I see David Brooks has decided to celebrate his liberation from TimesSelect by penning a column seemingly designed to get tons of liberal bloggers to link to him by pissing us off. So, mission accomplished. Almost everything Brooks says is true (though more on this later), but this is very misleading:
Third, Clinton has established this lead by repudiating the netroots theory of politics. As the journalist Matt Bai makes clear in his superb book, “The Argument,” the netroots emerged in part in rebellion against Clintonian politics. They wanted bold colors and slashing attacks. They didn’t want their politicians catering to what Markos Moulitsas Zúniga of the Daily Kos calls “the mythical middle.”
But Clinton has relied on Mark Penn, the epitome of the sort of consultant the netroots reject, and Penn’s approach has been entirely vindicated by the results so far.
Now that's just wrong. Clinton may or may not implement a Penn-style strategy of triangulation if she becomes the nominee, but neither she nor Penn are nearly dumb enough to be trying this in the primary. Rather, Clinton is garnering high-levels of support from less-educated Democrats (as Brooks notes) through a campaign heavily focused on the theme of partisanship -- on her years of cut-throat battles with the right, on the idea that the Clintons know how to kick GOP ass, and implicitly on the notion that there aren't big ideological differences between the different Democrats in the race.
The bigger problem with Brooks' column, though, isn't so much that it says things that are wrong as that it leaves things out. He says Clinton is "hawkish" compared to what the netroots want to see and that "Democratic domestic policy is now being driven by old Clinton hands like Gene Sperling and Bruce Reed." Both are true, but it's still also true that all of the Democrats are calling for substantial reductions of troop levels in Iraq, which none of the candidates (including Howard Dean) were doing in 2004. They're all calling for diplomatic talks with Syria and Iran. They're also all calling for universal health care, which John Kerry didn't do, Al Gore didn't do, and Bill Clinton didn't do in 1996. And they all support serious reductions in CO2 emissions, which, again, neither Kerry nor Gore nor Clinton did.
And that, generally, is the shape of things. "The left" has only been empowered to a pretty minor degree, but the "centrist" wing of the party is . . . way further left on the merits than where it was in the late 1990s or the early years of the twentieth century. That, in turn, is largely a reflection of a renewed vibrancy on the left that's both pressured elected officials and expanded the boundaries of conversation. When the centrist strand in Democratic thinking came to represent school uniforms, promises to balance the budget each and every year of the Gore administration, and backing the invasion of Iraq that was one thing. If, instead, we're going to get universal health care, action to halt global warming, and diplomatic engagement with rival powers in the Middle East, that's a very different thing. If Brooks wants to call that latter thing a defeat for the netroots because dKos diarists sometimes find themselves disappointed, well, then I think that's a kind of defeat people can live with.