Welcome David Karpf (Yale) (DavidKarpf.com) and Host Nicco Mele (Harvard) (Nicco.org)

The MoveOn Effect: The Unexpected Transformation of American Political Advocacy

My first job out of college in the late 1990s was as the “webmaster” and online organizer for Common Cause. At the time, Common Cause was one of the largest grassroots advocacy groups in Washington, DC and had offices in almost every state capital. It was probably at the height of its power and financial resources. And just about every single dollar of its sizable budget was raised via direct mail. My job, as a young nerd, was to build an online advocacy capability that would augment the power of the “armchair activist” Common Cause could tap through phone banking and direct mail. Little did I know that at the time the internet would provide a massive disruption to both the fundraising model and the advocacy model that built Common Cause.

Dave Karpf’s exceptional book The MoveOn Effect examines and explains the rise of the Netroots, putting organizations like MoveOn.org, the PCCC, and DailyKos (and, I daresay, Firedoglake!) in historical and academic context. There is a rich study of political institutions and organizations that Karpf is able to tap into to better plumb the depths of what we have now, how it is different from what came before, and where we might be heading. Dave not only brings an academic and historical point of view, but he brings an activist point of view. For many years, he’s been a leader in the Sierra Club, serving on their National Board of Directors from 2004 to 2010.

The book is essentially divided into four parts: first, an examination of MoveOn.org and more broadly MoveOn’s model and its impact on political advocacy, organizing, and fundraising. He examines MoveOn.org in the context of an earlier generation of advocacy organizations, like the Common Cause I experienced just out of college, and the Sierra Club that Karpf was active in as a college student. How did advocacy and political activism work before MoveOn.org? How did MoveOn.org change things?

But MoveOn.org and the giant email list is just one part of the Netroots landscape, so Karpf deftly moves on to look at the role of blogs – and more specifically community blogs – as a new form of political association, one that shares characteristics with the old institutional Democratic Party infrastructure. Along the way, Dave invented something called the Blogosphere Authority Index, an academically rigorous and structurally coherent way of measuring the true community strength of blogs – not just their traffic, but the activity of a blog’s readers, comments, and contributors. The third major examination of the book is a look at the relationship between online and offline, taking a deep dive into the Meetups of the Howard Dean presidential primary campaign of 2004, and the political meetings that continue to persist long after the campaign ended.

Finally, Dave takes a deep breath and plows into an interesting and compelling argument about why the Republicans don’t have a MoveOn.org or an ActBlue.com, and why their blog communities don’t carry the same weight as the blog communities of the Left. He argues that the weakness of the Republican Netroots boils down to the fact that they were in charge in the 2000s, holding the White House and (for the most part) one side of the Capitol. As the political establishment, they didn’t need technology for leverage and political power – so they didn’t develop it.

I have done his arguments a disservice in trying to quickly sketch them out so as to encourage some discussion; you should buy the book and read it to reach deeply into his compelling arguments, interesting observations, and provocative questions. I am delighted to be able to join this discussion of Dave’s book. I have a heavily marked up paper copy (I know, so old school! But the old habits of blue bic pen notes in the margin die hard; see Billy Collins’ poem Marginalia for a chuckle  that I keep returning to, keeping notes with the ambition of sending Dr. Karpf a detailed missive peppering him with questions, observations, and the occasional complaint.

I am looking forward to this discussion with great interest. Thanks again for inviting me to do this, and for letting me a part of the discussion.


[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

115 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes David Karpf, The MoveOn Effect: The Unexpected Transformation of American Political Advocacy”

BevW July 21st, 2012 at 1:51 pm

Dave, Welcome back to the Lake.

Nicco, Welcome to the Lake, and thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

For our new readers/commenters:

To follow along, you will have to refresh your browser:
 PC = F5 key, MAC = Command+R keys

If you want to ask a question
– just type it in the Leave Your Response box & Submit Comment.

If you are responding to a comment – use the Reply button
under the number, then type your response in the box, Submit Comment.

Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Hi folks, it’s a pleasure to join you. Bev, thanks for the invitation. Nicco, looking forward to chatting.

Nicco Mele July 21st, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Howdy folks — I’m thrilled. Here’s my first question: One of my concerns about the MoveOn Effect is the extent to which online activism is tethered to what you call “issue salience”. A less charitable characterization of “issue salience” might be “issue opportunism”. MoveOn is able to be nimble, and quick, because it doesn’t have a core issue or group of issues to which it must remain faithful. It’s hard – perhaps impossible – to anticipate the issue topic of the next MoveOn.org email. I wonder what the implications for issue salience might be for advocacy and potential ideological drift, as well as issue selection. Dave has aptly explained why traditional political organizations “unlikely to [have] a smooth transition” to Netroots style activism. What gets lost in this transition from the old organizations to the “postbureaucratic” generation of political organizations?

dakine01 July 21st, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Good afternoon David and Nicco and welcome to FDL this afternoon.

David, I have not read your book so forgive me if you address this in there but why does it seem that at a certain point most all advocacy groups, left or right, reach a point where they are apparently more interested in sustaining the fund raising stream than in actually fulfilling their nominal issue? Or they dodge their “issue” in order to maintain their access to the halls of power?

Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 2:02 pm

I see good news and bad news here.

The good news is that most of the leading netroots organizations have taken proactive steps to make sure they don’t spend all their time “headline chasing.” FDL is a good example: in the past 24 hours, FDL has run stories on the aurora shooting and on Mitt Romney’s Bain problems. But it has also run a couple pieces on WikiLeaks and Bradley Manning. That’s because FDL has made a proactive commitment to working on the Bradley Manning issue. I’ve seen similar commitments from PCCC (campaign finance reform) and MoveOn (other 98%). So it isn’t all-headline-chasing, all-the-time.

That said, I share your concerns about what gets lost in the disruptive transition from old advocacy groups to new ones. In particular, I think a lot of large-scale, long-term social movement efforts require an investment in infrastructure – trainings programs, field organizers, etc. The direct mail fundraising associated with armchair activism was really good for that kind of infrastructure. It was a reliable base of unrestricted funding that organizations could apply wherever it was needed most. The targeted online fundraising that MoveOn pioneered is better suited for other things. It’s great for raising a bunch of cash quickly to put a commercial on the air. But money raised for a tv commercial is restricted to the purpose of airing the commercial. You can’t simply divert it to field staffers.

That’s what I call the loss of a “beneficial inefficiency.” Direct mail was an inefficient tool. Email is more efficient. But the inefficiency supported a public good, and now we don’t know we’re going to support that public good in the future.

Nicco Mele July 21st, 2012 at 2:05 pm

One question that came up a lot in reading your book was thinking about the purpose of the Democratic Party, or political parties in general. It seems like a lot of the core functions of a political party are encapsulated by the ecosystem of organizations you describe in the book, from MoveOn to NOI to FireDogLake. What is — or should be — the role of the party itself in the digital age? For example, I always thought that ActBlue made more sense as official party infrastructure.

Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 2:07 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 4

There’s actually a lengthy literature on this point in the social movement studies field.

Basic answer, as an organization gets larger, stronger, and develops a reputation, that creates a different set of challenges than they had before.

Most organizers that I know maintain that the best way to make a difference on your issues is to have both an “outside game” (challenging the system to be better) and an “inside game” (working with allies to pass significant achievements. The inside game involves a lot of compromises and tradeoffs – some acceptable, some not.

Also there’s a fundamental issue of scale: an organization of 20 people can meet in my living room. An organization of 20,000 cannot. So building a movement requires adding support functions. Those support functions consume resources and also create a set of organizational challenges that didn’t exist before.

Along the way, vision either gets lost or gets more complicated, depending on where you stand…

dakine01 July 21st, 2012 at 2:10 pm
In response to Dave Karpf @ 7

And it is those unacceptable compromises and trade-offs by the insiders that are actually selling out their supposed ideals and tend to p*ss folks and ruin their reputations

Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 2:12 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 6

I’d say that ActBlue, DailyKos, MoveOn etc fulfill some party-like functions. But there are other functions they don’t/can’t fill.

Back in the 1950s, V.O. Key defined three major party functions: Party Organization (PO), Party in Electorate (PIE), and Party in Government (PIG).

Party Organization is where the netroots is most party-like. We don’t need the DCCC to provide all the fundraising now, FDL can do some for preferred candidates through ActBlue. Same with voter mobilization, and even (sort of) for local engagement (through Meetups).

PIE is simply D vs R voters. We have more and more independents in this country (not all of them centrists), but still for the average voter, D vs R is a useful heuristic. The netroots can’t really substitute for that heuristic.

PIG is where there can be no replacement function at all. No one in congress is part of the FDL or MoveOn party. They could *possibly* be part of that caucus. But in an era of strong party unity (particularly on the right), we organize most of the functions of our elected officials through PIG. So in that sense, the netroots are only party-like, they can’t actually replace political parties.

Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 2:15 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 8

There’s a bit of a pendulum-swing there, yes. The more “insider” an organization gets, the more it can leave devoted activists feeling betrayed. And that leads devoted activists to start new organizations and challenge the old ones.

One cautionary note is that this can work well or it can work poorly. I think it’s worked pretty well recently in the LGBT rights community, for instance.

Nicco Mele July 21st, 2012 at 2:15 pm

What’s the relationship between Key’s definition of major party functions and the outparty innovation theory that you use to explain the proliferation of Democratic and progressive online innovation?

Peterr July 21st, 2012 at 2:16 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 6

I’m still working my way through the book — it’s so good that I find myself setting it down, going to the keyboard to check something out, then going back to the book — but I share your curiosity about the relationship of the party to non-party political actors/organizations.

I’m not a party insider, so this is just an educated guess, but I think the reason ActBlue was not part of the official party infrastructure is because it is anathema to the hierarchical power structure of the party. As it is, the party has its own fundraising efforts and its own behind-the-scenes decisionmaking process for spending that money. There is a certain amount of incumbent protection at work, and so a fundraising tool that allows challengers broader access would not be viewed as a good thing.

See Ned Lamont v. Joe Lieberman, for example. Lieberman had the support of the party establishment (outside of CT, that is), yet Lamont was able to motivate donors and voters to beat him in the primary. That is NOT something that incumbents like to contemplate, let alone encourage.

TarheelDem July 21st, 2012 at 2:18 pm

One of the promises identified in the early days of the internet was a politics that was driven from the bottom up, breaking the marketing model of politics. In your estimation, why has that not occurred given the fact that so much social media is technologically peer-to-peer media?

The shorthand way of saying this is “Why is there so much worthless political spam in my email box, essentially duplicating what used to cram my postal box?”

DWBartoo July 21st, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Thank you for joining us, David and Nicco.

A couple of questions if I might?

Is it your consideration that FDL is, essentially, an adjunct to the Democratic Party?

And secondly, do you see any future for political parties outside of the two-party metric?

Thank you, in advance, for your responses.


Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Outparty innovation happens at a few of those party levels.

(For those who haven’t read the book – outparty innovation is my theory that the party out-of-power tends to be the party that leads the way in embracing new technologies. We lead in the blogosphere when we had Bush to fight against. Conservatives lead on twitter where they have Obama to fight against)

-At the candidate/Party-in-Government level, candidates who expect to lose under the current “rules of the game” are the candidates who pursue innovations. Think of it in Presidential politics. The big “internet candidates” were Obama, Dean, and …McCain (2000). McCain set internet fundraising records. It sure wasn’t because he himself was tech-savvy! Each of those candidates needed a game-changer to win in their primary. Same goes for congressional races.

-At the Party Organization level, the party that loses elections tends to fire their old consultants and hire new ones. The new ones bring new tech. One reason why Dems have such good orgs today — groups like BlueStateDigital and (ahem) EchoDitto — is that they were looking for new tech and new strategy after years of losing. The Republicans were winning, so they weren’t looking. And now they are.

-At the Party in Electorate level, citizens are more likely to support activist groups when the other side is in power. Republicans in office lead to membership levels soaring for environmental groups, for instance. So its a lot easier to start new activism groups during outparty periods than when your side is in power.

Peterr July 21st, 2012 at 2:24 pm

David, in your discussion of the shift of Obama for America (an outsider group) into Organizing for America (within the DNC), you use the phrase “the dilemma of control”.

I like the phrase, partly because it reflects how the power structures view outside groups. “How can we control the message?” is a key campaign and governing question, and the initial reaction all too often seems to be “control the messengers.”

Jane Hamsher coined the phrase “veal pen” to describe how progressive groups have been corralled and controlled. “Support our message/direction/etc., or we’ll cut off your access and your funding.”

The Dilemma of Control is mostly a dilemma to those in power.

Nicco Mele July 21st, 2012 at 2:24 pm
In response to Peterr @ 12

I’m sure that it is anathema to the establishment — or at least it was in the beginning. But now it is a source of strength — closing in $300 million raised for Democrats. And it doesn’t discriminate; I haven’t seen the data but I suspect that establishment candidates do as well or even better than challengers.

Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 2:26 pm
In response to Peterr @ 12

Right, any fundraising dollars/contracts driven through ActBlue are dollars/contracts NOT driven through some other consultancy. And the old consultants aren’t going to be happy. That’s one of the main drivers of outparty innovation — if Dems had won in ’04, then there would be a lot less space available for upstarts-with-good-ideas like ActBlue.

(and thanks!)

Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 2:29 pm
In response to TarheelDem @ 13

Mostly I’d say that the reason is an issue of scale (I’ll get into that more later, I think).

Peer-to-peer/horizontal works very, very well at small scale or in the short term. But when you build large-scale and long term, you introduce a set of additional organizational challenges that demand *some* form of routinized decision structure.

Linux is my favorite example of this. Wikipedia works too.Linux is synonymous with open source. It’s large scale, it’s long term. It’s run by Linus Torvalds and his “lieutenants.” Lieutenants! At large scale, they had a bunch of problems (like spammy emails) that required organizational solutions.

I’d argue, by the way, that Occupy has faced the very same challenge…

Nicco Mele July 21st, 2012 at 2:31 pm
In response to TarheelDem @ 13

I just wrote a reply that I think disappeared into the ether, so apologies if it shows up twice.

The reason you get so much political spam is that everything is driven by behavioral analytics. Send some tests, and use the one that performs best. But it kills me that the Obama campaign is sending emails about winning dinner with Sarah Jessica Parker when there are real issues at play, and real things happening — but it must have performed very well to maximize revenue. (as an aside, see this propublica project – http://projects.propublica.org/emails/ )

Micah White, editor of Adbusters magazine, is one of the founders of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. He wrote a compelling “Total Critique of Clicktvisim” ( http://clicktivism.org/ ) where he decries the A/B testing, performance-oriented culture of activism that is part of the MoveOn Effect: “The trouble is that this model of activism uncritically embraces the ideology of marketing. It accepts that the tactics of advertising and market research used to sell toilet paper can also build social movements. This manifests itself in an inordinate faith in the power of metrics to quantify success. Thus, everything digital activists do is meticulously monitored and analysed. The obsession with tracking clicks turns digital activism into clicktivism.” In a sense, White seems to be critiquing the creativity and “soul” of performance-driven professionalized digital activism. What do you think?

Peterr July 21st, 2012 at 2:33 pm
In response to Dave Karpf @ 18

Ah, the magic word: consultants.

Having watched various consultants crash and burn as they deal with online communities, it seems to me that they view online groups as a mountain to be mined. “We the experts know what’s best, and we tell you so that you can get on board with us and make it happen.” Communication is a one-way street, by and large.

To people engaged in the online political world, this does not go down terribly well.

Which political consultants would you say best “get” the internet and the online world?

Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 2:33 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 14

I don’t think FDL is an adjunct of the Democratic party.
But it is part of the Democratic party network. If FDL wants to pass legislation or pressure regulators, it does so from the left side of the aisle.

I don’t see any future for third parties in America. I talked a bit about this in a talk at Personal Democracy Forum last month.

The issue is what I call an “unchanged fundamental” in the book. The Internet doesn’t change our party system. We have first-past-the-post elections. Those elections give rise to two stable parties. It’s a rule of electoral systems, called Duverger’s Law.

Unless you change the electoral system (through constitutional amendment), any third party attempt will be short-lived. The Internet has radically changed how we communicate, but it hasn’t changed the fundamental strcture of our party system.

Nicco Mele July 21st, 2012 at 2:34 pm
In response to Dave Karpf @ 19

That’s a great question, TarheelDem. I think that a big part of the reason for the spam is performance based analytics. Send a bunch of tests, and use the one that performs best. But it kills me to see the Obama campaign sending emails about winning dinner with Sarah Jessica Parker when real issues are at stake. Micah White, editor of Adbusters magazine, is one of the founders of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. He wrote a compelling “Total Critique of Clicktvisim” where he decries the A/B testing, performance-oriented culture of activism that is part of the MoveOn Effect: “The trouble is that this model of activism uncritically embraces the ideology of marketing. It accepts that the tactics of advertising and market research used to sell toilet paper can also build social movements. This manifests itself in an inordinate faith in the power of metrics to quantify success. Thus, everything digital activists do is meticulously monitored and analysed. The obsession with tracking clicks turns digital activism into clicktivism.” In a sense, White seems to be critiquing the creativity and “soul” of performance-driven professionalized digital activism. What do you think?

Nicco Mele July 21st, 2012 at 2:36 pm
In response to Peterr @ 21

I will note that I am a consultant, although just an online one. In my opinion, Will Robinson is one of the Democratic media consultants who best understands the new media world. he even renamed his firm The New Media Firm. Will is a deep and serious thinker about political tactics and understands and respects online communities and their work.

Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 2:36 pm
In response to Peterr @ 16

Yes, I think that’s right. The Dilemma of Control only shows up when you have power. The other thing I’d stress though is that it’s a very real dilemma.

Organizing is about power-building. As we build power, we also face a new set of challenges. Many don’t have easy or clear answers.

I like OFA as an example of that because, on the one hand, I think that was a *massive* missed opportunity to empower a nation of progressives and transform the damn country. But on the other hand, I think if they’d taken those steps, we would have faced a whole series of unintended consequences that managed to drive our policy goals off course in a different way…

Nicco Mele July 21st, 2012 at 2:38 pm
In response to Dave Karpf @ 22

I would also note the book “Three’s A Crowd”, an academic study of the Perot movement by Walt Stone and Ron Rapoport. It makes the argument that third parties get co-opted into one of the mainstream parties. Ross Perot’s platform was essentially adopted wholesale by Newt Gingrich a couple years later. Third parties have a role in American politics, but it is to shape the mainstream parties.

Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 2:39 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 17

Oh that raises a really interesting research question. I’d imagine that the people who do best on actblue are people like Alan Grayson and Elizabeth Warren — candidates who take bold stances that lead outside orgs like FDL and PCCC to organize for them. The average incumbent raises a ton of cash, but through old donor networks.

Hmm, jotting this down as a note, I might follow up on that as a research project!

Nicco Mele July 21st, 2012 at 2:40 pm
In response to Dave Karpf @ 19

Dave, this brings to mind the Wikimedia conference in DC last month where the community had an active discussion about institutionalizing and adding rules… unthinkable for wikipedia in the past.

DWBartoo July 21st, 2012 at 2:41 pm
In response to Dave Karpf @ 22

Thank for your response, David.

You have clarified several issues which have caused some consternation, of late, at FDL.

Do you consider that third parties may still broaden “the conversation”, that is, what may be discussed or considered, as third parties have done before in our history, or are “we” now “beyond” such “distractions”, as third parties are viewed by most partisans?

Does this also apply to Occupy? If not, then might you explain how Occupy may have ANY affect unless it aligns, openly, with the Democratic Party?


Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 2:42 pm
In response to Peterr @ 21

The ones who “get” the Internet best (I think) are the ones who come out of web-based communities. My friend Daniel Kreiss just published a book related to the topic, actually. It’s titled “Taking Our Country Back: The Crafting of Networked Politics from Dean to Obama.”

I know plenty of former netroots bloggers and organizers who eventually moved into consulting. They’re the most talented ones. The old-school consultants, meanwhile, either buy up the new talent or get lost in the shuffle.

DWBartoo July 21st, 2012 at 2:43 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 26

I see that you have anticipated part of my question @28, Nicco, and I appreciate your reply.


Peterr July 21st, 2012 at 2:45 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 24

To be clear: in my comment I was speaking of those who crash and burn, not all consultants generally, who view the online world as a mountain to be mined.

And thanks for your answer. What does Will ‘get’ that many others do not?

Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 2:45 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 29

Third parties *might* broaden the conversation, but I think there’s a much better tool available: aggressive primary challenges.

That’s been the bread-and-butter of the right since at least 2000 (well before the tea party).

*since* we’re stuck with a 2-party system, the most effective pressure point comes at the primary stage, rather than at the general election stage. Even when the right has lost those challenges, the *threat* of future challenges has moved elected officials further toward their base.

Third party challenges have, as far as I can tell, a much weaker track record at achieving that same goal.

Nicco Mele July 21st, 2012 at 2:46 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 23

One other random note here on political spam — ProPublica has an interesting project worth checking out.

Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 2:49 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 23

I’m glad you mentioned Micah White’s “clicktivism” critique, Nicco. I’ve written a couple of blog posts directly replying to him.

I honestly don’t think very highly of his criticism. A/B testing provides a form of passive democratic feedback to netroots organizations. MoveOn can hear the will of their membership far more effectively than, say, the Sierra Club can. That’s an unqualified positive development. I would rather have advocacy groups that can hear from their supporters than ones who basically can’t.

Political organizing is equal parts art and science. I do agree that we need to avoid putting too much faith in the metrics. There are plenty of questions that simply aren’t testable, and we don’t want organizers to shy away from the untestable-but-important. That said, this has always been the case. All the critiques of clicktivism apply just as well to the previous era of armchair activism. This is an ontological distinction within the activism world — a difference between activism-as-political-art vs activism-as-political-process. The culture jammers at Adbusters have always been critical of the political-process activists. And I’ve always been a political-process activist. But in that sense, I really don’t see Micah White effectively addressing “clicktivism.” He’s mostly providing the latest version of a very old argument within activist circles, and doing so in a style meant to piss off the maximum number of people!

Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 2:50 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 34

Oh that project is so cool.

Peterr July 21st, 2012 at 2:51 pm

In talking about inside-the-party and outside, consultants, and such, what we seem to be pointing toward is the changing nature of gates and gatekeepers.

As you note in the book, the internet removed one large barrier to participation in political discourse with the elimination of the high financial cost of participation. I don’t have to buy a newspaper or television network to get my thoughts in front of people — I can go online.

But there are other gates and gatekeepers out there. Putting OFA into the DNC, as you note, was a mixed bag. It emphasized control, but eliminated a sense of participating in the group.

How has online advocacy changed the nature of gatekeeping? Where do you see online gatekeeping at work?

Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 2:55 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 29

I just realized I didn’t really address your last question.

I don’t think it’s necessary for Occupy to align itself openly with the dems. Most of the party elites aren’t listening to the Occupiers. Announcing an alignment wouldn’t necessarily get them to do so.

But I would say that, within progressive circles, you have people who are going to focus on electing progressives this summer and fall, and you have people who aren’t going to do electoral work. We need a live-and-let-live interaction between the two groups. Occupiers’ goals won’t be served either by pushing a third party or by aggressively challenging their progressive allies. For the next four+ months, they should put their energy into efforts like Occupy Our Homes — meaningful activism that challenges corporate power without picking fights among allies.

Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 3:00 pm
In response to Peterr @ 37

Great question. Again my mind goes back to the scale issue: gatekeeping is a necessary function in large-scale information systems. David Weinberger’s book Everything is Miscellaneous is a great one in this subject area.

So the Internet doesn’t get rid of elites. It gives us different ones. I think that’s a (small) social improvement because those elites are more approximately meritocratic. It’s easier to rise through the blogosphere or through Change.org petition-creating than it was to rise through the newspaper business or the local Democratic Party organization. There’s still gatekeepingwherever there’s large-scale activity (same with Wikipedia, Open Source, etc). But I think it’s qualitatively better, and usually more responsive, gatekeeping.

gesneri July 21st, 2012 at 3:05 pm
In response to Dave Karpf @ 22

So then in your opinion we’re screwed. Pressuring elected Democrats toward more progressive legislation has been a near-complete failure, and if third parties can’t gain any traction (short-lived in your words), where do we go from here?
EDIT: Just read your views on primary challenges. Progressives don’t seem to have had much luck that way either.

Nicco Mele July 21st, 2012 at 3:06 pm
In response to Dave Karpf @ 39

Dave, in your book you dispute Matthew Hindman’s contention that gatekeeping has simply moved online to a different group of elites — but elites nevertheless. Your counter argument might be worth bring to bear here..

Nicco Mele July 21st, 2012 at 3:06 pm

A new question for Dave: I love your examination and description of the MoveOn Effect. I think you’ve done an excellent job of clearly articulating a major change in our politics. I’m also on board with your Blogging Authority Index and characterization of community blogs as political associations – (I might even be inclined to take that argument one step farther, more on that later). But I’m going to take issue with your neo-federated characterization of off-line/on-line hybrid activism. Our ability to translate online activism to offline people power does not have the power and force that I would expect, or that the country needs – as evidenced by the Tea Party. Right now, there are more than 700 active Tea Party Meetups, with each Meetup leader paying $12 a month out of pocket – in most cases paying that monthly fee for over a year, and in many cases for over two years. (The Tea Party’s use of Meetup definitely reinforces your argument of outparty incentives for tactical innovation, another thing I want to ask you more about, but back to the neo-federated model…) I would argue that the we need to compare apples to apples (or at least apples to oranges, instead of apples to lug nuts): the point of comparison for the neo-federated model should be the local Democratic Party meetings of old, the patronage-heavy party – and we’re simply nowhere near that kind of power. In the MoveOn Effect, you make a powerful comparison of MoveOn.org to the earlier generation of organizations like Common Cause and the Sierra Club. In Political Blogs as Political Associations, you make an equally powerful comparison of community blogs like DailyKos and FireDogLake to the earlier generation of legacy organizations. But I’m just not sold on the comparison in the neo-federated model. Your example is compelling – Philly for Change carries more power than the local chapter of the Sierra Club – but I suspect there are many, many more local chapters of the Sierra Club than Democracy for America.

Peterr July 21st, 2012 at 3:07 pm
In response to Dave Karpf @ 39

Much of the tension in the political organizing world, I think, may be caused by gatekeepers finding out that there’s a hole in the wall where they are guarding the gate. To go back to the OFA example, old-school gatekeepers looked at OFA and said “better get/keep these folks under control” because that’s how they view activism and organizing. New-school gatekeepers, on the other hand, look at the communities they are working with and say “how can I/we focus the energy/skills/gifts of these people for the cause? What can we learn from them?”

In a parallel way, we could also be talking about the old media world vs the new media world. Sarah Palin’s surprising emergence as John McCain’s VP running mate made instant experts out of formerly obscure political bloggers and activists in Alaska. While the major media outlets were trying to get up to speed, these bloggers were already off and running.

TarheelDem July 21st, 2012 at 3:07 pm
In response to Dave Karpf @ 19

I understand the scale issue. As the number of people involved increases, the number of connections between any two or more people increases by a factor that includes a factorial operation. So 2 people have 1 connection, 3 people 3 connections, 4 people 6 connections…. That degrades cohesion and increases noise.

There have been attempts to do something different. For example, the Obama White House out of the gate set up a web site to collect ideas for health care reform. A lot of people wrote very detailed proposals. The overwhelming number of people pushed for similar items. What came out of the Congress was dictated by one person — Max Baucus. So what was the point of the exercise?

Another was Van Jones’s site to establish an agenda for Rebuild the Dream. And what came out the other end was predictable and likely authored by the Rebuild the Dream staff to what their agenda was.

Both of these were cohesive and focused, but they neither were transparent nor dealt with things that might be differing views among what was supposed to be a large coalition.

Contrast with what the Occupy National Gathering came out with. There weren’t many participants, but all of the proposals–every last one of them was logged and associated with a number that represented the strength of support of the proposal. And there was a lot of visible redundancy in the list. And a few contradictory items as well.

What is at issue IMO is how ordinary people actually get to participate in what is billed to be democratic government.

TarheelDem July 21st, 2012 at 3:11 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 23

What I think is that political discourse has been reduced to marketing, which is why Thanksgiving conversations sound like AmWay pitches.

Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 3:11 pm
In response to gesneri @ 40

I wouldn’t quite say we’re screwed, but I would say that organizing for social change is hard, long, difficult work.

Pressuring elected dems toward more progressive legislation hasn’t gone very well. Third parties can’t gain any traction. So we need to get a hell of a lot better at pressuring elected dems toward more progressive legislation.

Here’s a simple example: I got involved in political organizing back in 1995. In the past 17 years, I have constantly heard fellow progressives mention how important it is to elect people to local office — school boards, town councils, etc. Elect better people at those levels and, over time, you get better people running at higher levels. That always struck me as a very good idea, with no obvious drawbacks.

Yet for 17 years, we haven’t done it. Doing that systematically across the country is a lot of work. Everyone agrees we ought to, but we still haven’t. So, let’s just DO IT already.

That won’t change the world overnight. But if we could change the world overnight, it would be changed already…

Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 3:12 pm
In response to gesneri @ 40

Right, we haven’t had a lot of luck at primary challenges. That isn’t for systematic/structural reasons, though. It’s just really hard. So I think we’re better off pushing those than pushing third parties.

Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 3:15 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 41

Sure. Basically, Matt Hindman is arguing that the promise of digital democracy is a “myth” because “it’s just different elites.” My response is “yeah, but they’re different elites!”

Large-scale systems get some sort of institutional structure. Those structures can be better or worse. And the Internet has created a wave of opportunities to craft better ones. That’s a promising moment for us to be living in, but it’s a limited promise…

Peterr July 21st, 2012 at 3:18 pm
In response to Dave Karpf @ 47

I asked earlier about consultants, but maybe the bigger question is about candidates. You talk about Ned Lamont in the book, but let me ask more broadly about others. What candidates (both challengers and incumbents) do you think best understand the “unexpected transformation of American political advocacy” as your subtitle so nicely puts it?

More importantly, what is it about these candidates that sets them about from their colleagues? What do they do that is different?

DWBartoo July 21st, 2012 at 3:18 pm
In response to Dave Karpf @ 38

Ah, then you advocate rational and reasonable respect among allies AND focusing on local or regional progressive interests?

I must say, both you and Nicco anticipate my next questions very well, indeed.

Let us suppose, as it is clear that you have, that both parties are tied to corporate “interests”, primarily because of the vast sums of money involved and recent SCOTUS decisions which have, in great measure, thrust “the people” deep into Dred Scott territory, with corporations declared to be “people” and money declared to be “speech”.

One wonders, since “the peculiar institution” was less finally challenged on human decency terms and more fully brought to a “head” by competing economic “interests” … do you see a similar play-out, in our current dilemma? That is, will it be about human “costs” or shall it be about other economic “interests”?


Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 3:20 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 42

You’re right about this. It’s the reason why I spend part of that chapter discussing the Drudge Report and proto-blogs. I think Democracy for America is a proto-example of what a neo-federated org could look like, just as the Drudge Report was a proto-example of what blogs later looked like.

The missing ingredient, I think, is the mobile web. That really didn’t exist in 2004. It is now reaching a point in the its diffusion curve where we can see political and social applications. Tea Party groups (current outparty) have led the way. The mobile web blurs the distinction between online and offline experiences. You no longer have to be tethered to a laptop to be online. I honestly think we’ve only scratched the surface of how civic organizations can use mobile tech to enhance community engagement.

I think there’s real promise and real power in neo-federated organizing. And I think it’s still on the horizon. But you’re right, the current examples of the model are really pretty limited.

Nicco Mele July 21st, 2012 at 3:22 pm
In response to Dave Karpf @ 47

Dave – if it’s not about systematic / structural reasons, then what is it about? We’re not pushing hard enough to recruit strong candidates for primary challenges?

Nicco Mele July 21st, 2012 at 3:24 pm
In response to Dave Karpf @ 48

I’m not sure “different elites” is good enough — we need better process. The history of the party is moving from back-room patronage to primaries fought via television/consultants — both of those ways of doing things had pros and cons. The trick, I think, is to design and build new process for holding leaders accountable and inviting participation from across the network.

Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 3:25 pm
In response to TarheelDem @ 44

Good points, but I want to connect your last one back with your second one.

Saul Alinsky and the Midwest Academy talk about three fundamental principles of organizing:
1. Make real, concrete improvements in people’s lives.
2. Change the balance of power.
3. Give people a sense of their own power.

The occupy national gathering definitely accomplished #3. But at some point, they end up facing the Baucus-problem if they want to accomplish #1. Doing so means interacting directly with #2 – the existing power structure. That’s where things tend to get really messy/complicated (and interesting!).

zeabow July 21st, 2012 at 3:26 pm
In response to Dave Karpf @ 47

“Right, we haven’t had a lot of luck at primary challenges. That isn’t for systematic/structural reasons, though.”

I don’t believe that. The dccc and the dscc heavily favor establishment candidates … and they funnel more campaign money their way … and do their best to box out any progressive candidates in the primaries. The 2006 elections were a primary example where rahm emanuel backed pro-war dems over anti-war dems and did his damnedest to make sure those pro-war blue dog dems won their primaries regardless of whether the anti-war progressive dems had a better chance in the general election or not.


darms July 21st, 2012 at 3:26 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 23

I had to run down that Micah White article and it seems to express much of the disappointment I’ve had w/MoveOn & similar sites (finally unsubscribed around 2005). Endless spam w/no obvious effect on political outcomes save for a few who seem to make $$ off the deal. I think ActBlue is more effective but even they have supported far too many ‘blue dogs’.

Tammany Tiger July 21st, 2012 at 3:27 pm

I used to belong to MoveOn.org and used to be a frequent diarist and commenter on DailyKos.com. I left both because they had become de facto organs of the Democratic Party. That was a deal-breaker because I’ve finally concluded that the Democratic Party, as it now exists, has negative value: it consistently betrays its most loyal constituencies (union members, women, African Americans, young voters) and then tells those betrayed constituencies, “you have to vote for us because you have nowhere else to go.”

Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 3:27 pm
In response to TarheelDem @ 45

You and I have very different Thanksgiving conversations!

Also, I agree with this sentiment *to the extent that A/B testing and marketing dominate political conversation.* But I’m not sure that it’s complete domination. Within the big netroots orgs, there’s plenty of space for genuine conversation. It just doesn’t show up in their mass emails is all.

Nicco Mele July 21st, 2012 at 3:27 pm
In response to Dave Karpf @ 51

Mobile web is an interesting potential solution / future to the neo-federated model. I haven’t really thought about that. My overall concern, per the other thread, is that we need new process. The MoveOn Effect and online ecosystem you have written an excellent book about dropped into a barren political landscape, one stripped clean in a large part by television. Saving our democracy — engaging people the way folks like TarheelDem is looking for — requires local meetings, face to face… and most of the efforts of the online world to do that fall short.

Nicco Mele July 21st, 2012 at 3:28 pm
In response to tammanytiger @ 57

Do you think they started as de facto organs of the Democratic party? I would argue they didn’t — although I was an active early member in both. But in the beginning they both seemed pretty far out of the establishment.

Nicco Mele July 21st, 2012 at 3:29 pm
In response to Dave Karpf @ 58

In your favor, Dave, this conversation is proof that there is “plenty of space for genuine conversation.”

Tammany Tiger July 21st, 2012 at 3:30 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 60

They did start out as anti-establishment entities and were captured. I don’t see any organizations out there to replace them. If anything, the Democratic Party is less open to change and more hostile to outsiders than it was during the days that Mr. Moneybags, Terry McAuliffe, ran the DNC.

Nicco Mele July 21st, 2012 at 3:30 pm
In response to darms @ 56

ActBlue doesn’t take sides. They list every Democratic running for federal office and most state-wide offices. They leave the organizing and energy up to communities like FireDogLake.

Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 3:30 pm
In response to Peterr @ 49

That’s a really big question, and one that I haven’t thought enough about. I’ll venture an answer here, but it’s sure to be incomplete.

I think Elizabeth Warren and Al Franken are two of best political leaders we have right now. They both have experience outside of Democratic party politics, they’re both oriented toward something more than winning the next election, and they’re both exceptionally bright.

For a basic formula, I think [brilliant] + [experienced outside of the party elite] is a pretty good starter set.

zeabow July 21st, 2012 at 3:31 pm


What do you think about moveon.org’s conduct during the public option debate where they claimed they wouldn’t back a health care bill without a public option and then turned face and declared that they would primary any dems that didn’t support the health care bill even though it had no public option in it. Why do you think that happened? Do you think that we should pressure dems to stand down when their worthy principles conflict with the democratic party’s goals?


Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 3:33 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 50

DW, can you rephrase the question a bit? What do you mean by our current dilemma? Citizens United? Campaign Finance generally?

TarheelDem July 21st, 2012 at 3:33 pm
In response to Dave Karpf @ 54

In my view, that connection back to 2 will happen but there has to be enough balancing power before that occurs. I have been impressed with the general patience and persistence of the Occupy movement.

For 40 years it seems that progressive have tried to make change by capturing the presidency–only to be disappointed as the failure to build from the local up (which conservatives did do over those same 40 years) caught up with them.

It is time IMO to focus downticket and to broaden the progressive movement geographically. Thanks to the Paulistas in the Occupy movement that was beginning to happen in red states as progressives and libertarians began to dialog. And it might still be going on.

Peterr July 21st, 2012 at 3:35 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 53

This gets to the heart of what I think of when I read the subtitle to the book. When I think about transformation of advocacy, I don’t think of trading one person for another, but trading one system for another.

The change in the system comes when the elites — old or new — adjust. Old school elites may have to be pushed into changing the system, and new school elites may be chomping at the bit to create the change, but either way, if we’re talking about transformation of advocacy, we’re talking about more than just changing elites.

Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 3:36 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 52

Partially we need to push harder, invest in local elections. Partially… this stuff is hard and takes a long time.

The Club for Growth has run aggressive primary challenges since 2000. Most of them, particularly in the first few years, failed. Then they started to work. And now they control the whole Republican Party-in-government.

Primary challenges are worth pursuing in the right spots. We should expect them to usually fail. But, tried well enough for long enough, I think they can be quite successful.

TarheelDem July 21st, 2012 at 3:37 pm
In response to Dave Karpf @ 48

There is a huge question about what the elites and gatekeepers are doing in any institutional relationship. Are they humbly maintaining the process and keeping it open to further development and change or are they mining the process to direct income to themselves personally?

TarheelDem July 21st, 2012 at 3:39 pm
In response to Dave Karpf @ 58

I guess there are no “dittoheads” in your family.

Peterr July 21st, 2012 at 3:40 pm
In response to Dave Karpf @ 64

Interesting choices. Is there anything about their approach to the online advocacy world that sets them apart as well?

Your comment made me think about an old interview between David Gergen and the late Senator Paul Simon (an old family friend). I forget what the exact question was that Gergen asked — something about leadership — and Simon made what strikes me as a critical distinction. My memory of what he said goes something like this:

Some people seek an office to become something — president, a senator, a mayor. Others seek an office to do something. Those people are leaders.

I’m going to have to go find that interview . . .

juliania July 21st, 2012 at 3:41 pm

Mr. Karpf, thank you for being here. I would like to return to your answer to DWBartoo above, where you stated that the US system of voting gives third parties little hope of success, so that a Constitutional amendment would be needed to rectify that. You mentioned Duverger’s Law, which was helpfully linked to wikipedia’s entry. Several points from that page seemed pertinent.

“Duverger suggests two reasons why single-member district plurality voting systems favor a two party system. One is the result of the “fusion” (or an alliance very like fusion) of the weak parties, and the other is the “elimination” of weak parties by the voters, by which he means that the voters gradually desert the weak parties on the grounds that they have no chance of winning.”

I would suggest that the parties currently being deserted by voters are the two ‘main’ parties.

Then, wikipedia asserts that “a third party can only enter the arena if it can exploit the mistakes of a pre-existing major party, ultimately at that party’s expense.”

Might not that also be happening?

And finally, wikipedia gives a list of exceptions to the ‘law’ and also comments that ‘Duverger himself did not regard his principle as absolute.’

Given all of this, might not some of the new sub-party political movements give a thought to supporting – oh, say, just for example – the Greens or the Justice Party?

Given, as I say, the dynamics of groups forming in opposition to the Party in Power, as Moveon itself so memorably did. I shall always be grateful to it for sponsoring some of Al Gore’s historical speeches against the Bush presidency. I would like to see something of that nature happening today with respect to the current administration’s continuation of those imperial urges. We then just might see, as the mistakes of our present shambles of a government are forcefully held up to scrutiny, that a third party is indeed viable in this day and age, law or no law.

Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 3:41 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 59

Right, I normatively agree with you 100%. Part of why I wrote a chapter about neo-federated orgs, even though (unlike the other two types) there just aren’t many good examples yet, is that I think there is something fundamentally positive about them. DailyKos lets me engage with my community-of-interest online. But I also need to engage with my geographic community.

Nicco, the one big take-away you’ll leave with is *think about mobile!* No one has really done so yet. We have a hand in shaping the types of political structures that are built. We need sharp people to tinker with the latest wave of tech and help move it in the right direction.

CTuttle July 21st, 2012 at 3:42 pm
In response to Dave Karpf @ 64

..For a basic formula, I think [brilliant] + [experienced outside of the party elite] is a pretty good starter set.

Therein lies the rub…! In that the most [brilliant + experienced] progressives are smart enough to stay out of the muck and mire of pursuing political office…!

DWBartoo July 21st, 2012 at 3:44 pm
In response to Dave Karpf @ 66

Yes, both of those, David, AND the banking fraud which daily is becoming more destructive to the entire political economy … there is a strong sense that the “comfort” of the wealthy is put above the welfare of the people, generally … that the nation can no longer supply its own needs nor provide meaningful endeavor for its people.

That “National Security” is more about “endless” (and profitable) warfare, than the health and well-being of the people.

Frankly, I am also concerned about the Rule of Law, on numerous levels and the fate of civil society, itself.

I think that human reality is of little or no interest to the political elites, of either party, notwithstanding the lofty rhetoric to the contrary which occasionally is heard … there seems no honest heart in it.

We are now, in my opinion, a nation that embraces torture, that is failing the younger generations, and that seems to have lost its moral compass, entirely.


Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 3:44 pm
In response to tammanytiger @ 62

Two parts of why they’re less open to change now though:
(a) they were losing under McAulife. Then in ’06 and ’08, they started winning.
(b) orgs like DailyKos and MoveOn experienced some success. That gained them some measure of power. And with that power came some “inside-ness.”

That said, if you don’t like what they’ve become, then you indeed ought to support other organizations that challenge the power structure in different ways. My only hope is that we view the diversity of tactics and strategies as a conversation among allies, rather than as a pitched battle within the American left.

Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 3:47 pm
In response to zeabow @ 65

MoveOn asked their membership. They held a big membership-wide vote on what they should do. First they asked whether they should support the health care bill even though it didn’t have the public option anymore. Then later they asked if they should primary dems who voted against the bill. In both cases, there was overwhelming membership support for the action they took.

So I’d call that a very good thing, honestly. I’d rather have large advocacy groups that listened to their membership than large advocacy groups that don’t.

darms July 21st, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Mr. Karpf, MoveOn.org just seemed too passive & impersonal to me. (I was a subscriber from 1997 to 2005) Our local elections (Austin, TX) seem reasonably ‘safe’ in that we don’t have any hard-right officeholders but anything state-wide has been a disaster since the Ann Richards days. Not having much money to donate but plenty of time, I’m not sure of any effective way for me to organize or even participate politically (other than voting). Do you have any suggestions for people like me to do effective political outreach or organizing? (Endless in-box spam & unsolicited phone calls just piss me off as I’m sure they do to a number of other people) Thanks for your book, it sounds interesting.

DWBartoo July 21st, 2012 at 3:49 pm
In response to Dave Karpf @ 77

I heartily concur with your last paragraph, and especially your last sentence, David, and consider that it is PRECISELY what all of us MUST deliberately and consciously work upon. That requires civil, rational, and respectful debate among allies … and alliances built upon mutual TRUST.

If we cannot achieve that … then we will achieve nothing, except our own collective demise.


Tammany Tiger July 21st, 2012 at 3:50 pm
In response to Dave Karpf @ 77

I’m not sure how much success DailyKos.com had. I can think of only major victory, that of Ned Lamont over Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary. Lieberman ultimately won that seat as an independent, with the help of establishment Dems.

In 2006 and 2008, Howard Dean headed the DNC and tried to implement a “50-state strategy.” Had Rahm Emanuel and the White House not blown it up–a classic example of “not invented here”–perhaps the Democrats’ losses in 2010 would not have been so catastrophic.

Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 3:52 pm
In response to TarheelDem @ 67

One interesting tie-in: we can see the rise of movements like Occupy and the Anti-globalization movement as a function of presidential politics.

You’re right that Presidents aren’t going to save us. It is only when a Democrat is in office that this becomes clear. During the Clinton years, we channeled our disappointment into a movement. During the Bush years, we had the anti-war movement, but we mostly focused on kicking the bums out of office. Then during the Obama years, we get the rise of occupy.

That’s one reason, FWIW, that I think Occupiers should support the President, even if they don’t devote their energies this summer and fall to electing him. If Obama is reelected, activists will continue to see the limitations of presidential politics. That strengthens outside movements. If Romney is elected, many new activists will instead be drawn to fighting against Romney.

BevW July 21st, 2012 at 3:53 pm

As we come to the end of this great Book Salon discussion,

Dave, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book and digital activism.

Nicco, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Dave’s website (DavidKarpf.com) and book (The MoveOn Effect)

Nicco’s website (Nicco.org) and new book (The End of Big)

Thanks all, Have a great weekend.

Tomorrow: Richard Wolff / Occupy The Economy: Challenging Capitalism; Hosted by SouthernDragon

If you would like to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 3:54 pm
In response to Peterr @ 72

Hard to say whether they personally have different approaches to the online advocacy world, or whether the online advocacy world has different approaches to them. Elizabeth Warren has attracted some hugely talented organizers because, well, she’s awesome and they all want to work for her.

RevBev July 21st, 2012 at 3:54 pm
In response to darms @ 79

If I may…most of the outlook in TX includes the future of the Hispanic vote. Maybe we should be working with some of those groups to help and empower. Thanks for the question.

TarheelDem July 21st, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Dave, Nicco, thanks for a most interesting book salon.

Bev, thanks for all you do to keep this happening and improving.

Nicco Mele July 21st, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Thanks, folks — this was great fun! And thanks, Dave!

darms July 21st, 2012 at 3:56 pm
In response to tammanytiger @ 81

Yeah, I was really excited by Dean’s “50-state strategy.” I couldn’t believe the stupidity of the Dem leaders who gave up on that.

Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 3:58 pm
In response to juliania @ 73

This answer is gonna be too short… I could talk forever about duverger.

Main point is that a system like ours will have two stable parties. They won’t always be the same two parties though. So it is certainly possible that the Democratic or Republican Party could fall (the Whigs fell, for instance). But they’d be replaced. We’d still only have two parties, and each would act as a big coalition of interests. Which means, over time, that coalition of interests would develop many of the same flaws as todays Democrats.

If we want a multi-party system like the ones in Europe, you need an electoral system like those in other countries. Each district needs to elect more than one person!

bigchin July 21st, 2012 at 3:58 pm


DWBartoo July 21st, 2012 at 3:58 pm

I have to leave now.

Thank you, David and Nicco.

Thank you, Bev, as always …


rickd July 21st, 2012 at 4:00 pm
In response to Dave Karpf @ 22

That you do not see any role for third parties in our sick and sadly corrupted system is almost horrifyingly blind, in my own opinion. The two political parties have been co-opted, and willingly, by the power of corporate money.

That the GOP has become so partisan that it cannot debate or compromise, along with a Democratic Party that has absolutely no clue how to communicate or even reach its shrinking base leaves any voter still enamored of the democratic process with no choice but third party growth.

This nation is one of the shrinking few still run by a two party system. One need only look at the nations that are far in advance of us in health care, workers rights and conditions, etc. to note that most have multiple parties .

Organisations like MoveOn and Daily Kos are run by elitists who love hobnobbing with democratic bigwigs and have lost their way and, increasingly, our support.

karenjj2 July 21st, 2012 at 4:00 pm

tt @ #80

yes! no one mentions the effective “50 state strategy” that Howard Dean created and implemented to get a dem pres and congress that was deliberately destroyed. I kept waiting for Dean’s DFA to ressurect the process … nada

Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 4:01 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 76

Ah, well, I basically agree with you about those challenges.

One of the funny things about writing the book is that some people have read it and called me an optimist, while others have called me a pessimist. I think I’m somewhere in between… a “skeptic,” on my good days.

I think the challenges facing this country are profound, and lack simple solutions. The last line of my book reads “The Internet will not save the world, but it does add something of value to the work of world-saving.”

darms July 21st, 2012 at 4:02 pm
In response to RevBev @ 85

I agree but an even greater factor at least for now is the appalling percentage of people who actually turn out to vote. I don’t have the numbers handy but in our last gubernatorial election White lost to Perry by ~13% to ~15% meaning 72% of registered voters didn’t even vote. And that doesn’t include the number who were eligible who weren’t registered. I’ve had a little luck over the decades persuading a few people to at least vote but even on the scale of city council elections my efforts have been meaningless…

juliania July 21st, 2012 at 4:04 pm
In response to Dave Karpf @ 89

Ah, I see! Thank you, I can live with that!

Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 4:04 pm
In response to darms @ 79

I’d start by attending your local Drinking Liberally chapter meetings. That’s where you’ll find like-minded progressives socializing in your area. Build social ties with them, find meaningful organizing opportunities, then work on something that seems worth doing.

Best of luck!

RevBev July 21st, 2012 at 4:05 pm
In response to darms @ 95

Maybe that getting out the vote is the place to focus…and maybe at a time when we will be becoming less red with population change. Certainly it’s been quite disheartening.

Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 4:05 pm
In response to BevW @ 83

Thanks Bev, Nicco, and everyone. I’ve really enjoyed it!

RevBev July 21st, 2012 at 4:06 pm
In response to Dave Karpf @ 97

Thanks for the link;)

Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 4:10 pm
In response to rickd @ 92


Can you give me an example of a nation that went from a two-party system to a multi-party system without rewriting their constitution?

You’re suggesting that the two parties are corrupt. I’m suggesting that the US electoral system makes it impossible to have more than two stable parties. Those two statements can both be simultaneously correct.

darms July 21st, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Thanks to all for this book salon!

Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 4:13 pm
In response to karenjj2 @ 93

This points back to my response to Nicco’s original question: the reason (I imagine) why DFA hasn’t restarted the 50 state strategy is that organizing in all 50 states would take a *lot* of resources. The DNC had those resources. Advocacy groups like DFA don’t, PARTICULARLY as we transition from direct mail to targeted online fundraising.

That’s a problem which has literally kept me up at night. We need to support good organizing, and that means finding ways to pay good organizers, systematically and at large-scale.

zeabow July 21st, 2012 at 4:14 pm
In response to Dave Karpf @ 78

In regards to the polling that led moveon to threaten all dems … regardless of reasoning … with primaries that didn’t support the health care bill, here’s part of the narrative that was supplied with that poll (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/14/moveon-fundraising-agains_n_498641.html):

“Health care reform is in serious danger in the House of Representatives: with a handful of conservative Democrats wavering, we don’t yet have the votes to pass the final bill.

So we’re asking every MoveOn member: will you pledge to support progressive primary challengers to House Democrats who side with Republicans to kill health care reform?”

Nowhere in that narrative does it propose to primary dems that won’t vote for the bill because it has no public option in it, but the moveon.org “leadership” first asked if members supported the bill sans the public option and then in a later poll they characterize those that are against the bill as conservative dems and poll on that and then take those results to also justify threatening to primary dems who wouldn’t support the bill becoz it had no public option in it.

Any comments on this Dave? Have I misunderstood something here? If I have please correct me.


Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 4:14 pm

Alright, thanks everybody! I’ll stick around for another 5 minutes in case there are further questions. This has been a really fun conversation, thank you for participating.

zeabow July 21st, 2012 at 4:24 pm
In response to Dave Karpf @ 78


You wrote:

“MoveOn asked their membership. They held a big membership-wide vote on what they should do. First they asked whether they should support the health care bill even though it didn’t have the public option anymore. Then later they asked if they should primary dems who voted against the bill. In both cases, there was overwhelming membership support for the action they took.”

I read that the moveon.org membership overwhelmingly supported the health care bill without a public option (83% to 17%), but I have not been able to find any results for a vote to primary dems that didn’t support the bill. Was there an actual vote on that?


Dave Karpf July 21st, 2012 at 4:25 pm
In response to zeabow @ 104

I don’t have any inside information on this, but I interpret it a little different than you.

The real question is, if a dem like Kucinich voted against the final bill, would MoveOn have supported a primary of him. I think/hope/expect that the answer is no. MoveOn held that vote in order to signal to Blue Dog Dems that this was a serious issue and their vote would have consequences. If a progressive Dem was planning to vote against the bill because it wasn’t strong enough (and I don’t recall, but I think they all voted for it in the end), then I think that messaging is meant to signal that MoveOn isn’t particularly threatening them.

And indeed, those progressive Dems weren’t facing a threat from MoveOn. They were facing a ton of arm-twisting by Rahm and the White House, but not from progressive allies.

That said, there’s an additional take-away I think we can both agree on: mass emails tend to provide a single narrative. Discussion threads provide nuance. The MoveOn membership vote had a single narrative, and that narrative was about Blue Dogs, ignoring hardcore progressives.

zeabow July 21st, 2012 at 4:35 pm
In response to Dave Karpf @ 107

I think your recollection is somewhat flawed (moveon.org took action to pressure Kucinich in the form of protesting outside his office):

“Last year MoveOn – and a lot of other organizations and individuals – mounted a spirited campaign to pressure members of Congress to pledge their votes against any health care bill that did not contain a public option. They got 65 takers, Cleveland, Ohio’s Kucinich among them. This year, MoveOn’s Cleveland Council announced its intent to protest outside Kucinich’s office. Why? Because the Congressman was planning to vote against a health care bill that didn’t have a public option.”



zeabow July 21st, 2012 at 4:37 pm
In response to Dave Karpf @ 107

Was there even actually a moveon.org vote on primarying democrats that didn’t support the health care bill? It sounds more like a fund drive than a vote.


zeabow July 21st, 2012 at 4:47 pm
In response to Dave Karpf @ 107

“And indeed, those progressive Dems weren’t facing a threat from MoveOn. They were facing a ton of arm-twisting by Rahm and the White House, but not from progressive allies.”

Oh, really …


“Now every excuse made by the President and Congress for not including a public option has crumbled. MoveOn is demonstrating against Kucinich for keeping that promise, and far from supporting members of Congress who keep that pledge, the unions are threatening them with primaries.”


rickd July 22nd, 2012 at 6:36 am
In response to Dave Karpf @ 101

I never said anything about nations going from two party systems to multiple parties, I believe, sorry to have to note, that you are obfuscating and avoiding the facts of the matter. Further, Hamilton, in his declining years, noted that his insistence upon two party politics was one of his worst mistakes

Further, your statement that it is impossible to have more than two parties under our current electoral system is simply absurd. There are, currently, over three hundred thousand registered Green Party members in this nation. Now that may be a rather statistically insignificant number to a loyal democrat but it also may be viewed as a darn good start. Especially when considering the monopoly inflicted upon the electorate by our corporate owned two parties.

As others here have noted, and been mostly ignored or superficially head patted, the glaring problems of our two party system are rather obvious to an increasing number of voters, and may very well be one reason why so many are alienated and no longer participate in that process.

Regardless of the shockingly inept defense of the two party system offered by this author more and more of us are coming to the understanding that we need more and wider representation in our government, that is offered by multiple party government.

zeabow July 22nd, 2012 at 10:56 am
In response to rickd @ 111

“I believe, sorry to have to note, that you are obfuscating and avoiding the facts of the matter.”

Amen to that. It’s pretty pathetic that he can’t completely stand by moveon.org’s record and has to mislead people about it as he did in his exchanges with me as well.

I’ve got little respect for the moveon.org donkey herd.


rickd July 23rd, 2012 at 3:50 am
In response to zeabow @ 112

Just another loyalist with specious logic and faulty reasoning. I did note that, as the criticisms of his position made themselves manifest, he suddenly ran away. So typical.

dakine01 July 23rd, 2012 at 6:23 am
In response to rickd @ 113

The guest is asked to come to FDL for two hours, 5PM to 7PM eastern most times. This guest actually stuck around for nearly a half hour longer, engaging with people.

You, on the other hand, did not deign to show up until the official end of the Book Salon at 7PM eastern.

Who was it not willing to engage?

rickd July 24th, 2012 at 6:07 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 114

I apologize for the misunderstanding regarding his planned stay but not for the criticism of his vapid rejection of third party politics.

You should not throw stones yourself bunkie.

Sorry but the comments are closed on this post