Over the past weekend the third annual convening of dailykos.com activists took place in Austin, Texas. The group is now calling itself "Netroots Nation." Attendance was significant and those who came to fawn before their blog masters included Nancy Pelosi, Al Gore and Bob Barr.
Bob Barr? What was the Libertarian candidate for president doing at a meeting such as this one? Why seeking support, of course, from the many at dailykos.com (including the web site's founder) who describe themselves as "libertarian progressives."
Acute ideological confusion is one of four reasons why Barack Obama is the perfect candidate for the Netroots nation. A candidate who cannot define himself is a perfect fit with a political movement that is totally confused about its own identity.
Before trying to clarify this point, the other three reasons why Obama is the perfect candidate for visitors to dailykos.com, huffingtonpost.com and so forth should be outlined. First of all, Obama qualifies on generational grounds. The vast majority of blog activists are younger than Obama.
Secondly, Obama is a male. If one were to have gone to the first two annual kos meetings held in 2006 and 2007, one would have been overwhelmed by the young males in attendance. Finally, the vast majority of these young males are white — a dream come true for a candidate who works so hard to get whites behind him in background crowds as opposed to other demographic groups such as, say, blacks or Muslims.
But if the three most important things about any real estate market are "location, location, location" then the three most crucial aspects of Obama's candidacy are "ideology, ideology, ideology." Sort of.
We are finding out that Obama's ideological leanings are — like oil in the world's vast global markets — fungible. Just as different countries and differing economies have various needs for oil, Obama supporters need to be able to see in their candidate what they want to see. And does he ever oblige them.
When the Netroots nation was up in arms about the FISA reform bill working its way through congress during the primary season, Obama vowed to filibuster it if it contained immunity for telecommunications companies. We saw the Libertarian Progressives go to their battle stations. But when Obama completely reversed himself after "sewing up" the Democratic nomination for president, the kos community went back to their day jobs with very little being said, at least according to the Great Kos himself on a television interview he did for MSNBC last Friday.
Neither are these weak-kneed progressives worried any more about the public financing of political campaigns. As long as their candidate can raise more money privately than his evil opponent, who really cares, anyway?
The ancestors to the Netroots Nation are the knee-jerk liberals of the Democratic Party's sorry past. Bill Clinton saved the party from this wing — and itself — in the 1990s with his "Third Way" approach to politics. The Kennedys, Kerrys and their ilk never got over this fact. They sought redemption this year through an unholy alliance between themselves, the Netroots Nation and the Obama campaign.
But what do unreconstructed Liberals have to do with Progressives, let alone Libertarians? Almost nothing, really. The original progressive movement was defined by Teddy Roosevelt and employed elements such as an interventionist foreign policy and working with large financial and industrial interests to reshape the U.S. economy — progressive era "reforms" were almost all written by interests that represented J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller and so forth. The Federal Reserve was created, for example, to make the world safer for private bankers — as we've seen in spades again recently.
Libertarianism stems from the Republican reaction against both progressivism and the rise of a truly national Democratic Party. It has always promoted individual liberty, free markets, little or no government interference in the economy and a noninterventionist — if not isolationist — foreign policy. The most consistent anti-war element in American politics for decades has been the libertarian community. They believe, correctly, that Ralph Bourne was right when he said that, "War is the health of the state."
About the only thing liberalism shares in common with libertarianism is a belief that people should be left alone to pursue whatever lifestyles and associations that they chose. You cannot be a libertarian and support national health insurance as well as huge increases in government spending (whether it's on the military, infrastructure, schools, income transfers or what have you). And if you are going to spend the money, you ought to raise enough in tax revenues to pay for it. Even "tax and spend" policies are better than "borrow and spend" approaches. With the former, you pay the costs only one time as opposed to over and over again through interest on public debt before it has to be repaid — or, what's more likely, refinanced.
Where does Barack Obama fit on the Liberal-Progressive-Libertarian continuum? Here, there and everywhere, of course!
Like all true libertarians, Obama opposed the war on Iraq but voted to fund it every time he had an opportunity to do so. Like the vast majority of liberals he was against the surge, but this week benefited from the security it has brought to Iraq which allowed him to meet with that country's leaders in safety. Obama will withdraw troops from Iraq within sixteen months of his inauguration (or not, depending — like Bush and McCain upon the facts on the ground) but will send many of those soldiers to Afghanistan, just as Teddy Roosevelt might have done under similar circumstances.
Like Republican national leaders of the recent past, Obama will try to borrow and spend the country's way to prosperity if elected. He said a few weeks ago that balancing the budget is no longer a priority for him. But he will tax and spend, as well. It will be "guns, butter and supply-side economics" all rolled up in one ungodly ideological stew. Unfortunately, this unseemly concoction will not be served up to just the participants at future gatherings of the Networks Nation. We're all going to get severe indigestion from it for years after an Obama inauguration, should there be one.
July 28, 2008