A couple weeks ago it became clear that our state’s media-political complex had written off Darcy Burner’s chances in Washington’s Eighth Congressional District, and was already busily writing a post mortem.
Darcy had run a disappointing campaign I was told. She had done nothing since 2006 to polish her resume, or to erode the credentials of her opponent. She focused on Iraq when voters really only cared about the economy, and was running far to the left of what is at best a centrist, if not a slightly conservative district. But worst of all, she was way “too close to the netroots.” (Whatever that means.)
I heard this critique repeatedly, from journalists from politicos and from elected officials, sometimes firsthand, sometimes second, and sometimes through the whisper down the lane chorus that crowds the road to conventional wisdom. I’ve even heard it suggested that I personally have done more to harm Darcy’s prospects than help, my relentless “cheerleading” spurring some in the media to turn against Darcy, if only out of spite.
Darcy and the netroots were going to lose a second blue wave election, and it was our own damn fault. And, it seemed to me, there were some on the Democratic side of the partisan divide who were taking greater satisfaction in this “epic fail” than one would justifiably expect from their Republican counterparts.
Then, over the past couple days, and obviously promoted by both Democratic and Republican sources, this pre-post mortem started to appear in print, echoed in Eli Sanders’ premature articulation in The Stranger, and then oddly enough, bluntly stated in the pages of Time Magazine under the unequivocable headline: “Will the Netroots Sink a Microsoft Dem?”
Even as Burner’s campaign has become more of a long shot, she is increasingly a cause celebre in the liberal blogosphere. The website Daily Kos calls her “a netroots hero” and sees her struggle as a crusade for liberal bloggers as well. “Taking Darcy down, in their minds,” wrote one of Kos’ main posters, McJoan, about national Republicans, “means taking us down, Neutering us.” But her tight ties to the liberal blogosphere may well be her ultimate downfall.
[…] “Darcy Burner is pretty open about the fact that she wants to go to Congress to represent the netroots,” Reichert’s campaign manager Mike Shields, told the Seattle Times. “That is her constituency, and that is who she raised money from, and so that’s who she’ll do the bidding of.” But Democrats worry about the association as well. “The big question people are quietly asking about her,” says one local Democratic consultant, “is, in building her movement, did she lose touch with the people she sought to serve?”
Notice that the article is sourced almost entirely secondhand, with no effort by the author to talk to either campaign. In fact, the only first hand sources cited in the entire piece are identified as “one local Democrat” and “one local Democratic consultant.” (The same person?) This thesis, that the netroots are an anchor around Darcy’s neck, is clearly being promoted by Democrats as well as Republicans, and has been eagerly embraced by a media establishment that is just as fearful as their political counterparts of the challenge we pose to the status quo.
But the problem with this thesis, that conveniently blames the netroots for the Democrats losing a district that has never before elected a Democrat, is that it is based on three assumptions, all of which happen to be unproved by the facts on the ground, that A) Darcy is indeed “too close” to the netroots; that B) a significant fraction of 8th CD voters have any idea what “the netroots” are, or where Darcy stands in relation to us; and that C) Darcy is in fact losing her race against Reichert.
The biggest problem with assumption A is that the critics who promote it never bother to define the terms “netroots” or “too close,” and so it is used as a blanket critique of all of Darcy’s perceived tactical missteps, not the least of which is her failure to be the kind of Republican-lite (or former Republican) career politician (or self-financing millionaire) who Democrats tend to timidly run in swing districts. The assumption also relies on a carricature of the netroots as some wacky-left collection of geeks and freaks—when in fact our demographic profile, like that of the 8th, is largely white, middle class and suburban—while also lazily implying that Darcy has subscribed to some strange, alien orthodoxy (you know, our fetish with things like health care and the Constitution), through simple association.
This notion that Darcy will somehow do the netroots’ “bidding” is as ridiculous as the contradictory notion that she is a machine Democrat who will do the bidding of Nancy Pelosi or Steny Hoyer. Indeed, it is Darcy’s utter lack of orthodoxy that many of her most loyal supporters find so endearing, if at times, totally frustrating. She goes into a meeting with the WEA and refuses to take merit pay off the table, even though she knew her stance might cost her the teachers’ endorsement. (And it did.) Meanwhile, in a live chat on the influential liberal blog Firedoglake, Darcy refuses to back down from her support of H1B visas, a classic lefty bugaboo, even as participants insist it will cost her their support. Darcy unequivocally supports gun owners’ rights, routinely praises Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and when she crafted her Responsible Plan to end the war in Iraq, she dramatically parted with the netroots consensus (if there is such a thing) by refusing to include a hard timetable for withdrawal, choosing instead to leave that up to commanders on the ground.
Seattle Times editorial columnist Kate Riley once accused Darcy of being “inauthentic” when in fact, the opposite is true: Darcy is too authentic, as illustrated by the “FISA sucks” video now appearing in almost every anti-Darcy ad, a sentiment about warrantless domestic wiretapping with which the majority of 8th CD voters would agree, if not exactly in those words. Republicans decry Darcy as too partisan while some Eastside Democratic establishment types complain that she is too liberal, but nobody ever bothers to point out the distinct policy issues where either of those labels hold true. What Darcy is, is a proud, pragmatic progressive with a strong libertarian streak that makes her a perfect fit to her district.
But even if, for the sake of argument, we accept the assumption that Darcy is “too close to the netroots,” and that the netroots are the wacky, far-left radicals critics routinely carricature us as, there is absolutely no evidence that our influence on her campaign has had any impact whatsoever on her standing with 8th CD voters. None. Zilch. Nada.
Is Darcy a netroots radical? Did she, as critics relentlessly contend, focus too long on the Iraq war at a time when voters attentions were shifting to our crumbling economy? Did she “lose touch” with people she seeks to serve? I dunno. Could be, I suppose. But who cares? For given the relative dearth of local coverage through most of this race, who the hell in the district, especially the all important “low information” voters, had any idea of where either candidate stood on any issue? I mean, Jesus… Darcy had to burn down her goddamn house to get a little coverage on the evening news, coverage that wasn’t exactly what one would call issue oriented.
This too liberal/too close to the netroots/didn’t focus on the economy soon enough crap is the kind of inside baseball that only political insiders could dream up… and then manipulatively push to the national media. But actual voters, they judge the candidates on their character, their values and their perceived positions on things like the war, the economy, health care, the environment, reproductive rights and other major issues… perceptions that in this race have mostly been defined through paid media, and principally the multimillion dollar air war that only just started in earnest a few weeks ago.
Which brings us to the third and most critical assumption behind the “netroots as anchor” thesis, that Darcy is once again losing (or has already lost)… an ironic assertion considering it hits national newsstands at exactly the same time that polls have started showing Darcy with a statistically significant lead.
Yes, our media-political complex was so eager to see Darcy go down the drain, and so eager to push the meme of the netroots anchor, that they couldn’t even wait until election day to press the print button. They couldn’t wait for the Palin bounce to fully fade, for the economic collapse to set in, and for the barrage of campaign advertising to finally have an impact. No, everybody wanted to be the first one out there to predict Darcy’s demise, and blame us foolish, lefty bloggers for it. Republicans and Democrats alike.
Well, this race is far from over, and despite the premature gloating of the naysayers, Darcy has worked herself into a position to win. Darcy hauled in over $1.2 million in the third quarter, one of the largest totals any Congressional candidate in the nation, a good chunk of it in small donations from the accursed netroots. And despite the characterization of bloggers like me as out of touch, interloping outsiders, Darcy will end this campaign with more in-district and in-state contributions and contributors than Reichert, while relying on far less special interest PAC money.
Meanwhile, the two most recently released polls show Darcy with a 5 to 7 point lead, and Reichert with plummetting job approval numbers. And while the defenders of the anchor meme will likely argue that the older, “independent” polls are more reliable, I can tell you for a fact that not once before, in what has now become a four-year campaign, have Darcy’s polls ever shown her with a lead. Not ever. The campaign believes their numbers are real, and so does the DCCC.
Still, we’ll see. This will be a close election, possibly so close that we won’t know the winner on election night. If Darcy loses, we now know who is going to get the blame. But the question is, should Darcy win, will the media and political establishment give the netroots any credit?