Solidarity Meets the Blogosphere at Netroots Nation

Amid talk of challenging Democrats from the left in primaries, unions are the new heroes at the annual confab

Progressives have often suffered for what can be called "micro-cause-ism." Meaning when you arrive at anti-war rally or the like, suddenly there are people clamoring to save the whales/polar bears, stop sexism/racism, free Tibet/Mumia and go raw/vegan/organic/local, etc., etc. Each of these causes believes it is the most important and should be accomplished first before anything else.

Which means everyone is always a little unhappy and not much ever gets done.

Every year at Netroots Nations, this takes place in miniature. There are booths in the exhibit hall vying for blogger attention and commenter praise. Every year the online liberal base of the Democratic Party (and self-professed independents) get together and argue over what issue is the biggest issue and how they've failed to win at said issue. Then they strategize how to do better. Then they do it the next year.

This year there is hallway chatter about "tea partying" President Obama: Make enough of a fuss to pull focus so that Obama is forced to move to the Left. There are calls to "primary" people. Primary Democrats who aren't liberal enough, primary Obama -- basically threaten Democrats with a force like that of the tea party, the GOP on caffeine. Mike Milkovich, the CTO of WareCorp attending Netroots, declared, "It would show that Obama really is a pragmatic moderate." The self-proclaimed small business owner added, "I don't know about you but I don't want a radical as president."

Is there a real call to primary Democrats for not being loyal enough to liberals? Could this be something we'll be hearing about in the next couple of months? "It's probably blogger hubris," said Crooks and Liars blogger and prolific author Dave Neiwert. "Political naiveté. That gives us energy but it also blinds us to cold hard political reality of the world."

So there's not an actual get-off-the-couch effort to primary the president or act like the tea party in any way. That's not what progressives are really talking about at Netroots this year.

It's not really about the president right now, anyway. It's not an election year. The GOP primary is barely ramping up. This time all micro-causes have fallen under the same "root" issue: Unions. Not only have union leaders descended on the conference. The gruff plainspoken Leo Gerard, President of the United Steelworkers, was on a panel about combating corporate power in the wake of the Citizens United decision. Union leaders are out in force talking on a variety of subjects.

Suddenly, "like Wisconsin" is a phrase thrown around. It was in Madison this past spring where the press reported 70,000 people turned out on one cold Saturday to protest Gov. Scott Walker's (R) stripping collective bargaining rights away from public workers. And that 70,000 figure doesn't even count the families who showed up first thing in the morning to walk around the capitol with their signs showing their support for the unions before going about their regular errands. It was in Madison where the prized "youth" turned out. It was old and young people who work for a living. Firefighters and elevator operators, teachers and students. It's where all progressives got together as one voice saying one thing: Shame, shame, Scott Walker!

In the early 1900s, the labor movement was the primer for a range of progressive pet causes: Women's suffrage, temperance and the New Deal. It's only recently that liberals got branded as latte-sipping arugula eaters. Now the attack on the unions translates into an attack on all progressives. Reproductive rights, environmental issues, corporate personhood, media consolidation, election finance -- they all seem to identify that they are at some point "like Wisconsin."

It appears the attempt to bust the unions was just the thing to actually unify Democrats and dole out a knockout dose for their micro-cause-ism.