The Kos Krackup?

July 11th, 2006 9:18 AM

It appears that the post-Yearly Kos month from hell is continuing for Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, the proprietor of the Internet’s premier liberal blog Daily Kos. After receiving some extremely negative press from major publications such as the New York Times, The New Republic, and Newsweek immediately following his seemingly successful bloggers’ convention in Las Vegas, Kos is now faced with an even greater challenge: dissension within his ranks.

Such internal squabbling comes at the same time that many prominent Democrats seem to be privately expressing concern about the direction the “netroots” – the self-described Internet grassroots movement of liberal bloggers and their loyal followers – are taking the Party. This seemingly inconvenient planetary alignment is not only threatening the long-term viability of this crusade, but also is putting Kos in an uncomfortable position just as his notoriety is skyrocketing.

As reported by NewsBusters on June 30, revelations about Kos’s friend and former business partner Jerome Armstrong – from stock fraud allegations to accepting consulting fees from not so liberal candidates – have cast a cloud over the blog and its leader. This pall has also undermined the stellar relationship Kos has had with the traditional media up to this point.

Yet, maybe more important, these revelations – along with the way Markos and his Kossacks reacted to them – have caused some prominent DKos bloggers to question the behavior of Moulitsas and his devotees. Such a civil war within the liberal blogosphere certainly has the potential to further discredit it, while likely making the mainstream media as well as the candidates they revere less apt to associate with this developing train wreck.

The most prominent disgruntlement came in a “diary” written and posted Saturday by Maryscott O’Connor, who describes herself as a “contented and fulfilled…denizen of the Daily Kos community,” and is now the proprietor of My Left Wing, “a spin-off of Daily Kos.”

O’Connor, who was actually the subject of a 2,181-word front-page Washington Post article about the liberal blogosphere published in April, began her July 8 diary entitled “Something is Rotten in Blogmark”:

Sometimes I am embarrassed to call myself a member of DKos. This is one of those times. There is a sort of groupthink, Lord of the Flies kind of behaviour at DKos over certain issues that absolutely makes me nauseated.

O’Connor was referring to a diary by another Kossack, Richard Silverstein, published at DKos on June 26. It openly addressed some of the issues raised by The New Republic’s Jason Zengerle as well as the New York Times’ David Brooks.

In short, Silverstein was concerned about the propriety of a blogger accepting funds from a political candidate. His honesty was not well received by the Kossacks, and it appears their response has been eating at O’Connor ever since:

Increasingly, I have begun to feel intimidated or wary about writing my thoughts and doubts about these issues, lest I be set upon by a pack of Defenders of the Kos.

O’Connor then shared her concerns about recent hypocrisies demonstrated by Kos and his devotees:

I was bowled over when Markos mentioned Paul Hackett in his keynote speech at YKos as an example of the power of the “netroots”—not least because when Rahm Emanuel et al threw Hackett under the bus, Markos almost immediately declared that while he was loath to say it, Brown stood a far better chance at winning than did Hackett—mostly because Brown had the support of the powers that be in the Democratic Party.

Hypocrisy in an organization is an awful thing for a devoted team member to recognize, but even harder to admit. To her credit, O’Connor expanded on another obvious contradiction – Kos’s support for the seemingly moderate former governor of Virginia, Mark Warner, implicitly due to Armstrong’s consulting arrangement with the presumptive 2008 presidential candidate – while elaborating on the Hackett affair:

[A]bandoning Hackett, signing on with the candidate anointed by the DLC, seemed in complete contradiction to the ideas and ideals behind Markos’s book.

Sounds like real world Machiavellian politics have crashed the gates, doesn’t it? Yet, O’Connor is not the only Kossack having such doubts. The day before she posted her personal revelations, Richard Silverstein wrote another blog – this one conspicuously not posted at DKos – entitled “Don’t Cross the ‘Cult of Kos’ or You’ll Live to Regret It.” In it, Silverstein raised a very important question:

[H]ow does a political blogger who endorses candidates at his site create a transparent environment when he may also be consulting for–or have some other undisclosed relationship with–some of these same candidates?

Silverstein also voiced his displeasure with how his June 26 blog on this subject was received by the Kossacks:

In short, I expected some might not like what I wrote. But I simply wasn’t prepared for the onslaught.

After sharing some of the malicious attacks he received in the comments section of his blog, Silverstein addressed how the site’s administrators appeared to be participating in the bashing rather than performing their prescribed tasks:

But I have to say that behavior like what I’ve described above–not just behavior by members, but apparently behavior aided and abetted by the site administrator/s–allows me to understand some of the criticism of Kos and his site flung at him by his critics. My treatment made me feel more like I was participating in a cult in which I’d insulted the chief leader and was receiving the deep six treatment in response.

All this certainly makes The New Republic’s Jason Zengerle, and the New York Times’ David Brooks look rather prescient. Yet, these chinks in the armor are much more serious for Markos, as now it is members of his own ranks questioning what kind of clothes the emperor is wearing. And, these folks have truly legitimate concerns about his apparent nudity that can’t be so easily brushed aside.

How dire is this for Kos? Well, he has positioned himself as being a progressive that will refuse to accept politics as usual from candidates he supports and raises money for. Without question, his vast readership is thoroughly enamored with this maverick approach.

However, if Kos – who likely is now making a decent living from his blogging activities due to ad revenues – is suddenly becoming the pragmatist rather than the idealist – funny how money can do that! – how long can he retain such a following of folks who appear unwilling to accept a political status quo?

After all, these are the Deaniacs. These people eschew the political expedience they see in politicians like Hillary Clinton. Are they going to sit idly by as their leader exhibits similarly deplorable traits? Hardly. Howard Dean making a statement to the press that doesn’t disparage President Bush or a member of his Administration is more likely.

As a result, in the two weeks since David Brooks fittingly concluded that Markos “has challenged his enemy and become it,” it seems that some of Moulitsas’s followers are beginning to agree. And, this is threatening an implosion at the House of Kos.

Further complicating matters is the possibility that Markos and his devotees are wearing out their welcome with the Democrat establishment. Brooks, in a Times op-ed this Sunday entitled “The Liberal Inquisition,” made the case that left-wing politicians “privately despise the netroots” due to how vicious they are, but are scared to take positions that might incite their anger. Such fear conceivably makes some of these politicians that are seeking re-election in November, or a presidential nomination in 2008, do things that they otherwise wouldn’t.

These sentiments were echoed by New York Magazine’s John Heilemann:

The sudden Democratic obeisance to the Netroots fills many in the party’s centrist cadres with despair bordering on panic—for they see the likes of [MyDD’s Matt] Stoller and Moulitsas as “McGovernites with modems,” in the choice phrase of Marshall Wittman, a Republican apostate now ensconced at the Democratic Leadership Council. More than a few leading GOP lights agree, happily foreseeing the liberal bloggers’ leading the opposition down (okay, further down) the primrose path into lefty irrelevance. As Newt Gingrich put it bluntly in Newsweek, “I think the Republican Party has few allies more effective than the Daily Kos.”

If Brooks, Heilemann, and Gingrich are correct, it is quite possible that the leaders of the Democrat Party are watching the goings on at Daily Kos the past four weeks secretly enjoying the carnage while hoping that the wheels totally fall off the psychedelic VW bus. After all, the Moore left certainly didn’t help the Democrats in 2004. Maybe the powers that be are wisely starting to recognize how similarly damaging the Kossacks are to a successful campaign.

Of course, it is also possible that Kos – who is clearly no dummy – is starting to recognize this same inconvenient truth, and is indeed letting youthful idealism be replaced with a more ripened pragmatism: if the real goal is to get out of Iraq at all costs, some compromise on other issues might be appropriate in the grand scheme of things.

Heilemann appears to agree:

Kos and his allies see themselves not as ideologues but as pragmatists, aspiring players. And, indeed, time and again, Kos has declared that his main interest is in regaining power, by whatever means necessary. In his keynote at his Las Vegas convocation, he declared, “Republicans have failed us because they can’t govern; Democrats have failed us because they can’t get elected.” His mantra on other occasions has been “I’m just all about winning.”

Unfortunately, even Kos must understand that practicality and the desire to win at all costs are not strong traits amongst people with extreme political viewpoints, who obviously represent the bulk of his followers. As a result, this could leave him in the unenviable position of having to choose between his successful career as a blogger, or actually having a serious impact on politics, for it doesn’t seem likely that he can achieve both… at least, not with his current clientele.