On this score and others, hardliners on both sides would do well to pay heed to Democratic Party bridge-builders like Ed Turlington, former campaign manager for John Edwards’s presidential campaign. “Unlike some in the party, I don’t see it as an either-or choice,” he says. Turlington believes in focusing resources on the swing seats, but also says that “Chairman Dean is properly focused on building the national strategy.”
You might expect Turlington to be bitter about the netroots, who largely abandoned Edwards for Dean in the primaries, and then helped Dean defeat Turlington to become the DNC chair. But Turlington sees the netroots as a big plus for the party. “It’s a very useful way to discuss and advocate for ideas, it involves people in campaigns who might otherwise not be involved, and it helps Democrats win elections,” he says.
Turlington says that Democratic candidates should take the netroots seriously, both individually and as a community; be attuned to the potential in new technologies; and provide vehicles for netroots activists to share their ideas with specific campaigns.
Of course, Turlington might just be trying to butter up the netroots for Edwards’s 2008 run. But an increasing number of Democrats are talking like this. James Boyce, a former Kerry-campaign senior advisor, says that Democratic candidates need to bring together what he calls the “legacy world” of old-fashioned party activists, and the emergent world of the netroots and young, progressive, tech-savvy adults. “If the Democrats learn to merge the worlds, they will win,” Boyce says.
Don't talk just amongst yourselves
If some elements within the party are open to netroots participation, it’s not clear that the netroots are willing to embrace rule number one in campaign politics, something traditional party activists have long accepted as a given: decisions are made by a very small cadre and disseminated to supporters. “In any campaign, you have input, you push your issue, then in the end the candidate makes the decision and you support it,” says Turlington.
They hate to hear this, but progressive activists are all too often white, middle-class, suburban, and, yes, self-important coast dwellers. And their ProgBlogosphere is something of an echo chamber, since they don’t exactly excel at communicating with people who are not like them — that is, the millions of small-town, suburban, and ex-urban voters who decide elections.
Of course, that has long been true of the Democratic Party, which for 30 years has been unable to shake the “limousine liberal” epithet — now updated to include Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. “In the ’90s, our policy agenda was re-oriented to the middle class, but our politics was always oriented to the upper class,” says Simon Rosenberg, a veteran Democratic activist, and president of the progressive (and well-funded) New Democrat Network.
There was just enough truth to the charge of liberal elitism, that the Republicans were able turn it into a fatal flaw. Had the stereotype not stuck so well, it’s unlikely the GOP — the party of elite bankers and businessmen — could have convinced millions of working-class Americans to vote for them election after election since the mid ’70s, no matter how much money they spent.