Crashing the Gate

My favorite thing about Crashing the Gate, the book by two leading liberal bloggers, is its indictment of the Democratic political consultant class. They make their money from percentage of political advertising, whether or not they win, which is quite a racket. They have a stranglehold on the dispensation of Democratic campaign funds. According to the book, they are the main proponents of the strategyof blandness: voters will vote for Democratic politicians if we don’t understand what they say; and of pandering to swing voters with non-issues like flag-burning.
Critics say the story isn’t new; but Markos Moulitsas and Jerome Armstrong get the story out to a broader audience than the policy wonks who have known this all along.
What I didn’t like as much about the book was how Kos and Jerome talk about online organizing. Mostly, they talk about how the internet is a new source of funding — and imply that they can be the next generation of political consultants who will gatekeep the collection and use of campaign funds. They give some lip service to online organizing and activism. But they don’t tell the interesting stories about how the internet can help assemble core groups, extend the reach of online organizing to the physical world, and use online education to put pressure on candidates and lawmakers.
What I liked least was the book’s indictment of liberal special interest groups. Kos and Armstrong encourage groups to drop their interests in the environment, women’s rights, and other issues, and to instead work on together to elect liberal candidates. I agree with the authors that bipartisan tactics are sometimes short-sighted — for example, womens’ groups support for individually pro-choice republicans is risky against the big picture of the republican party’s anti-abortion strategy.
Also, the focus on building an alliance of traditional liberal groups misses opportunities to be more aggressive and build a different majority. For example: Kos and Armstrong would rather environmentalists to take a lower profile, and subsume their call against global warming for a larger progressive agenda (whatever that is). Instead, environmentalists ought to cast a larger shadow, connecting the cause to economic growth; to business interests investing in bringing clean energy mainstream; to the national security benefit of energy independence; to religious people who believe in eath stewardship. This isn’t at all about “compromise”, it’s about building a larger majority by being assertive about core principles, and reaching out to those who might belive same things for different reasons.
I think that Kos and Armstrong’s electoral focus blinds them to the more complicated relationship between issue activism and campaigning. The activities during legislative sessions and campaigns are related but different. You do issue activism when the legislature is in session and you want the politicians to listen to you on a speciific topic. And then you do electoral campaigns favoring your broader goals.
Overall, I enjoyed the book and recommend it. It provides a powerful indictment of the structures that make democrats lose; and offers a bunch of good ideas for how Democrats could do better.

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