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The Revolution Is Not Being Televised
By Stirling Newberry
t r u t h o u t | http://www.truthout.org
The revolution is not being televised.
When Joe Lieberman and his supporters tried to raise a stink over a Huffington Post blog entry by FireDogLake's Jane Hamsher, it was clearly the move of a campaign in its death throes. Lieberman might win the primary, or the general election if forced to run as an independent, but he has lost the aura of invulnerability, coolness, and untouchability that has been his powerful weapon in pushing back any criticism of his go-it-alone approach to working with Republicans.
The reason for the sudden trogburst over the picture associated with Hamsher's post from the Washington Post and other outlets that picked up the story was in their email boxes: the latest Quinnipiac poll had challenger Ned Lamont up 54-41 over Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut race for the Democratic nomination, with the primary only days away on August 8th. That is an outside-the-margin-of-error lead, and would represent a crushing defeat of Lieberman and the Democratic beltway establishment, and for an entire system of politics. It would be a revolutionary moment, making it clear that change has arrived and is ready to win elections against entrenched incumbents. If Joe Lieberman is not safe, then almost no one is. Lieberman has geared up a massive Get Out the Vote operation, and has tried to duck under the filter with race-baiting fliers put on the windshields in African-American churches, the kind of hit and run politics that dare not show its face.
The Revolution of '06, should it continue to materialize, neither begins nor ends with the Lamont-Lieberman primary. Instead, the first battle was in Montana, where Tester defeated Morrison for the Democratic nomination to take on Conrad Burns. Burns, linked to the Abramoff scandal and facing declining approval numbers, is an eminently beatable Republican in Montana, where gasoline prices are a bread and butter issue in a state that is 630 miles long and dependent on agriculture, mining and other energy-intensive occupations for its economy.
One part of the revolution is that the deep-rooted paleo-politics of place and home - pressured by decades of cultural alienation, economic stagnation, and governmental neglect - is lashing out. Morrison lost, and Lieberman is in trouble, to no small degree because of the politics of place. Local bands of party loyalists organized both campaigns and are the bedrock that supports the foundation. But both candidates soared because they had access to an Internet-driven message medium. One that provided the raison d'être for the candidates - particularly in the Lamont campaign, which is based on a single simple assertion, namely that the Iraq war was, in the words of General Wesley Clark, "the greatest strategic blunder of the post-cold war era." Localities squeezed by inflation and stagnation understand on a gut level that the money for schools, doctors, roads and jobs has been poured into the sands of Iraq.
If Lexington-Concord was "the shot heard round the world" - the moment where a festering series of local rebellions became a Rebellion - then the Lamont campaigners on the ground and on the Internet are among the minutemen and Committees of Correspondence of this next American Revolution. But a message needs a messenger, and in the vast number of words written on the subject of Internet politics, this fundamental point is neglected. Partly it is because large traditional media outlets, protecting their economic interests, and right-wing-backed media outlets, pursuing their partisan advantage with typical disregard of the truth, have a desire to paint the entire enterprise as "far left protest politics." They want everyone to see hippies burning college offices and papier mâché puppets.
The reality is rather much the reverse: the people who have made best use of the Internet as a tool for political change are not exclusively on the left. In fact, the right wing has its Internet arm, which is tightly vertically integrated - anonymous right-wing operatives create fake news, such as the recent selectively edited clip that tried to imply that Congressman Dingell supported Hezbollah, then low level right-wing bloggers scream about it, then the well financed Michelle Malkins of this world pick it up, and finally it is funneled into the flagship of right-wing media, the Washington Times. If it is a pro-war stink, the Washington Post can be relied to take it up as well.
This, however, merely integrates the Internet into the old media stream, and the old tightly controlled message politics of broadcast. A campaign is a few people in a room coming up with slogans, and a large number of shills repeating them, hoping they will catch fire. The Lamont campaign is not driven by this same dynamic. It is tightly controlled within itself, but it does not tightly control the messages that surround the candidate. A fact which the flailing Lieberman campaign attempted to use to create a fake controversy.
In short, too few people have understood that the reason the message of a different kind of citizenship that creates a new politics has awaited messengers is because there are too many entrenched interests busy smearing any messenger who manages to rise to the forefront. This does not change the basic reality - the new politics has consistently selected politicians of a particular type, with a particular personality. The type is not the true outsider who comes in with completely radical notions about the system but, instead, the intellectual maverick who has risen within the system and who has succeeded by "thinking outside the box."
The cardinal examples are Howard Dean and Wesley Clark. Dean was a centrist governor from moderately conservative Vermont, Clark a NATO commander and US Army general who had retired after losing the support of his president. Each one had a resume that spoke, not of the intellectual maverick, but of the individual who avidly embraced the system. Dean was a medical doctor, Clark a top-of-his-class West Pointer. Each one rose through the system. Dean by being Lt. Governor, Clark by serving in Vietnam and rising through the officer ranks.
Publicly, both have a robust enthusiasm and "follow me" charisma which is often opaque to those who have not seen it. They are both team players, and demand team loyalty from those who follow them. They are both men who, despite a willingness to push the envelope, play very close to the chest with their personal ambitions, tactical intuitions and private thoughts. But what is only obvious from listening to the two men in more restricted settings is a wide-ranging and voracious willingness to examine every situation afresh, and seek solutions that fall outside conventional thinking. Not as outsiders, mind you, but as insiders who have mastered the game as it is, and are all too painfully aware of its limitations. To take examples: Dean's plan on school funding, and Clark's drive for non-lethal warfare both come from intimate knowledge of the failures of the current system and a desire to jump over the points of failure with which they have dealt first hand.
Lamont is an individual of this mold. His resume is not that of an outsider, but of an insider. His family is old, his money mingles inherited wealth with personal entrepreneurship. His public persona reeks of confidence. However it is the less visible Ned Lamont who has generated supporters, a willingness to examine the facts afresh, and from a firm knowledge of those facts and how the world actually operates, propose solutions that go beyond the carefully delineated boundaries of beltway politics. It may be Iraq that gets him to Washington, but it will be his matter of fact approach to progressivism that will rapidly link him to a wing of the party that sees change as preferable to the status quo.
And it is this that the new politics wants. Not radicals or radicalism, but individuals who understand the complexities of the system and who are capable of synthesizing solutions. There is something technocratic, and certainly meritocratic, about the approach. There is, contrary to the media depictions, a cool passion of the mind that unifies the messengers of the new political message. It is not a quality that is rooted in television or mass media of any kind, but instead in word of mouth, personal trust and face-to-face personal contact. Clinton can campaign for Lieberman, but the Clintonian suburban voter sees himself in Ned Lamont. The perception is growing that Lamont is the kind of calm, get-it-done man that Joseph Lieberman has played on television.
In this sense Lamont is in the mold of politicians like Jon Corzine, whose commitment to progressive ideas is not out of anger or outrage, but of a personal moral compass. This allows such politicians to simply act - as Corzine acted to deal with a budget crisis in New Jersey - without fanfare or drama-queen theatrics. Such politicians form the calm around which a much larger body of people find their center, and find that their energy is unleashed. This is at the heart of Howard Dean's "50 State strategy" - move the energy out from the DNC and out to every single state to manifest in its own way. When Dean came in, such a strategy was scoffed at, if even entertained at all. Now the question is not whether it can work, but whether it is working fast enough to take both houses of Congress this year.
Lamont has learned the lessons of the first wave of Internet candidates. He does not muse in public about what he will do, he does not become absorbed into the swirl around him, he does not let an utterance escape that can be misconstrued, edited for television and used to create a false impression. He has also selected individuals to associate himself with, such as his campaign manager Tom Swan, who are realistic, even pragmatic, in their ways of doing business.
And that is the reason that Lamont has become the latest messenger in a revolution that is shaking not only official Washington, but press outlets on both sides of the Atlantic. What Lamont represents is not merely a partisan interest group, or a change of faces in Washington, but a different way of doing business, a different way of running politics, and a different relationship with the voters. When Lamont became a serious challenger, the first message that Lieberman's proxies put forward was that primaries could be "highjacked" by extremists, and their first strategic decision was mount an insurgency against the Democratic nominee if Lieberman lost the primary. In the view of Joe Lieberman, and the establishment, primaries are mere formalities, and "the party" means the donors and the D-blah-blah-blah committees. Washington manufactures politics, and the public consumes it.
In this new world, politics is made everywhere, and it is the job of the people in the center to make politics work. It is all the difference in the world, and it is also an idea that does not reduce to a flag flying photo-op. But it is an idea that passes from hand to hand, from email to email, from local meeting to local meeting, from blog post to blog post, from personal contact to personal contact. It is a politics where people make their decisions as their private selves, and then act on those decisions, rather than trying to pilot the ship of state with one eye on the polls and another eye on the campaign bank account.
Top-down politics has led to a kind of personal executive supremacy visible in both the United States and the United Kingdom. Where power is top-down, power concentrates at the very top. In the UK, former members of parliament are already calling for a constitutional rearrangement in response to the almost royal use of power by Tony Blair in making war in Iraq. In the United States, this same Constitutional issue dominated the New York Times and its endorsement of Lamont. A politics that exists at the counter-poise of rapidly responding center and vastly energetic circumference does not want a unitary executive the way a politics that cantilevers a flattened-out bottom to support a swaying, dizzying pinnacle of power.
This too exists, not on television, but in the gut of "the people." Either the public feels comfortable living under a God-King executive, who alone has all of the facts and who alone can be the "decider" - or it does not. Lamont's demeanor shows that while he is in tight command of his campaign, he does not wish to be in command of all of the resources of the society. Contrast this with Lieberman's unapologetic stance on Iraq and his role as architect of the Department of Homeland Security - a vast, many-tentacled bureaucracy that reaches into people's underwear drawer, and peeks at what book is on their nightstand.
The new politics then is not the Internet, nor a "grass roots" revolt, but the merging of two classes of active people: one group of people who have bonds deep within their community, who have worked endless hours for their school committee, and been representatives and delegates to party conventions and national organizations, and the other, people who live in a virtual city, grasping and weaving through the gossamer strands of virtual connections, and turning them into real connections. This is why every successful Internet-fueled movement has had, as a key component, producing physical, face-to-face meetings and gatherings. One can list the numerous examples, from Meet-Up to Yearly Kos to the recently concluded "Democratic Reunion" drive by the DNC.
The new politics is about people who are driven by the same core set of values - integrity and connection and coherence of community - only one group began with in-person connections and has been searching for a way to reach out, and the other began from the world of words, rhetoric and fluid debate, and has been searching for a way in. This has created a new class of political operative, and dramatically expanded the reach of an old kind who was, previously, regarded as mere foot soldier in the top down world. These people are early movers in the campaigns of the future. It was Matt Stoller who helped light the Lamont bonfire; it was Draft Clark veteran Lowell Feld who helped launch the James Webb for Senate campaign; it is Tim Tagaris, not that long ago a political novice, who is now a key player on Lamont's Internet team. They are as yet not widely known, and there is as yet little honor for the prophet of this kind of political work, Joe Trippi of the Dean campaign, to whose book the title of this article refers.
They believe in confidence, competence, community and coherence - and it shows in how they campaign. They have a basic faith in this new world of Internetworking, a world where people find jobs, dates and houses on the Internet. These citizens of the netropolis believe in the new world, because it has created opportunities for them which are a matter of life and death. To take an example, one veteran of the Draft Clark movement recently began an online campaign to persuade Aetna to cover an experimental treatment for Tay-Sachs disease. Josh Margulies reached out to America to save democracy, and now he reaches out to save his son. Once upon a time, this would have been something handled by frantic appeals to a congressman or local politician. Instead, the new politics, instead of being a consumer of power, produces power by directly appealing to others, believing that the stories are out there, waiting to be threaded together into one narrative that makes a movement.
While there have been occasional articles about this new class of political player, as with the nature of the new kind of candidate, there has been a vast void of understanding as to what makes them successful in this new political environment. As with the candidates they support, the crucial quality is the ability to understand where the present political environment has reached a point of gridlock, and then the ability to leverage the very pressure that has brought about stalemate to burst out in a lateral direction with great, and unexpected, force. It is a pressure that journalists like Christopher Lydon, with decades in and covering politics, could feel and smell, but which the major outlets at first denied, and now decry, being dragged kicking and screaming into a world where politics is a conversation, and not an ad campaign.
That, then, is the real lesson of the Revolution of '06: namely, that it was there all along, and it is merely being unleashed this year to create its first wave of victories in electoral politics in the US. It has awaited messengers to carry its message, and with each passing battle, it grows more immune to the deceptive smear-driven attacks from the mass media world. These messengers are not starry-eyed dreamers, but instead people who began in the system as it is, and have crossed the aisle based on an intimate understanding of the failures of the old system. They have gathered around them a new breed of political operative on the Internet, and have made more effective an old breed that had been pushed aside by the old politics of the airwaves. This politics has faith in a different world, it values different kinds of politicians, and it is developing an increasingly cohesive political philosophy,
And while in 2004 this politics merely made a splash, in 2006, it has already won elections. But don't tell anyone, because the old politics still believes that if it isn't on television, it doesn't exist.
Stirling Newberry is an internet business and strategy consultant, with experience in international telecom, consumer marketing, e-commerce and forensic database analysis. He has acted as an advisor to Democratic political campaigns and organizations and is the co-founder, along with Christopher Lydon, Jay Rosen and Matt Stoller, of BopNews, as well as the military affairs editor of The Agonist.