Thursday, May 10, 2007


The Dangerstein Myth

As you may have noticed, I took a break from writing the last few weeks, mostly to deal with the social (and psychic) demands of my 40th birthday. The party is over, literally speaking, so it's back to the mindstone.

During my time off pondering my mortality, I enjoyed a fair measure of comedic relief from reading in the blogosphere about the latest transgressions of my fictional digital alter ego, commonly known as "Dangerstein."

If you are not familiar with this character, do a quick Google search, and you'll quickly find out what a obnoxious jerk he is. Or you can just check out this post to get a flavor for what my doppelgangerstein is all about and his most recent crimes against blog-humanity.

Not exactly typical chuckle-inducing stuff, I know, seeing your persona/reputation bent and distorted beyond all recognition in a world-wide electronic fun-house mirror. Maybe my sense of humor got similarly warped from a decade in Washington (and too many hours playing poker with some of my more humility-enforcing friends).

But all I can do is laugh at the absurdity of routinely being called a liar, a thug, a racist, and a (gasp) Republican by a group of people who A) have never met me; B) have next to no idea about my body of work or my political beliefs; and C) most tellingly, seem to go out of their way to ignore what I say and write, lest it interfere with their myth-making and enemy-creation.

Plus, being a lifelong Red Sox fan, fatalism comes naturally to me, and I have accepted that there is little I could do at this point to substantially change this weird dynamic. There's just been too much misinformation spread for too long, and self-reflection and intellectual honesty don't exactly seem to be the liberal blogosphere's strong suit.

But seeing as part of the blogger ethic is to engage, including with your critics, I thought it would be useful exercise (for posterity if nothing else) to take a moment to try to clear up some of the misimpressions left by the Dangerstein myth. Who knows, I might be pleasantly surprised and have a few of my blogger friends take a second look at some of their uncritical assumptions. So here goes:

1) I am a Democrat, and have been since I first registered to vote in Connecticut two decades ago (you can look it up). I thought about switching to being an independent last summer after some of my fellow Democrats tried to purge my former boss (and current client) Joe Lieberman from the party. But I decided instead, in the immortal words of Al Gore, to stay and fight. And last time I checked, Kos and company were not granted authority by the DNC to determine party membership criteria.

(FYI: I was identified as an "independent consultant" in tagline of a couple op-eds I did for the Wall Street Journal soon after going out on my own, but that simply meant I was free agent not affiliated with any firm. Since then, to avoid any confusion, I have done my best to identify myself as a "Democratic strategist" when commentating.)

2) I don't claim to broadly speak for other Democrats, though I do believe there are more than a few other party members who share my general views and my specific concerns about the excesses of the Netroots. I speak for myself, as a strategist, unless I indicate I am speaking on behalf of a client (Senator Lieberman or otherwise).

3) I am hardly a neo-con. I disagree almost across the board with George Bush's foreign policy -- especially his and Cheney's arrogant disdain and disregard for our alliances, which have been critical to our security in the post-World War II era. What's more, my blogger friends might be stunned to learn that I even disagree in some ways with Senator Lieberman's stance on Iraq. I was supportive of the use of force against Saddam in concept, but I believe the way that Bush went to war (without real diplomacy before the invasion, without nearly enough troops, without being honest about the war's cost) was a colossal mistake.

And like most Democrats, I am furious at Bush's enormously damaging mismanagement of the insurgency, and at how his rigid, hyperpartisan leadership style have poisoned our politics and deepened our divisions for years to come. I just don't believe the solution is to call for the President, no matter his failures, to be "tried and hung and shot," in the worst blog-mimicking words of Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello.

4) I don't have a "vendetta" against blogs or bloggers, nor am I "bitter" about the purge campaign some liberal bloggers waged against Senator Lieberman in the run-up to last summer's primary. The fact is, we won the campaign that counted last fall -- and in doing so, exposed the extremely limited effectiveness of the Netroots in influencing voters outside the choir to which they are used to preaching. So I don't believe I have anything to prove.

This vendetta canard, by the way, says far more about the prevailing attitude in the hardline quarters of the liberal blogosphere than anything else -- most of them unfortunately can't view any kind of disagreement or criticism outside the emotional prism of enemy destruction.

5) The truth is that I am a fan of blogs and blogging (which is one reason I started my own). I
read many political blogs on a regular basis and learn a lot. One of my favorites is Talking Points Memo, which has leveraged the unique power of the Internet and the sweat equity of its readers to pioneer a new brand of reporting called distributive journalism and create a new mechanism of accountability for our political leaders. Last year I invited TPM founder Josh Marshall to speak to a discussion group I run in New York about how this process works, and our members are still talking about it.

In addition, I have gone out of my way on this site and in other public forums -- for example, at Southern Connecticut State University and Hartford's Trinity College last fall during the Lieberman-Lamont campaign, and at Ned Lamont's seminar at the Kennedy School last month -- to extoll the promise of the blogosphere to empower average citizens and democratize our politics. I also do my best to preface any criticisms I make to reporters about the excecces of the Netroots by emphasizing these virtues (but they of course rarely make it into print).

6) I do not make my living or spend all my time attacking bloggers or other Democrats. Most of my work is for progressive advocacy groups, including several that are focused on closing the achievement gap in our inner-city public schools. What limited political work I have done (beyond Senator Lieberman) has been to help elect a diverse group of Democrats -- Andrew Rasiej for Public Advocate here in New York City, Kirsten Gillibrand for Congress in upstate New York, and now Mayor Eddie Perez in Hartford. (I also volunteered for the campaigns of Connecticut Congressman Jim Maloney in 1998 and Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu in 1996 while I was in the Lieberman office.) And the bulk of my political commentary -- especially on television -- has nothing to do with the Netroots or blogging.

Now, I have definitely delivered my fair share of tough love assessments of the Democratic Party since becoming a consultant, primarily because I don't believe you can solve problems by ignoring them. But more often than not I am on television defending Democrats. Pretty much every time I have gone on the Tucker Carlson show I have pushed back against the host's unfair attacks on Hillary Clinton. I recently went on MSNBC to defend Nancy Pelosi's trip to Syria. And just last night I was on Fox News' Hannity and Colmes show to debunk a bogus controversy Republicans were trying to gin up about a San Francisco water project Pelosi supported.

7) I certainly don't raise concerns about the Netroots' conduct because it benefits me personally. I have lost business, strained relationships, and been routinely reviled before my peers (not to mention hundreds of thousands of readers) for my troubles. I am a big boy, and I can live with the consequences. But it defies logic to suggest I am somehow cashing in by having my reputation trashed on a regular basis in the community in which I work and associate.

I should also point out that reporters come to me on blog issues not because they necessarily believe I have anything insightful to say, though I like to think that I do, but because I am one of the few strategists within the party who are willing to say anything critical on the subject. A lot of my peers share my concerns, but they just don't want to deal with the insults and intimidation that many bloggers lob at anyone who challenges them, and I don't blame them at all for keeping quiet.

So why do I put up with the abuse and keep opening my mouth? Am I a masochist, as Garance Franke-Ruta, a semi-friendly blogger and American Prospect editor, recently asked on her site?

Well, as I told Garance, it's largely because I am already a marked man, thanks to my long association with Senator Lieberman. The Netroots have largely and sadly embraced the Bush doctrine -- either you are with them or against them -- and I will most likely be regarded for years to come as an enemy combantant for helping to re-elect their bete noire last fall.

But it's also because I believe the hardline elements of the liberal blogosphere are having a destructive impact on my party and the nation's politics, not to mention on the potential and growth of the medium itself. And as I stated above, I don't believe you can solve a problem by ignoring it.

The irony, of course, is that I left Washington for many of the same reasons that have driven liberal bloggers to rebell against the "establishment" (I always get a good laugh when they disdain me as an insider). I believe our political system is badly broken, that the culture within the Beltway has become perverted, and that as a result our government has ceased being an agent of economic and social progress. I just disagree with many liberal bloggers about how you go about fixing the situation.

In particular, I disagree with them about how we should go about disagreeing with each other -- as Democrats and as Americans. As I have said before, I like a good fight, and I am all for healthy partisanship -- I would not be a Democrat if I didn't think our party was better than the other side, and if I did not want to beat Republicans. But I did not sign up to be a Democrat to practice the same nasty, cynical, and intolerant politics that the worst elements of the conservative movement have promoted over the last two decades.

It's not just that smear and fear tactics are degrading and destructive to our public discourse -- all things being equal, they don't work in winning national elections or voter's long-term trust. Now, some will point to the Willie Horton and Swift Boat ads as evidence to the contrary, but the only reason they were effective at all was because we nominated weak candidates who would not defend themselves. A more revealing example is the impeachment vendetta the Republicans waged against Bill Clinton, the backlash from which not only saved the Clinton presidency but helped Democrats buck historical trends and pick up seats in Congress in the 1998 mid-terms.

My fear is that, as the current New Republic cover story suggests, the Netroots have learned the wrong lessons from the conservative movement's rise to power over the past quarter century and are bent on copying their mistakes as well as their successes. To be specific, I am concerned that the Netroots are taking their admirable quest to bring more cohesion and discipline and infrastructural resources to the Democratic Party to an exclusive and self-defeating extreme.

That of course is the subject of a much larger conversation -- which I hope my friends in the blogosphere will engage in on the merits and without the mythology.

Truly amazing how one can be so incredibly blind to who they really are and why the perceptions that others have of them are more than warranted.

It wasn't your association with Joe Lieberman that has made you so reviled, Dan. It was the manner in which you ran his campaign, trashed his opponents, and created fake controversies (hacked website anyone?) in order to gain political advantage. You fancy yourself a decent and honorable human being. As someone who winessed the shameful race baiting flyers your campaign distributed to black church parking lots, and the primary day attack on Ned's campaign and liberal bloggers for your web host's inability to handle the traffic, all I can say is you are not half the man you think you are.

In truth, you are much closer to Karl Rove than you are to the magnanamous person you described above. And while you may be proud of your disagreements with Joe, and claim to be a major critic of Bush, you apparently didn't have a problem with helping Bush's greatest enabler get reelected using whatever means were necessary including lies, deception, and a ton of Republican campaign cash, not to mention most of their votes.

By the way, what kind of "Democratic Strategist" is so lame at presenting his point that he has to be bailed out by the invisible Alan Colmes, of all people?!

Here's the difference between you and us, Dan. You're a Democratic campaign whore. Your bread is buttered by getting people elected, and when all is said and done, you don't really care what their politics are or how destructive their reelection might be to our democracy. Those who rail against you, on the other hand, are doing everything we can to stop this democracy from being destroyed. Joe Lieberman has done more than any Democrat in congress, and more than many Republicans in congress, to enable Bush's slide into dictatorship. Military Commissions Act, anyone?

Happy Birthday, Dan. Maybe by the time you reach 50 you'll have figured out why so many people despise you so much. You've earned every bit of it.
Keep up the good fight, Dan.
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