- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 17, 2008

There’s an ongoing battle for the soul of the Democratic Party, and neither side is backing down.

Progressive ideals and centrist governing have clashed during the Democratic presidential race and exposed party rifts when the presumptive nominee, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, joined with Republicans to hand President Bush a legislative victory.

Markos Moulitsas is confident that the soul rests firmly on his side - the “netroots.”

He will make that case Friday when he discusses the party’s future with Democratic Leadership CouncilChairman Harold E. Ford Jr. They will square off at the Netroots Nation conference inspired by Mr. Moulitsas’ Daily Kos blog, carrying out the second part of a pact forged last summer on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

A video promo posted at DailyKos.com depicts the panel discussion as a “Texas Shootout,” though the dialogue was civil when Mr. Moulitsas attended the DLC’s annual meeting last month.

Mr. Ford argues that for Democrats “to win and do well, it will take a merging of both factions, every part of the party.” Mr. Moulitsas, however, insists that Democrats need to hold intraparty primary battles to purge candidates and elect “better” politicians.

The man chosen during the primaries to lead both factions is snubbing them both.

Mr. Obama skipped the DLC meeting and has no plans to attend Netroots Nation, which runs Thursday to Sunday in Austin, Texas. Some of his top campaign Internet staffers and deputy campaign manager Steve Hildebrand will be there.

Few moments have irked Kossacks more than when congressional Democrats, including Mr. Obama, supported President Bush’s amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that gave telecommunications companies retroactive immunity for warrantless wiretapping.

“When we started this ‘netroots’ thing, we worked to get ‘more and better Democrats’ elected. At first, we focused on the ‘more’ part. This year, we’re focusing a bit more on the ‘better’ part. And in 2010, we’ll have enough Democrats in the House to exclusively focus on the ‘better’ part,” Mr. Moulitsas wrote in June.

“That means primary challenges,” he said. “As we decide who to take on, let it be known … voting to give telecommunication companies retroactive immunity may not guarantee a primary challenge, but it will definitely loom large.”

A testament to his theory is the keynote speaker for Netroots Nation’s closing evening: Donna Edwards, who recently unseated fellow Democrat Rep. Albert R. Wynn in Maryland.

Mr. Moulitsas said the Wynn ouster and the successful bid to boot Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut from the Democratic Party in 2006 were “test runs.” Giving tips for organizing for 2010, he warned: “Don’t expect help from the local party establishment, they’ll close ranks.”

Even though he is frustrated with Mr. Obama, Mr. Moulitsas makes it clear that he wants the Democrat to “win big” in November.

The organizers of Netroots Nation - which changed names from YearlyKos to reflect its broader model - said the Moulitsas-Ford panel will offer “a range of views on questions such as where and how should we build infrastructure in order to create positive change in Washington D.C.”

“This year’s election is a chance for Democrats to establish a governing majority in Washington. Netroots Nation has been, and will continue to be, an important part of the coalition that produces victory and this historic opportunity,” Mr. Ford said in a statement.

Critics of the spoof “showdown” promo for the panel on DailyKos suggested that Mr. Ford is really a Republican.

“I can’t understand how a ‘Democrat’ who exhibits that much Republican tendency got to be the leader of the DLC,” one commenter wrote.

Referring to Mr. Moulitsas and Mr. Ford, another commenter retorted, “One of those guys donated to Obama.”

Mr. Moulitsas announced earlier this month that he was withholding his $2,300 contribution to the Obama campaign because “I simply have no desire to reward bad behavior.”

“Obviously Obama is a great candidate who is running a great 50-state race. … But he’s had a rough couple of weeks,” he wrote, adding that Mr. Obama is looking like “every other Democratic politician who has ever turned his or her back on the base in order to prove centrist bona fides.”

With more than 750,000 hits per day, Daily Kos is largest liberal-leaning blogging community.

Netroots Nation will showcase candidates for House and Senate seats and will include panels on policy and politics.

Several top Obama staffers will detail the campaign’s 50-state strategy and provide “an in-depth look at our grass-roots organizing model and the technology that supports it,” a spokesman said.

Last year, Mr. Obama and all but one of the other Democratic presidential hopefuls attended a debate at the YearlyKos event. None spoke at the DLC meeting.

Appearing on “Meet the Press” together last August, Mr. Ford defended his move to merge both factions of the Democratic Party while Mr. Moulitsas said he wants candidates “to be proud to be Democrats.” He said the netroots organized to push that message.

“This had nothing to do with being centrist or liberal or conservative. It had to do with standing tall for core progressive principles,” he said.

Mr. Ford bristled: “There’s no need to question my allegiance. I want to do nothing more than ensure that progressive causes and interests are advanced. I want nothing more, and I know you do as well, want Democrats to win.”

Mr. Moulitsas argued that the DLC - with its support for the Bush tax cuts and compromise - has “been on the wrong side of a lot of ideas,” and he criticized Mr. Ford’s appearances on Fox News.

“Don’t abandon the center,” Mr. Ford said. “There’s no need for us to argue.”

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