What should Daily Kos be and do?
One good answer to that is that it should be and do whatever its owner wants it to be. I tend to agree with this position as a matter of right, even as I see pressuring the site's owner to be my right so long as my presence is suffered here. At any rate, Markos seems generally (with a few exceptions) accepting of whatever occurs on the right side of the page, and he benefits from the page views, so the question becomes what should we want Daily Kos to be and do?
The best answer I have to that question is that Daily Kos and its membership should exist to frighten and demoralize the Republican Party and our other opponents. That's why I am here.
That is why, as much as I love this site (and I do, too much) I am often disappointed. We often don't keep this goal in mind. This diary proposes a floor-level expectation we should have of each other.
1. Frightening and Demoralizing Republicans
Let me start by clarifying: I think that we have to be honest (don't spread stories saying that watching Fox "News" causes cancer, unless it does) and fair (we want to frighten and demoralize them only insofar as it involves their pushing their political programs over ours, where we disagree.) We want them to be less effective proponents of bad policies and opponents of good policies. How do we do so? What scares and depresses them?
Here is a hierarchy of diaries (which will be subject to revision (hopefully in response to your comments) that generally fit this bill, ranked by how much I think they frighten and demoralize Republicans:
(1) Channeling our efforts into contributing money, expertise, and effort to close political races.
(2) Channeling our efforts into contributing money, expertise, and effort to less close political races.
(3) Non-electoral but still political "action diaries."
(4) In-depth investigative pieces.
(5) Criticizing, explaining, and opposing regressive and Republican policies, strategies, and tactics.
(6) Proposing, explaining and promoting progressive and Democratic policies, strategies, and tactics.
(7) Identifying Republican and regressive lies and foibles.
(8) Making fun of Republicans and regressives so that it is not "cool" to be among them.
(9) Bringing to light new information and personal experiences about common problems that beg for progressive solutions.
(10) Debating with each other to hone our arguments about policies, strategies, and tactics.
(11) Metadiscussion of the processes by which we improve our performance at this task on this site.
(12) Making sure that people have read some useful article or writing from outside the site.
Here are some sorts of diaries that I think work against our purposes and make our opponents happy:
(1) "Doing the Republicans' work for them" by trashing Democratic and progressive approaches and people who may be worth opposing but generally not treating as if they were from the opposition.
(2) Discrediting the credibility of the site, whether with specious arguments and logic, lies, gratuitous viciousness or insults (which is where racism and the like fit in) or general recklessness (which is where the proscription against conspiracy theories, to the extent it applies -- which isn't 100% of the time -- fits in).
And here is a huge class of diaries that may help frighten and demoralize Republicans, but don't do so directly:
(1) Diaries intended to build community and esprit, which make participants enjoy the site and want to spend time here: this includes "non-political" diaries, diaries with pictures of dogs and cats (the slang terms used here don't belong in a manifesto!) and the like, mutual help diaries, mutual support diaries (as in the event of job loss and bereavement), etc.
Note what I am not saying: I am not saying that those diaries do not belong here and I am not even saying that they do not belong on the Rec List. I am saying that they are not why we are here, except perhaps insofar as they give Markos more eyeballs to sell. They are auxiliary to our reason for existence here.
Why do I say that?
Because our building community spirit does not in and of itself frighten and demoralize Republicans.
They don't care if we make each other smile or laugh.
They care if we get in their way.
They care if that community spirit leads people into active participation in the sorts of diaries (and supportive activities) that I listed first.
They care most if it leads people to engage in action that opposes them.
In other words, community spirit is nice for its own sake. I enjoy my (too much) time here. I am often dazzled by our collective wit, enlightened by what we collectively know, touched by others' emotions.
But while the feminist movement was correct to say that "the personal is political" -- that is, that what happens in our personal lives implicates politics -- the personal is not always political. In saying that, I don't equate "political" with good; a sense of progressive community is good even when it doesn't implicate politics. It simply doesn't frighten and demoralize regressives and Republicans, and that is what more than anything else I am here to do.
(Why are you here?)
2. Being Frightened and Demoralized by Regressive Republicans
I want to call attention to two recent diaries describing activities that have frightened and demoralized me. Those activities, by our opponents, are in fact designed to do just that in part.
First, there's this Rec Listed diary by Troutfishing on regressive and viciously political "Third Wave" Christianity, which follows on his stories on, say, domination of such ideology within, among other places, the Air Force Academy. Read it. How does it make you feel?
Second, there's devtob's recent diary, which was decidedly not Rec Listed, on how the ultraconservative Christian Youth group Generation Joshua is sending Student Action Teams of true believers out to take part in local campaigns nationwide, including the just-ended NY-20 race, to tip the scales towards Republicans.
(I don't mean these examples to be slamming even devout Christianity; here's an example of a diary that talks about how religious Christians supported Obama in the last election. I find that heartening, nuch as I find these other diaries disheartening.)
I will bet that, as you read those linked articles, what will frighten and demoralize you is not so much that people believe all sorts of repugnant things, but that they want to impose those beliefs on others through their participation in the political system -- and that they are doing it and doing it well.
This is how the Moral Majority and its ilk helped place and maintain Reagan and his followiers in office for the past thirty years.
Who, you might ask, is supposed to be the leftprogressive counterpart to these groups -- capable of getting people involved in local elections to oppose them?
Well -- and here I heave a deep sigh -- that is supposed to be us.
That is why I ranked action diaries -- especially in close elections -- first among those that scare Republicans.
3. Our failures and our chance to succeed
Regressive Republicans who can convince themselves that they are doing God's work (or Ayn Rand's or Dick Cheney's, whomever they worship) will work very hard for what they want; they will receive tangible benefits from their community -- religious or commercial or military -- for doing so, in addition to promises of pie in the sky when they die.
We on the Left -- we don't pay our people well or make them promises of salvation that we know we can't or won't keep. We depend on the worst possible motivation for political action: we want people to do it because it's right.
Our community here should be dedicated to turning all of that community spirit into the sort of political fighting force that our opponents have -- one that sends people into where the action is and gives them love and respect of their peers in deserved return. That is why -- and when -- pootie and bereavement and snarkfest diaries matter politically.
This matters most when there is just one race -- usually a special election -- going on in the country, meaning that our opponents can focus all of their resources on a single point and we can do the same.
We have been doing a terrible job of it recently.
The greatest technological innovation in recent years (at least online) for helping Democratic candidates may well be ActBlue, which allows people who have been excited by what they read on a blog or e-mail to send money easily safely -- in small amounts that add up to huge ones -- to candidates who otherwise would never have been reached.
But that's money -- it's not time. Traditionally, the advantage of Democrats over Republicans is that while they had more money, we had more volunteers willing to put in their time to campaigning. In the past thirty years, Republicans have gotten better at the latter, even as in the past three years Democrats have gotten better at the former.
We need ways to do for volunteer effort what ActBlue does for donations. Right now, the main way we have to do that is through out-of-district phonebanking.
Phonebanking technology has improved -- hell, it has improved just over the past year or so, though I still have criticisms of it. (Lack of "left a message" buttons to let callers feel that they can document their useful actions, poorly written scripts, poorly revised information, often lousy and outdated and uncleaned lists, poor instructions on what to do when the voter is out and you speak to someone else, and more.) Why isn't it improving better and faster?
Simple: because there's no real demand for it. Why put a lot of effort into improving something that people won't show that they will use?
Imagine what would happen if, as happened in the Obama campaign, the phonebanks were flooded with volunteers. Imagine what would happen if Democratic and progressive volunteerism from out of district were as reliably present as the Student Action Teams send by Generation Joshua to support our opponents?
The technology would improve.
The test cases -- the "proof of concept," if you will -- of how we as a national force can change the results of close elections nationwide comes most clearly in special elections, when most attention is focused -- at least when it comes to reading election results, when it's too late to affect them -- on one race.
Such races have shown how badly we have been failing as a movement.
For almost four months, my sig line was about our failure in LA-04, the race where moderate (by Louisiana standards) Democrat Paul Carmouche lost to John Fleming, after having led him in the first round, by 357 votes.
The way I talk about this race, you might think that I cared about it for a long time before it happened. I didn't. I knew in the back of my mind that it was upcoming, but it was so far out of my mind that in this December 2 recap on 2008 phonebanking I noted that our efforts had concluded for the year. It wasn't until I asked some innocent questions about the races two days later that I realized that this was a race that was likely to be very close and that, despite our uninformed overconfidence, we had a good chance to lose.
For the next two days, I went into a frenzy of trying to get people here to phonebank and got a pitiful few takers. This would not have been so much of a problem had it not been for the fact that when the results were coming in -- when people could be politial observers rather than political actors, the front page was crowded with people watching the returns of an election that few of them had shown any sign of caring about even only a few hours before. I went into a rage, wrote a not very productive diary slamming the community, and no doubt made many friends.
I also (more to my credit) decided that I wanted to be of greater use when the next special election came down. I was one of those opposed to the selection of Kirsten Gillibrand as Hillary Clinton's replacement in the Senate, in part because I doubted we would hold NY-20, but I felt that that gave me more responsibility to ensure that we held the seat. So I pushed people here with any ties to the campaign about whether they would have national phone banking and when they put it in place I pushed Kosters to get involved with about a dozen diaries over 2-1/2 weeks.
We did better this time, but that means only moving from an F to a D-minus, and our progress was probably largely due to the energetic efforts of the folks from The Albany Project, many of whom post here. To my knowledge, DKos was the only site really promoting use of the DCCC's phonebanking tool, including diaries by many "average" Kosters and (after a little prodding) with a link in Arjun's front-page stories on the race. I know that the top phone banker on the DCCC site (me) made 190 calls; I know that a day or two before the election the 10th ranked caller had made no less than 80, so that adds up to a lot of calls. About 100 of my calls were messages (the effectiveness of which I don't know, but I it does appear that people seem to prefer personal messages to robocall messages), and I know that I seemed to have talked at least 5-6 people into supporting Murphy, and that I got at least one guy who wasn't going to vote out the door with about an hour left before the polls closed. I don't know that, combined, DCCC phonebanking would be responsible for a a three digit margin, but if it's a two-digit margin I think that it might be.
Again, this race turned out to be extraordinarily close. Again, the limited interest in diaries promoting phonebanking before the election was dwarved by the interest in people following the election returns once it was too late to do anything about them.
Let's estimate that maybe forty people made as many as 20 calls -- and that may be high. In a site this size, with a race this close, with proper leadership (which the evidence definitively shows that I certainly was not able to provide), and with an new ethos that this is the sort of thing the netroots progressive are supposed to do, I don't think it's unreasonable to think that in a special election we shouldn't have been able to get 500 people to make 20 calls. Maybe 1000. Maybe, once it caught on that this is how you pay your progressive dues it could have been 5000. Like so many other things here, it's mostly a matter of making it "cool."
I submit that we would not now be chewing our fingernails wondering if we were going to win this race once the absentee ballots came in. We would have already won this race. And those conservative "Student Action Teams" from Generation Joshua, who may win this race, would have/already lost/ it. If that happens enough times, maybe Student Action Teams lose some of their allure. That's good for our side.
So this is two Congressional special elections in a row in which we didn't phone bank enough and we faced or may face a narrow loss. If you believe in God, maybe we're being told something. Or maybe this is just the old advice being underlined for us, that the Lord helps those who help themselves.
I cherish the DKos community. But what it's good for is not merely making each other feel good -- it's for changing the world. It's for making Republicans frightened and discouraged. They are not frightened by our community diaries; they are not even really frightened by our discussions of policy and scandal.
They are not afraid of our fingers when they are typing. They are afraid of our fingers when they are dialing for voters or balled up to knock on voters' doors. Let's establish an ethos here that makes DKos a site that truly does frighten them, because we represent the desire and intent of Democrats nationally (and even internationally) to swoop into any district, as Republicans do, and make the difference in who serves in our government.
Campaign workers of the world outside of a given district having an election, unite! We have nothing to lose but our ineffectiveness!