Netroots Nation Pittsburgh update

Health care is front and center, but so is organizing.

Sen. Arlen Specter yesterday admitted to the assembled bloggers that the GOP had formally decided to try and destroy Obama before he even took office in January. He wasn’t betraying any confidences, he said - it was public knowledge – but so formal a decision was news to many in the crowd.

Darcy Burner at Netroots on Friday afternoon addressed the (lack of) care and feeding of politicians by progressives: “We as a movement need to use more carrots and fewer sticks.”

Burner was referring to progressives’ quickness to punish allies when they don’t perform as hoped. As a mother of young children and a family dog, Burner declared with confidence that positive reinforcement works better than negative reinforcement.

“More Scooby snacks,” she recommended. Because politicians are prone to the same basic human dynamics as anyone else.

Burner paraphrased complaints from Washington state Democrat Rep. Jay Inslee that “I’m going to town halls, and the tea baggers are there and my friends are not.”

Progressive politicians and even politicians who might act on occasional progressive impulses need better support from the progressive community. Someone who votes our way only 60% of the time is still helping us.

Good boy. Take a pellet.

Jane Hamsher and Chris Bowers gave a presentation on getting the Netroots involved at earlier points in the legislative process. Lobbyists know they have to engage early on if they want to steer a piece of legislation their way.

By affecting what questions are being asked at early decision points, they can determine the answers that will eventually be answered. At those points, ten lobbyists might be able to determine the final dimensions of a bill. That’s why in Washington, they’ll the pay the homeless to camp out overnight holding places in line for getting seats at key committee hearings.

By the time we typically get involved, Hamsher suggested, the questions being answered have been narrowed enough to determine an outcome – their outcome – that 10,000 of our phone calls will not change.

Bowers observed that conservatives across the country are better at activating their networks for making phone calls anyway. They routinely outcall us 20 to 1. A better approach might be to call or write, not to express opinions, but to ask questions that staffers must answer, thereby drawing attention more to the questions being asked.

Gov. Howard Dean wound up the room during the DFA-sponsored cocktail hour at Pittsburgh’s Bossa Nova restaurant. America needs a strong public option that – unlike commercial insurance – will stay with us “in sickness and in health.”

Crossposted from Scrutiny Hooligans.