Contextual Content

Can the netroots change politics?

The netroots have yet to change the political machine. Matt Stoller believes that they have only made the existing mechanizations move faster and perhaps more smoothly, but have not disassembled the status quo. Stoller and many at Netroots Nation believe that a paradigm shift will come when a greater number of people engage in the online medium. The netroots won the issue of net neutrality, but they have yet to take on the major social justice issues that underscore domestic politics in America.

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Story Transcript

MATTHEW PALEVSKY, JOURNALIST, TRNN: I’m at the Netroots Nation in Austin, Texas, a conference that brings together political bloggers and organizers on the left. Because of the openness of the Internet, people aren’t sure what to expect from it, and the conversation here is about how the growth of the Netroots will change the political playing field. To answer this question, I spoke with political consultant Matt Stoller, who gained prominence blogging for MyDD and who created the first blog for the Democratic National Convention in 2004.

MATT STOLLER, POLITICAL CONSULTANT, OPENLEFT.ORG: The architecture of American politics is designed to subvert populist uprisings. It’s just they get absorbed, their energy gets absorbed, the tools, the tactics get absorbed. And what’s happened this cycle is the independent progressive movement has gotten stronger, the tools and tactics have gotten better. For instance, now every congressional candidate can send out emails; that wasn’t true in 2004 or even in 2006. And that’s meaningful, because it changes the donor base, the supporter base, it changes the way that people run campaigns, and with that changes politics. So, then, on an operational level there’s been a good number of shifts. On an ideological level there really haven’t been. You’re seeing a switch from conservative Republicans controlling Congress to conservative Democrats, by and large buying into the same set of ideas about America’s role in the world. And then, I think, in 2008 we’re seeing Obama, who has adopted the tools and tactics that have been developed over the last four years, everything from the VAN (voter activation network) software, field organizers, to email, to social networking tools, to video. He’s adopted the operational aspects of all the things that, you know, we’ve developed. He’s diversified the movement leadership dramatically. But he’s rejected the ideological claims, which were that politics is about partisan debates over the future of the country and that it’s important to stake a partisan claim ’cause that’s the way that the public has its say in the political process.

PALEVSKY: Part of the blogs that gained so much momentum and traction were to create a more, a truer, less-bought discourse in an America, you know, run by a couple of networks. Is that not happening?

STOLLER: It has. You know, let’s say that there are five to ten million people who participate in the conversations online about politics on a sustained basis. That is more than the maybe tens of thousands of people that participated in 2000 in a meaningful way who could affect things, right? It’s more. It’s more than and it’s a different mechanism of politics than the five to ten million who participated in politics through direct mail prior to 2000. But it’s still not 300 million; it’s still not 100 million; it’s still a very limited segment of the population. Let’s look at politics as a giant wheel, right, a gear, gears, right? And Internet has helped that wheel turn faster, but it’s the same wheel. Like, fundamentally, the architecture of what’s going on right now is fundamentally more similar to what we saw in 1978 than what we’ll see in 2012 or 2016.

PALEVSKY: What’s going to change?

STOLLER: I think a lot of things are going to change. But the networks are going to continue to lose influence. The newspapers are dying. You’re seeing new intermediaries pop up. You know, the millions of people that have invested themselves in Obama or Ron Paul, they’re not going to go away. They’re going to organize themselves. I do believe they have discrete political concerns; I’m not sure what those are. But, you know, what happened in 2004 is that you saw a large influx of energy in 2004 into the presidential cycle, and that in 2005 and 2006 went down-ticket, and people came out of that, started running for office. They started to do activism on a more sustained basis, and then they started to do issue organizing. And that’s what we’re going to see in 2009, 2010 if history’s any guide.

PALEVSKY: So if Obama does win the presidency, is the Netroots the new religious right? Is this the organization that can hold him accountable, that can sway his policy positions once he’s in office?

STOLLER: I think what this activist community can do—I mean, there’s no one community; there are many of them. But we can create space for policies that people in an Obama administration and Congress want to pursue. So, for instance, every major Senate candidate has to come out or is about to come out with a statement in favor of network neutrality, right? Obama’s also in favor of net neutrality. We won that fight. We took on the biggest, baddest lobby in DC, the telecom and cable interests, and we won it. And it created a coalition with Silicon Valley firms, activists on the right and the left, but mostly on the left, and we won. And that’s, I think, very significant. But the scale of what we need to do is far larger than our capacity right now, you know, just changing the way that we relate to each other and the land around us, because we have a country and a world that is actually run by thieves. That’s the problem. The subprime mortgage crisis, Iraq, oil, any of these different problems boil down to the fact that the people that are running our culture, our [inaudible] institutions, are basically stealing. And we have not solved that problem. And so there’s that crisis of legitimacy within the leadership, and what we have to do is we have to figure out how we can displace that leadership and replace it with people who believe in social responsibility towards one another and believe in stewardship of the land, you know, who are basically liberal. That’s what we need to do.

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Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.