It's ironic. At precisely the moment so many people think that the Republican Party and the conservative movement have gone off the rails, the people who hate the right the most want to copy it.
That's the upshot of an alternately brilliant and tendentious cover story in the latest New Republic, in which Jonathan Chait argues that the so-called netroots "are the most significant mass movement in U.S. politics since the rise of the Christian right." Chait persuasively argues that the netroots - Democratic activist blogs and other online communities - are transforming the Democratic Party by championing a new emphasis on partisan fervor and political unity.
Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, the owner of the biggest lefty blog on the block - Daily Kos - is their standard-bearer. He prides himself on being an organizer, not an idea man. "They want to make me into the latest Jesse Jackson, but I'm not ideological at all," he told Washington Monthly magazine. "I'm just all about winning."
To this end, Chait writes that a major netroots hero is none other than Grover Norquist, the oddly colorful - or colorfully odd - right-wing activist and president of Americans for Tax Reform who has been one of the most effective (and profitable) organizers of right-of-center interest groups. Chait quotes from prominent netroots figure Matt Stoller's blog: "To the extent that I have a political hero, it's probably Grover Norquist, not Ralph Nader."
In one sense, this is just plain bizarre, akin to a pro-life, right-wing church lady naming Gloria Steinem as her political hero. From another perspective, it makes sense. The "New Right" of the 1970s and 1980s took many organizational pointers from liberals. It's only fair that liberals return the favor. Besides, if you believe liberal propaganda about the awesome power of the Republican noise machine, why not become a bizarro-world Norquist who uses his powers for good instead of evil?
Well, one answer is that it's a stupid idea. Chait is a thoughtful critic of the netroots, but he shares with them a common false assumption: that conservative victories are the result of PR campaigns, partisan discipline and organizational guile. For the better part of a decade now, liberals have been trying to re-create the media of the American right - talk radio, think tanks, etc. - without spending much effort trying to replicate the message. Democratic gurus claim that if they just repackage their old ideas in pretty wrapping, they'll win all day long.