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On November Fourth, the Netroots Should Be More Than an Afterthought

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With the obvious caveat that the outcome of any election is uncertain until voters vote, it's fair to say that the triangle of media, political establishment and the online community have come together around the view that the McCain-Palin ticket has zigzagged off course, that Barack Obama has displayed tremendous discipline and steadfastness and that his election as our 44th president is at hand, an occurrence whose import will only be fully realized from the vantage point of history. It's an axiom of elections that things can change overnight, but this coalescing of opinion is devastating to McCain's prospects.

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.

When we look back at the eight years beginning with a grim night in 2000 when George W. Bush was declared the victor over Al Gore, we should give credit to those who held tough when Bush was at the height of his swagger; we should honor the 'ten percenters' who took pride in opposing Bush when his approval rating was near 90%, the media fawning over him, the likes of Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Ashcroft, Yoo, Addington, Wolfowitz, Rove and Gonzales holding sway over the nation, with Coulter, Hannity, Savage and Limbaugh spewing hate and liberals labeled traitors.

We should acknowledge that the netroots kept hope alive when our system of checks and balances was in mortal danger, kept hope alive when civil liberties were fast becoming disposable niceties. We should realize that back when Billmon and Bob Somerby and a gentle soul with a sharp pen named Steve Gilliard were required reading, when Digby was a mystery man and Firedoglake was a new blog with an intriguing name, when citizens across the country began logging on and conversing from the heart, there was no glory in political blogging. There still isn't. No one knew if blogs would become quaint artifacts. Many hoped they would. Blogging was about speaking up for America's guiding principles, liberty, justice, equality, opportunity, democracy.

In 2005, I published an essay (mostly out of frustration) arguing that the netroots, forged out of a common purpose, weren't big enough or respected enough to change people's views but could raise their voices enough to pressure the media and elected officials and thereby influence the public debate. Things have improved -- though many bloggers still feel that their voices aren't fully appreciated. I hope that on November fourth and beyond, we will look back on these online progressives as we do others who have spoken out when it was heresy to do so, their patriotism doubted, their motives questioned, words like 'treason' used to intimidate and silence them.

The 2008 election is a watershed and when my newborn daughter is old enough to understand, I'll share my pride (as fathers do) in the small part I played in a presidential race where two brilliant and dedicated Democrats, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, smashed through impenetrable barriers and changed the world. I'll tell my daughter about the despicable ways women are treated across the globe and how she should fight every day of her life for fairness and dignity. I'll talk to her about the unspeakably ugly chapter in our history that so many brave men and women sacrificed their lives to bring to an end. Then I'll tell her where, when and how I cast my vote for President Obama, about the moment a thoughtful, decent and courageous man took the oath of office, when he reclaimed the White House, changed America, and when George W. Bush receded into that place in our minds where bad nightmares reside.

I'll tell her how the triangle closed and hope returned. But I hope I don't have to tell her that the netroots never received proper credit for their lopsided, outsized role in crushing Bushism, initiating a seismic shift away from rightwing extremism and laying the groundwork for a progressive resurgence.