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February 10, 2007

Welcome Chris Bowers!

By Neil the Ethical Werewolf

Having spent much of the last year and a half trying to show liberal bloggers that John Edwards was their man, I spent the middle of this week being horrified that my work might be completely obliterated. (That I spent Tuesday night at Melissa's house, having ridden a bus from Ann Arbor to western Indiana to meet her for the first time and discuss internet strategy, was a gut-wrenching twist of fate.) But the campaign chose wisely, and now we've made lemonade from our lemons.

The political case for keeping Melissa and Amanda on board was straightforward. There are only two groups who really care about the controversy surrounding them -- the netroots and the religious right. Only one of those groups votes in the Democratic primary, and the other can't ever be won over in a general election. And when the general election comes around, the early work of Edwards' top bloggers will be last year's news. The campaign needed to prove to liberal bloggers that it wouldn't be pushed around by right-wing pressure groups, and that's exactly what it did.

For Edwards, blogger support is really important. As countless Daily Kos straw polls show, bloggers are one group that Hillary has absolutely no chance of picking up. She's got money, institutional support, name recognition, and centrist positioning. The netroots can't be bought, they're anti-institutional, they're too high-information to be picked up off of name rec, and they're liberal. With the number of groups that Hillary's advantages can attract, substantial netroots support is part of any winning Edwards coalition. If Edwards loses his blogger support, Barack Obama, currently hovering above the field in a cloud of mystery, will choose an identity that picks liberal bloggers up, leaving Edwards with a glorified version of the Gephardt campaign. But if Edwards wins over the netroots -- as I think he will -- he's in good shape.

Still, it's not hard to see why people within the Edwards campaign must have freaked out when faced with the attacks. No one among us has thrown more thunder than Amanda Marcotte, and it's hard for me to even imagine what looking into Amanda's entire blogging history with the cautious eye of a press staffer must have been like. The impulse to dispose of any commitment to Amanda and Melissa's prior blog posts by simply firing them must've been strong. But the campaign chose otherwise, and they're much better for it.

And this brings me to the hero of this post -- Chris Bowers, whose quest it is to revitalize the Democratic Party by making the netroots strong. At first, I was stunned at what Chris said so starkly:

I also wish to make something else clear. While there is no way I will support Edwards with Amanda and Melissa are fired, I will immediately become a staunch Edwards supporter if they are not fired.

As he clarified, holding on to Melissa and Amanda would be a sign that Edwards takes netroots opinion seriously. But on reflection, there's more to be said for Bowers' position than that.

Consider Garance Franke-Ruta's warning to people wanting a career in Washington: "Everything you say and do can and will be used against you." And realize that this statement has a straightforward corollary: "If you want a job in politics, never say anything controversial on a blog." Which means that any blogger worth reading can never make it to the inside and achieve a position of true political power. If you ever say anything that can be caricatured effectively by your enemies, your employers can be held to account for it, and they'll have a painful choice between firing you and bearing the consequences. This builds a wall between bloggers and power -- a wall that blocks Bowers from realizing his dream.

On Thursday, John Edwards balled up his fist and punched a hole the size of two women in that wall. If he pays no price for it -- better yet, if he wins the nomination and the presidency -- one of the most significant barriers to bloggers directly exercising power will have given way. If someone with the wildly exciting writing history of Amanda Marcotte can work for a winning campaign, a wide range of outspoken liberals can too, and bloggers with political ambitions don't have to muzzle themselves.

And so we see Chris Bowers letting loose on Bill Donahoe, the right-wing operative who has now declared war on John Edwards, with the full force of his BlogPAC machine. There's plenty of reasons to do this -- for one thing, Donahoe's claim to be a mainstream Catholic figure instead of a kooky and wildly partisan anti-Semite needs to be demolished. But there's also a general point to be proven -- hiring bloggers who have forcefully expressed controversial positions is no bar to victory. I look forward to watching Donahoe try to prove otherwise, because I look forward to watching Bowers crush him.

February 10, 2007 | Permalink


Dude, that was so dicey. This was a deal breaker with me too. And I was already committed to Edwards (as you know).

The net has learned a lot since the Howard Dean days. It's time we put it into practice. It looks like we've been given a new chance to prove ourselves.


Now, as long as we can learn to watch our fucking language...

Posted by: Mark Adams | Feb 10, 2007 6:44:41 AM

The thing is, why did he fire them in the first place? The Edwards campaign hired them, got rattled by the criticism and fired them, then realized the blogosphere was up in arms about it and decided they had more to gain politically from keeping them on then letting them go and promptly rehired them. But they were fired. Minus the pushback from the netroots & potential ramifications from the left, the Edwards campaign was completely ready to throw them under the bus. That doesen't exactly inspire me as political bravery.

It appears just like the Iran fiasco, where he went to Israel, gave a good war mongering anti-Iran speech that played well with the locals, went home, got wind of the negative reaction to his speech and hurriedly backed off it. Like Matt Stoller said, he was "Walked back". Now he just got "Walked Back" from cutting the two bloggers loose.

These two issues back to back really sour me on supporting his candidacy. As John Judis said, he's just a guy that likes telling people what they want to hear & goes in whichever direction the current is blowing strongest. He's hardly unique in this respect, but considering it, it makes his status as a darling of the netroots that much more puzzling.

I really wish the netroots would take Dennis Kucinich seriously instead. He was only completely right about the war & everything else, plus he actually believes in marriage equality for gays & lesbians.

Posted by: potter | Feb 10, 2007 7:38:45 AM

Glad he didn't cave but Marcotte was/is a bad choice for that position. The Pandagoons don't seem to get it either.

Posted by: populi | Feb 10, 2007 7:43:18 AM

There are only two groups who really care about the controversy surrounding them -- the netroots and the religious right.

This is just ignorant. About 80% of Americans identify themselves as Christians. Who really believes that they are all Republicans??? There are many Democrats that will be highly offended once they learn of Edwards' choice...and the Hillary's crew will make sure they do. If Edwards should make the cut, then the Republicans will then take up the torch and lead the villagers to the monsters' castle.

I lifted this right off of Edward's blog and I think it says it all:

And for you to post what you did on your PERSONAL blog, sends a clear signal as to how you feel.. and also has caused embarrasement for this campaign. Im sorry...there is no room for that here. I happen to be a Christian.. Have been for over 20 years and proud of it. And when I heard of the filth you produced, I was horrified..both as a christian and as a moderate democrat..

Potter also has a very good point above about Edwards' opportunism. If he doesn't have the political balls to withstand heat from the blogosphere, what will happen when the tough positions you wish him to take on race, homosexuality, guns, etc. happen? If he is elected, do you really believe he will stand for a conviction, or will he do what he did with these bloggers and throw any and everyone under the bus for his political career?

Given his recent past, I truly believe that Marcotte certainly and most likely McEwan as well, will be discharged as soon as the hoop-lah dies down.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Feb 10, 2007 8:03:45 AM

Oh...OH......found this just now. Again from the Edwards blog.

Here is a dose of reality. I was all set to vote for Mr. Edwards, and I am not a Republican plant like yourself, but I will not condone a candidate who tolerates hatred of anyone. Hatred is not what America is all about. For a candidate campaigning on the platform of one America, hiring inarticulate shallow writers like you may well set the stage for our next Civil War.

These Democrats are not alone and this will not go away. This issue will undermine John's campaign issues of tolerance and it will be fodder for the next 2 years. John is insane if he keeps these clowns.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Feb 10, 2007 8:44:15 AM

It's a reverse "Sister Souljah" moment. Instead of scoring political points off a major piece of your base by telling them to go hide under a rock for the duration of the campaign, Edwards stayed on our side.

Posted by: Clark | Feb 10, 2007 9:03:45 AM

It's annoying, because I like Melissa. I can't vote for Edwards in good conscience if he is represented in any capacity by Amanda.

Why, oh why isn't Gore running....

Posted by: Fnor | Feb 10, 2007 9:36:28 AM

The thing is, why did he fire them in the first place? The Edwards campaign hired them, got rattled by the criticism and fired them, then realized the blogosphere was up in arms about it and decided they had more to gain politically from keeping them on then letting them go and promptly rehired them. But they were fired.

According to Salon. The Edwards camp immediately disavowed the story that the two had been fired. Salon had egg on its face when it turned out that they hadn't been fired after all. So what did they do? They claimed that they had been fired, but then at the last minute they were re-hired.

Shades of Bill Stern.

Posted by: Jason | Feb 10, 2007 9:45:23 AM

There are only two groups who really care about the controversy surrounding them -- the netroots and the religious right.

That's BS.

I'm not a member of the religious right. I'm Catholic. And I'm moderate. I may well cast my vote for the Democratic nominee. I sure as heck hope that nominee is not that Catholic-bashin' cracker John Edwards, though. If it is, and if the Republicans are smart enough to serve up a moderate ticket, they'll be getting this Papist's swing state vote.

Anti-Catholicism isn't the virulent plague it once once, but neither is antisemitism or racism. But the like the latter two, the former still exists. Oversensitive? Maybe. I don't have a problem with Ms. Marcotte disagreeing with my church's stances on lots of stuff, as I do myself. But the language she has frequently used has gone beyond mere intemperate to vicious, ugly, and hateful. Perhaps Mr. Edwards would have paid a price for firing her. I'll do my best to make sure he pays a price for keeping her on.

Posted by: Pissed off Moderate in Missouri | Feb 10, 2007 9:54:07 AM

I think pissed off moderate (even if it's a conservative posing as a moderate: the post smells fishy to me) has a point. At first, I thought this was a easy decision; I assumed that no one cares about this about the netroots and right-wingers. But as it turns out, there seem to be some (it's hard to tell how many) liberal and moderate Catholics who are none too pleased with Edwards. Which makes his decision all the more admirable. Both Edwards and the netroots, which flexed its muscles, should take a bow. Then get back to talking about health care and Iraq.

Posted by: david mizner | Feb 10, 2007 10:09:27 AM

I've seen a lot of grassroots movements come and go, so forgive me if I think the netroots as such aren't really the most important thing here. (And frankly, it's a little asinine to make placating the netroots a condition for support.) What's more important is that Edwards stood up to Donohue. (Granted, he did it in a fairly timid and halting manner, much less forcefully than I'd have liked to see, but he did it.) The malignancy that is Donohue (and Malkin and all the others) is an enormous long-term problem for the Democrats and for this country, and until our people learn how to fight they'll keep winning.

Posted by: Tom Hilton | Feb 10, 2007 10:10:20 AM

I'm not a member of the religious right. I'm Catholic. And I'm moderate. I may well cast my vote for the Democratic nominee. I sure as heck hope that nominee is not that Catholic-bashin' cracker John Edwards, though.

Bingo! It is the worst kind of folly to assume that only the "religious right" is offended by comparing the Immaculate Conception to a scene from a porn novel. I can hear the conversation now: "sabes que los Democratas dicen el Espiritu Santo chingo a la Virgen? No!" Trust me, this is what many people -- none of whom have heard of either Malkin or Donahue -- would take away from the story, both in English and Spanish.

In some ways, the GOP should be angry at Malkin and Donahue for raising a fuss now. It would have been better politics to let the hire go uncommented-upon and then use Marcotte's comments at a more opportune and -- for the Democrats -- damaging time. They should have hoped that she worked her way into a more central position and then dropped the bomb.

If, as Kos insists, the netroots is about winning, then it has a funny idea of what makes winning possible.

Posted by: Roberto Rivera | Feb 10, 2007 10:15:24 AM

Pardon me for saying so (and I'm sure there will be flames galore for continuing to say this), but I don't think this is over, and I don't know that this was the right step. If this all works out, great, but these political realities that people want to rewrite or ignore are still realities. I don't think this brouhaha, minor though it may seem in many respects, was zero sum; I think some people, some people who might well have jumped now or later to Edwards may be put off, and I don't think conservatives see themselves as cowed or beaten, however lefty blog types would like it to be so. There is more that could develop on this story, and I'm not sure the published apologies amount to more than "I'm sorry if you can't take a joke, but it's not my problem." That's not necessarily an answer that satisfies anyone. And yes, I think that politics is the art of saying something vague and non-commital that doesn't really offend anyone. I'm pretty sure that's antithetical to blogging (now that I blog myself, it's certainly what I've found), and I'm not sure anyone's sorted out yet how best to marry the blog culture to the political one. I think that marriage is still a developing, and awkward, one. Which means the right thing to do may not always be knee-jerk defenses of every piece of writing a blogger does, just because they're on your side.

Yes, there has been something of a regrettable defensive crouch from liberals in the past 20 years, but it's never been the full fetal crouch some want to present it as now; we've stood up and said our peace all along, it's just that what we said did not necessarily find a receptive audience. That non-receptive audience is still out there, and they have not, by any stretch, signed on to the most liberal, or radical points of view. And some lefty views make them nervous, uncomfortable or turn them right off. And some of those people will be needed to maintain and grow a serious Dem majority.

I say all of this because little in this episode has persuaded me that Edwards is doing anything more remarkable than other Democrats at this point, or that he would arrive at the nomination with less baggage to work out than others were he to get the nomination. And if what's happened here is to cement a group of diehards who will stand firm on Edwards or nothing, that's not progress either, and could be just as damaging down the road if Edwards does not ultimately work out. I think there's a lot of confidence, since Novemeber, that's only begun to be exopressed on the left: confidence that we can speak our minds on everything, confidence that we can kick ass and take names (finally), confidence that the Republicans will be lost in the wilderness for a significant period. It's a short distance from the confidence to overconfidence and to a certain amount of hubris. And in that sense, yes, I am cautious and a moderate. There's not necessarily something wrong with that. I waited too long to see my party regain some semblance of control, and I don't want us to fuck it up, and I think bloggers who want to keep partisan plitics a pitched and somewhat ugly battle (albeit one now where lfties dominate rather than righties) are not improving the overall shape of politics today. At some point this really does need to stop being a pitched battle, and I know I'm a liberal because I believe we do this stuff better, not the same way conservatives do it, and I'm concerned that what's prevailed here is preserving our battle stations, not a way to ratchet down the ill will between left and right.

Posted by: weboy | Feb 10, 2007 10:34:24 AM

Tom Hilton, those two things are related; the power of the roots made it worth his politcal while to stand up to Donohoe. Kos and Bowers up are up in arms about the quote by an rival advisor saying he was more afraid of bloggers than Catholics, but there's some truth to it. it's called politics and it's good.

And the netroots will be here long after Donohue has met his oblivion.

Posted by: david mizner | Feb 10, 2007 10:35:02 AM

Then get back to talking about health care and Iraq.


The personal anecdotes of a few politically active blog-commenters aside, this just isn't the type of thing that most Americans - Catholics included - are going to care about. Amanda's comments are not going to be reproduced in any form in newspapers and on TV, and people aren't going to take the time to look up Pandagon's archives unless they were already doing that on their own.

Going after Donohue is probably a good thing as long as it's not in order to prove some sort of moral equivalence between him and Amanda. I hope BlogPAC will just work on exposing how whacked-out the man is and leave it at that.

Perhaps Bowers & co. could highlight all of the anti-Catholic sentiment from Jerry Falwell, Bob Jones University and Pat Robertson and ask if Donohue is going to go after them and therefore John McCain. I've mentioned in comments before that Protestantism is rife with anti-Catholic views - from the laity on up through the various denominations' hierarchies. For so-called "moderates" commenting here and at the Edwards' blog to worry about Amanda instead of this is either from ignorance or stupidity.

Posted by: Stephen | Feb 10, 2007 10:38:59 AM

I think that people will be surprised at how tired Americans are at being led by the nose. The mainstream media has become a perpetual gossip machine with real reporting highlighted as some sort of special event. Politicians are increasingly tied into one position from which they can never deviate and are forced to parrot talking points to talking heads who should have retired ages ago.
It is easy to put a bad spin on anyone's writings with very little effort. Finding the truth takes more than a little thought and ability, both of which appear to be lacking in the current debate. Both of these women have strong personal opinions on a variety of subjects and they are held in varying stages of approval/disapproval for them. This is natural. They are also held to be very good writers who are able to make good points in an articulate manner. They are also known to act in a professional way. Edwards hired good, professional writers who know how the blogs work and how they are responded to by their readers. Until they prove otherwise, I will assume that they will respect their employer and behave in a responsible manner.
To call the candidate that "Catholic-bashin' cracker John Edwards" is to assign to the man the early works of a single employee and if that is the end result of the American education system than the country has more to worry about that some salacious, satirical remarks self-published months ago.

Posted by: Hawise | Feb 10, 2007 10:40:49 AM

Actually, it doesn't mean never say anything controversial. It means that you should always expect to be attacked on your weakest ground, and know how -- and that -- you're going to fight back.

Posted by: Garance Franke-Ruta | Feb 10, 2007 10:42:49 AM

This may be a fun thread. :)

I am with Bowers (and Edwards, Neil, & Marcotte), tho it is hard to explain why and may take a lot time to clear up. But Stoller & Bowers just have a great instinct, intuition, and analysis for 21st century populism and politics. Chris just nailed it at a glance.

And obviously, someone in the Edwards campaign is very very smart. Marcotte is a brilliant choice. The choice, the instant blowback, and the committment to feminism and the netroots flipped me as it flipped Bowers.

Dammit, Donahue has been on TV talknews my entire life, larger than life spouting his victimisation & bile.

This is not about saying nasty stuff and offending people. It is about who gets to talk in America & who gets told to STFU. For decades it has been Limbaugh and Coulter & Donahue who had permission to hurt people and be mean. That is a plain fact. Who gave Coulter the right to call me a traitor?

Edwards has handed a microphone to the netroots and blogosphere.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Feb 10, 2007 10:43:05 AM

Oh. And obviously the resistance to Marcotte comes not only from the right. There is plenty of evidence on this blog that those in the center and left-center want to write the rules for political discourse.

That is how Lieberman gets a seat at the table, a committee chairmanship. He gets most of his power by agreeing that other people and groups really just don't belong in the club. Not our kind, you know.

There are plenty of people in the blogosphere who want the keep the country club exclusive, sedate, civilized.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Feb 10, 2007 10:54:25 AM

Just to clear this up, it's not that I think only people on the religious right would be offended by Amanda's comments. Plenty of moderates would find them offensive.

The things is that I don't see any moderates taking the previous comments of a low-level Edwards staffer -- a 'blogger', whatever that is -- as a voting issue. Sure, if Edwards himself read a good Pandagon post as a speech, there'd be hell to pay. But this is distant enough from the campaign that it won't move any votes.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Feb 10, 2007 11:08:38 AM

Donhaue criticized Bob Jones as recently as September of last year:

(cut-and-pasted from http://www.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2006/9/5/83204.shtml. I am a Catholic and a conservative but not a Newsmax reader; I found this via Google.)

3. Catholics Caution McCain on Speaking at Bob Jones University

Catholic League President Bill Donahue says Sen. John McCain should think twice before accepting a speaking invitation from Bob Jones University, a school Donahue says has been blatantly anti-Catholic in the past.

"In 2000, the Catholic League criticized presidential contender George W. Bush for speaking at Bob Jones University," Donahue said in a statement.

"The university at that time had policies that were both racist and anti-Catholic ...

"Now Sen. McCain is mulling whether it would be appropriate for him to speak at Bob Jones. ‘I understand they have made considerable progress,' he said.

"It looks to us that Bob Jones has made considerable progress, too, but it would behoove Senator McCain to be cautious."

Donahue said that after the Greenville, S.C., school received "a lot of bad PR," President Bob Jones III announced on March 3, 2000, that the university would lift its ban on interracial dating. At the time, Catholics hoped the school would also remove from its Web site disparaging references to Catholicism, such as "satanic cult" and "Mother of Harlots."

"On March 14, 2000, the school nixed any references to Catholicism as a cult, notwithstanding the fact that other disparaging remarks remained," said Donahue.

"That lasted one day. On March 15, the offensive fare was back."

But now, he added, "a thorough check of the Bob Jones University Web site shows that all of the objectionable postings have been deleted.

"Is this a cosmetic change or a real one? That's for McCain to determine."

Posted by: James Kabala | Feb 10, 2007 11:18:43 AM

Rank the Bloggers ...Steve Gilliard was sent a neat list from a reader of technorati rankings for liberal blogs. This has been around. I can't find Ezra on it.
But Ezra is on this list, of bloggers hilzoy of Obsidian Wings thinks "would survive scrutiny"

"I think any of the following would survive scrutiny (not in the sense that nothing they wrote could be distorted by someone who was trying, but in the sense that their work would stand up to it): Josh Marshall, Kevin Drum, Matt Y, Spencer Ackerman, Ezra Klein, Glen G., the entire Crooked Timber crew, Laura Rozen, Kleiman. Hell, I think it would be harder than people seem to think to find a problem with Atrios, who can be in your face, but (imho) rarely out of line.

Posted by: hilzoy | February 07, 2007 at 08:46 PM"

Of course I wouldn't expect hilzoy to be comprehensive in a quick comment, but she does know many of the feminist blogs via an aggregator. Comparing the two lists, and thinking about the difference and whatever the difference could mean, to me or to hilzoy, is left as an exercise for the reader. Or I can come back and help.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Feb 10, 2007 11:19:36 AM

And here is Donahue on Bob Jones in 2000, speculating that the Catholic vote might go to McCain in the primaries because of the Bob Jones speech.


Posted by: James Kabala | Feb 10, 2007 11:22:11 AM

"But this is distant enough from the campaign that it won't move any votes." ...Neil

Uh no. This is not about Marcotte morphing into Amy Sullivan for a year, hiding in the basement and not embarrassing anyone. Edwards is not going to be reading Pandagon on the stump, but he has let the hippies, feminists, and other dirty bloggers into his tent, and publicly accepted that he needs us and is willing to pay a cost.

It is huge, and will be seen in 6 months to a year.

HRC is stuck with the war and triangulation. Obama will have policy positions but basically will float above on "Why can't we all get along?"

After another year of war and Bush throwing his weight around, the base is going to be really pissed and spitting nails. Events will make it meaner. Edwards is now gonna have to ride that tiger.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Feb 10, 2007 11:36:07 AM

I wouldn't discount Clinton's ability to get mean and play rough (I do, though, think Obama's message will be a "can't we all just get along"), which is why I think Clinton's other advantages in money and organizing may trump Edwards (and make it mean Hillary vs. nice Barack as the primary season runs itself out). I think there's definitely a mean edge that some Dems are eager to express. I'm not sure that's something to be pleased about, and it's why I think Obama could just maybe pull this off. Someone should really try appealing to our better angels, not our thirst for battle.

BTW I do still love feminists, hippies and dirty bloggers (all in one person, now that would be ideal). Let the Freak Flag fly. :)

Posted by: weboy | Feb 10, 2007 11:52:40 AM

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