Over the past two weeks the politics of the center-left have come back into focus. First with the release of the new media platform, Verrit, followed quickly thereafter with the leaked excerpts of Hillary Clinton’s new book, What Happened.
Each of these events on their own are one-off stories of a disgruntled member of the political class, yet together they form a fuller picture of an unsure Democratic party clinging to a message that failed to resonate with voters.
Verrit and the Left
Verrit was co-founded by Peter Daou, the former chief executive of the liberal news-site, ShareBlue. Endorsed by Hillary Clinton on Twitter, Verrit seeks to be the “media for the 65.8 million” (the number of votes Clinton received in the general election). This new outlet works by contextualizing “noteworthy facts, stats, and quotes for the politically engaged,” then crowdsourcing that fact’s authentication to ensure its accuracy.
Each Verrit post, known as a “Verrit,” provides in theory quick, easily-digestible pieces of politically-focused information. However, it’s content is less short pithy statements that help its audience decipher fact from fiction and more political sound bites. Think liberal Fox News in the style of a poorly designed Twitter.
One Verrit has a recent quote from Hillary Clinton saying “I’m not going anywhere.” While another Verrit contains a quote from Elizabeth Warren that reads “The progressive agenda is America’s Agenda.” The site’s message quickly becomes confusing when Warren’s comment is juxtaposed with another Verrit that contains the headline “Sanders and the mainstream help put Donald Trump in the White House.”
Peter Daou wants Verrit to be “a sanctuary in a chaotic media environment.” Yet, in reality the WordPress site is little more than a left-leaning entrenchment keeping out not just Republicans, but many on the left who don’t identify with its center-left politics.
And so far, most media coverage agrees. Gizmodo says the site “is a terrible bet.” While Politico published a recent story on Verrit with the headline “This Pro-Hillary Website Looks Like North Korean Agitprop.”
Emmet Resnin, a growing voice on the far left, put it best when he called Verritt “the reductio of every smug tendency that fuels the center-left.” In many ways Verrit is not just another liberal bubble, but the latest manifestation of a center-left that fails to grasp the root of its failures.
For Verrit that failure begins with Peter Daou. Daou is growing a reputation as a condescending pugilist, especially on Twitter. One Twitter exchange captures the narcissism underlying his endeavor. Tweeting at Sopan Deb, a New York Times culture reporter, Daou places Deb on notice for “liking” a tweet that slammed Verrit, and by extension, Daou. Except there’s one problem, Deb didn’t “like” any negative tweet about Verrit. And that’s not the only example of Daou putting someone on blast. He’s made it his mission to methodically take apart the lies and smears of Hillary Clinton detractors – even if those detractors come from the left.
It’s this animosity towards the not center-left that continues to prove problematic for the liberal establishment. By focusing on an election from a year ago while simultaneously walling off those that think differently him, Daou and his website, Verrit, are creating a liberal message that shuns party inclusivity under the auspices of righteous protection. This narcissistic protection and entrenchment are in some ways the same issues that plagued Hillary Clinton in her 2016 presidential campaign and are resurfacing as Clinton’s new book What Happened takes to the shelves.
Reviews of What Happened indicate a growing consensus that Hillary Clinton cannot quite get past how others wronged her. Some anger, especially that towards James Comey is warranted, while other pieces of it, such as her frustration towards Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are likely misguided. Clinton’s focus, even if a minor theme, on who stood in her way is a dangerous restart to an already tarnished narrative.
Clinton writes that Bernie Sanders “created lasting damage” to her campaign by making it harder to unify progressives in the general election…” Clinton, in a degree of dismissiveness similar to her 2016 campaign, compares Sanders’ policy ideas to ponies and “no minute abs.”
That level of dismissiveness is indicative of Clinton’s unwillingness to engage with ideas different than her own – a problem that became apparent as she failed to unify Sanders supporters. Yet as the above quote indicates, Clinton believes the onus was not on her to unify the base she won in the primaries, but rather on Sanders for making it more difficult. By shifting that blame away from herself, Clinton not only runs away from more progressive policy ideas, but alienates those who support them – much in the same way that Daou places any Clinton antagonist on notice.
Together, Daou and Clinton represent a liberal establishment stuck not in policy debate, but in its own ego. Their reactionary and insular narratives aren’t driving a party towards unity, but towards adversarial factions. This is the ultimate flaw of Clinton and the center-left she and Daou represent. Their efforts eschew party unity and policy for personal attacks and dismissiveness.
In an era of ever increasing political vitriol, this isn’t the message most on the left want. And as Clinton’s loss last November shows, it isn’t the message that works.