- Liberal blogger and activist
- Democratic consultant
Born in 1971, Markos Moulitsas Zuniga is the founder and proprietor of the Daily Kos, a popular weblog aimed primarily at liberal and leftist Democratic activists. Zuniga says he was first inspired to begin blogging, in 2002, because of the "stifling environment for liberal voices" during the period immediately preceding the Iraq War. At that time, according to Zuniga, "[i]f you criticized the president on any issue, domestic or foreign, you were accused of being un-American and unpatriotic."
A onetime Republican, Zuniga says that he changed his party affiliation after serving in the Army during Gulf War I. He was stationed in Germany throughout the war, saw no combat, and, by his own admission, knew no one who was killed or injured.
Under Zuniga's stewardship, Daily Kos has taken a sharply adversarial stance against the Iraq War and has attacked politicians supportive of the military effort, most notably Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman. When Lieberman lost the Democratic nomination to leftist Democrat Ned Lamont in August of 2006, Zuniga claimed partial credit, boasting that Lamont's victory demonstrated that "even the most powerful, entrenched forces can be dislodged by people-power."
That same theme features prominently in Crashing the Gate, a book that Zuniga co-authored in 2006 with his friend and longtime business partner Jerome Armstrong. Written as a blueprint for electoral victory (seeking to bury "conservative ideology six feet under"), the book advances the argument that the Democratic Party needs only to adopt a "simple tactical shift" in order to succeed more dramatically at the polls. In particular, the authors exhort the Party's constituent groups -- such as environmental activists, union representatives and abortion-rights groups -- to put party unity above their respective causes. They also attack the Democratic "establishment" in Washington D.C. for allegedly neglecting Internet "netroots" activists and party supporters at the state and local levels.
Identifying himself as a "libertarian" Democrat, Zuniga claims to be "very much against" gun control and "very much against abortion personally," though he considers the latter to be a matter of personal choice. He adds, however, that he is "not necessarily a policy person" and is more concerned with electing Democrats to office.
Zuniga's political activism has sometimes sparked controversy. When four American civilian contractors were murdered in Fallujah, Iraq in April 2004, Zuniga, writing on Daily Kos, announced that he felt "nothing over the deaths of mercenaries" who were in Iraq only "to wage war for profit." In closing, Zuniga added: "Screw them." Zuniga's tirade prompted several advertisers to withdraw their ads from the Daily Kos; some liberal politicians, including Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas), distanced themselves from his remarks. But Zuniga refused to apologize.
In 2003, Zuniga and Jerome Amstrong were hired as political consultants by presidential candidate Howard Dean. The head of Internet outreach for Dean's campaign, Zephyr Teachout, said that Zuniga and Armstrong would each be paid $3,000 per month over a four-month period, in order that they would promote Dean's candidacy on their blogs, Daily Kos and MyDD.com, respectively.
Although Zuniga has acknowledged his affiliation with the Dean campaign, he refuses to reveal whether he has forged financial ties to other political candidates over the years, fueling questions about whether his endorsement is for sale. (Zuniga originally supported Democratic candidate Wesley Clark before going to work for Dean.) Raising additional questions about Zuniga's ethics were reports, in June of 2006, that the Daily Kos provided favorable coverage to political candidates with whom he and Armstrong had financial relationships.
Zuniga wields considerable influence within the Democratic Party. In addition to his work for the Dean campaign, he reportedly consults with staffers for Senator Harry Reid; confers with aides for Democratic Senators on a weekly basis; and worked with Democratic operatives to devise a strategy for the 2006 midterm elections. In 2004 the Democratic leadership invited him to speak to Senate Democrats about how they could better use the Internet as a fundraising tool.
Zuniga also features a roster of prominent political contributors on his blog, including Barbara Boxer, Ted Kennedy and John Kerry. "The only way I could exert more influence would be if I were President," he has said of his work.
Zuniga admits being well compensated for his efforts on behalf of the Democratic Party. He reports that in 2005 he earned "somewhere between $70,000 and $80,000." "I live comfortably," said Zuniga in March 2006. "My wife and I just bought a house here in Berkeley [California]."
Zuniga is a fellow with the New Politics Institute. In 2005, the New Policy Institute (NPI) hired Zuniga to help it disseminate its message to the broadest possible audience. In an interview with the congressional newspaper The Hill, Zuniga stated that NPI's efforts would be directed toward “building a Democratic Party that is focused on winning.”