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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Ankle Biters of the Internet

Coming on the heels of MoveOn's announcement that they're willing to back a serious challenge to Joe Lieberman, William Grieder speculates about a larger organized rebellion within the Democratic Party:
With persistence and strong convictions, insurgents can change a political party. Witness the right's slow-motion crusade to conquer and transform the Republican Party. Thirty years ago right-wing activists regularly mounted hopeless challenges to the GOP establishment -- including Richard Nixon -- and usually lost. They were called "ankle biters" in those days. Today, they are running the party. The right continues to use this tactic to threaten and punish wayward incumbents. The Wall Street-financed Club for Growth ran a right-wing primary opponent against Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania in 2004, and it is doing the same thing to Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island in 2006. New York Times columnist David Brooks astutely observed: "When conservatism was a movement of ideas, it attracted oddballs; now that it's a movement with power, it attracts sleazeballs."

The Democratic Party is never going to change substantively and again become a reform party with a serious agenda until some of its blood is spilled in the same fashion. For years, incumbent Dems have distanced themselves from fundamental convictions, confident the party's "base" wouldn't do anything about it beyond whimpering. Until now, the cynicism was well founded. Galvanized by the war, disgusted with weak-spined party leaders, the rank-and-file may at last be ready to bite back.


Democratic leaders in Washington naturally discourage the talk of insurgency, warning it could endanger the party's chance of regaining a majority in the House or Senate. Some progressives doubtless agree. But this is the same logic -- follow the leaders and keep your mouth shut -- that has produced a long string of lame candidates with empty agendas, most recently John Kerry in 2004. The strategy of unity and weak substance led Democrats further to the right, further from their most loyal constituents. And they lost power across the board.
We regularly watch the Slow Joes on the Sunday Morning chit-chat and bemoan their prominence as we shrug our shoulders and say "what are you going to do?" A serious threat to Lieberman coming from the grassroots would reverberate far outside of Connecticut. As Grieder notes, Nancy Pelosi "got religion" and endorsed Murtha's Iraq withdrawal plans after an anti-war challenger was lined up for her.

Just let me know where to send the check, people. I'm so there.

(hat tip to John S.)