Sunday, July 13, 2008


There are some post-mortems going on of the FISA debacle, still a very stinging loss for the Netroots and one that could well prove to be "the" end point of the Republic.

Like other losses (cf: Lamont, Ned), this one is being characterized by many as a "victory," because it continued the learning curve of Netroots-movement activists, who are always delighted to do Lessons Learned exercises and to crow their progress in the face of the Implacable Foe. Losses? Feh. Struggle on! We may lose all the battles, but at least the battles were engaged and we've been noticed!!!, so eventually, somewhere down the road, we'll win the war! Yay!

Uhhh.... Well, maybe. I'm certainly not going to encourage anyone to give up the struggle, and every little bit helps, but what galls is the notion that losses are actually victories. They are not.

Joe Lieberman is still in the Senate, still wreaking havoc, and still parading around with his new BFF, Senator "Scarlett" McCain. The Lamont campaign was no "victory." No matter how it is spun.

The FISA campaign was another kettle of fish. There seemed to be two entirely separate tracks -- that of Congress and the Regime, and that of the Netroots; trains on those tracks bumped one another from time to time, but they never really collided, and the Congressional train to FISA "reform" was never stopped nor even in jeopardy of being stopped.

The Congressional/Regime Train could be characterised as a plush Pullman Palace Car affair, not necessarily moving at any great speed, though there were moments of acceleration, mostly just grandly chugging along, waiters and porters and such taking care of the passengers, crystal and silver shining, Power exuding.

The Netroots, by contrast, were on a handcar, bravely pumping away, constantly having to stop to catch their breath before the next burst of furious pumping to try to catch up. Which they never really did. But now and then the tracks came close enough for the Netroots to hurl a rock or two at the windows of the Palace Car, or even to bump the outside of it with a shoulder.

It was brave. And for that, kudos aplenty.

But the effect of all this bravery was minor at best, and at worst it merely solidified the intractability of the foes inside the Palace Car.

That's what happens all the time, unfortunately. The blogs have become a nuisance to the would-be aristos, but no more than that. A nuisance gets "noticed", yes, but "notice" doesn't necessarily lead to progress.

And it's never really clear that "progress" as such is the goal in any case. Everything seems to start over, from scratch, every time the Netroots goes up against the Powers That Be -- Congress, generally speaking, but occasionally corporate and media interests as well. Every action is declared a "win" even when nothing much is accomplished. And most aspects of the consolidation of power in the elites is simply dismissed in the frenzy of the current struggle.

That consolidation of power really hasn't been affected at all over the years of Netroots agitation. Instead, as the Bushevik regime winds down, their consolidation of power into an Autocracy, seems to pick up speed.

One thing to keep in mind is that the Netroots-movement is not a popular movement at all; it is an elite movement, encompassing an interest group that is largely libertarian (not necessarily "liberal"), mostly informed by lawyers, for whom the argument is the main thing, not "winning" or "losing."

As long as the argument advances, "victory" can be -- and is -- declared.

Meanwhile, in the Real World...

Marcy Wheeler has an interesting insight with regard to the FISA debacle, however:

But what we didn't do, I think, was account for the fact that a significant chunk of legislators believe they are in the business of crafting compromises, no matter how outrageous one side of the debate is. That is, while we were successful in working with key legislators (Dodd and Feingold above all) to argue that the issues at stake--and the Constitution--had to be beyond compromise, that didn't stop a solid chunk of Democrats from seeking compromise anyway.

Indeed. I'd go farther. It wasn't just compromise on this bill. The interests of legislators was much broader than that. This bill was almost a sideshow to them. What they were after was compromise that began to restore relevance to the Congress after years of being treated like the ultimate red-headed stepchild. And by their own lights, they did a superb job.

There were minor adjustments in this bill to satisfy Congressional (not necessarily public) interests, but the bigger compromise was on the War Supplemental, where Bush caved in completely on the GI Bill, VA funding, NOLA levee repairs and unemployment compensation. That's where Congress reasserted itself and won, at least to their way of looking at things, and that's why they were all puffed up with Glory over the FISA "compromise." All of this has to do with restoring Congress's prerogatives, and to some extent their constitutional role. That's the important compromise to them.

The Netroots doesn't even recognize it. The obsessive focus on the FISA measure meant that the other moving parts of this creaking -- and largely failing -- machine were ignored, are still being ignored, and what's actually happening in the broader context is practically unknown.

The FISA fight was important to Congress, but not for the reasons the Netroots may think. This was a fight over prerogatives, not over substance. Those prerogatives had been given up or taken away over many years; Congress is trying to get them back, and with them, they're trying to get back some of their lost dignity. 9%! Come on.

The Netroots doesn't recognize that.

Marcy talks a lot about wanting to influence legislation, and it's vital to understand how to do that. One of the first requirements is to understand what the real interests of the Legislators are. In the case of Congress, those real interests include preserving and restoring traditional prerogatives and forging legislation that takes into account a variety of considerations and interests, "compromise" legislation in other words.

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