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Bloggers' Convention Draws Democrats

Participants see the future of this movement in expansive terms and believe that conventional political labels fail to capture the texture and significance of the changes underway. "I think the Internet and the blogs are helping to renew our democracy," said Simon Rosenberg of the centrist NDN, the successor organization of the New Democrat Network. "There are many more people involved in the debate about our country than a few years ago."

Jerome Armstrong, who founded one of the best-read progressive blogs, MyDD.com, co-wrote a book on net roots with Moulitsas called "Crashing the Gate" and is now on Warner's payroll. Armstrong said the rise of the blogosphere gives Democrats a way to counter Republican talk radio and other parts of the GOP communications machinery. "Blogs are a rapid-response mechanism for Democrats we didn't have before," he said.

Conference participants appeared anxious to dispel their image as doctrinaire liberals, though the most animated panels involved liberal attacks on Bush and the Republicans over the Iraq war, criticism of the administration's role in the unmasking of CIA operative Valerie Plame, and charges that the mainstream media have failed to stand up to the president.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), a favorite of the participants for her sharp attacks on the administration over Iraq and judges, felt the need to push back when asked why Democrats in Congress are not willing to consider impeaching the president.

"We do not control the House of Representatives," she said. "It's an impossibility. . . . I say censure the president and move on."

But Moulitsas said the movement has been miscast as a collection of young, far-left activists by Washington-based Democratic consultants, Republicans and elected officials.

"I think Democratic politicians -- I don't know whether slowly or quickly -- are realizing that we aren't these far-leftist, naïve and young political extremists, that we're actually a fairly representative cross-section of the Democratic Party and we don't have an agenda other than seeking strong Democratic voices."

Tom Mattzie, Washington director of MoveOn.org, called the struggle inside the Democratic Party a "clash of civilizations" between an old order and a new order, but he also discounted those who view it purely in ideological terms. His group, he said, had polled the net-roots activist community. "What they want is not an ideological litmus test," he said. "They want Democrats to stand up and fight. They don't want Neville Chamberlain Democrats; they want Muhammad Ali Democrats."

That, said many of those in attendance, explains the contempt with which net-roots activists hold Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), whom they see as having gone out of his way to support Bush and to criticize Democrats on the Iraq war and other issues. A popular button here showed Bush and Lieberman in near-embrace with the words "The Kiss," and Lieberman's primary challenger, Ned Lamont, has become a darling of the net-roots activists.

But Dave Dayen, a comedian and activist, said the net-roots activists are genuinely pragmatic in evaluating candidates, particularly those in heavily Republican states. He noted that Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) is as conservative as Lieberman but has not been targeted by bloggers. "We understand regional realities," he said.

Stirling Newberry, an active blogger on economic issues, said the list of attendees at the conference validates the significance of the net-based movement. "The media are here, the candidates are here," he said. "That says the power is here."

Joe Trippi, who helped tap the power of the Internet for Dean as his campaign manager, said he was surprised more prospective Democratic presidential candidates were not here. "Skipping this is like skipping the Iowa J-J [Jefferson-Jackson Day] dinner," he said.

Moulitsas said he expects the power of the blogosphere to grow. He predicted that it will play as significant a role in shaping the field of Democratic presidential candidates as in who raises the most money and who signs up the best consultants. "I think there's clearly going to be a blogosphere primary [in the 2008 race]," he said.

Whether the activists can fulfill the movement's potential that many see is far from clear, however. The first YearlyKos conference offered a glimpse into the future, but as Richardson told some of the participants, there is still a long way to go before they turn ideals and ambitions into action and accomplishment. Future elections will show whether they have been successful.


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