On July 16-19, the online progressive community held its annual “Netroots Nation” conference in Detroit. The irony of holding such an event in a desiccated husk of a formerly great metropolis undone by unionism and unfettered liberal governance was mostly lost on the crowd, and the gathering made no real news until it was over.
Matthew Stoller, one of the founders of the OpenLeft website, which many credit with organizing Democratic activists to shove the party in its current leftward direction, posted a searching and anguished message to Facebook explaining his absence from this year’s Netroots conference:
I know people at Netroots Nation love Elizabeth Warren, but would be satisfied with Hillary Clinton. This is because Warren and Clinton, and Obama, and most political leaders at this point just basically have agreed to not argue about the big stuff. . . . Anyway, I feel very, very alone. . . . But professionally, it seems like there has been a total and utter abandonment of the idealism and optimism that got us started. The movement of which I thought I was a part is now just a mostly uninteresting trade show. Maybe I should have known it would always come down to that. But I don’t really believe that it had to happen this way. That’s what it means to be an optimist. We’ll get another shot, eventually. I believe that. But right now, I am not part of that throng, and it’s very alienating.
Naturally, Eric Hoffer’s old saw that “every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket” is as true as ever. And only the most delusional utopians among us, i.e., those who thought Barack Obama and progressive ideology were ever capable of hope and change, could be surprised at the current state of the Democratic party. After five years of catastrophic policy failures and an even bigger mess in the Middle East, the party is now perfectly willing to shrug off Hillary’s packed itinerary of Goldman Sachs fundraisers and say, “Screw it, let’s nominate another Clinton.” Stoller’s lamentations seem distinctly quaint.
Lest we make Stoller shed more tears into his summer gazpacho, The Scrapbook would like to point out just how much of a racket the progressive movement has in fact become. Last week BuzzFeed reported, “Two top veterans of President Obama’s campaigns are asking political campaigners to pay $5,000 per person for the chance to learn their secrets and then work for five weeks in an unpaid campaign job somewhere in America.” These are undoubtedly the same kind of jobs that campaigns normally bribe idealistic college kids to do with free pizza. Only this time you get to pay for the privilege of spending over a month licking envelopes and occasionally touching the hem of former Obama campaign staffers’ garments. Surely that’s worth $5,000.
Considering the Obama Labor Department has tried to stamp out unpaid internships and the Democratic party is currently demagoguing minimum wage increases in an extremely soft job market, this attempt by Obama campaign staffers to monetize their association with “The One” is pretty rich. BuzzFeed quoted a number of activists criticizing this supposed campaign training program as going against “progressive values.” No doubt it’s another data point for Stoller and others who think the -progressive movement and the president it spawned have lost their way. But it turns out that it’s really easy for a movement to lose its way when that movement is founded on the naïve belief that “progressive” is in any way a synonym for progress.