Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Democrats, look West

"A new breed of 'progressives' is shifting the party's center of gravity from the South and Northeast.

This new progressive movement, which now exerts a strong gravitational pull on the direction of Democratic politics, is a national phenomenon, but much of its financing and intellectual energy comes from the West."

I think Bai is spot on with this last statement. Much of the "new progressivism" has emerged from a very tech savvy online community which has much of its roots on the West Coast. I've always considered that the early (1980's) online communities and ideologies represented two distinct traditions; libertarian and communitarian. Much of those early online political and cultural values have shaped the modern online progressive activist ideology.
Bai writes;
"Because West Coast progressives were among the earliest innovators in the new technologies of the Digital Age, it's not surprising that their movement champions interactivity and the use of the Internet as a tool for organizing and messaging."

One of the foundational principals of the online progressive community is transparency. This explains, at least in part, why the online Left is so far ahead of the Right. The principals of transparency, open source, and collaboration fundamentally open up online activism for greater democratic participation and political innovation.
"The goal of this new movement, to the extent that it can be readily distilled, is to create a Democratic Party that is more responsive to its disaffected liberal base rather than to just single-issue groups and undecided voters."

Last December, I worked on a project for Vibeke's class on American Patriotism titled, Electronic Dissent and the American Left.This was the crux of my main argument;
"The struggle for equality and justice in American history can be seen through attempts of the Left to define and create communities capable of enriching people’s lives and providing political power. However, a major theme in American political thinking since the emergence of the New Left in the 1960’s has revolved around the disconnect of leftist political philosophy from translating into any meaningful or lasting political action. Today there is a real and substantial reconnect, but its not being led by the old guard academic Left, its coming directly from the people, enabled with new and powerful communication technologies which are revolutionizing our understanding of community and the basis of political power."

Bai goes on to write;
"Understanding this seismic shift in Democratic politics, from a party dominated by a tired, receding East-South establishment to one defined by an East-West alliance, and especially by the influence of technology-savvy Western progressives, will be critical to making sense of the coming campaign."

I think overall Bai makes some great points which follow my line of reasoning. I wouldn't place all the focus on the Netroots however. Absolutely, anyone who doesn't understand this very unique and growing constintuency within the Democratic party may not be able to fully grasp the changing social and political environment. However, demographics are also comming into play as many of the Western Mountain States turn blue, or at least purple. This is brought on by the large out migrations of tech industry folks from California. Furthermore, the disparity between working and middle classes and the wealthy has been increasing for 30 years. This combined with the overall dissatisfaction of the Bush presidency and the disilussionment of "compassionate conservatism" bodes very well for Democrats. However, the Netroots goal is not merely Democratic victories, but a transformation of the soul of the Democratic party. The Netroots are claiming the "intelectual" mantle from the "New Left", stressing solidarity over single issue driven politics. The Academic Left seems to be following the lead of the Netroots, which do not represent academia, yet for the most part are middle-class, educated, professional citizen activists. By no means is the Netroots monolithic. Already fractures and disputes are occurring from within the ranks of some of the leading online voices. Perhaps the "Netroots will fracture and/or become co-opted by traditonal Democratic power structures. Maybe unions and other grass roots organizations will become more adept at messaging and activism within the new media paradigm. So far, the Online Left has not made any real meaningful organizational alliances with labor. I think this is more the fault of Progressives than Labor, but both groups are the worse off for it. Finally, one must always consider the possibility of government regulation which could ultimately hamper the current open and egalitarian structure of the internet. One thing is for sure however. Online is where the action is today. It may be yet too soon to claim the American Frontier is closed.