The Two Worlds of the Liberal Blogosphere

by Byron York

They're both on display at YearlyKos.

Las Vegas–“There’s no doubt we’re turning the political world upside down,” said DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas Thursday night as he gave the “keynote” address to open the YearlyKos convention here at the Riviera Hotel. “We have arrived. Look at this conference.”

The crowd–about 1,000 people were registered to attend–loved it. And their support of Moulitsas highlighted one side of the liberal blogosphere on display at YearlyKos–a side that is confident, cocky, and almost triumphal. But there’s another side, too, and it is nearly the opposite: a frustrated side, without Moulitsas’s confidence and worried that left-wing bloggers still haven’t won–and might never win–acceptance in the mainstream political world.

That other side was on display at a discussion session, held a couple of hours before Moulitsas’s speech Thursday night, by a group of people who work with the popular liberal blog firedoglake. Discussing a new project to make their opinions better known to lawmakers in Washington, several people expressed slightly different versions of the same fear: People see that we are bloggers, the fear goes, and that we’re on the left, and they think we’re nuts. “How do you avoid being seen as just a bunch of crazy bloggers?” asked one person. “Has the work ameliorated the stigma of the crazy leftist blogger?” asked another. And earlier Thursday, at a workshop run by the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, one leader urged the Kossacks not to let people “marginalize you as a blogger–they may think that you are nutty and kind of wild.”

That is the contrast of YearlyKos. On the one hand, Moulitsas speaks as if he has won the political game, while on the other side some of his followers worry that they’re not even in it.

Moulitsas’s confidence seems to know no bounds. “My name is Markos, I run a site called DailyKos–maybe you’ve heard of it,” he told the crowd Thursday in a way that said he knew full well that everyone not only had heard of it but nearly worshipped it, too. “These have been heady days for people-powered politics,” he continued. “We’re only four years old, from the early days when bloggers like Atrios and Jerome Armstrong at MyDD inspired bloggers like me and countless others to stop railing at the television, stop throwing pillows at Hannity and Colmes, stop complaining about Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, stop complaining about the pathetic so-called liberals who were supposedly speaking for us in Washington, DC, and take what we felt, that passion and that energy, and start using it online.”

From that modest beginning, according to Moulitsas’s storyline, came triumph just one year later. “2003 was the year of Howard Dean,” Moulitsas said, “where an unknown governor from a small, remote, and usually forgotten state was propelled to front-runner status on the strength of people power.”

Then came a setback. “2004,” said Moulitsas, “yeah, let’s not talk about 2004.” But after that, another triumph. “2005 was the year we helped Howard Dean become DNC chairman. We also helped Paul Hackett prove that a strong unapologetic progressive voice could compete in a blood-red conservative district.”

The odd thing was that Moulitsas’s victories weren’t actually victories. 2003 might have been the year of candidate Howard Dean, but 2004 was the year in which the Democratic presidential nominee was actually chosen–and Dean lost. And while 2005 was indeed the year Dean ascended to the top of the DNC, it would be a mistake to attribute his victory mostly to Moulitsas’s influence. And Paul Hackett, a Moulitsas favorite who ran for a seat in the House from Ohio in 2005–well, he lost. And so did more than a dozen other candidates who ran with Moulitsas’s support.

What’s more, some of them lost in part because they said the kind of things that bring cheers on the DailyKos but that turn off many voters. Hackett not only called President Bush a “chickenhawk,” he also said–echoing earlier statements by Moulitsas himself–that “the Republican party has been hijacked by the religious fanatics that, in my opinion, aren’t a whole lot different from Osama bin Laden.” Voters thought he was a bit over the top–just like some of the bloggers who supported him.

But that doesn’t appear to give Moulitsas pause–or reason for reflection. Instead, on Thursday night, with his face shining down on his followers from large screens on both ends of the stage, he fused the two worlds of the liberal blogosphere–the world of overweening confidence and the world of resentment at those who don’t recognize the Kossacks’ extraordinary power.

“Look at each other,” Moulitsas told his followers. “Look left and right. There have been so many efforts to marginalize us by the media and political elite because we had the temerity to feel passionate about politics. How dare us riff raff demand a voice in our democracy?”

They can’t keep us out any longer, Moulitsas said. We’re going to crash the gates. “People power is a wonderful thing. Everyone can be a leader. Everyone can be a strong voice. Everyone can make a difference. There has been far too much talent, far too much passion, far too much intelligence in this country marginalized by the establishment currently stinking up Washington D.C. And now, that talent has an outlet. It can no longer be marginalized.”

Byron York, NR’s White House correspondent, is the author of The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy: The Untold Story of How Democratic Operatives, Eccentric Billionaires, Liberal Activists, and Assorted Celebrities Tried to Bring Down a President — and Why They’ll Try Even Harder Next Time.