No matter how much Americans say they want us out of Iraq and no matter how divorced from reality the political discourse gets in Washington, you can always count on Beltway pundits to warn Democrats not to get “too liberal.” These elites want nothing more than to have Hillary Clinton be the party’s presidential nominee to squelch those “rabid bloggers,” because she’s the kind of Democrat that makes them feel comfortable. In yesterday’s New York Times, right-wing columnist David Brooks gloated about Hillary’s current lead in the polls – because it vindicates his thinking that the netroots don’t represent America. As Clinton courts Democratic primary voters with progressive rhetoric, keep in mind who in the media is cheering her on – because they’re not the type of people that liberals should be taking their cues from.

After dismissing the folks who attended Yearly Kos as “bloggers, billionaires and activists on the left,” Brooks argued in his column that Clinton has established her lead “by repudiating the netroots theory of politics.” The netroots want Democrats to stand for progressive principles, attack the Bush Administration, and say that we must get out of Iraq. But that’s not what most Democrats want, says Brooks, and Hillary’s lead shows that it’s true.

It’s a trick that Brooks and others like him always use. “Brooks takes whatever opinions he happens to hold on a topic, wrote Glenn Greenwald, “and then repeatedly asserts that ‘most Americans’ hold this view. Thus, the only way for Democrats to win elections is to repudiate their radical, rabid Leftist base and instead follow Brooks' beliefs, because that is ‘centrism.’ This is a defining belief of the Beltway pundit, and as intellectually corrupt as an argument gets.”

And Brooks is wrong about why Clinton's in the lead. If Hillary were running the same campaign today as she was one year ago, there's no way that she would be ahead. But by delivering red meat rhetoric about health care, promising to start pulling out of Iraq and condemning the right-wing’s attack on MoveOn, Hillary has mollified a lot of her opponents in the netroots. They may not be big Clinton supporters, but she’s blurred the distinction enough in recent months that she is no longer viewed as unacceptable – with some exceptions, you don’t see a lot of anti-Hillary blogs on the left.

But despite Hillary’s overtures to the netroots (which have in part been successful due to Barack Obama’s cautious campaign), liberals should be skeptical about why pundits like David Brooks gloat about her. These are the same people who’ve scared Democrats for years about acting like George McGovern – or else be led to political irrelevance by being branded as “weak.” They’re the same people who predicted that Bush’s re-election in 2004 would lead to a permanent Republican realignment.

And who exactly is David Brooks? Before he joined the New York Times, he used to be an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal – a fine example of the “liberal media.” He was also a founding editor of the Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine that is part of Rupert Murdoch’s empire. A supporter of the neo-con doctrine, Brooks argued earlier this year that withdrawing from Iraq would cause 10,000 Iraqi deaths a month. He later admitted on “Meet the Press” that he had “just picked that 10,000 [figure] out of the air.”

Meanwhile, in recent years the netroots have fueled the Democratic Party with a new energy. Aided by the Internet – which Howard Dean called “the most empowering and democratizing invention since the printing press” – ordinary activists whose involvement in the Party was once limited to stuffing envelopes, walking precincts and phone-banking can now shape the public dialogue and hold the leaders they elected accountable.

These activists want results, and are not satisfied with stern lectures of “centrism” that the Beltway elites love to give to keep the masses complacent. Better to marginalize them, says Brooks, so that they don’t become too powerful. It was a lot easier in the good old days – like the 1990’s – when Democratic leaders did what they were told and listened to the punditry. Back then, Democrats helped pass NAFTA, the Defense of Marriage Act, the Telecommunications Act and Welfare Repeal.

And Hillary Clinton epitomizes somebody they can control, since she’s from that earlier generation. Remember how right after the 2006 elections, long-time Clinton strategist James Carville called for the ouster of Howard Dean as Chair of the Democratic National Committee? If Hillary becomes President, Carville could have his wish. A lot of the Democrats who helped push the party to minority status because they listened to David Brooks will be back in power when that happens – but it won’t be good for the country.

Fortunately, Democrats still have a few months before Iowa to change the dynamics.

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