Saturday, October 05, 2002

Another issue that I hadn't addressed is Ted Barlow's piece and Rob Lyman's response on the issue of namecalling between the left and the right. Ted thinks that the right has been going too far, whereas Rob points out that the namecalling exists on both sides. Fair enough, it does; the question is who's doing it. Most mainstream Democrats (or liberals) are being almost painfully fair to the Republicans (or conservatives), and the same is not true in the reverse direction. Examinations of the neo-conservative right are pretty clear on this point: relatively centrist or not, they have a complete disdain and loathing of their opposites that simply doesn't exist going the other way- and they're at the core of the current conservative movement.

Yes, there are people on the "far left" who criticize conservatives. By and large, however, they're usually focusing on specific issues or on some sort of political-economic indictment of the "elites" and the "system"... not on conservatism itself. That's a leftist thing, rooted in their belief that the system shapes the attitudes, not the other way around. It's one of the reasons why the larger left is so damned incoherent- this laser-focus on specific issues and broader focus on the system instead of the individuals means that they have trouble being electorally effective and having much of a say in this system. (No, those two points are not contradictory.)

I don't agree with Lyman's point that:

So the point is not that Quick's post or Coulter's columns are good or meaningful contributions to the debate. They are not. But neither are they simply insults tossed out because the author is motivated by hate, bile or because the author is a cornered weasel. They are abbreviations, placeholders; they serve to tell the faithful "I am making argument #421(c) in response to opposing arguments #117(b-f)." In this way the lazy or busy can pile hundreds of pages of philosopy, political science, opinion research and ideology into a few sentences. (In some cases, of course, they are simply all an ignorant author knows how to write.)
I think there's far too little of that going on for it to be a credible explanation, and far too few people who can call up all that stuff in order to see where everything's going. While participants may see political debate as a chess match (although, oddly enough, it seems a lot more like Go than chess), other people derive their opinions from it, and the vast majority of the audience of these debates do not either know about or understand all these background tidbits. It's questionable as to whether anybody could; opinion research changes by the day, and political science is a field that is pretty badly misunderstood by far too many people, including those who spend a significant part of their lives discussing politics. (Witness Den Beste and proportional representation, or Chomsky and I.R. realism, or the Lyman-linked article by Jonah Goldberg and the problem of unintented consequences, the element of trust in I.R., the importance of collective security, the real arguments of internationalists, and several other boners that imply that either Goldberg hasn't the faintest clue why the U.N. was invented in the first place or simply doesn't care if ignoring them will assist his argument.)

And finally, to say "we're all just partisans anyway" gets dangerously close to a kind of PoMo. To say that bias and perspective exists is perfectly valid. To say that means that all sides are equal... isn't the right kind of against that kind of thing?

Still, all of that isn't really what I was getting at. (Yeah, I know, but I hate breaking things up into two different posts when they're thematically consistent and come from the same source.)

Ok, as a response to all of that, Ted offers, among other things, this:

If I was going to write a long reply, which I can't do right now, I would state that I wasn't being facetious when I said "so what?" about Bill Quick's post. I think it was way over the line, and I think that it's worth arguing about. But in the grand scheme of things, bloggers don't really matter. Bill Quick doesn't matter, Counterspin doesn't matter, and Ted Barlow sure as hell doesn't matter. If you want to find extremists of any sort in self-published web sites, you will find them.

On the other hand, pundits kind of matter, and elected officials definitely matter. And I just don't often see major liberal pundits or elected Democrats engaging in the same kind of personal, insulting attacks. I don't see prominent liberals denying the intelligence of all conservatives, or attacking their colleagues as unpatriotic, or whatever. You sure don't see elected Democrats treating Bush with the same personal venom that elected Republicans treated Clinton, even before Lewinsky. When Ted Kennedy starts shooting pumpkins in his backyard to establish that President Bush is a murderer, I'll apologize.
As to the main point of this (the pundits on the right are far meaner and nastier) I'll heartily agree; nobody who watches CNN for any significant amount of time will fail to notice that right-wingers are much more aggressive (outside of Crossfire, but Begala and Carville are noticable largely for their uniqueness) and that they tend to use much nastier rhetoric about their ideological opponents. Anybody who compares leftist and rightist magazines will have this conclusion proven pretty damned quickly as well; the Weekly Standard and the American Prospect differ not just in perspective, but in practically everything else.

As to bloggers not mattering, though; well, that depends on how you define a blogger. The vast majority of us typing into the night... yeah, we probably don't matter. The general public certainly doesn't pay attention, nor are they likely to; political bloggers usually run their discussions on a pretty elite level, and usually cater to those who already know something about politics and economics and the like. It ain't the Academy by any means, and it isn't ever close to the level of knowledge that Lyman asserts, but those who don't have much of a clue what's going on won't hang around. This is pretty much the same audience political magazines cater to; the politically-involved minority. It's also no doubt true that these magazines do have an influence, although more on the right side... an article that starts in the Weekly Standard might end up in Republican talking points a few months down the line, and I still wonder where the "chickenhawk" meme got started in the current quasi-debate on Iraq, because I doubt it was at the DLC. Finally, some blogs do have influence- MWO's popularity offline is proof of that, and I imagine that it largely exists within the Beltway, not outside of it.

More important than all of that though, is the posibility of "graduation". That coincidence of audiences and methods means that bloggers have an opportunity to both be taken seriously by the magazines and media and eventually become become part of them. Online this is already pretty common; Eugene Volokh's article on NRO, the numbers of guest editorials on the Fox News website, and the linkages back and forth between bloggers and other media shows that there is a strong possibility that right-wing bloggers might end up writing for right-wing media. (This doesn't exist on the left yet, but give it time... somebody is going to realize just how good, say, James Cappozola is and is going to capitalize on that.) Plus, there's a possibility of ideas travelling back and forth.. a blogger comes up with an idea, someone with more influence picks up on it and either uses it directly or refines it for broader discussion, it's picked up by the mass-market and pretty soon it's everywhere.

The most worrisome (or interesting) influence, though, is the possible policy influence, especially on the right. There are tight linkages between the right-wing media and the right-wing policy community (the latter practically created the former), and that process of idea adoption and refinement need not stop at the individual columnist or journalist. If Richard Perle or Grover Norquist see something good in, say, the Weekly Standard, they're going to no doubt use it; and if they manage to bend the ears of somebody in the administration or the legislature(which is assuredly not difficult for either), it could easily become policy or, perhaps, the core of a new law. Indeed, it need not be as direct as this; the talking point simply being trotted out could prompt action from those who aren't even quite sure where it comes from.

Do I think this is common? Hardly; there are thousands of political bloggers out there and "graduation" remains incredibly rare. The whole "blog" concept has huge barriers to this as well: A "linker" wouldn't really get a shot at having ideas filter upward, and there's so much replication and repetition of ideas and concepts that individual bloggers wouldn't really get the credit for it unless they're either exceptionally lucky, exceptionally well-placed, or through sheer strength of rhetoric and knowledge make their presence known. Even if the idea is good and well-presented, it might be ignored unless it catches someone's eye, and that's often remarkably arbitrary: the post that prompted my highest number of daily hits was a fairly minor thing compared to the larger articles I write that get largely ignored. I'm not exceptional in this, either; lots of bloggers complain about it.

Still, Ted, the possibility remains for bloggers to get noticed and get read, and I think that as the dust settles and people move on to something else (as usually happens online), those that remain will become more integrated into the policy community as blogging stops being a fad and starts becoming a normal part of the political landscape. Heck, at one point, the ideological makeup of bloggers might even start resembling the United States as a whole, and might become truly international instead of incredibly U.S. focused.

It'd be a nice change.

No comments:

Post a Comment