Infiltrating Yearly Kos: Decline and fall?

Deepest thanks to our fearless man on the inside for his outstanding coverage these past few days. After 72 hours of fear and loathing in Las Vegas, he’s ready to deliver his verdict. Call it “The god that failed.”


According to Wonkette on GMA, Iowa governor and presidential hopeful Tom Vilsack hung out with the Kossacks in Vegas this weekend. And he’s currently polling fourth for the nomination—in his own state. John Edwards and Hillary placed first and second, respectively, in Iowa, and they’re doing so without the benefit of that supposedly all-important Kos connection.

I can’t say I’m surprised. Based on the threads I’d read on Kos’s site, I came here with the expectation that this crowd would be something out of the Zombie archives. It was not. The Kos bloggers are old enough to know better (Kos himself said the median age of the attendees was 45) and less feisty in real life than the Bay Area anarcho-hippies Zombie covers. Many of these folks are making the transition from mescaline to Metamucil (metaphorically speaking), but still trying to recapture the relevance and excitement that progressive politics held in 1977. Some were actually quite pleasant and if you were to have coffee with them, unless the topic turned to politics, you wouldn’t guess the depths of their rage against most of what you stand for. (Most of them would find a way to steer the topic to politics, though.)

There was a significant contingent of red-state liberals, isolated on suburban cul-de-sacs among happy crowds of BUSHBOT SHEEPLE who just can’t see the truth because they lack the special smart-liberal Rowdy Roddy Piper Sunglasses. I can’t see them returning home and delivering, say, Omaha for the Democrats. The only thing Kos can do, possibly, is help someone win a primary. But then, for the general election, that candidate has the albatross of a Netroots endorsement around his neck.

And an albatross it is. Imagine an entire organization made of thousands of Ann Coulters—without the wit or poise, but with twice the potential to say something embarrassing. Even if the endorsement is secured, a month down the road they’ll inevitably break into the media saying Zarqawi isn’t really dead, or wearing tinfoil hats (“but we meant it ironically!”), or wondering how to react when told our energy policy helps Chavez, or some such blunder. And then all the folks voting in the general election will hear how this bunch has endorsed their local candidate. Is a Kos endorsement worth that kind of risk? (Hint: 0 for 20.)

Why would politicians seek such an organization’s endorsement? Because they need to raise money outside their state, or because they have nothing left to lose. I think the Kos Kiss of Death meme is starting to work its way around the mainstream politicians, and it will soon be only the very secure Democrats (Boxer, Reid) who will risk direct involvement. I doubt Kos groupies will remain major players after the primaries—except perhaps as a Sister Souljah target to rebel against.

When the defeats keep rolling in, will the organization stick together? I doubt it. It depends on how well they handle disappointment, and although this is a cheap shot, they’re still together after a lot of disappointment. Their members may score some more journalistic scoops, which will keep them in the mainstream media. And a lot of these folks aren’t in it for the victory but because they simply enjoy this kind of thing, and I certainly understand that. But leftist web journalism and camaraderie can be found elsewhere.

What makes me think that Kos has peaked is that they seem united by contempt for Republicans–and very little else. You know what I didn’t hear all weekend? A single hard question for any of the speakers or panelists. Everyone there just put that vaunted critical thinking on hold, soaked in the sweet like-minded truthiness, and lobbed up “How badly does Bush really suck?”-style softballs for their panelists. That’s nice for one weekend a year, but that sort of unanimity can’t last long unless it’s completely empty and unsustaining.

There has to be some set of ideas, some principle deeper than Bush-hatred, animating a movement that will see it through the inevitable tough times ahead. (The closest thing I heard to a principle was the beginnings of a cult of privacy, built around Michael Schiavo and an opposition to NSA counterterrorist wiretapping.) If you have only policy positions, you’ll be irrelevant and stale in a year or three. But if you do have principles, not just a set of shared policies, you’ll have disagreements about them.

The left is ill-equipped to handle disagreements. As George Lakoff explained to the Kossacks, conservatives and liberals think in different ways. Liberals are complex and nuanced, conservatives are simplistic and rigid. His implication was that if you don’t think like a liberal, there’s something wrong with you. It’s hard to run an organization in an environment like that. Disagreement in the liberal world entails not just one side being wrong, but one side being dumb or evil. That leads to fights, purges, demoralization, and, ultimately, failure. (For more on this, read one of the classics of modern conservatism, Thomas Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions).

So: after the Democratic presidential primary, I see one of two things happening to the Kos organization. Either it will drift away into irrelevance, sustained only by a core of activists running on camaraderie and bile, or it will tear itself apart as it actually begins to confront some big questions (likely triggered by an endorsement fight.) Until the inevitable happens, whether by bang or whimper, they’ll continue to amuse us.

Whatever. As their illustrious leader once said of a much more serious matter, “I feel nothing… Screw them.”




Update: Here’s the man himself exulting over the fact that nutroots superstar Ned Lamont is making headway in the polls: he “only” trails now by fifteen points.

It’ll be another “moral victory.”

Update: Byron York wraps up his own coverage at NRO by reminding us that sunshine is the best disinfectant.

Update: Slate’s John Dickerson warns Kos to prepare for the backlash.


Infiltrating Yearly Kos: A response to George Lakoff
Infiltrating Yearly Kos: Harry Reid’s red meat
Infiltrating Yearly Kos: Tinfoil hats spotted
Infiltrating Yearly Kos: “Heh, indeed” edition
Infiltrating Yearly Kos: The taunting of Byron York
Infiltrating Yearly Kos: Now with photos!
Infiltrating Yearly Kos: “No, no, no, don’t call them a Nazi”
Infiltrating Yearly Kos: Post 1

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