Joe Lieberman’s life as a Democrat ended on Tuesday with a fatal blow from Connecticut’s primary voters. The voters’ surging antipathy for Lieberman was stoked by many factors–the Iraq War, the President, the Senator, the surrogates, the pundits, the activists, the bloggers–but Ned Lamont’s victory was driven by two triggers: First, the war elicited a primary opponent; then Internet activists convinced voters that he was a viable alternative. Yet the recent obsession with bloggers, by traditional media and Lieberman boosters alike, only reveals one component of the Senator’s undoing online.
Bloggers actually constitute a small slice of progressive Internet activists, known as the netroots, which includes organizations like MoveOn.org and Democracy for America; informal networks like e-mail lists and MySpace groups; and Internet activists who use websites to raise money, broadcast videos and disseminate information. That is how Daily Kos blogger Markos Moulitsas sees it. Just past midnight on election day, he emphasized that bloggers are “much smaller” than a third of the netroots, writing that it is “insulting” to focus on blogs instead of the real people who worked for Ned Lamont.
While famous bloggers deflect their own hype, it is clear that the netroots played an indispensable role in turning a quixotic, symbolic challenge into a decisive victory. The first netroots activist to break through in Connecticut was Keith Crane, a retired truck driver who sparked Internet rumblings against Lieberman in February 2005–without a blog. Crane had never even touched a computer until 2003, when he volunteered to work on Howard Dean’s presidential campaign, and he still types with one finger. After Lieberman voted to confirm Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General, Crane began a grassroots campaign to recruit a primary opponent and launched DumpJoe.com. Yet as a Democratic Town Committee member in Branford, Crane did not confine his activism to the Internet. While his website highlighted the infamous image of Bush kissing Lieberman, Crane also created hundreds of “kiss buttons” and Iraq stickers that he distributed in the parking lot at the state party’s largest dinner in March 2005. He remembers that the buttons struck a nerve because “every car was stopping” to offer a thumbs-up.
Now that Lieberman has lost the primary and declared his independent bid, Crane believes the same approach will work in a general election. “He still can’t defend any of his stances. He can’t defend his vote on the energy bill or his position on Iraq,” said Crane, amid the celebrations in the “bloggers’ room” at the Lamont victory party on election night.