- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2008


The liberal blogosphere that helped elect President-elect Barack Obama has erupted in fury over his successful push to let Sen. Joe Lieberman stay as chairman of a key committee despite the Connecticut independent’s active support for Mr. Obama’s opponent during the presidential campaign.

Many in the “netroots” — the Web-based movement of progressive bloggers and activists — had insisted that Senate Democrats strip Mr. Lieberman of his chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and howled in protest when he was not.

“Apparently, the American people didn’t vote for change,” complained Markos Moulitsas, founder of dailykos.com, in an entry posted on his site that was laced with angry sarcasm.

To calm the waters, Obama ally Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee and one of the first politicians to harness the power of the “netroots,” did four separate conference calls with liberal bloggers within hours of the Senate’s Tuesday vote allowing Mr. Lieberman to retain his chairmanship.

On one call in particular, Mr. Dean faced an angry audience.

“With all due respect, Governor Dean, we were all just told to go screw ourselves,” said Jane Hamsher, the top writer at firedoglake.com, a widely read liberal blog, according to a transcript of the call with Mr. Dean that was posted on her site.

“We were told to go ‘Cheney’ ourselves,” she said, referring to the vice president’s famous 2004 use of an expletive directed at a Democratic senator.

The episode served as a warning to the future Obama administration. Although the blogosphere has been used to rouse and mobilize passionate supporters, those supporters can be fickle.

Mr. Dean, the former Vermont governor who has been known himself for an uncompromising style of politics, said that his instinct had been to punish Mr. Lieberman for campaigning and speaking on behalf of Republican Sen. John McCain’s presidential bid.

“People of my generation think, ‘Yeah, damn right we should,’” he said on the call. “But in the new spirit of reconciliation, which is why I think Barack Obama got elected by 66 percent of the under-35 vote, maybe it’s not the way.”

Mr. Obama had encouraged Democratic senators not to seek retribution against Mr. Lieberman, and said he hoped the senator would still caucus with Democrats.

“I’m sure that the sentiment online is one of outrage. But I would line up with Barack,” Mr. Dean said.

“I don’t think you were told to go screw yourselves at all,” Mr. Dean said. “I think [Mr. Obama] has now got to practice what he preached during two years of campaigns, that he wants to bring America together.”

A spokesman for the Obama transition team declined to comment.

Mr. Dean’s persuasion attempt fell on some deaf ears. On Wednesday morning, another writer on Ms. Hamsher’s blog posted an entry calling Mr. Obama a “progressive-hater” and listed several actions that he described as betrayals of the progressive cause.

(Corrected paragraph:) Besides the Lieberman issue, the blogger also criticized the reported choice of former Clinton administration Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. for attorney general, because Mr. Holder signed off on President Clinton’s pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich on the president’s way out of office in 2001.

The blogger also found fault, as many liberals have, with Mr. Obama’s vote in July to approve the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

“When it comes to the netroots, Barack Obama has the long arm-short arm syndrome. He has taken much from us in terms of support, voice, momentum, money, footwork and energy.

“Obama has given little, if anything, in return to the netroots. Unless you count disdain and scorn. And pokes in the eye with a blunt stick,” wrote the blogger, who writes anonymously under the title “bmaz.”

Among some self-described progressives, there is also serious opposition to Mr. Obama’s consideration of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for secretary of state.

They say choosing her would betray the principles Mr. Obama stood for when he ran against her in the Democratic primary.

“I voted for Obama largely because I preferred his approach to foreign policy,” said one widely read blogger who preferred to talk anonymously, in a phone interview.

“So if it turns out that [Mrs. Clinton] is the top member of his foreign-policy team, I think it would undercut the rationale for his campaign,” the blogger said.

Nonetheless, this blogger and others interviewed by The Washington Times said that despite any unhappiness, they are generally still waiting to see whether Mr. Obama follows through on his policy promises, especially on issues such as health care, energy and climate change, and Iraq.

“On some of these issues, I’m willing to sit back and see whether he can really implement the strategy he’s following, which obviously emphasizes working closely with Congress,” said Marcy Wheeler, another prominent blogger whose site, Emptywheel, is an offshoot of Firedoglake and uses its domain name.

Mrs. Wheeler nonetheless said she detests Mr. Obama’s choices to back Mr. Lieberman and to hire Rep. Rahm Emanuel, a former top adviser in the Clinton administration, as the White House chief of staff.

“From a personal level, I hate those things,” Mrs. Wheeler said by e-mail. “But from a pragmatic level, if it means he’ll pass health care and energy stimulus and so forth without the troubles Clinton had, then it’ll be worth it.”

Matthew Yglesias, a blogger funded by the Center for American Progress, a think tank run by former Clinton chief of staff and current Obama transition chief John Podesta, downplayed “disgruntlement” with Mr. Obama from the left.

Mr. Yglesias cited “a lot of bold, ambitious policymaking” announcements on health care, taxes, business regulation and energy coming from Mr. Emanuel and the Obama transition team.

“As long as we keep seeing progress toward these kind of bold progressive measures, of course liberals will be mostly happy with Obama,” Mr. Yglesias said.

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