Beyond Crashing The Gates
A fundamental misunderstanding about our political position pervades the liberal blogosphere. On the one hand, we have made enormous strides in beginning the transformation of our political culture, but on the other, we have failed to achieve any of our most important policy goals. Anger is justified, but it is too easy to succumb to despair. After all the work that went into helping the Democrats win back Congress, it is all too obvious that Congressional leaders are largely ignoring us. They expect our partisan loyalty, but they don't take seriously the intelligence of our arguments.
Some, in the blogosphere, are lashing out. Some are ready to give up. It is hard to say where to draw the line, between just criticism and shrill caterwauling. There are probably as many opinions, on that, as there are active users on this blog. The metaphor that seems most apt was coined by a prominent blogger. It's called crashing the gates. We all took the idea to heart. We all worked towards that end. We all saw it achieved. Many now misunderstand what that metaphor means.
Crashing the gates implies getting inside, after having been shut out. It does not imply being in control. It does not imply getting our way. It means we're in the game, but it doesn't mean the game is won. The truth is that we're far from having it won. The truth is that it's still their home turf. The truth is that the hard part has only begun. Crashing the gates was only step one.
A better analogy would be to think of an exclusive Beltway cocktail party. The invite list included a lot of people from both political parties, a lot of wealthy lobbyists, a lot of wealthy media hacks, and the usual macabre cadre of demi-celebs, pseudo-intellectuals, and sycophants. There were also some genuinely good people on the invite list, but they were invited mostly as entertainment. They are expected to recite poetry, express passions that the majority can only appreciate vicariously, and otherwise comport themselves appropriately by not overindulging at the bar or excessively perorating.
It's an insiders' club, and we were not invited. We were not welcome. We were "the people," existing only in the abstract; less sophisticated, less polished, a bit clumsy and ragged, we were outside, just beyond the glimmering bedizened garden. Some of us worked for them, and some of us muddled by without their needing take notice, but they are our betters. They have a vaguely paternal interest in us. They are convinced they are there to attend to our well-being, but they don't won't to have to be bothered hearing about us, and certainly not from us. Their opinions matter; ours could not be less relevant. That's why they are inside, and we are not.
But something happened. A conjunction of populist fervor and modern technology enabled the stirrings of a revolution about which they had heard nothing. It was so sudden and so unexpected that they're still trying to figure out what do to about it. While they were busy in a traditonal dance of mutual aggrandizement, kissing each other's cheeks and patting each other's backs, somehow we got inside. The music didn't screech to a stop, and conversations weren't broken in mid-sentence, but some began to notice there were people mingling who didn't look like they belonged.
They would throw us out, if they could, but they know they can't. We haven't broken anything, and it's too late, anyway. We make witty remarks, and have a rough, roguish charm. Some are glad we've joined them. Some were hoping we would. Some are hoping we will be a new form of amusement. Some realize that it's more than that. Some realize that this isn't s single evening's fancy. They have begun to grumble. They have begun to make jokes about our clothes and hair. They have begun to fight back. They want us to look bad. They want the others to stop being nice to us. They ridicule, deride, and distort what we say and do. Washington Post columnist Howard Kurtz wrote about a blogger known only as Digby, and inadvertently clarified the parameters of the dynamic. He's a somebody. She's a pseudonym who, until a few months ago, had neither a face nor a gender. He has a presumed, but undemonstrable, legitimacy; she has only the power of her ideas. It is little wonder that when writing about her, he didn't take her very seriously. It is little wonder that in writing about him, she and her defenders proved it is he who is unworthy of being taken seriously.
When Markos, of Daily Kos, appeared on television with Harold Ford, what most struck me was not their arguments, it was Ford's attitude. His disdain was palpable. He clearly could not believe he was having to so waste his precious time. It was beneath him. Except that it wasn't. Had he had a real choice, he would not have been there. But he was there. Because the Democratic presidential candidates had appeared at a bloggers' convention named after Markos, rather than at the convention of the established, supposedly respectable, and once predominant Party insiders whom Ford officially represents. Ford was there because he was on the defensive. He wasn't defeated, but he was angry. He's a second generation player, while Markos is a mere interloper. This is not how it's supposed to be!
So, the gate has been crashed, but this new dynamic should not be misinterpreted. Previously, people like us could be ignored. We didn't exist. Now, we do. They don't know what to do with us, but they do know that they can't ignore us. We're inside, but it is still their cocktail party. Crashing the gates was about breaking the grip of those with special access and special privileges. The real work has begun, but it has only begun. We haven't won, we haven't fully dismantled the gates, and we haven't yet proved that the party's moving to our turf- the public square; but without the power of the blogs, we would not even be inside the door.
In the past months, several people have quoted Mohandes Gandhi:
First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.
A lot of people seem to believe that by crashing the gates, we have won. We haven't. They can no longer ignore us, and some are trying to ridicule us, while others have only begun to fight us, but we haven't won. We're not getting the results we want because we haven't won. The closer we get to those results, the harder they will fight us. The novelty is wearing off, and we are increasingly being recognized as a threat. That means we will have to be stronger than ever. We will have to be more determined, more intrepid, more intractable. We cannot afford despair or despondence. We are still on their turf. If we are to bring the party to our own turf, if we are to bring it to the wider public, we will not do so by raving, but neither will we do it by being complacent. We will do it as we have done it, thus far. It is the power of our ideas. We must criticize, but we must not berate. We must praise when praise is earned, and we must not waver in our resolve.
We are inside, now. We are being watched. We are being heard. We haven't yet won, but we will- if we remain calm, if we remain smart, if we remain true to our ideals. Crashing the gates was the first step. It was the easiest step. We must be ready for what lies ahead.