Cheerful boos for Hillary

At the YearlyKos convention, the mixed reception for Hillary Clinton is more evidence that the liberal blogosphere might not take sides in the coming Democratic primary.

Topics: Bill Richardson, 2008 Elections, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democratic Party, Barack Obama, John Edwards, Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio,

Cheerful boos for Hillary

The most self-controlled figure in Democratic politics, Hillary Clinton, seemed to know from the outset that she was walking into a trap. The cavernous ballroom of the Hyatt Regency was filled with about 1,500 liberal bloggers and activists — the so-called Kossacks, the former Deaniacs, the people-powered Joe Lieberman-bashers who helped reshape the Democratic Party for the 21st century. So when the loud boos finally arrived, a full hour into the Democratic presidential debate at the second annual YearlyKos convention Saturday, and two hours after her arrival at the convention, all she could do was smile. “I’ve been waiting for this,” she told the crowd. “This gives us a real sense of reality with my being here.”

Then something happened: The crowd started to laugh. Then it cheered. Then the cheering grew even louder than the booing. Up to that moment, the debate audience had been voicing their disapproval of Clinton for defending Washington lobbyists, whom she allows to contribute money to her campaign unlike her top two rivals, Barack Obama and John Edwards. “A lot of those lobbyists, whether you like it or not, represent real Americans,” she told them. But now they were voicing their approval, and not because they suddenly agreed with her. Any poll of YearlyKos attendees would almost certainly place lobbyists in a circle of hell just a step or two outside the ones reserved for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Fox News talker Bill O’Reilly and Vice President Dick Cheney.

They were cheering because Clinton had, in her way, acknowledged the views and the legitimacy of the blogging community. This had been her mission from the moment she arrived in Chicago. “Don’t tell anybody, but I actually read the blogs,” she had joked about an hour before the debate, during a breakout session with hundreds of bloggers and activists. “Don’t share that.” It was a modest step, to be sure, but it was pitch perfect given the current state of the liberal online community.



The so-called netroots is undergoing a transition of sorts in the wake of the 2006 Democratic victories, when the party leadership effectively adopted the message and tactics of mostly liberal online insurgents. For the first time since the invasion of Iraq, Democrats spoke with a muscular voice against Republican rule and the misbegotten war overseas. Two Senate candidates who garnered early online support, Jim Webb in Virginia and John Tester in Montana, won upset elections that changed control of the legislative branch. The community’s chief punching bag, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, was forced to leave the party. Now, with the most costly Democratic presidential primary in U.S. history on the horizon, the same blogging community finds itself in uncharted territory. Once the outsiders, the lefty bloggers and readers who gather each day online have now become an unmistakable part of the Democratic family. Every presidential candidate, save Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, attended Saturday’s YearlyKos debate in Chicago. Democratic Party leader Howard Dean gave a rousing keynote address to the convention Thursday. Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin delivered a video message to the opening day crowd. He declared, “If it weren’t for the progressive netroots, I wouldn’t be assistant majority leader.”

At the same time, much of the frustration that once led Democratic bloggers to wage fierce intraparty battles appears to have dissipated. In its place is a sort of cautious elation at the direction of the country’s politics, especially when the topic shifts to the coming presidential election and the Democratic candidates. “I feel no compulsion to pick anybody,” confessed Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, the proprietor of DailyKos, the largest liberal blogging community, “because they are all so great.”

His broad confidence papered over the many substantive differences that divide the Democratic primary field. Clinton and Obama, for example, appear prepared to leave residual U.S. military forces in Iraq for perhaps years, while Edwards and Bill Richardson seek a more prompt withdrawal. Edwards believes the “global war on terror” is an empty “bumper sticker” phrase, while Clinton embraces its rhetorical value and maintains that America is safer now than it was on Sept. 11, 2001. Obama harps exhaustively on Clinton and Edwards for their initial support of a resolution allowing the Iraq war, which he opposed. He has also recently announced his willingness to preemptively attack Pakistan as part of the effort against al-Qaida. All of the candidates have announced, or will announce, different approaches to establishing universal healthcare.

But with only rare exception, these differences have not become flash points on the liberal blogs, a marked contrast to 2003, when the nascent blogosphere heartily rallied behind a single candidate, Howard Dean, in the primary. Even some of the netroots founding members have begun to take notice. “The bloggers are I think in many ways taking themselves out of the debate by not participating in it,” explained Jerome Armstrong, the proprietor of MyDD.com, who co-wrote a book with Moulitsas on Democratic blogging. “They are becoming sort of conflict avoiders in the primary.”

A recent unscientific poll of DailyKos readers confirmed that Clinton had much less support on the site than among Democrats generally, with Obama and Edwards leading the pack. But during Clinton’s breakout session with bloggers Saturday, she was not asked a single question about her vote to authorize the Iraq war or her plans for withdrawing troops. The questions, instead, had all the noncombative flair of an upstate New Hampshire town hall meeting. What would she do about education reform? What did she think about welfare reform and gays in the military? How would her attorney general be different from Gonzales? “I think it would be a breath of fresh air to have an attorney general who actually believed in the rule of law,” Clinton said, earning immediate cheers.

Last summer, when YearlyKos met in Las Vegas for its inaugural convention, such harmony was difficult to imagine. Prospective presidential candidates seemed desperate to ply bloggers with drink and attention. Wesley Clark threw a riotous party for bloggers at the Hard Rock Casino, while former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner spent around $50,000 to entertain bloggers with a John Belushi impersonator and a chocolate fondue waterfall at the top of the Stratosphere casino. At the time, all the buzz was about which candidate could win over the blogs. Even Moulitsas got caught up in the frenzy, comparing the Warner party to a “first date.”

A year later, it is hard to see how any single Democratic candidate emerges before the primary as the prohibitive choice of liberal bloggers. Instead the various campaigns are fighting a battle of margins. Not a single candidate or campaign threw a party at this year’s conference. “There is just not critical mass moving to one candidate right now,” said Joe Trippi, the former Dean campaign manager who is now overseeing the Edwards campaign. “Every campaign has been competing like crazy for every inch they can get on the Internet and the blogosphere.”

Another prominent blogger, Matt Stoller, who recently co-founded OpenLeft.com, described what was happening to progressive blogs as a temporary loss of liberal momentum. “People feel confused,” he said. “Because that’s what happens to a movement that hopes if you get Democrats elected it will solve some of our problems, and then our problems aren’t solved.” He predicted that the blogs will again find their voice on intraparty matters once it becomes clear that the current crop of presidential candidates do not sufficiently represent the liberal cause on everything from telecommunications laws to military withdrawal from Iraq.

But the collective neutrality only goes so far. Even if most bloggers decide to sit out the primary, there is little doubt that they will be back with a vengeance to show their Democratic stripes once a nominee is chosen. The only candidate who was booed louder than Clinton at Saturday’s presidential debate was the unlikely left-winger Dennis Kucinich. He made the mistake of aping one-time presidential candidate Ralph Nader, who regularly attacked the Democratic leadership as a bunch of sellouts. “Why don’t people vote?” Kucinich asked, rhetorically. “It’s because they don’t think there is much of a difference between the two parties.”

The booing immediately drowned Kucinich out. He had committed a cardinal sin, demeaning the Democratic Party before a crowd that works countless unpaid hours a week to make the party stronger. He had also provided, inadvertently, another reason for Clinton to smile. The YearlyKos community may not be her most natural constituency, but it is also unlikely to be her enemy. All she has to do is keep showing it respect.

Michael Scherer is Salon's Washington correspondent. Read his other articles here.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>