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The Battle of the Blogs

Will the fight between Daily Kos and MyDD have longer lasting implications than its founders realize?
very KosCrashing the GateKos


The Netroots have been arguing about the 2008 campaign since the day after John Kerry lost, but the debate turned ugly when Armstrong revealed his vote in the February 12 Virginia primary. "In the end, what compelled me to vote for Clinton was looking at someone that seemed practical about the battle we have on our hands and looking ready to engage in the fight," Armstrong blogged that day. "I'd rather be part of the fight than be told to stay on the sidelines because I'm too partisan."  

Armstrong had long voiced concerns that Obama's campaign was too personality-driven and too reliant on the votes of Independents and Republicans. But his official endorsement made readers go ballistic. "Voting for the DLC candidate makes you part of the fight? Come on," wrote one commenter. Another suggested, "If you aren't a part of her campaign, you really oughta try to sign up and get some of those $$$ while you can"--a dig at Armstrong's past campaign work for politicians like Howard Dean, Jon Corzine, and Mark Warner. A group of far nastier comments were deleted. 

At Daily Kos, commenters were ripping Armstrong to shreds. One user wrote, "MyDD isn't even a pro-Clinton site these days. It's just a toxic waste dump dedicated to throwing slime at Obama and hoping it sticks. … I know that Kos and Jerome are friends and partners, but it's perhaps time for Kos to reconsider linking to MyDD from the DK blogroll."

Clintonites and Obamabots were ferrying between the two sites, "recommending" posts sympathetic to their favored candidate (thus ensuring more prominent placement on the page), and brutally attacking one another in the comment sections. In late March, Armstrong, upset by name-calling between Clinton and Obama supporters on MyDD, barred new user accounts on the site for a week. The sense of betrayal among fellow Netrooters after his Clinton endorsement was palpable. Armstrong was backing a candidate who, as Chris Bowers, another leading lefty blogger, wrote on Open Left, hadn't fully rejected the DLC, hadn't opposed the Iraq war from the start, hadn't offered overwhelming support for Net Neutrality, and hadn't campaigned in small caucus states. That Bowers' list read like the table of contents of Crashing the Gate made Armstrong's endorsement sting even more.

The fight got even weirder in April, when the Huffington Post unearthed an audio recording of Clinton berating the Netroots at a closed-door fundraiser. "We have been less successful in caucuses because it brings out the activist base of the Democratic Party," she said. "They know I don't agree with them. So they flood into these caucuses and dominate them and really intimidate people who actually show up to support me." But Armstrong shrugged the incident off, just like he has shrugged off all the other harangues he has fielded the last couple months. "Anybody that's got a tape recorder can make news," he told me. "I don't really care about that quote." But what about the "citizen journalism" and "people-powered politics" he had spent years championing? "I tend to be contrarian," Armstrong said. "It's a trait that I have. Clinton has had plenty of bashing out there, and I think Obama gets way too much slack."


Moulitsas has been happy to do the Clinton-bashing. Straw polls conducted among Daily Kos readers throughout the primary cycle consistently showed Clinton with less than ten percent of their support. Earlier in the campaign, Moulitsas flirted with endorsing Chris Dodd or John Edwards, but he took the temperature of his readers--and the Democratic electorate--and went with Obama in late March. (Moulitsas did not respond to interview requests for this article.) The day he did so, Armstrong wrote a long post about the lasting damage Reverend Wright was doing to the Democratic Party.

Kos's endorsement capped a difficult period for Clinton supporters on his site. On March 14, about 75 pro-Clinton Daily Kos diarists, feeling besieged, had proclaimed a "writer's strike" in protest of what they claimed were widespread instances of misogyny and general intemperance from Obama supporters. "The straw that broke this camel's back was when I put up a post about International Women's Day," explained "Alegre," who led the Daily Kos boycott. "The usual suspects just came in and started crapping all over it." She told me, "I don't want to be a part of Daily Kos until they change their tone and start supporting all Democrats."

After announcing her departure from the site, Alegre was the subject of insults by dozens of commenters. Moulitsas fumed on the site's front page, "People expect me to give a damn that a bunch of whiny posters ‘go on strike' and leave in a huff. When I don't give a damn, people get angry that their expectations aren't being met." Of course, characterizing Clinton supporters, especially female Clinton supporters, as "whiny," didn't sit well with many. A Maryland mother of two in her mid-40s, Alegre said she won't publicize her real name because she fears harassment from anti-Clinton bloggers and commenters.

There's no doubt that the tone of the Netroots' Clinton-bashing has veered rather far from policy substance. After the Huffington Post scoop, Daily Kos front page writer Dana Houle wrote a bizarre diary (one he didn't post to the homepage) recounting how his impressions of Hillary Clinton had changed since 1992, when he saw Bill Clinton give a speech at the University of Michigan. "It was the night I learned the term MILF, and it was applied to Hillary Clinton," wrote Houle. In the same post, he described seeing a couple in the crowd at the Clinton speech engaged in a sex act. Later Houle, who is 43 and was once  chief-of-staff for New Hampshire Congressman Paul Hodes, brushed off the suggestion that sexualizing Clinton had been inappropriate. "Some people will look for a reason to be outraged no matter what," he explained, telling me that most of Clinton's support in the liberal blogosphere comes from marginal writers.


The Netroots has always had a hostile streak, and it's natural that as the Democratic Party and the Netroots themselves began to wield more power, some of that hostility would be directed inwards. Its denizens are also a relatively homogeneous bunch--largely male, middle-aged, college-educated, and upper middle class. The Democratic Party is a diverse coalition reliant on African Americans, single women, union members, and Latinos. Compound that demographic gap with the impersonality and frequent anonymity of the online world, and it seems inevitable that feelings would be hurt, and that some progressives would feel unwelcome in the clubhouse.

Armstrong sees no permanence in the ruptures that have emerged--both he and Moutlitsas stress that they have remained friends throughout the campaign. Armstrong has seemed to accept Clinton's inevitable defeat, writing about his hopes that she uses her political capital to push for reforms in the Democratic primary process that would decrease the influence of caucuses. For Armstrong and Kos, with the primary all but over, everything is approaching normal again.

"I don't think division within the Netroots is all that big of a problem in terms of unifying the Party," Armstrong says. "The people who participate in the Netroots are the most loyal Democratic voters. It's other voting blocs that are more problematic."

And while he's right that people who spend a lot of their discretionary time on progressive websites aren't likely to abstain or vote for Republicans, he may be too cavalier about the toll of this struggle on his movement. "I've always gotten the impression there that women didn't really hold a high place in their heart," Alegre says, referring to the male leaders of Daily Kos. "I'd go back. But I don't know if I'd be welcome after the stink I caused."

Dana Goldstein is a staff writer at The American Prospect.

By Dana Goldstein