Dump old consultants, embrace "netroots," say Armstrong/Zuniga in "Crashing the Gate" book


Two of the most prominent self-described progressive political bloggers -- Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitas Zuniga -- have authored a 177-page manifesto for how the U.S. Democratic Party can help its candidates win more races. They argue that even before Democrats can work on their message, they need to start by getting better mechanics in place.

And the first thing to do, say Zuniga and Armstrong -- in the just-published (March 27, 2006) book: "Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots and the rise of People-Power Politics" -- is dump failure-prone Democratic media consultants and strategists. Media Giraffe Project editor/director Bill Densmore interviewed the blogger pair on March 31 and filed a 40-minute downloadable MP3 audio interview (18MB).    (permission to broadcast with attribution granted)

The book calls for "a new progressive movement" which tolerates differents on specific issues. "And that movement needs to remain outside of the [Democratic] party, giving Democatic candidates the freedom to get elected in all parts of the country without being smeared by association with any particular interest group."

Zuniga's "Daily Kos" website, and Armstrong's MyDD together claim to have over 1 million daily readers. The duo first began working together in 2003 as web-saavy operatives in the presidential campaign of Howard Dean. Armstrong had already begun a blog at that point; Zuniga joined in. After the 2004 election, Armstrong, 42, decided to focus on political consulting and is now helping former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner explore presidential-campaign waters; Zuniga, 34, focused on his blog. The re-united to write "Crashing the Gate" (Chelsea Green Press).

"There is a cabal of consultants in DC to make millions and millions of dollars every cycle and refuse to let any competition in because they want to do all the work themselves," Armstrong said in a Media Giraffe interview about the book. "And they're doing really, really, terrible work." 

The duo said they set out thinking they might write a scholarly volume, but ended up realizing their strength lay in a more journalistic approach. They traveled through 20 states and did over 160 interviews before writing a realtively shortly book which breaks little new factual ground, makes some assertions that conservatives dispute, but has a simple, direct and fresh message.

That message: The Democratic Party should get out of the way of progressives, stop supporting of the same old commission-based consultants who buy mass-market television advertising, recognize that one-issue organizations and candidates inhibit the party, oppose Republicans in every state (not just "battlegrounds") and support multi-issue, high-tech, independent groups such as MoveOn.org.

With a new infrastructure of think tanks, independent organizing groups and fight-everywhere attitudes, they authors say, it will then be time to hone the Democratic Party message. In short, they say, their book is about strategy and tactics, not about "the message."

"What we're really advocating," says Armstrong, "is let's have equal footing with these guys in terms of the organizational structure of the Democratic Party because we know we can beat them on the ideas."

Email, blogs and the web are great for organizing the faithful, but a resurgent Democratic party will require grassroots, not just netroots, they say.  "Everybody needs to be talking to their neighbors, everybody needs to be talking to their social circle," says Zuniga. "even if you raise $10, if you have 10 million people giving, that's $100 million. That's real money."

The duo believe Democrats have pursued a policy of targetting "battleground" congressional races and presidential-election states. This leaves Republicans able to garner wins in un-targetted areas, they say. Democrats have to return to a policy of challenging every Republican congressional seat, they say.

"Conservatives have a right-wing conspiracy except that it's not a conspiracy because it is right out in the open," says Armstrong. "They have think tanks and leadership institutes and the ability to market. Democrats are absolutely drowned out by the Republican 'noise machine.' "

ADDITIONAL REVIEW, by Rob Williams, of the Action Coalition for Media Education.

San Francisco Chronicle interview with Zuniga and his wife, including personal background