Not Such a Hit in the Battling Blogosphere

By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 8, 2008

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- As Sen. Barack Obama continues a strategy of appealing to Republicans and independents, an influential and vocal group within his own party -- the liberal blogosphere -- faces an identity crisis of sorts.

Last week, Markos Moulitsas Z┬┐niga, founder of the popular blog Daily Kos, accused Obama (D-Ill.) of embracing a "right-wing talking point" as he campaigned and said: "I don't want to go into the next election starting off with half the country already not wanting to vote for Democrats. We've done that in 2004, 2000."

In a blog post headlined "Obama slams Gore," Moulitsas wrote: "Psst, Barack, slamming John Kerry and Al Gore is what Republicans do. Last time I checked, Gore won his election. And really, is Obama going to argue now that the nation was divided because of the Democrats' fault? Is that the latest right-wing talking point he wants to peddle?"

At the heart of the tension lies an important challenge for a growing community that has helped redefine and re-energize the left wing of the Democratic Party. What happens to the brawling, highly partisan Net-roots movement when the party's leading candidate campaigns on bipartisanship -- and wins on it?

"Obama doesn't fit our style. He's not combative. He's not aggressive. He doesn't talk about Republicans the way you'd hope he would," said Dean Barker, co-founder of the blog Blue Hampshire.

While the Net roots has no leader or spokesman -- Moulitsas, now a columnist for Newsweek, is perhaps its most recognizable face -- it is, at core, a loosely knit community of partisans who want to elect Democrats and move the national conversation to the left. Former senator John Edwards (D-N.C.), who has courted liberal bloggers for more than two years, has been a favorite. Two years ago, Obama tried reaching out, writing in a posting on Daily Kos that a take-no-prisoners approach by the left would not work. "I think this perspective misreads the American people," he said. "From traveling throughout Illinois and more recently around the country, I can tell you that Americans are suspicious of labels and suspicious of jargon."

Peter Leyden, director of the New Politics Institute, a San Francisco-based liberal think tank, has an explanation for this evolving dynamic between Obama and the Net roots. "Markos and company are the warriors. And they are still in battle mode, and are very hardened about the capacity of the Republicans to truly play hardball. They have their guard up and are waiting for the counterpunch," Leyden said. "It's hard to get your head out of war mode. But they will come around."

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