the Democratic Party never did grassroots before the netroots came along, that’s just not true. There were unions, the pro-choice movement, the [civil rights] movement, all of which predated the internet. The internet makes it all easier.
My favorite interview, though, is one Lowell conducted with Jon Henke, who was Lowell’s counterpart in the George Allen campaign.
Because I actively participated in blogging for Jim Webb and against George Allen at the time, I had a front row seat to some of what they are discussing. That campaign was as knock down and drag out as it gets. I remember trying to describe it to a friend who wasn’t familiar with the blogosphere. I said, “It’s a full contact sport, not for the faint of heart or squeamish.”
It’s fascinating all these years later to see these two worthy adversaries sit down to a cordial interview and to read Henke’s take on what happened.
Henke: I believe the Democrats “got” the Netroots in 2006, while Republicans did not get it at all. In 2007, Republicans are just now at the same place Democrats were in late 2002/early 2003: they know this whole “new media” thing is important and they know they should try to figure it out, but it’s still a bit of a mystery to most of them. It will take some time for the establishment to grow comfortable with the new communications medium.I could, of course, tell you what Henke said about the Macacca Moment. But nah! For that, you’ll just have to go to Netroots Rising and read it for yourself. And read what Jim Webb had to tell Lowell.
Henke: I think pro-Democratic blogs outnumber pro-Republican blogs almost everywhere, regardless of the hue of the State. Democrats have a much more developed new media operation, and the liberal/progressive movement throws more resources at their new media effort. However, in Virginia, as in much of the country, it’s simply a matter of Democrats being out of power, frustrated and in search of new venues for their voice. Democrats gravitated to blogs for the same reason that Republicans gravitated to talk radio and Free Republic in the 90s. It gave them a place to shout – a place to get involved.
Feld: Do you believe that senior Allen strategists like Dick Wadhams were surprised at the intensity of the Virginia blogosphere? Did anyone ever say to Wadhams, “Dick, I don’t think we’re in South Dakota anymore!”
Henke: I think virtually all Republicans were surprised at the effectiveness of the Democrats internet media machine. I suspect that a few years of apparent impotence had lulled them into the belief that the LeftRoots movement was just the “fringe crazies”. That misses the real power and influence of the liberal blogs, in my opinion, which is much more in narrative development and messaging to the influentials than about fundraising and GOTV.
If you buy the book, you’ll find out how a group of upstarts launched a movement, helped turn the Senate blue, and made history.