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Peter Daou

Peter Daou

Posted: October 27, 2009 08:35 AM

Don't Bother Waiting for Bloggers to Get Credit for the Public Option

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A year ago, in a very different October, as we hurtled toward a historic election, I wrote a post titled On November Fourth, the Netroots Should Be More Than an Afterthought:

In the final days of the campaign, the netroots, whose ranks (and influence) have swelled since 2004, will redouble their efforts, working around the clock to elect Obama and expand the Democratic majority in Congress. They will attack McCain and Palin, fact-check the press and help lift Democrats to victory in races across the country. In their role as a central conduit of political information and opinion, they will calibrate, amplify, and disseminate the messages and themes that shape people's beliefs and bolster their convictions, providing the impetus for organizing, fundraising and GOTV. They will serve as the media's validator of first and last resort, confirming or denying traction on a daily flood of stories. And on November 4, 2008, eight long years of doing battle against the excesses of the Bush presidency will come to a triumphant conclusion.


In that seminal moment, much will be celebrated. And much forgotten. One thing that shouldn't be overlooked is the tortured path to that day and the ragtag group of activists who, from the fear of knowing that America had taken a terrible turn at the dawn of a millennium, embraced a new medium and labored tirelessly, thanklessly, defending the Constitution and the rule of law. Day after day, they congregated on websites, blogs, message boards and any other online forum they could find to write, debate, argue and resist a radical administration and a lockstep Republican Party. Mocked and feared, dismissed as 'angry' and treated with disdain, they fought their opponents, fought their own party, fought the media, fought one another, all to a single end, the defense of inviolable American ideals against a brazen onslaught from a shameful and shameless administration.

Not surprisingly, despite lots of buzz about the use of the Internet as a fundraising and organizing tool, the outsized role played by blog denizens was buried in the gush of excitement that followed Election Day. Ultimately, that relatively small band of online progressives received very little of the credit they deserved for changing the course of American history.

Now, a similar dynamic is playing out. Although it's far from clear what the final health care bill will look like, especially the public option (opt-out, trigger, etc.), there's absolutely no doubt that it is alive primarily because of the vigorous efforts of online progressive activists and bloggers on Huffington Post, Firedoglake, Daily Kos, TPM, Think Progress, Media Matters, Salon, AmericaBlog, Crooks and Liars, and hundreds of smaller sites (not to mention MoveOn).

But don't hold your breath waiting to read about the netroots' pivotal role in forcing the inclusion of a public option -- it's just not the way things work in our current media and political world. Instead, at most expect to hear vague allusions to the 'left'. Or even more likely, the credit will go to liberal-leaning legislators and will reference "public support," neglecting the fact that it took bloggers to draw attention to the polling that showed a majority favored the public option.

Case(s) in point:

Mr. Reid's outlook was shaped, in part, by opinion polls showing public support for a government insurance plan, which would compete with private insurers. -NYT

Liberal senators have urged Mr. Reid to include the public option in the bill he is putting together, working with versions approved by two Senate panels. -NYT

Just weeks ago, the prospects for such an approach seemed remote, reflecting all-out opposition from conservatives to what they considered an excessive government role in the economy and a lack of enthusiasm from many moderate Democrats. But the idea has consistently drawn strong support in national polls, and it has backing from President Obama, though he has not insisted on it. -NYT

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid announced Monday that he will include a government-backed insurance plan in the chamber's health-care reform legislation, a key concession to liberals who have threatened to oppose a bill without such a public option. -WaPo

Reid's decision is a major victory for the more liberal wing of the Democratic Party. -CNN

The modified public option, which gained momentum in recent days, immediately drew praise from liberal lawmakers..." -USAT

Notice that even though these quotes may be factually correct, the articles are omitting a major, newsworthy fact about the public option: that it is alive because of progressive bloggers.

Perhaps the netroots should take more -- and more visible -- victory laps. After all, they have their own megaphone, albeit still smaller than the powerhouse combo of traditional media and political establishment.

Or maybe they're waiting to see what the final health care bill looks like -- there's certainly much more work to do. As Jane Hamsher wisely writes, "no chicken counting going on here yet."

That said, at some point, it would be nice to see the netroots given due credit for their truly indispensable role, their sophisticated political insights and their strategic acumen, rather than dismissed as a raging group of greenhorns.

Incidentally, in many ways, the same holds true for conservative blogs. Although I'm diametrically opposed to them ideologically, I think their role is also minimized by the wider punditocracy, traditional media, political establishment, etc. It shouldn't be.

In the end, I guess the early impression of angry, pajama-clad bloggers is more deeply entrenched than we can imagine. Tragically, this false image has real-life consequences. The Iraq debacle -- and the rivers of blood shed as a consequence -- might have turned out differently if the netroots were treated more seriously.

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