Digital Reconstruction: Evaluating "Progressive" Websites in the Wake of a Hillary Clinton Nomination
How should you treat a vanquished foe?
The role of political reconciliation at the end of the primary season is nothing new. Just ask fictional campaign manager Josh Lyman from season 7 of The West Wing. During a classic scene from an episode titled "The Ticket," Lyman is propositioned for a job by his former assistant, Donna Moss, who had chosen to join a rival Democratic campaign during the primary season. When Donna makes her case, Josh then pulls out a file of disparaging quotes she had slung at the now Democratic presidential nominee. Donna then recites several instances where Josh himself had uttered less than flattering things about her candidate. It is at that point, where Josh looks her square in the eye and utters the hard truth about the political process before rejecting her services:
"Yeah, but I won."
Much like fictional Donna Moss, there will be a number of online progressive media sites in the coming weeks that will have to come to terms with their unsuccessful backing of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. These outlets sought to ride the coattails of the populist presidential candidate and did so at the expense of both Hillary Clinton as well as the Democratic Party. These sites were both unwavering and unabashed in their support of Sanders, and in doing so they created a culture where the majority of the Democratic base felt either unwelcome or uncomfortable trying to comment or compose articles exposing various forms of propaganda and misinformation designed to prop up Bernie Sanders and take down Hillary Clinton. Many members of these communities were even harassed, causing an exodus for many staunch Democratic voters who had the gall to support their party's frontrunner. These sites ended up being their own echo chambers, and with nobody to oppose them they were able to create an environment where the false promises of the Sanders campaign could be unquestionably accepted as truth.
Many of the sites that jumped on the Sanders bandwagon were those that had previously been critical of President Barack Obama. Like Sanders, these sites unrealistically believed in a kind of progressive purity that simply isn't feasible in today's hyper-partisan political environment. These were sites that claimed the massive $787 billion stimulus bill simply wasn't enough and that anything less wouldn't be effective. These were sites that claimed we should have had single payer or at the very least a public option and that anything less was selling out to the health insurance industry. These were sites that flipped a lid when President Obama proposed the idea of chained CPI as a way to slow entitlement spending. And these were sites that very much wanted to see a primary challenge emerge during Barack Obama's 2012 reelection campaign.
So when Bernie Sanders, a candidate known for his criticism of Barack Obama, chose to run for president, a number of sites jumped onboard his campaign much like several opportunistic critics of the president including Thom Hartmann, Cornel West, and Bill Press had chosen to do. After nearly a year on the campaign trail, the list of sites with a pro-Sanders slant has grown quite long with Salon, The Nation, Huffington Post, Raw Story, AlterNet, US Uncut, Democratic Underground, and Daily Kos remaining the most viable progressive sites to have gone full-in on Sanders' campaign but even neutral sites like Crooks and Liars have allowed themselves to be overrun by Bernie Sanders supporters. For the most part, these sites' pro-Sanders views have caused a self-exodus for the majority of Hillary Clinton supporters but these sites still have had to find ways to deal with some brave stragglers. At Digital Underground, the site has made the most of its "jury system" where pro-Clinton or anti-Sanders articles are randomly censored with no explanation given as to how or why a decision was reached. At Daily Kos, site founder Markos Moulitsas begged his site's community to unite behind Clinton after Super Tuesday. However, after a series of Sanders wins, the site has once again become overwhelmed by Bernie Sanders supporters and Moulitsas seems both unable and unwilling to enforce his plea for fear of losing out on an overwhelming part of his site's audience.
At this point, these sites are pot committed to a Bernie Sanders nomination. Yet on April 26th, their world will come crashing down as Hillary Clinton will clean up on Super Tuesday 3.0, effectively rendering a Sanders nomination as a statistical impossibility. For those of us on the winning side, we will face the same choice Josh Lyman faced: do we allow these sites back into our good graces in an effort to provide a united front come November or do we reject them for creating a hostile environment against both the Democratic nominee for president as well as the Democratic Party itself?
And like Josh Lyman, we should outrightly reject these sites for picking the wrong side.
Because political commentary is different than a political campaign. You aren't required to choose a side and stick with that side at all costs. You have options. There have been a handful of sites such as Mother Jones and PoliticusUSA who have been able to provide equal coverage for both Democratic candidates and have not lost their online audience, proving it can be done. For the pro-Sanders sites, it was a conscientious decision to openly endorse a presidential candidate. Much like President Obama, they could have very well remained neutral during a presidential primary and nobody would have thought less of them. But these sites wanted to ride both the Sanders and anti-Obama wave as far as it would take them. Like Sanders himself, these sites got caught up in the hype and actually reached a point where they believed their candidate could win. And when that happened, these sites realized that you don't censor your opposition if you want to have an honest conversation; you censor your opposition if you know you want your candidate to win at all costs.
But Bernie Sanders lost. Badly. It was never really close despite what the media will tell you. These sites that purported to support the Democratic Party made an executive decision to openly support the candidate actively suing the Democratic Party. They chose to openly support a candidate who stole DNC voter information. They chose to openly support a candidate who even admitted he was using the Democratic Party as a way to get much-needed media attention. And they chose to support a candidate who took Karl Rove's attacks and made them his own in an attempt to weaken the inevitable Democratic nominee.
Four days from now in the aftermath of Super Tuesday 3.0, these sites will face the harsh reality that they chose the wrong candidate. They will tone down their rhetoric and will call for reconciliation. But for those of us who have seen the damage these sites have done to the Democratic Party over the past eleven months, a simple "Sorry, my bad" will not suffice. These sites sold their soul in an effort to gain community members and raise their online revenue. They helped create a dangerous environment where the #BernieBros could flourish and attack community members simply for voicing an opinion different from their own. These sites posted links to pro-Hillary sites and articles and openly encouraged their members to disrupt those sites. These pro-Sanders sites even went to far as to become the kind of sites that would serve as a cesspool for the kind of members who would go on to create "hit lists" for both superdelegates as well as regular Twitter users who just happened to support Hillary Clinton.
The profiteering of progressivism is an unpardonable sin. These pro-Sanders sites chose to intentionally undermine the Democratic Party for the sole purpose of helping to promote themselves at one of the most critical junctions in our nation's history. Rather than get behind, or at the very least avoid intentionally smearing, the most qualified Democratic candidate in a half-century, these sites opted instead to promote the insurgent candidate running on an untested, unproven, and unrealistic campaign platform. By propping up Bernie Sanders and simultaneously attacking Hillary Clinton, these sites provided additional fodder for a mainstream media bent upon creating a horse race when none existed. Had these sites been more objective in their coverage, the mainstream might have dismissed Sanders early on. Yet the more these sites continued to provide Sanders with glowing praise, the more the media saw him as a viable candidate. By combining forces, the mainstream media and these pro-Sanders sites were effectively able to monetize the candidacy of one of the least qualified Democratic nominees to ever run for president.
So no, a simply apology won't do. These pro-Sanders sites made their beds and now they have to sleep in them. Their most valuable community members jumped ship, and rightfully so. These sites will soon be stuck with an army of disillusioned Bernie Sanders supporters who can't understand how or why their "political revolution" never materialized. That's their audience from this point forward and it is the audience that these sites deserve. In an effort to ride the "it" candidate, these sites willingly chose to ignore the foundation of the Democratic Party and the core constituency of its voters. By shutting out their voices, these allegedly "progressive" sites became eerily similar to a Bernie Sanders rally in that they would provide the superficial appearance that everyone was unified and energized. Yet just like a Sanders rally, these sites were never indicative of the Democratic Party as a whole, no matter how much they believed themselves to be. By censoring, bullying, and intimidating their members, these sites created an environment unrecognizable to lifelong Democratic voters. All this was done in an effort to appease their new audience and keep the revenue flowing.
These sites will now be forced to reap what they sow and it will not be pretty. But like the fictional Donna Moss, they chose poorly. Any site that has been bashing both the eventual nominee as well as the Democratic Party as a whole doesn't deserve to be part of the Clinton coalition going forward. For those of us with firsthand experience with these sites, we saw just how much hate and vitriol was thrown in our direction simply for having a different opinion. We may have retreated off their favorable turf, but in doing so we able to unite with those who shared our views in safe, shared spaces. While the pro-Sanders sites continuously waged digital warfare against Hillary Clinton, their members forgot to actually engage in the political process. Flooding online polls to vote for Bernie Sanders may have created good optics, but flooding the voting booth to vote for Hillary Clinton proved a much better electoral strategy. In the end, these sites perfectly represented Bernie Sanders' campaign in that they were full of loud, obnoxious self-speaking flatterers who overvalued their own significance, all while failing to become engaged beyond the privacy of their home computers.
And like Bernie Sanders' campaign itself, these sites no longer deserve be taken seriously.
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