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What Democrats Want

Markos Moulitsas and Jerome Armstrong try to fix the Democratic party.

11:00 PM, Mar 16, 2006 • By DEAN BARNETT
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JEROME ARMSTRONG AND MARKOS MOULITSAS are pioneers. Armstrong founded, arguably the first political blog of real prominence. As for Moulitsas, he's the founder and proprietor of Daily Kos, by far the most widely read of all political blogs. Pioneers they may be, but neither Armstrong nor Moulitsas has developed a reputation as a particularly skillful prose stylist.

Yet their new book, Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots and the Rise of People-Powered Politics, is a crisp and well-crafted work. The authors sharply diagnose the Democratic party's ills in a blunt and entertaining fashion.

Less impressive is the political philosophy they espouse. Crashing the Gate is a candid (indeed, shockingly candid) look into the morally vacant motivations of the movement that Moulitsas and Armstrong represent. In spite of confessing that the Democratic party stands for very little, Armstrong and Moulitsas fight for it passionately.

CRASHING THE GATE begins with a bit of red meat for the liberal base. In the first sentence, the authors decry how George W. Bush ascended to the presidency through "non-democratic" means. A tiresome laundry list of hackneyed liberal complaints ensues as the authors survey "American reality, circa 2006."

They call Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleezza Rice, and Dick Cheney "warmongers." Referring to the Valerie Plame affair, they lament how a CIA agent was "outed endangering her work on nuclear proliferation." Referencing the Gannon-Guckert imbroglio, they decry how the "conservative propaganda machine" infiltrated "hollowed [sic] journalistic ground such as the White House Briefing Room." But the heart of the book is a rundown of the problems plaguing the Democratic party.

Democratic political consultants receive particularly harsh treatment. Moulitsas and Armstrong take shots at Bob Shrum (who is now 0 for 8 in presidential elections) , and yet is seemingly entrusted every four years to run another Democratic campaign into the ground. Crashing the Gate also exposes the astronomical fees that Shrum and his ilk charge and acidly observes how even the notoriously spendthrift Bush campaign was able to pay less than half as much for better service.

Armstrong and Moulitsas astutely highlight another critical challenge facing the Democrats--the party has devolved into a gaggle of squabbling factions who care more about their own pet issues than they do the fate of the party. NARAL, for instance, comes in for a bashing for its endorsement of pro-choice Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island.

The authors conclude that the Democrats' big tent is crammed with special interest groups is because the party has no unifying principles or goals. Moulitsas and Armstrong declare, "It is difficult to overstate the need for the Democratic Party to develop its own ideas, not just argue against the Republican ones."

IT IS ONLY WHEN attempting to provide a grand solution that the authors stumble. Moulitsas and Armstrong neither identify nor propose core principles that should guide progressives. Instead, they point to the conservative think-tank model and lament the absence of similar Democratic-oriented organizations. They admiringly point to 1980 when the Heritage Foundation plopped a 1,077 page blueprint for conservative leadership on the newly elected Ronald Reagan's desk. The authors suggest this document provided the intellectual framework that subsequently guided the Reagan administration.

Moulitsas and Armstrong's solution? The Democratic party should develop appendages like the Heritage Foundation--and from those newly spawned organizations, a raft of brilliant ideas will emanate telling progressives what to believe in and what to fight for.

The idea doesn't bear much scrutiny. What would happen if the Democrats' version of the Heritage Foundation decided to focus on education and developed a policy prescription that antagonized the teachers unions? Or what if the progressive policy thinkers came up with changes to the legal or healthcare systems that didn't diligently protect the interests of trial lawyers?

BUT THE MOST DISTURBING question raised by Crashing the Gate is if progressives don't know what they're fighting for, then why are they fighting so hard?

Crashing the Gate provides an invaluable snapshot of the Democratic party and the progressive movement circa 2006. Moulitsas and Armstrong are at the vanguard of the progressive movement, and even they don't know seem to know what it stands for.

Dean Barnett writes on politics at