From the Publisher
"In fact, there's something remarkably bracing about the authors' approach. The Unified Theory of Progressive Revival may remain the Holy Grail, but while pursuing it, why not start attacking the small systemic dysfunctions that cripple the movement's effectiveness?"--In These Times
"Power to the people with a political takeover plan," Los Angeles Times review by Lee Drutman-
In a given week, Markos Moulitsas Zúniga's progressive blog, Daily Kos, receives more than 3 million visits, making it one of the most widely read political blogs in the world, and earning its proprietor regular calls for advice from Democratic Party leaders. Not bad for somebody who just four years ago was a Silicon Valley dropout with no real political experience. Now Moulitsas, along with fellow blogger Jerome Armstrong of MyDD.com (the DD stands for "Direct Democracy"), has put down some thoughts in a more traditional medium -- a book.
In Crashing the Gate, the two are not shy about what they hope to accomplish: nothing but an all-out "people-powered" takeover of the Democratic Party -- which, they are firmly convinced, is the only way to take America back from the conservatives currently ruining it. "To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson," they write, "the tree of a political party must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of reformers and insiders." So begins a chapter titled "Civil War." ...
Crashing the Gate is brash and infuriating, as it should be. The progressive blogosphere is starting to feel its own strength -- in the continued growth of Web traffic, in its powerful fund-raising capacity, and in the rise of its man, Howard Dean, as Democratic National Committee chairman. As Eli Pariser of Moveon.org's political action wing wrote in December 2004 (after helping to raise a few hundred million dollars online): "Now it's our party: we bought it, we own it, and we're going to take it back." Crashing the Gate is a powerful salvo in that battle. And as such, it commands attention.
"The Hope of the Web," New York Review of Books, by Bill McKibben-
When, less than a decade ago, the Internet emerged as a force in most of our lives, one of the questions people often asked was: Would it prove, like TV, to be a medium mainly for distraction and disengagement? Or would its two-way nature allow it to be a potent instrument for rebuilding connections among people and organizations, possibly even renewing a sense of community? The answer is still not clear-- more people use the Web to look at unclothed young women and lose money at poker than for any other purposes. But if you were going to make a case for the Web having an invigorating political effect, you could do worse than point your browser to dailykos.com, which was launched in 2002 by Markos Moulitsas Zúniga.
The site, which draws more than half a million visits each day, has emerged as a meeting place for a great many ordinary people (i.e., not only politicians, journalists, academic experts, issue advocates, or big donors) who want to revive the Democratic Party. Obsessed with developing strategies for defeating Republicans, the site was much involved with the campaign of Howard Dean for the presidential nomination and carrying on his forthright opposition to the Iraq war. Its sophisticated technological structure, assembled by Moulitsas, has allowed its viewers to raise money for favored politicians, rethink and debate issue positions, harass lazy or ideologically biased journalists and commentators, and even help break stories that the mainstream press managed to overlook. In doing so, it has explicitly tried to chart a new future for the Democrats--the subject of the book under review--and implicitly suggested new possibilities for the American political system that might help it break free of the grip of big money. It also raises large questions about the future of journalism. In my view, nothing more interesting has happened in American politics for many years.
Armstrong and Moulitsas may well be right that the next great partisan transformation will be theirs. In Crashing the Gate they have written an insightful guide to how the Democratic Party can retake power. Now all they need to do is figure out why it deserves to.
The New York Times
Armstrong (MyDD.com) and Zuniga (DailyKos.com), both popular liberal political bloggers, offer a critique of Democrats and lay out their strategy to save the party and win back control of government at all levels. They present a blistering attack on the Republican Party's ideological constituencies-the theocons, neocons, corporate cons, etc.-and the policies of the Bush administration, but they move quickly to a lengthy critique of the Democratic Party, which they describe, borrowing from Howard Dean, as a collection of single-issue interest groups (e.g., pro-choice, environmental, big labor, and gun control advocates) unwilling to make concessions for the greater good: the success of the party. The authors also note outdated old-boy systems of raising money, outmoded campaign strategies, and a lack of technological sophistication. The Democrats must nurture places where new ideas germinate, such as the world of the blog. Their plan strikes this reader as na ve, considering that Dean didn't win a single primary and that the Republicans have successfully mobilized large numbers of people in support of their candidates. Moreover, they assume that their progressive ideas are, in fact, what the masses subscribe to. While the book may spark some interest among blog readers and writers, its wider appeal will be limited. Recommended for larger public libraries and academic libraries with comprehensive holdings on campaigns and elections. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Read an Excerpt
CRASHING THE GATE NETROOTS, GRASSROOTS, AND THE RISE OF PEOPLE-POWERED POLITICS
By Jerome Armstrong Markos Moulitsas Zúniga
CHELSEA GREEN PUBLISHING COMPANY Copyright © 2006 Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas Zúniga
All right reserved.
Chapter One AMERICAN REALITY, CIRCA 2006
"This country is going so far to the right that you won't recognize it." -Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72
"Hey, hey, ho, ho, Social Security has got to go!" -College Republicans' chant at a campaign event for Senator Rick Santorum, February 2005
We have a Republican Party that can't govern, a Democratic Party that can't get elected, and little doubt that a great nation is suffering as a result.
A prescient headline in the satirical publication The Onion proclaimed three days before George W. Bush's inauguration as the nation's forty-third president on January 20, 2001: "Bush: 'Our Long National Nightmare of Peace and Prosperity Is Finally Over.'" While some took solace in the fact that Bush actually lost the popular vote and stole the election in 2000, the results were much harder to explain away in 2004. Bush's first term was a disaster, both on the domestic and foreign policy fronts. Nevertheless, the American people hit the polls on November 2, 2004, and delivered a legitimatevictory to the very architect of the nation's greatest woes. It was a stunning rejection of the Democratic Party and an undeserved validation of a Republican Party that has been hijacked by ideologues who place their dogma above the national interest.
Meanwhile, we've also been plagued by a Democratic Party unsure of itself, lacking the expression of any core principles, and devoid of any institutional machinery to develop and promote its agenda. Democrats have utterly failed to offer a compelling alternative to Bush and his Republican acolytes, oftentimes parroting Republican positions on any number of issues in the mistaken belief that it might help them capture centrist or independent voters. We saw that strategy fail in 2000, in 2002, and in 2004. But the Democratic Party-its leadership in Washington, D.C., its legions of campaign consultants and the single-issue groups that form its traditional base-has failed to learn lessons from these recurring losses. The party's stakeholders resist being dislodged from their entrenched positions of wealth and power. Even as a marginalized minority, they won't surrender their fiefdoms without a fight. Why risk their comfy little gigs and rackets in a bid for majority status when they've already got it so good?
The Democrats are content to wait for the Republicans to self-destruct so that they can become the default option. Sure, the ever-increasing scandals and mismanagement surrounding the Republican Party threaten to drown its near-term electoral chances. But Democrats can't be political vultures-winning only when there are rotting Republican carcasses to munch on. We need a party that can win on the strength of its own ideas and convictions. And we need to build our forces to match what the Republicans have on the political battlefield-in technology usage, in media access and resources, in research and message development, and in training and leadership efforts.
We cannot wait any longer for the Democratic Party to reform itself and lead us into a new era of electoral success. Those of us who became energized ever since Bush and his circle of fiends took over in 2000-the netroots, the grassroots, the progressive base of America-must act now to take back our party and our country. They may view us in D.C. as barbarians at the gate, but we are not armed with pitchforks and torches. Technology has opened up the previously closed realm of activist politics to riffraff like us. Whether the stagnant establishment wants it or not, the new progressive populist movement will reclaim the Democratic Party as the party of the people. Our message is simple: You can get out of the way or work with us. Trying to stop us is a losing proposition.
If only we could say, "To hell with the Democratic Party!" But part of the present American reality is that we live in a two-party system, and the Democratic Party is our only alternative. It's efficient-and expedient-to reform the existing party of the left, much as the conservative movement took over the Republican Party in the 1970s and converted it into the electoral powerhouse it is today.
Time is of the essence. America is going to hell in a handbasket under a morally and economically bankrupt Republican leadership. We need an authentic and populist democratic movement to crash the gate and save our nation.
Some political observers claim that unlike a generation ago, the United States is now a conservative nation, that Republicans are now the dominant governing party. And given recent Republican successes, it's certainly plausible. The Republicans own the government, controlling the White House, Congress, the Supreme Court, and an increasing number of federal benches that will block progressive policies for the next thirty to forty years. Republicans and their powerful machine have taken aim at every single cause progressives hold dear and have undone whatever progress had been achieved. They annihilated the gun control groups, beat the labor movement down to a shadow of its former self, weakened the pro-choice groups, took shots at the trial lawyers, watered down the gains of the environmental movement, and diverted public resources for the low and middle classes to their wealthy corporate cronies. To keep winning at the ballot box, however, Republicans would have to show an ability to govern. And given their performance these past five years, their inability to run the country and meet the needs of all Americans (not just the rich and the corporations) will be their undoing.
In this decade, Republicans have turned President Bill Clinton's record surpluses into record deficits, dismantled environmental protections on behalf of their corporate patrons, and mired us in a deadly and costly quagmire in Iraq. They have helped export millions of jobs overseas, have forced formerly well-paid workers into the low-pay, low-benefits Wal-Mart economy, and have created a big-government bureaucratic mess out of our public education system. Meanwhile, they have done nothing to improve the health-care system as millions more Americans go without health insurance and access to decent medical care. To top it all off, the Bush administration and its Wall Street cohorts have set their sights on destroying the single most popular government program in the nation's history-Social Security.
By any measure, the Republican agenda is not America's agenda. It is the agenda of some of the major groups of conservatives-or cons-of the Republican Party.
THE CORPORATE CONS
Joe Allbaugh was a central figure in Bush's rise to power, playing the role of "enforcer" during Bush's campaigns and as his chief of staff in Texas. He has always been known as one of Bush's most trusted aides, along with Karl Rove and Karen Hughes. He ran the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2000. After the Supreme Court appointed Bush to the White House in January 2001, Bush appointed Allbaugh to head the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). His two-year tenure as FEMA director was rife with allegations of massive fraud in the agency's contracting. In March 2003, Allbaugh left FEMA and teamed up with cronies of Haley Barbour, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee and current governor of Mississippi, to form a private company named New Bridge Strategies LLC-just in time to take advantage of the Iraq War. The new firm's specialty was shaking down lucrative reconstruction contracts in Iraq. Or as Allbaugh puts it on his company's website:
New Bridge Strategies, LLC, is a unique company that was created specifically with the aim of assisting clients to evaluate and take advantage of business opportunities in the Middle East following the conclusion of the U.S.-led war in Iraq.... The opportunities evolving in Iraq today are of such an unprecedented nature and scope that companies seeking to work in that environment must have the very best advice and guidance available.
In March 2005, Allbaugh signed on to work for Halliburton "to educate the congressional and executive branch on defense, disaster relief and homeland security issues." Immediately after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in late August, Allbaugh headed down to help "coordinate the private-sector response to the storm," which is apparently a polite way to say he was "bring[ing] his influence peddling racket" to the region (as blogger Josh Marshall put it). Sure enough, first in line to benefit from the human tragedy in New Orleans was none other than Halliburton, helped, no doubt, by the fact that Allbaugh had signed on as a lobbyist for the company.
Let's summarize: We have the president and vice president's former campaign manager and confidant appointed to head the disaster-management agency who is now reaping profits from "business opportunities" created by the president's war on Iraq and from "business opportunities" he created for the vice president's former company following the Katrina disaster.
It's all par for the course for the corporate conservative-the oldest of the Republican constituency groups. Corporate cons seek to craft a government friendly to unfettered, unregulated capitalism, not to mention a government that provides generous subsidies and a steady stream of lucrative contracts to further line their pockets-codifying the culture of corruption into the nation's laws. This faction is the granddaddy of the Republican Party-the oil barons, the railroad tycoons, the steel magnates, all grown fat on corporate welfare, growing even fatter under the Bush administration. For the corporate cons, if Halliburton, Shell, and Texaco are enjoying all-time high profits, then it's time for them to get more tax breaks under the new energy bill-the same bill crafted in secret by Vice President Dick Cheney and energy industry executives in May 2001. By the time Bush signed the bill into law in August 2005, it contained $14.5 billion in tax breaks, mostly for the large energy companies.
There is nothing inherently bad about big business, but the corporate cons put their financial profits ahead of the national interest. Much like the corporate boardrooms they occupy, they run their government behind closed doors, away from the prying eyes of the media and public. They dole out their no-bid contracts among friends, all the while treating the public's "right to know" as an unwelcome nuisance. Regulatory agencies are infested with insiders from the very industries those agencies are supposed to regulate, encouraging a "fox in the henhouse" atmosphere.
They sure take care of their own. The pharmaceutical industry, which pumped more than $50 million into the campaign coffers of Bush and other Republicans between 1999 and 2003, gained a handsome reward with the passage of the Medicare prescription drug bill in 2003. The Boston Globe reported in October 2004 that estimates for increase in drug-industry revenues from the bill ranged between $100 billion and $139 billion over the first eight years beginning in 2006. That's a nice return on that $50 million investment in the Republican Party. Among other things, the bill prevents Medicare from even negotiating volume discounts from Big Pharma when it buys drugs for its forty million beneficiaries.
Excerpted from CRASHING THE GATE by Jerome Armstrong Markos Moulitsas Zúniga Copyright ©2006 by Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas Zúniga. Excerpted by permission.
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