Can I kick the DailyKos habit?

The Thinker by Rodin

Some habits are hard to break. Smoking. Drinking. Whoring. Eating dark chocolate. (Okay, I don’t know about the first three.) Another bad habit I have developed is going to snarky political web sites. While there are plenty of them out there, arguably DailyKos.com is the snarkiest of them. I wish I could break my addiction to DailyKos but there I am many times a day, obsessively reading the site.

Giving up DailyKos is much easier said than done. I go to it all the time, not so much to read comments (who has time for that, although plenty of people do) but to get the political news I care about. Only it’s always delivered in the most ultra-sarcastic of tones. For a site that supposedly celebrates the diversity of people and values skills like critical thinking, it sure paints all Republicans with the same whitewash. Granted that as a class Republicans seem to be all cut from the same cloth. And yet there is variety among Republicans and conservatives. What is almost universal about Republicans in office is they are almost all intensely weird. But arguably they are no weirder than the denizens on DailyKos. Like, um, me? Am I one of the damned?

You have your socially conservative Republicans. You have your fiscally conservative Republicans. You also have your libertarian-leaning Republicans. Of course, most lately you also have your Tea Party Republicans. They are quite a bit different. On DailyKos though they might as well all be wearing identical Ku Klux Klan robes and burning crosses. They are all portrayed as bizarre, which is obvious from the way they are characterized in posts and captions. They are objects for derision and for our entertainment, so weirdly and objectively wrong that they occupy a unique zone of utter wrongness, not even fit for scorn although of course the scorn is ladled out in extremely generous portions.

Birds of a feather, perhaps? DailyKos’s dirty secret is that its denizens are objectively just as weird and bizarrely opinionated, just in the other direction. I don’t hang out much on conservative websites like redstate.org. I doubt though that their arguments get as heated as they do on DailyKos. Few posters will be taking socially conservative positions on DailyKos, mainly because they are not suicidal, but boy they sure do a lot of arguing about nuances on stuff that just does not matter. The really egregious flamers eventually get banned. Arguments can be both enlightening and disagreeable at the same time. Overall they are a passionate bunch, but they can often take great offense over differences in opinion that really are quite minor. So mostly I read the articles and skip the comments. Who needs all that indigestion?

So why do I bother? I bother simply because the site has political news that is very topical. I bother because they raise a ton of money for progressive candidates, and were instrumental in getting candidates like new Senator Elizabeth Warren elected. I visit because they may be super snarky, but they are endlessly reading polls, assessing candidates and digging into dry facts about various politicians’ political war chests. These things matter in the long run. If you are trying to field better progressive candidates you have to know a ton about your candidate, the competition, and the state or district’s demographics. They have done the research, they have some top notch analysts and they endlessly comb the political news of the day for the nuggets that really matter.

Too bad there is so much chaff in the wheat. Today Marco Rubio’s “water” incident is all over DailyKos. In his response to President Obama’s State of the Union speech last night, this rising star of the right drank from a bottle of Poland Springs while water on camera, without using glass and subsequently grimaced. There is today endless hilarity and comments about this on DailyKos, as if it mattered. I guess it gives them something to talk about, even though Obama’s speech was far more relevant and interesting than a minor imaging mistake by a rising Republican star. Yeah, I watched the clip, and then I tuned out the subsequent discussion. It doesn’t matter at all, except to the super politically charged progressives on DailyKos.

I also look and read most of the recommended diaries. Some of them turn out to be piffle, but about fifty percent of the time they are topical and contain relevant news I generally haven’t seen elsewhere first.

For the most part though, DailyKos is a 24 hour a day carnival show for hypercharged progressives that is chock full of snark and antipathy. Yet, I haven’t found a satisfactory alternative. What I want is a site without the snark but with similar content. I need a site like this where Republicans don’t need to be endlessly lampooned and skewered. Most Republicans simply have to open their mouth. It’s usually the same as putting their foot into it anyhow. However, Republicans are not stupid. They just have wildly different opinions and ways of seeing the world than I do. They may be declining as a political party at the moment, but they are generally astute at where they place their time and money. They know how to gerrymander with the best of them. Like it or not many of our most successful people are hard core Republicans. They may have flunked the course on empathy but they have figured out how to succeed financially and professionally. Their perspective is one that I largely don’t share, but it is one worthy of tolerance, especially from a community that calls itself progressive. (I make exceptions for the Todd Akins among them.) It’s not necessary to say they are wrong about something. Usually it’s simply a matter of documenting what they say and do and let the record speak for itself.

Clearly I haven’t found the site I am looking for, although I like sites like ThinkProgress.org somewhat better when it comes to the tone of their material, but not as much when it comes to variety and depth. At some point though I need to go cold turkey and quit DailyKos. Maybe I just need to read real news sites again, like CNN. Too much partisanship and analysis is probably not a good thing. Preaching to the choir can be fun, but like smoking, drinking, whoring and dark chocolate it’s probably not too healthy.

Wait a minute. Dark chocolate is healthy. Pass me another bag of dark chocolate M&Ms.

Beware the Power of Kos

The Thinker by Rodin

When the historians write the official history of the election of 2004 Markos Moulitsas should have at least a chapter. His site, dailykos.com is the nation’s largest political weblog. To call it a weblog though is to damn it with faint praise. Dailykos.com (or Kos to most of us — the site and its owner seem interchangeable) is really an excellent networked community of progressives working together in virtual and real space to dump Bush, elect John Kerry and put Democrats into office on all levels. In my mind it is a revolutionary online community.

If DeanforAmerica.com (now DemocracyforAmerica.com) got the effort rolling it was Moulitsas who perfected the online political community. As much as I enjoy reading political weblogs like Atrios and The Left Coaster nothing really can compare to Kos’s site. Kos is where progressive politics is happening in real time. And we are not there just out of some sense of duty. We are having a blast. The site is addictive.

He is currently averaging close to 400,000 page views a day. This is a staggering number. It has him and his crew of tech heads constantly scurrying to add more servers and bandwidth. It’s amazing his site does not collapse altogether from the load. There are certainly times of the day (mid afternoon and evenings) when it can be tough to get onto Kos.

Kos was born in Chicago but he spent most of his formative years in El Salvador. He eventually returned to the United States when the civil war there got too hot. He served three years in the U.S. Army. Along the way he accumulated two bachelors degrees and a J.D. degree. Now he earns his living teaching progressive candidates how to use the power of online communities. But I don’t know where he finds the time to earn money. It seems like he lives on his weblog.

What makes Kos unique though is he really, really understands how to leverage the power of online communities. In addition he is very politically savvy. But what I find most astounding is his energy. I work in the IT business and lead a team of programmers running and maintaining a large real time Internet based system. (See it here.) But we are not agile. Kos is fast. Kos is agile. Kos and his team of contributors put out the best progressive content on the web. And Kos has amazing technical savvy.

What started as just another Moveable Type weblog like this blog couldn’t scale when his site got too popular. But he didn’t whine or complain. He found some of the best thinkers out there and leveraged the developer of Scoop for his site. Scoop runs the Kos site, and it is constantly being tweaked and enhanced to make it more useful.

While lots of people try to use technology to solve a problem Kos actually makes it work in real time in a highly dynamic environment. The move to Scoop, for example, was not only necessary and timely but also incredibly smart. With Scoop members can create their own diaries on his site and get them viewed by hundred or thousands of people very quickly. This allowed the number of real time contributors to skyrocket. Instead of six or so primary authors there were hundreds of authors all posting to the same web site. The whole community can read and comment on everything. But Scoop is also smart enough (and specially tweaked) to weed out the numerous trolls that can be found on most websites. It has become a progressives-only oasis. Because of the smart Scoop software it requires no moderation. It just works.

A recent modification to Scoop allowed readers of diaries to recommend a diary for higher placement. If enough people recommend a diary it appears on the main page as a recommended diary. So we have a built in mechanism to see the latest good stuff.

It’s one thing for a politically smart and savvy person to read journals, books, papers and sites, analyze them and post a thoughtful article. On Kos there are thousands of eyes constantly scanning news sources and picking out the wheat from the chaff. When they find something it gets posted instantly as a diary entry. If it gets recommended it becomes a “must read” item for the community. Sometimes this stimulates Kos to take specific action by promoting a recommended diary to a lead article.

The people on Kos are mostly like Kos: incredibly politically savvy and intelligent types. But unlike a lot of political sites these people are not just smart. They are pissed off and are taking action. Kos himself has raised an amazing amount of money online for Kerry and various progressive candidates, many of whom would not get a second glance from organizations like the DCCC. He has raised over $300,000 so far for his Kos Dozen (his picks of candidates who deserve time and money) from over 4300 donors. He has raised over $90,000 for the Democratic Party and over $80,000 for John Kerry’s campaign. But it is likely the actual total is much higher. Not everyone bothers to go through the trouble of adding one cent to the contribution so it can be flagged as a Kos contribution.

Kos’s energy seems boundless because dailykos.com is not his only site. In addition to his personal weblog he runs two other political sites including ourcongress.org, which provides in depth analysis and strategies for those interested in progressive House and Senate races.

His commentary is always right on and highly informed. Yet he is not afraid to use four letter words. The blog world is not politically correct. Nor does Kos have any pretension of being unbiased. He is interested in moving progressive issues as quickly and expeditiously as possible. His eye is constantly on the goal. He is always tweaking his strategy to make sure his goals are met.

Kos is agile, indefatigueable, smart and has amazing political instinct. I doubt this election will be a rout. I am still hopeful that Kerry will win the presidential election. But it is quite possible that if we also take back either the House or the Senate then Kos will be seen a key change agent. He got thousands of us to give time and money. But most importantly he got us to care by connecting us in real time.

At only 33 Markos Moulitsas has a bright future ahead of him. He may be doing the best and most important work of his life right now. But I hope in the future we get to see him in political office. He could well be the Bill Clinton of his generation. He has the right stuff.

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