Monday, July 14, 2008

"Net-roots Ninnies" -- and a note on Sirota

Note the quotation marks -- Montana Headlines isn't given to calling names, but we do enjoy quoting the title of the piece in today's New York Post by one of our very favorite liberals -- the very smart, articulate, and unflappable Kirsten Powers. She is a Fox News regular, and is one of the few people who can get Sean Hannity to be polite for a few minutes. And when she is subbing on the best conservative talk-radio program around, "Brian and the Judge," it is always a treat.

So why does Kirsten call the netroots folks "ninnies?" In short because in their obsession about Obama's recent flip-flop on FISA and other perceived transgressions against progressive purity, they are losing sight of the fact that they are, in the end, not terribly relevant to the Democratic Party's electoral prospects:

Newsflash to the netroots and the media (which seems perpetually confused on this issue): The netroots are not the base of the Democratic Party.

Overwhelmingly white, male and highly educated, they're a loud anomaly in a party that's wholly dependent on the votes of African Americans, women and working-class whites.

Ouch. Ms. Powers is of course right that this demographic doesn't provide a lot of the votes to the Democratic machine, but on the other hand highly educated white males have always played a disproportionate role in Democratic politics -- even before the netroots came along. It's all part of that egghead thing, or what John Kenneth Galbraith called the members of his "New Class" that were needed to run things in the modern world.

If you have a welfare state with a highly centralized government, there will always be a place for technocrats to make decisions, tell people what to do, and generally run things. Cf. Democratic voting patterns in university towns, in capital cities, and on the staffs of most news organizations.

But leave it to Kirsten Powers to be unimpressed with the idealistic take-no-prisoners attitudes she sees these days from the left-roots:

Grow up, net rooters: You're going to see more Obama compromises with reality, more shifts to address what the real Democratic base cares about. Don't even be surprised if he comes out with a plan to allow domestic oil drilling.

Drill, drill, drill? We can only hope.


Speaking of loud anomalies, David Sirota springs to mind. A one-time quasi-Montanan now back in the big city, he is a sound and fury sort, proffering what are generally conventional leftward solutions disguised as pseudo-populism. So it was surprising to find that MH and Sirota were in agreement with something the latter wrote in today's column that appeared in the Billings Gazette.

Most of the piece is of the unremarkable "Accidental Tourist" genre, bemoaning the homogenization of American society. (It is of course all the fault of corporations and franchizing -- making one wonder if Sirota is advocating legislation to ban Applebee's.)

But he does take note of something very real that Montana Headlines, with its emphasis on state and local politics, can't help but decry: every corner of the country, the discussion is almost completely national focused. Who will be the vice-presidential nominees? What will the latest scandal mean for the presidential candidates? How can Democrats or Republicans win the congressional election?

Now, even decades ago, in the politically precocious early days of a young Montana Headlines, presidential politics were all the rage with the general public, while local and state races were dutifully ignored just as today.

What is perhaps different is that the explosion of media sources -- traditional and alternative -- have dramatically increased the level of detail that a political junkie has about national races and issues that really didn't perhaps need a lot more attention. Which is, of course, the great thing about the blogosphere part of the alternative media -- left and right alike. Because it is decentralized, it allows both "net-roots ninnies" and right-wing ranters like MH the opportunity to draw attention to state and local races and issues that in the past would have been ignored.

It is unfortunately true, of course, that all too many posts in regional blogs like those found in the Montana blogosphere simply rehash talking points about national politics that have already been endlessly regurgitated.

But the possibilities are there for us to make Mr. Sirota happy by dissecting state and local politics -- so shouldn't we try?


Update: Jay at LITW believes the above post to be "mean-spirited" -- the readers can decide for themselves. His musings are worth perusing, but there is one point in particular that bears comment.

He claims that concerns about FISA on the left are a reflection of civil liberties concerns, while saying that those on the right who supported that bill were primarily motivated because it was "our team's" idea.

The bottom line is that the final sticking point on the bill didn't involve high-flown ideas about civil liberties. It was retroactive telecom immunity from being sued at the plaintiff's bar. Supporting such immunity should be pretty much a matter of common sense -- after all, if someone was wronged by government intrusion into their privacy, violating principles of unreasonable search and seizure, who did the wrong? Pretty clearly it would seem to be the government that demanded the cooperation of the telecom companies, and not the companies who cooperated with what the government asked for, citing a time of national threat.

If bounds were overstepped, or if threats were over-stated, the fault lies with the government, and it is the government that should be punished within the constraints of the legal system. And it is from the government that anyone who has suffered loss should seek restitution.

There was one group, and one group only, who wanted the immunity stricken from that bill, and that is trial lawyers who hoped to make easy and tidy windfall profits from cases against telecom companies who would hopefully fold quickly in order to have it over with.

Not only would the wrong party be unfairly footing the bill, but we could be assured that they would have reason not to cooperate with, say, a President Obama faced with a future national emergency, demanding their help in gathering information about potential threats to the American populace.

It was perhaps wrong to characterize progressive furor over FISA as being a matter of "progressive purity," at least in an ideological sense. It was, at root, much more venal than that. It is well known that trial lawyers provide the backbone of funding for progressive politics, so the temporary intransigence of the left on retroactive immunity for telecom companies can fairly be seen as an act of simple financial self-interest.


David said...

"There was one group, and one group only, who wanted the immunity stricken from that bill, and that is trial lawyers ..."

I am not a group, and I am not a trial lawyer, but I certainly would have liked to see immunity stricken from the bill. I don't want to see people, or companies, punished for acting in good faith to comply with government directives they believe to be proper. But it bothers me when the government blocks injured parties from even trying to show that actions taken against them were neither proper nor in good faith. It's a little Big Brotherish, don't you think?

Anonymous said...

Kirsten Powers is one of my favorite liberals too. Won't get into the reasons why.

But I will say she has a good point in her column. Also will draw attention to this column from the Wall Street Journal:

What few Montanans realize is that Jon Tester, in addition to having one of the Senate's most liberal voting records, is also a darling of the far-left Nut Roots--as this column shows. The Republican who runs against Tester in the next election will want to tie Kos around Tester's ample torso. The guy's a raving loon.

When four American contractors were killed in Iraq in April 2004, Daily Kos wrote, "I feel nothing over the death of the mercenaries. They are there to wage war for profit. Screw them."

Kos also recently mocked McCain's crooked teeth -- teeth that were disfigured because they were kicked out when he was being held in captivity in Vietnam.

I'm pretty sure Kos raised a lot of money for Tester. I think Tester even went to a fundraiser they held for him in California.

I think most Montanans would be shocked at who he is buddying up with.

Montana Headlines said...

David, again I would pose the question -- who was the guilty party if someone's privacy was invaded wrongly? The answer is pretty clear that it was the government.

If, in the course of suing the government, a party demonstrates that a private telecom company didn't act properly or in good faith, that company will be duly punished in the court of public opinion and in the marketplace. (and I will eat crow.) At the very least, a verdict against the federal government should precede any lawsuit against telecom companies.

The bottom line is that trial lawyers know that they will have a much tougher time suing the government than they will in getting a private company to fold. Keep in mind that a plaintiff's attorney in class-action lawsuits gets a tidy percentage of the total haul. Each plaintiff usually gets pennies, while the attorney gets enough to allow them to retire for life if they want to.

That isn't justice in my book.

If these attorneys have such a great case, they can bring it against the real cuprit -- the federal government.

Anon -- you are right that Tester is a darling of the netroots. But don't be surprised if sometime around 2010 he quietly stops doing fundraisers for Kos or Moveon. This is Montana, and Sen. Baucus has written the playbook on election-year lurches to the center.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure you are right. Tester's vote ratings will slide from 90-95 to the 60-70 level by election time.

One thing that Tester has done differently from Baucus though; I don't recall Baucus ever being as will as Tester to associate with folks/groups as radical as Kos and Moveon. Maybe it won't matter, though, if the press tries to ignore the Kos connection or pretends he's just a mainstream liberal.

I also agree with your analysis on the FISA situation. I've never quite understood the fervor for suing telecoms. They don't really want to wiretap folks, but are doing it at the behest of the government. I don't know that anyone who works for a telecom actually hears anything; I presume govt. agents do the listening.

It seems like the only legitimate --conceivable--course of action someone could have would be against the government. I'm sure, as you say, that the trial lawyers don't like that idea as they figure it is much easier to get money out of the telecoms. I saw a story the other day that indicated they've given several million dollars to congressional Democrats in the last year or so, and Tester was one of the recipients. He of course voted to remove immunity for the telecoms.

Another senator in the pocket of th e special interests!

David said...

"If, in the course of suing the government, a party demonstrates that a private telecom company didn't act properly or in good faith, that company will be duly punished in the court of public opinion and in the marketplace."

Nice thought, but I'm skeptical. Again, you seem to be presuming what the facts are. I'm not comfortable that I know what all the relevant facts are, and apparently quite a few congressmen weren't either, and I still have a problem with granting immunity when all the facts aren't on the table.

Montana Headlines said...

To the best of my knowledge, there was never any evidence presented in Congressional committees of actions by telecom companies that went beyond what the government was asking of them. Democrats had full control of both houses of Congress and all committees, and could investigate and present evidence to their hearts' content.

I find it had to imagine a situation in which a private telecom company would be guilty of wrong-doing where the government wouldn't be infinitely more guilty.

In any event, it is done, and large majorities ended up voting for the bill, including telecom immunity. I'll be interested to see if evidence comes out in suits against the government that indicate that telecom companies went beyond acting in good faith in cooperating with the authorities.