Tuesday, October 30, 2007

history lesson

Atrios recounts a crucial bit of blogospheric history:

Beating back George Bush's plan to kill social security was probably the first major victory for the broadly defined netroots movement. I say that not really knowing if things would have been different if blogs and the like didn't exist, but it seemed like a victory. And while we never got together in a dark smoky room to plot our strategy, it basically ended up being a two-pronged one. The first was to beat back against the "social security crisis" frame much beloved by every very serious pundit in Washington. The second was to beat back against the idea that since George Bush had a "plan" (which he never actually did in any form until very near the end of the whole debate) the Democrats needed to have a "plan" of their own. The first part of this is a perpetual game of whack a mole, necessary on just about every day the Washington Post is still publishing. And the second was a very necessary emergency tourniquet which needed to be applied very quickly.

Beating back the steady stream of misinformation about the nonexistent crisis was done throughout the blogs, on Media Matters, etc. And trying to stop the Democrats from coming up with their own crackpot plan was done through a combination of bloggers trying to explain repeatedly that people like social security, they don't want to change it, opposing changing it is a political winner, and most importantly that once the minority party proposes their own plan they've guaranteed that something will happen. And that something would have been very bad. In addition, Josh Marshall especially kept an eager eye out for any wavering Democrat in Congress who decided that his/her awesome social security plan must be unveiled to the grateful public in order to beat them back with phone calls and whatever bad press could be created.

Tt worked. Again, absent blogs it may have played out just like that anyway. Nancy Pelosi realized at some point that the "no plan" plan was indeed the best one, and she likely doesn't spend much of her time looking at my pictures of ponies. In any case, somehow George Bush's social security monster was driven back into its cave and it was done in just the way the liberal blogosphere and netroots more broadly orchestrated it to happen, in a very decentralized way of course. We're not members of any organized political party, remember.

As Atrios points out more than once, it’s hard to know what would have happened absent involvement by liberal bloggers, but the psychological impact of the “save social security” meme was profound. In early 2005, Bush was apparently invincible, and I felt more or less resigned to living in a country that had permanently lost its mind. Then, as we know now, things all went to shit for the president. But it started with a technical, wonkish debate on which there was “bipartisan consensus” among the D.C. elite that some sort of change had to happen. (I’ll admit to wavering a bit myself early on due to a couple of seemingly reasonable Tierney op-eds about the Chilean “miracle.” Then the Times did me and the world a favor by yanking their columnists from public view.) Well, nothing happened except that, for the first time, the Democrats held firm and Bush didn’t get his way. Without the TPM-directed collective effort to gather key information about public positions of individual Democrats and leverage it to apply selective pressure on them, one by one, I doubt there would have been nearly as favorable an outcome.

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