Home National Politics The “Daou Triangle” and the Democratic “Shellacking” of 2010

The “Daou Triangle” and the Democratic “Shellacking” of 2010

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First, here is how Peter Daou explains the “Triangle.”

Looking at the political landscape, one proposition seems unambiguous: blog power on both the right and left is a function of the relationship of the netroots to the media and the political establishment. Forming a triangle of blogs, media, and the political establishment is an essential step in creating the kind of sea change we’ve seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Simply put, without the participation of the media and the political establishment, the netroots alone cannot generate the critical mass necessary to alter or create conventional wisdom. This is partly a factor of audience size, but it’s also a matter, frankly, of trust and legitimacy…

In sum, as Nate Wilcox and I explained in our book, Netroots Rising, “a story that managed to ‘close all three sides of the triangle – press, bloggers and elected officials’ would dramatically impact the public debate,” while “any story that only closed one or two sides of the triangle would have diminished impact.”

Let’s look at the 2010 election results from a “Daou Triangle” perspective. First, recall that in 2005-2008, Democrats had a strong “Triangle,” fueled in large part by opposition to the Iraq War and the Bush Administration on a wide variety of issues.  The narrative, conveyed by all three legs of the “Triangle” – corporate media, new media, the political establishment and candidates – was all about George W. Bush’s deep unpopularity, a strong desire for change by the American public, the Hurricane Katrina debacle and specifically the Bush administration’s incompetence/callousness in handling it (“heckuva job!”), Republican scandals (Tom DeLay, “K Street,” Jack Abramoff, Mark Foley, etc.).  Given all this, the progressive blogosphere – aka, “the leftosphere” – was strongly united against Bush and the Republicans, as were political candidates (Jim Webb, Paul Hackett, Ned Lamont, many others) and even, I’d argue, the corporate media.

Clearly, anger and intensity were on the Democratic side during the 2005-2008 period, with Republicans increasingly demoralized and divided.  Out of this came “movement” candidates and campaigns, not the least of which was the Jim Webb for Senate “Draft” and campaign right here in Virginia in 2006. With Webb’s 14,000-strong “ragtag army” and a constant drumbeat of George Allen’s 97% voting record with George W. Bush, Webb did what many thought was impossible back in 2005 – defeat the invincible George Allen and take back the U.S. Senate for the Democrats.

The 2007-2008 presidential campaign season demonstrated the same themes as 2005-2006, but even more intensely.  Adding strength to the anti-Republican, pro-change “Triangle” narrative was a newly collapsing economy, with a recession officially beginning in December 2007 and a frightening financial meltdown in September/October 2008. The end result of all this – a perfect firestorm against Republicans and for Democrats, an incredibly strong progressive “Triangle,” and an overwhelming victory for Barack Obama and the Democrats in November 2008.

Flash forward to November 2010, and the situation couldn’t be more different. What happened?  Follow me to the “flip” for that analysis.

In contrast to 2005-2008, the corporate media narrative for the 2010 midterm elections was all about how expectations hadn’t been met, how Democrats were demoralized and lacking “enthusiasm,” and how the right wing – the Tea Party, particularly – was super energized and “angry.”  In the leftosphere, Democratic and progressive activists were divided, demoralized, and exhausted from the fight against Bush, DeLay, etc. In many ways – and I made this mistake myself – the progressive netroots believed that the election of Obama and a Democratic Congress meant “mission accomplished.”  The problem is, once Democrats were in power, the totally predictable happened – as the common enemy disappeared, Democratic divisions over actual governing mushroomed. With no common “villain” figure to unite around, with the winding down of hated (by most progressives) Iraq war, with disappointment among progressives over legislation or lack thereof – health care reform that lacked a public option, no comprehensive immigration reform, no clean energy and climate legislation, no “card check,” continued “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” continued “Gitmo,” etc., etc. – the frustration quickly mounted, but this time against Democrats.  

In contrast, all the intensity and narrative energy in the 2010 cycle – whether in the new media, the political establishment, or in the corporate media –  was on the right.  For its part, the corporate media – including propaganda outfits like Faux “News” – fueled, validated, and generally reinforced the narrative of populist anger against “spending,” deficits, “death panels,” “government takeover of health care,” “cap and tax,” “climategate,” etc., etc.  It should go without saying that almost all of this was utter nonsense, and that the corporate media was wildly irresponsible. Basically, what happened was that the right-wing blogs and the Teapublican political establishment pushed the “Big Lie,” while the corporate media completely failed to do its job as a seriously objective watchdog and truth teller.

Meanwhile, the progressive new media, which at best constitutes one solid leg of the “Daou Triangle,” was never able to generate enough force to counter the “Big Lie” effectively. In part, that’s because one leg of the “Triangle” Is inherently not powerful enough to handle that big a lift. Making matters worse, progressive new media attention was sharply divided among many different issues, let alone on how to approach them. The result – one weak, wobbly leg of the “Daou Triangle” was mostly what was available – to counter the full force of an assault by a powerfully energized right-wing “Triangle.”

As if all that wasn’t bad enough, the Democratic “base” – the working class, African Americans and Hispanics, young people, women – were hurting economically, focused (correctly) on their families and keeping afloat financially. The Democratic political establishment, meanwhile, was confused and divided against itself, with “Blue Dog” Congressman/candidates like Glenn Nye seriously undercutting the Democratic “brand,” along with the message that Democrats accomplished a great deal and should be proud of what they did.  Nye, for instance, ran an ad bragging that he opposed health care reform because it “cost too much.” Nye also made it clear that he had no love for Democratic leadership in Washington, including the demonized (by Republicans) Nancy Pelosi. That was wildly unhelpful, not only to Democrats in general, but also to Blue Dogs like Nye, who lost in huge numbers on Tuesday despite their distancing, playing into Republican “framing,” etc.

As for the “Teapublican” political establishment it certainly had its divisions, and those hurt it in the end (see Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Tom Tancredo, several others). Still, I’d argue that overwhelmingly, the Teapublicans were in lockstep on the major issues, from health care (“repeal and replace”) to dealing with global warming (many of their candidates were skeptics or even outright climate change deniers) to the the “stimulus” (which they opposed unanimously) to President Obama (“socialist,” “Muslim,” etc.), to…you name it.  Along with the “Teapublican” political establishment, there was echo chamber reinforcement on a 24/7 basis from the right-wing corporate media and an angry/energized rightosphere new media. The combination result: a powerful, almost unstoppable, “Daou Triangle” on the right-wing vs. a splintered, weakened, demoralized and distracted “Triangle” on the left. The result – heavy losses for Democrats on Tuesday – was not surprising.

A few other related thoughts to end this overly long article:

1. The corporate media has fractured into thousands of little echo chambers, “narrowcasting” to their particular audiences. Candidates these days tend to appear on “friendly” forums – TV, radio, new media – where they won’t be asked tough questions.  As a result, views tend to be reinforced instead of being challenged/crosscut by facts and reality. Today, there’s no more Walter Cronkite, who a huge percentage of the country watched every night. Today, it’s atomized.

2. Obviously, “it’s the economy stupid.”  If the unemployment rate had been at 5% instead of 9.6%, the “Daou Triangle” for Republicans wouldn’t have been nearly as strong as it turned out to be.

3. In the leftosphere, it’s worth noting that there wasn’t just division, but also strong voices that relentlessly pounded Barack Obama, Harry Reid, and Democrats in general for their perceived/actual failings on health care, clean energy/climate, etc., etc.  For instance, see Joe Romm’s latest piece on how Barack Obama “let die our best chance to preserve a livable climate and restore US leadership in clean energy — without a serious fight.”  Also, see Jane Hamsher, David Sirota, Cenk Uygur, and numerous other voices from the left who routinely excoriated Democrats over the past 2 years. Was there any equivalent on the right in 2009-2010? One doesn’t spring to mind.

  • Elaine in Roanoke

    One problem for Democrats after winning so big in 2008 was that they won so big in 2008! It has been very easy for Republicans (who in 2008 were listening to pundits talk of their demise as a political force) to craft a simplistic message in the past couple of years, especially since they have purged their party of moderates: “No” to everything proposed by Democrats, even when Dems were proposing Republican-generated ideas. Meanwhile, Democrats had to try to find some way to incorporate all those diverse viewpoints in their party of the “Big Tent.” Sometimes, I think the “big tent” simply means that Democrats can’t agree enough to fashion a good, concise answer to a simple question: What do we Democrats believe in? In good times, we often get away with that, but in bad times we can’t.

    The old Roosevelt coalition of Democrats was splintered by the civil rights laws of the 1960’s and the demise of the American manufacturing base and the unionized workers it had, among other things.

    Add to that the fact that Democrats seem to be reactive instead of proactive, and we have a mess on our hands.  

  • The Richmonder

    That the Democratic Party deliberately turned their backs on new media.  A vicious circle developed in which bloggers began to critique Obama and–more locally, DPVA–and Obama and DPVA responded not by addressing legitimate concerns, but by drawing away from bloggers, starving them of access and denying them any real influence.  

    This was, of course, a really stupid thing to do.  

    If someone were to call up Tim Kaine and criticize him over the telephone, would Kaine then ban the use of telephones at the DNC?

    If someone printed a flyer critical of Mark Warner, would Warner ban the use of Xerox machines?

    The Democratic Party took some knocks from a handful of bloggers (many of which were entirely deserved) and responded by abandoning new media.  It’s crazy.

    This wasn’t the only reason the Democrats were defeated in 2010, but it certainly contributed to it.

  • Teddy Goodson

    American political parties, unlike those in parliamentary democracies like Europe’s, have been characterized by being inclusive, the so-called “big tent,” with the R’s  having more finance-business groups (hence “rightist”), the D’s more labor-populist oriented membership (thus “leftist”), with a lot of over-lap in the middle.

    This arrangement began shifting to more European-style, politically specific alignments when the Civil Rights movement took hold. The Republicans, of course, began this purifiction process first, but it is also happening among Democrats as well, and it is often referred to as “polarization,” meaning that political ideology is overtaking generic, often muddled ideology as the defining characteristic of party membership. See how the Blue Dogs are beginning to be erased, and replaced by more reactionary soul-brothers who bear the R label? See how Progressive Democrats were far stronger survivors, unapologetic for their “purer” doctrines?

    This more ideology-based rationale for political parties behooves the Democrats to stop ditzing around, and clarify what the h**l they really stand for. That is, messaging on steroids. The old way is not, repeat not, coming back.  

  • aznew

    The Internets are still quite new, and while Peter, you and Nate have certainly offered many valuable insights and observations into its role in our politics, time and future election cycles will certainly reveal a lot more over time.

    I wonder whether there is something in the nature of communications via the netroots that simply lends itself to being a much more effective medium in opposition, as opposed to one capable of producing positive change.

    Take a look at the “Blog That Dare Not Be Named” today. Now in the role of actually having to govern, debates are breaking out of whether Bush tax cuts can actually be extended. Now, the Repubs actually will have to grapple with the fact that the two of the pillars of their 2010 platform — extending the tax cuts and meaningfully reducing the deficit — are mutually exclusive.

    Truth be told, as an American I’d love for the Repubs to pull off this neat trick. Unfortunately, as a member of the RBC (TM) (Reality Based Community), I know it cannot happen.