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Daily Kos Owner Tells NY Times Those Who Object to Manipulation of Michigan Presidential Primary Are “Pearl Clutchers”

By P.D. Lesko

Operation Hilarity may not be quite so funny to Markos Moulitsas Zuniga. Moulitsas Zuniga owns the liberal blog Daily Kos which has over 300,000 registered users and serves up 2,000,000 pages per month. Moulitsas Zuniga launched Kos because he believed “the liberal Ivy League mandarins, consultants, and wonks, many of them refugees from the Clinton administration, insiders…have run the Democratic Party and the progressive movement into the ground, by valuing compromise over confrontation. To him, it’s not that these people have the wrong values or priorities. It’s that they are failures.” At least that’s what Washington Monthly published in a 2006 profile of the founder of Daily Kos. Moulitsas Zuniga’s company is currently being lambasted by the mainstream media for suggesting that Democratic voters manipulate the Michigan, North Dakota, Tennessee and Vermont Republican primary elections. Operation Hilarity is simple: Democrats in Michigan, for instance, would pledge to vote in the open Republican presidential primary and cast their ballots for Rick Santorum. Should Santorum win Michigan instead of Mitt Romney, the Republican primary season will be extended—an outcome Moulitsas is convinced will benefit President Barack Obama.

On February 16, 2012 A2Politico posted a piece about Operation Hilarity. One commenter on that piece suggested that the Daily Kos community was “self-correcting” and all the whoop-la about Operation Hilarity would be resolved by the site’s own 1.6 million readers. Another A2Politico commenter suggested that Daily Kos needed to keep its political nose out of Michigan politics. Period.

On February 18, 2012, Operation Hilarity got coverage in the New York Times. In an email response to Times reporter Sarah Wheaton’s questions about concerns of Daily Kos readers and volunteer writers about Operation Hilarity (one Daily Kos responder called the idea “cynical and even a bit un-American,”) Moulitsas Zuniga wrote that “most of the resistence was coming from idealists ‘who somehow see voting in open primaries as under-handed. It’s not, of course.’” If Moulitsas Zuniga does say so himself.

The Times reported that Moulitsas Zuniga had called Daily Kos “community” critics of Operation Hilarity “pearl clutchers.” The comment fit in with Moulitsas Zuniga’s own description of himself in a 2006 interview with Washington Monthly. He told writer Benjamin Wallace Wells, “Everybody says I’m an asshole, and they’re right, I am.” A “pearl clutcher,” for those not on the Junior League, PTO/PTA circuit is an insulting term used to refer to an uptight person, usually but not always female, usually but not always of conservative mores, who reacts with shock, feigned or otherwise, at other people’s violations of decorum, propriety, morality, etc…

In response to their efforts to “self-correct” the Operation Hilarity situation, Moulitsas Zuniga insulted his own company’s “community” members using a rather sexist term. It wasn’t the height of progressive, inclusive, or politically aware behavior. Then again, Moulitsas Zuniga used to be a Reagan Republican and voted for Bush in 1992. The Kos flap was reported with just a hint of snark by the New York Times. The first sentence of the Times piece outlines several important facts. Sarah Wheaton writes:  ”There is dissent in the Kos kingdom.” A kingdom. of course, is ruled by a king who may be benevolent or a despot, but kings ultimately have the final word, especially in their own “communities.”

Moulitsas Zuniga’s Operation Hilarity was a copy of Rush Limbaugh’s Operation Chaos which urged Republicans to go to the polls and vote for Hillary Clinton, who was on the verge of dropping out of the Democratic presidential primary race. Of course Daily Kos was no friend to Hillary Clinton. On March 17, 2008, Moulitsas stated that Senator Hillary Clinton did not stand for the principles behind Daily Kos and said Clinton “doesn’t deserve fairness on this site.” He equated the Democratic primary to a “civil war.” His statement was precipitated by a strike by several prominent pro-Clinton bloggers, even though none of these posters were paid or in any way officially linked to the site. Moulitsas noted that if bloggers were dissatisfied, there were plenty of other websites at which to blog.

In essence, one question might be whether Michigan Democrats ought to be playing hardball or by the rules. The current Chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, Mark Brewer, is known in certain circles in Lansing as the man who helped Republican Rick Snyder win the 2010 gubernatorial election. Markos Moulitsas Zuniga is of the opinion that confrontation is a better political tool than compromise. He’s all for hardball, even with his company’s own cash cows—the writers who produce content for free and the readers who read and comment on it generating page views for the advertising Daily Kos sells. Officials in the Michigan Democratic Party said this when asked about whether Operation Hilarity and other such efforts to manipulate primary elections were useful tools in hardball politics. “No.”

Certainly, Michigan is a key state in the 2012 presidential election and political pundits have already concluded that President Obama will have a more difficult time taking the state than he did in 2010. However, a February 2012 poll has Obama ahead of Mitt Romney by 16 points.

Truth be told, the flap at Daily Kos really isn’t really about  the 2012 presidential primary elections, pearl clutchers, Michigan or Rick Santorum. It’s about a king and his kingdom, a blogger who might spend a little more time browsing his own archives. If he did, he would find a 2005 piece by then Senator Barack Obama about “how to bring meaningful change to this country” in which Obama writes:

The bottom line is that our job is harder than the conservatives’ job.  After all, it’s easy to articulate a belligerent foreign policy based solely on unilateral military action, a policy that sounds tough and acts dumb; it’s harder to craft a foreign policy that’s tough and smart.  It’s easy to dismantle government safety nets; it’s harder to transform those safety nets so that they work for people and can be paid for.  It’s easy to embrace a theological absolutism; it’s harder to find the right balance between the legitimate role of faith in our lives and the demands of our civic religion.  But that’s our job.  And I firmly believe that whenever we exaggerate or demonize, or oversimplify or overstate our case, we lose.  Whenever we dumb down the political debate, we lose.  A polarized electorate that is turned off of politics, and easily dismisses both parties because of the nasty, dishonest tone of the debate, works perfectly well for those who seek to chip away at the very idea of government because, in the end, a cynical electorate is a selfish electorate.

A a cynical electorate might be selfish, but a cynical king, well, one of those can be downright dangerous. 

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