Marginal Footnotes

Enemy at the Gates: Markos Moulitsas
May 8, 2006, 12:30 pm
Filed under: Media, Politics, Uncategorized

It is difficult for me to imagine that The Washington Post gave Markos Moulitsas column space in its Sunday edition for his pedestrian, self-aggrandizing and internally contradictory assault on Hillary Clinton, but it did.  Let me state from the outset that I have never been a devotee of his website, and I have never trusted the over-hyped and thus far unproved power of the onliners.  But Moulitsas has made quite a name for himself.  That he has become the champion and mouthpiece of the ‘netroots’ of liberal activism says a great deal indeed about the judgment of this childlike but insistent component of the Democratic Party with its acerbic ankle biting, proclivity for cannibalism and relentless bitching about still having to sit at the political kid’s table.  If only these people would simply learn some manners, we might let them eat with the adults.  When they elect to become serious, I suspect they will be treated seriously.  They have not yet so elected.  To see what I mean, let’s assess the (faulty) logic of the self-appointed spokesman of netrootism.  Let’s distil some of Mr Moulitsas’ assertions and lay bare his intellectually immature and rather nasty sniping: 

–He claims Howard Dean could have won the Democratic nomination, even though he didn’t.  While this sort of historical wish-fulfilment, this revision by rewriting the narrative and changing some facts here and there, inserting a few what ifs and if onlys, is always fun at the local, it has little relevance in serious political discourse.  It evokes a serious irony when it is used for the purposes of demonstrating one’s foresight and political intuitiveness.   

–He claims the existing ‘Democratic Party Establishment’ is a failed political apparatus.  One wonders if Mr Moulitsas will find it necessary to eat these words come November.  I am prepared to bet he will.  That the engineers of what I expect will be a political revolution in 2006 are all consummate Washington insiders—Chuck Schumer, Rahm Emmanuel (a Clinton man), Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer—with the notable exception of Howard Dean who, by all accounts, is underperforming in his primary charge of raising cash—will be a stinging indictment of the by now clichéd outsiderism advocated by Markos Moulitsas and the laptop mafia.     

–He claims Republicans built ‘a vast network of small-dollar donors’ while Democrats ‘fed off million-dollar-plus donations’.  Certainly he is referring to an era prior to BCRA, and that day of course is done. On that score this claim has no significance.  Presumably he wishes for us to take seriously his implicit claim here that Republicans did not feed off ‘million-dollar-plus donations’.  It would be impossible to take seriously that claim because it is not true. 

–He claims that Bill and Hillary Clinton are responsible for the war in Iraq and the numerous policy failures of the Bush administration.  They ‘enabled’ the Republican takeover in 1994 and the ascension of George W. Bush.  That word ‘enabled’ is a strong verb indeed.  And by ‘strong’ I mean ‘weak’.  The explanation for this claim is un-compelling because it is not made.  Instead a rather vague reference to Clinton’s ‘fealty’ to a political ‘third way’ is proffered.  That Clinton’s triangulatory approach led to two consecutive Democratic presidential electoral victories (and eight pretty good years) for the first time since Jimmy Carter’s unfortunate tenure is apparently of no consequence.  He asserts that Bill Clinton and, since for Moulitsas Hillary Clinton is nothing more than Bill redux, Hillary are responsible for the 1994 Republican revolution since they allowed (apparently in two years) the Democratic congressional caucus to ‘atrophy’.  What is happening here is a radical oversimplification. The historical facts which refuse neat assimilation into the narrative Moulitsas is writing are simply erased.  The fact is however that the rise of the Republicans was the result of years of Democratic governmental mismanagement and ethical misbehaviour which long predated Bill Clinton’s election and which Republicans artfully exploited to fuel public antipathy for the abuse of power.  They wrote a contact with America and the public signed it.  They have broken that contract, and it is a sweet irony that the cause of their fall will be the inverted reason for their rise.      

–He claims that Democrats ‘haven't won more than 50 percent of the vote in a presidential election since 1976’, nor has it won more than ‘50.1 percent since 1964’.  Here again, the fact that Bill Clinton won two presidential elections is, evidently, of no consequence.  There is no reference to Ross Perot or Ralph Nadar, both of whom drastically altered the electoral dynamic of the contests in which they participated: 50 percent of the vote is a tricky thing in a three-man election.  Al Gore won 48.4 percent of the vote (even with the Nadar factor), compared to Bush’s 47.9 percent; John Kerry won 48.3 percent against Bush’s 50.7 percent.  While Moulitsas’ claims are not factually inaccurate, they are presented in such a way as to be misleading.  His overstatement of the problem with the Democratic Party is endemic and is also necessary for his peddling of radical change.  But when one recalls that George W. Bush may or may not have defeated Al Gore in one of the closest presidential contest in history and that he beat the wimpish John Kerry with a mere 130,000 votes in a single state (Ohio), the call for radicalism sounds more shrill than prophetic.                

–He claims that Hillary Clinton has no discernable leadership qualities.   

–He claims that Hillary Clinton has no principles, or, if she does, refuses to stand for them.

–He claims that Hillary Clinton has no personality.  Instead, she is a ‘heartless’ and ‘passionless machine’.  

These last three remarks are not arguments; they are fallacious and unhelpful attacks on a significant member of the Democratic Party and a real political innovator, and some might say national hero.  Also, they are self-evidently false (and, contrary to statements otherwise, constitute the kind of ‘conventional wisdom’ Moulitsas claims to eschew, and which is incidentally often heard on the Fox News Channel or seen in the pages of conservative weeklies). 

While nonchalantly belching these attacks, for let’s call them what they are, Moulitsas makes sure to remind us of the name of his website and self-assign stature by pointing out the fact that he has, in fact, met Sen. Clinton (‘Clinton is one of the warmest politicians I’ve ever met’).  Congratulations.  I am truly impressed.  He indicates that his is anything but ‘conventional wisdom’; we must therefore infer that he is unconventionally wise.  Also, he is heroic, mythical even in his ‘crashing [of] the gates’, a conveniently self-serving reference to his own recently-published book.  Moulitsas feels so big in his own shoes now that he finds it necessary to invoke his self-perceived authority as the spokesman of liberal ‘netroots’ community with what is in essence a threat, unthreatening and absurd though it may be: pay attention to us, Hillary, or lose (that’s a paraphrase).  I am sure Senator Clinton is quivering in her boots.  In a final act of self-validation, Moulitsas points out that his ability to glimpse the ‘viability of the candidacy of an obscure governor from a small New England state three years ago’ suggests that we should take him, and indeed the liberal netroots community, seriously.  The problem with this line of analysis?  Howard Dean was not, in fact, a viable candidate.

I am not in the main opposed to his (unpersuasively made) argument that political candidates would serve themselves well by relying on political consultants less.  I am also not opposed to an opening (as opposed to a ‘crashing’) of the so-called gates to increase generally the accessibility to party politics and to broaden the participation of everyone interested enough to be politically engaged.  But the smug divisiveness propagated by Markos Moulitsas is not the way.  It simply will not do to slice and dice your own.         


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[…] Stuart Smith, a 'Republican media consultant' who work on the BC04/02 campaigns, and Markos Moulitsas, of, you know, 'netrootism, have just teed off a debate in Slate on evil political consultants.  Might be interesting.  You can read my assessment of Moulitsas here. […]

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