Sunday, April 04, 2004

Kos and the Republicans

The biggest issue in Blogdom right now is undoubtedly the unwise comments made by Kos about the dead contractors in Fallujah. He said something along the lines of "Screw them" because of the fact coming out that they were mercenaries, and Kos is none too fond of mercenaries. Impolitic, but hardly the worst thing I've read online. The reaction, however, was enormous, with the Kerry site delinking Kos, various bloggers on the left criticizing him, and the right wing bloggers going absolutely mad over the whole thing. Kevin Drum made a good point about this:

Bottom line: like it or not, Kos is a spokesman for the left these days, and this kind of stuff doesn't help us. His advertisers are pulling out because of course they can't be associated with statements like this. It's a vote killer. And the end result will probably be a million bucks worth of fund raising for conservative causes. Not exactly what we need right now.
To an extent, I agree with him, but I think he missed the important thing: it's not about getting the Republicans money, it's about denying Democrats money.

See, I really see this as a sort of a test. The conservative online hegemony that prompted the creation of this website has been deminishing for a while now, as the "left blogosphere" and other related liberal websites have become more numerous and (this is key) more prominent. Most importantly, however, they've become a valuable source of money for various Democratic candidates. Bloggers like Atrios and Kos are becoming prominent "bundlers"- after a fashion. One of the primary Republican goals must be disconnecting these fundraisers from the candidates, and the best way to do that is by carefully scanning for "sound bites" that they can use to drive the wedge. Hence the reason Kos was targeted- they wanted to see whether or not the tactic would work in dividing the politicians from these most engaged fundraisers. And, if you look at Atrios' new linking and blogad policy, which emphasizes these delinks, it appears to be working.

Hence the reason why comments like Mike Stoller's comparison of blogging and Talk Radio, while excellent, strikes me as a little off the mark. Kos is a target because he's a valuable source of funds, not simply because he's an opinion leader. (Stoller does mention this, but it's not his main thrust). Bloggers are ALSO attacked for being opinion leaders, but the money makes it far more virulent. Talk radio is completely different, due to the simple differences of medium eliminating the fundraising element... even if everything Rush said was documented, he still wouldn't be as easily accessable a source of funds as Kos.

The attacks, and the reaction, also demonstrate the fundamental difference between the left and right that remains to this day. The integration between liberal bloggers and democratic politicians mostly centers around the recognition by the former that Bush needs to go, and by the latter that these "bloggers" are a source of valuable funds. Even while there is recognition by both that "they need to stick together", there is a wide divergence of opinion on a number of issues; bloggers remain fully willing to criticize their chosen pols quite severely, as well as each other.

The money link doesn't seem as prominent on the right, probably due to the remaining influence of the Dean phenomenon and the previous complacency of Bush supporters. The fundamental willingness to do or say anything to keep Bush in power, however, means that they're more than willing to pick up on whatever "outrage of the week" exists and repeat talking points until their fingertips bleed.

The unity of the left can't really be used on the right, outside of the typical uses for which money is employed. The unity on the right, we've discovered, can be used on the left. Now that they know it works, they'll keep on using it from now until November.

So, my advice? Watch yourselves, folks. Rest assured, they'll be watching you.

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