Today, I am blogging live from Netroots Nation in Providence, Rhode Island, a political conference for liberal bloggers that used to be a must-attend event for Democrat candidates and elected officials.
Back in 2007, the conference (then called YearlyKos) drew the three major Democratic presidential candidates; Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Barack Obama. Before the midterm elections in 2010, the Netroots Nation conference drew then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate majority leader Harry Reid, who held question-and-answer sessions with the audience. Sen. Al Franken also wowed the crowed together with several sitting Democrat congressmen.
But this year, there are very few prominant elected Democrats present who are speaking at the conference. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island is here of course, as the conference is being held in his home state - also speaking on a panel is Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon.
The biggest name, it appears, is Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic candidate for the Massachusetts senate seat running against Sen. Scott Brown. Although Warren was losing her voice, she ginned up the most enthusiasm from the group during this afternoon's keynote luncheon panel on the "War on Women." She was the only speaker to get a standing ovation from the audience, during the event.
The argument supporting the conference's impact, of course is that the event has never been about elected political officials or the Democratic party and more about grassroots organizing and bloggers. There are dozens of panels being held here, filled with liberal activists who are sharing their strategies and tactics with like-minded people.
But after watching a panel about the Wisconsin aftermath, it was clear that activists are discouraged about their political defeats. The leaders there were no longer talking about "getting the message out" but discussing their ability to "get the messaging right" in order to unite the grassroots and appeal to the electorate. One of the panels was titled, "How Progressives Get the Narrative Wrong and How to Get it Right."
Another frequent theme in these panels are the Koch Brothers and the Citizens United decision - the biggest threat in their view, to any political victories in the future. In the old days of Netroots Nation, these activists believed that they were changing the world by blogging and organizing. This year, however, they are lashing out against the shadow of "anonymous corporate money" which they believe is the only reason that Republicans are winning elections.
Perhaps there will be larger crowds on Saturday and for the closing keynote speaker Van Jones, but I doubt that many liberal bloggers and activists are feeling as empowered as they did in 2008.