Monday, June 26, 2006


Kosa Nostra

It seems that my friends over at Daily Kos -- the leading light of the liberal blogosphere -- are learning the hard way that what is good for the goose is good for the slander.

After spending the last few years throwing rhetorical bombs at the political establishment and the mainstream media with gleeful abandon, and without much scrutiny, Kos and some of his compatriots are beginning to be put under the public microscope themselves for a variety of alleged sins.

Among the charges: intellectual inconsistency, political opportunism, and perhaps most damaging, secret payoffs.

The details of the payola allegations -- which you can read more about in David Brooks column in this past Sunday's Times (see below) and this week's Newsweek -- are kind of muddy and hard to judge. As far as I can tell, there might be no there there.

But what is clear, and far more revealing, is the ugly way Kos (aka Markos Moulitsas Zuniga) has reacted to the legitimate questions about his conduct.

As Brooks and others have noted, instead of calmly refuting the charges and practicing the same kind of transparency he demands from political leaders, Kos sent out a confidential email that essentially invoked the liberal blogging family's version of omerta -- he called on his allies to not blog about the subject and thus starve the story of oxygen.

Then after the email was leaked to The New Republic, which in turn published a critical piece on the episode on its website, Kos raged at the betrayal, lashed out at his frequent sparring partners at TNR, and called for the magazine's excommunication from the progressive community. (TNR's Jonathan Chait has an excellent write-up and take-down of it all here.)

Now before I go any further, I should practice the transparency that I preach and disclose that I am not an innocent bystander here. As my some of you know, I have challenged the Kossacks' wisdom on a few occasions before and taken a few lumps for it. So it might be expected that I would take satisfaction in Kos' comeuppance and the growing exposure of his many hypocrisies.

But mostly I feel a sense of loss for the cause, which I consider myself a part of, no matter the intellectual or tactical differences I may have with some elements of the progressive blogosphere from time to time.

This democracy-expanding, foundation-threatening medium/movement is not just fighting an entrenched and corrupt hegemony in Washington -- it is fighting a widely-held stereotype by the outside world that bloggers are just a bunch of pajama-wearing, laptog-lugging crazies. The last thing it needs is for the movement's public face to conform to the worst aspects of this marginalizing caricature, and, even worse, the worst qualities of the power structure the blogworld is challenging.

Hopefully the rest of the progressive blogging community will resist the temptation to become La Kosa Nostra and circle their wonky wagons around the godfather, and instead hold Kos and any other movement leader accountable to the high standards of openness and accountability they demand of the folks behind the gates they are crashing.

If nothing else, maybe they will see that having a glass chin while living in a glass house is not a good combination for a public stone thrower.

Anyway, here's the Brooks column......

Op-Ed Columnist
Respect Must Be Paid

They say that the great leaders are gone and politics has become the realm of the small-minded. But in the land of the Lilliputians, the Keyboard Kingpin must be accorded full respect.

The Keyboard Kingpin, a k a Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, sits at his computer, fires up his Web site, Daily Kos, and commands his followers, who come across like squadrons of rabid lambs, to unleash their venom on those who stand in the way. And in this way the Kingpin has made himself a mighty force in his own mind, and every knee shall bow.

The Kingpin's first enemy was the Democratic Party establishment, and it pleased him to see Howard Dean take it on. When the Dean campaign hired the Kingpin and his co-author and onetime business partner Jerome Armstrong as paid campaign consultants, this was an appropriate sign of respect, and the Kingpin did lay his hand of blog approval upon the Dean campaign (while disclosing the connection).

When Sherrod Brown, the Democratic Senate candidate in Ohio, hired Armstrong last year to help with his campaign, this was also a sign of respect. The Kingpin had instructed his Kossack cultists to support Brown's Democratic primary rival, Paul Hackett. But the Kingpin switched sides and backed Brown over his former anointee.

The Kingpin often directs his wrath at the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. But the centrist Democrat Mark Warner has also hired Armstrong as a consultant, and the Kingpin has graciously exempted Warner from the seventh circle of Kos hell. Warner is frequently celebrated on Daily Kos as something akin to the second coming of F.D.R.

And so it is in the realm of the Kingpin. Those who offer respect get respected.

But lo, there are doubters. Chris Suellentrop, who writes the Opinionator column on TimesSelect, posted an item on June 16 noting the strange correlation between Armstrong contracts and Kos endorsements. He further reported that the S.E.C. has filed court documents alleging that in 2000 Armstrong touted a dubious software stock on a Web site in exchange for secret payments. Armstrong was accused of building Internet buzz to make money for himself.

The Keyboard Kingpin was displeased by this publicity.

But the Sachem of the Blogosphere restrained his mighty wrath and responded with the cleverness for which he is so justly self-adored. In a private letter to hundreds of his fellow progressive bloggers, the Kingpin declared he would "go on the offensive" in a "couple of months," but in the meantime, a code of omertà was in order. "It would make my life easier if we can confine the story," he wrote. "If any of us blog on this right now, we fuel the story. Let's starve it of oxygen."

But alas! There was a Judas on the listserve, who leaked the Kingpin's missive to Jason Zengerle, who promptly posted a report on The New Republic Web site.

The Kingpin waxed Cheneyesque on the evils of leaking, and this time the squeaking fury of the Kossacks could be heard (to those capable of discerning high frequencies) far and wide. The Kingpin excommunicated The New Republic from the community of the saved. "If you still hold a subscription to that magazine, it really is time to call it quits. If you see it in a magazine rack, you might as well move it behind the National Review," he wrote on Daily Kos.

"The New Republic betrayed, once again, that it seeks to destroy the new people-powered movement for the sake of its Lieberman-worshiping neocon owners," the Kingpin charged. And so the magazine of Walter Lippmann was expunged from the community of the righteous, and its writers cast into the shadow of oblivion.

The Kingpin is not surprised by such betrayals. Sounding like Tom DeLay — who is his moral doppelgänger — Kos says that those who crash the gates and take on the establishment are bound to be attacked.

But the truth is that the new boss is little different from the old boss — only smaller. Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and many other Democrats bow and scrape. He has managed to spread the gospel of Kossism far and wide, which is not really about ideas and philosophy. "I'm just all about winning," he has said.

And so the Kingpin has his relationships and his understandings and his networks and his compromises. In just a few short years he has achieved a level of self-importance it took those in the pre-blog political class decades to acquire.

He has challenged his enemy and become it.

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