Saturday, May 15, 2010

Where should I focus my writing?

Over the past 5 years I've blogged in four different places. I'd like to winnow it down, both to bring myself some focus and possibly to work on a blog-to-book project. I know this will take some time, but I would very much appreciate my friends' thoughts on the subject. Here's an overview of my blogging career, and the question that I'm hoping to answer:

The NeoProgressive: First came The NeoProgressive, an only mildly partisan, idea-based blog arguing for a resurgence of true Progressivism -- not the way the word's used now, as a safer synonym for "liberal," but it the early 20th century sense. A NeoProgressive, in my view, could tend liberal or conservative but would nevertheless be committed to the values that beat back the robber barons and made America great over its second 100 years. You can get a sense of what that blog stands for in A Neoprogressive Philosophy, Collated.

If I were to rejuvenate that blog, my NeoProg philosophy might address such disparate issues as helping Democrats rediscover a unifying base of ideas (as opposed to the "GOP-lite" faux-pragmatist pollwatching that drove the DLC) and exploring ways the populist component of the Teaparty movement (as distinguished from many of its corporate-funded organizers and leaders) could be enlisted to fight against the Citizens United decision, socialization of corporate liabilities (BP), etc. A book growing out of NeoProg could appear to reasonable people across the spectrum, not just Democrats, and would make some use of my "real" training in law and mediation.

VichyDems: Then came this blog, VichyDems -- fairly rabid at times, definitely opinionated and partisan, and focused mainly on helping identify and oust those "Democrats" who often work against Democratic principles in the name of "pragmatism." VichyDems dislikes the Democratic Leadership Counsel, hates Rahm Emanuel and reviles Joe Lieberman without restraint. A good example of VichyDems can be read here, in Obama, Teddy, and the Perils of Governing Without Conviction.

In light of Godwin's Law, it's important to point out that VichyDems has never advocated for "purity tests" -- quite the opposite! The test of a Vichy, IMHO, isn't their political ideology, but their actions in wartime. There are relatively conservative Democrats, especially in purple states, who still believe in moving the cause forward. Bless them, and let's not primary them. But there also are Dems, some reasonably "liberal," who consistently help the other side. They are the Vichies I oppose.

The Vichy analogy was very intentional: in occupied France there were many conservative French people who agreed with much fascist ideology but who nevertheless resisted the Nazi occupation -- I'd liken them to some of the more conservative, but still party-loyal, Democrats. Then there were the Vichy French who collaborated with the Nazis. No one cared about their political views; the problem was that they gave aid and comfort to their people's enemy. The test of a Vichy, then and now, is emphatically NOT their ideology, but whether they assist the enemy. It's a misunderstood distinction but one that needs to be repeated nowadays as much as ever, especially as fights spring up among liberals over when it's OK to oppose Obama and when it's important to support him (Exhibit 1: the fervent disagreement over how to characterize Jane Hamsher of FireDogLake).

Sort of a sideline, but an important one, was VichyDems' early efforts, in 2006, to press Dem senators to filibuster Samuel Alito. Along with Bob Fertik, we did something no one had done before: tracked the position of every senator, developed game plans for lobbying them, and published their contact information (including their local offices, linking to fax services, etc.). Those strategies are common now, but at the time they were brand new -- MoveOn's use of those tactics followed ours. We succeeded in swaying two senators' votes -- Diane Feinstein, who admitted her vote changed due to unexpected constituent pressure, and Hillary Clinton, who denied her vote had changed even though we documented that it had. But, of course, we lost the war.

And even though I strongly supported his later candidacy, VichyDems was among the first to reality-test a new face on the Democratic stage. On January 26, 2006 I wrote:

Apparently Barack Obama, hero of the last Democratic Convention and the front runner for first African-American President, is OPPOSING a filibuster "for strategic reasons."

Bullshit. The only strategy the Democrats need to hear is this: YOUR BASE DEMANDS A FILIBUSTER, AND YOU CANNOT WIN WITHOUT YOUR BASE.

Lordy, I'm starting to think they're all Vichys. We need a hero. I had hoped Obama was it.
And that's VichyDems' position in a nutshell: even if a pol's in "our" camp, we still can push them to do better, and will. A book growing out of VichyDems would rally the base and call for a leftier Democratic Party, explaining why that's a good (and electorally practical) idea.

Off The Bus: During the 2008 election, I was invited to become a national correspondent for The Huffington Post's "Off The Bus" citizen-journalism project, and jumped at the chance. Working with tremendous editors including Amanda Michel and John Tomasic, and overseen by Marc Cooper and Jay Rosen, a dozen or so of us, including Mayhill "Cling To Their Guns" Fowler and Dawn Teo, covered the 2008 election as quasi-professionals. I rode Clinton's campaign bus, was myself filmed by CNBC as I covered Hillary (look, ma, I'm famous!), and attended the Denver Democratic Convention. Huffington Post has been very good to me, and I still have posting privileges there that I will continue to use -- but my regular slot for Off The Bus, called "Warranted Wiretaps," covering the campaigns' press releases and press conference calls, isn't active now.

Warranted Wiretaps: Finally, I started my own edition of Warranted Wiretaps on typepad. There, as I did for Off The Bus, I still try to provide readers with access to primary-source news material that normally is available only to what Marcos calls "gatekeepers." My belief is that the American people are smart enough, and interested enough, to listen to entire press conferences etc. and reach their own conclusions about it. But, while I believe that's an indispensable resource in a modern democracy -- and while Wiretaps is the closest thing I have to a true journalistic project, rather than an opinion blog -- I can't keep it going by myself; for Wiretaps to continue, I'd need to find a way to evolve it (and finance it!) into a multiperson endeavor. Wiretaps isn't unopinionated, but in the end its goal is to give access and lets readers decide. Relatively dry, meta-journalism-y posts can be found here and here; at the other extreme, an example of how powerful a Wiretaps post can be (drawn from its doppelganger on OffTheBus) concerned death threats to ACORN employees.

So: NeoProg is nonpartisan, though liberal; it's relatively calm, thoughtful, and looks for ways to build bridges that will result in a more progressive America. VichyDems is partisan, and sub-partisan; it seeks to build the American Left, not as an end in itself but because our country does better when its people have strong beliefs and fight for them. Warranted Wiretaps is an experiment in journalistic transparency: it explores what happens when the gates come down and citizens can see/read/hear raw information for themselves; but it's not sustainable unless it grows. And Huffington Post remains a resource for occasional publication, for which I still and always say, thanks and God bless.

I love them all. Each reflects a side of myself. At least two of them (NeoProg and VDems) are good subjects for books (which I'd love to write -- Glenn Greenwald's "How Would A Patriot Act?" showed that blog-to-book can be a great method, if the blog's focus is discrete enough).

But I can't do it all, at least not by myself. Should I pick one fast horse and ride it hard? Should I pick two, one for my serious-journo side and the other for rants & opinions? Should I combine them all into one multichannel site of some kind, or would that just window-dress my problem? Should I look to join one of the better small-group blogs out there? Or just diary at DKos?

Thanks for your thoughts and suggestions!