The New York Times William Safire turned his etymological eye on the netroots this weekend, looking at the roots of Jerome Armstrong's now-famous term for Internet activists:
"You can hear the netroots screaming," wrote Michael Barone in his generally conservative opinion blog on the U.S. News Web site, putting into context a portion of a poll hailed by bloggers doubting the wisdom of going into Iraq. On the other side of the political divide the Nation"s Web site cited the unabashedly liberal Jerome Armstrong's praise of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee "for reading blogs and being ready to work with the netroots." From these citations and a few of the million and a half others in a Google search, the word netroots has a left-of-center connotation. The earliest use I can find is in a Jan. 15, 1993, message on an e-mail list of the Electronic Frontier Foundation from an "rmcdon" at the University of California at San Diego, apparently complaining about an internal shake-up: "Too bad there's no netroots organization that can demand more than keyboard accountability from those who claim to be acting on behalf of the 'greater good.' " ... Popularizer of the term -- unaware of the obscure, earlier citation when he used it -- was the aforementioned (great old word) Armstrong on his blog, MyDD, on Dec. 18, 2002, as he went to work on the presidential campaign of Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont.
Safire goes on to trace the development of grassroots from Teddy Roosevelt's Bull Moose party, and then quotes Armstrong saying that the "term netroots is ideologically and politically neutral." I disagree. Armstrong popularized the term, so you may want to take his word, but it seems to me that netroots has developed in the lexicon as a reference to the Internet left - the bloggers, online activists and progressive groups like MoveOn.org that work online for progressive change offline. Many conservative bloggers agree, which is why they've staked out their own term, "Rightroots," and why they try to debase the term netroots as "nutroots" or "radical netroots." But judging by the impact on politics, we'll be hearing a lot more about the netroots than the rightroots.
Cross posted at the Personal Democracy Forum.