Monday, March 13, 2006

Crashing the Blogosphere

Over at Crooks and Liars, there's a good discussion of the problems the "blogosphere" has in having Dems take it seriously, prompted by the NYTimes review of Kos and MyDD's new book. Here's some quotation:

One of the principal themes of the book raises a topic which I truly believe is of unparalleled importance -- the role of the blogosphere in influencing the nation's political debates as well as shaping the strategies adopted by the Democratic Party.

With very few exceptions, national Democrats in Washington see the blogosphere as composed of uninformed, ranting, dirty masses who need to be kept as far away as possible.
To be fair, I've seen some truly hairy comments threads that, perhaps, might bolster this perception. Plus, the problem of prominent right-wing bloggers and their commentators acting like racist thugs (LGF, anyone?) looms large, and shouldn't be discounted.

That said, one could just as easily ask questions about those people who ARE in charge, as by and large, they're really only experts in one thing: getting elected. Many of those who aren't tend to be "journalists" (at least on the right) whose chief skill is towing the party line and deliberate misinterpretation of liberals, or real experts who, nonetheless, are perfectly comfortable talking about things that they have little formal education in.

(Case in point: the spectacle of trained economists analyzing everything but economics, due to their all-encompassing faith in formalism and statistical inferrence.)

The way in which so many national Democrats run away from the blogosphere and try to pretend that it does not exist -- as though it is some sort of dangerous, poisonous sewer -- is really quite bewildering. Within the last two weeks, I had some extensive communications with a high-ranking staff member in a Democratic Senators' office (whose identity I promised not to reveal before the discussions began) in which I argued that systems should be created to enable Democratic Senators to work cooperatively with the blogosphere in order to prevent the Bush Administration from continuing to suppress investigations into its wrongdoing, including as part of the NSA scandal and other scandals.

I explained that there is a bursting and eager energy among the literally millions of people who write and read blogs to take meaningful action against the Bush Administration. The people in the blogosphere are highly motivated, informed, and politically engaged. Activating that energy and having national Democrats work cooperatively with the blogosphere (rather than ignore it or scorn it) could make an enormous difference in how these stories end up being covered and resolved. It is monumentally dumb not to embrace the one mechanism which has the ability to unleash genuinely impassioned, mass citizen action. And there are obvious and easy -- yet quite potent -- ways for national Democrats to work with bloggers and the blogosphere to maximize the force of these efforts.

This was the response I ultimately received:

I think there is an opportunity for us to figure out a better way to work together. But, you have to understand, my ultimate goal is to help [the] Senator [] achieve his objective of real oversight on national security matters by the Intelligence Committee.Even with the best of intentions, I’m not convinced that bloggers can help us meet that goal. In fact, I worry about it hurting our efforts given the increasingly partisan environment.

This response is not uncommon. Many - if not most - national Democrats really are afraid of working with actual citizens, and are particularly afraid of having any involvement at all with the blogosphere. It's as though they think they need to remain above and separated from the poorly behaved, embarrassing masses. They actually have been scared away from working with the very people who they are supposedly representing and who are on their side.
A long quote, but I think it's best seen through the prism of that one bolded quote: "increasingly partisan environment". Amato points out the elitism involved in the Dems' attitude towards blogs, and it should be pointed out, but it ultimately comes back to that same old bugaboo- Democrats' fear of their own name, and their own party, and the simple fact that by definition, they are the most left-wing of the two major parties. They are not a "third way", because there's no "second way" for them to array themselves against. They are the second way, and they should be proud of that, because history has shown that their way is the best of the two. They fear the bloggers because they worry that they'll be brought down by the company they keep, but let's face it: we're in bed together, whether they like it or not. There's no "sistah souljah" moment here.

(I've never been convinced, in any case, that that was as important to Clinton's success as is bandied about.)

As in so many cases, it comes down to group identity: "us" vs. "them". The most important part of the conservative movement is that they've carefully nurtured the perception among elite conservatives that they are "us" and their liberal counterparts are "them", while simultaneously widening the set of those who can be considered "elite conservatives" to the array of non-elected conservative pundits and writers in the think tank archipelago, as well as the hordes of otherwise-useless conservative "journalists" out there. Democrats are still trapped believing that "us" is Washington lawmakers and their hangers-on, including the Republicans, and "them" is everybody else. They need to support whatever consensus exists among those lawmakers in order to maintain their identity as part of the "us" group.

Bloggers challenge that consensus and are resolutely not part of that group, so why on earth listen to them? Why associate with them? Exploit them, certainly; exploiting the "other" is a proud and noble tradition. But certainly don't let them in, unless they demonstrate that they hold the right opinions and have the right background.

Which is sad, because in the end, the blogosphere is really only good for one thing: ideas. It's a factory and refinery for ideas, whether political or policy-oriented. If there's one thing the blogosphere's liberal contingent is screwing up, it's that there's little discussion of ideas and endless discussion of process and personalities. It's the latter that gets linked to, it's the latter that gets read, and it's the latter that gets commented on.

(Face it: gossiping about Harry Reid is meaningless. )

Right wing bloggers don't need this- they just support the ideas coming out of the right-wing think tanks, and attack the left. That's their job, and they do it with gusto. Left bloggers cannot do that, because there are no consciously left-wing think tanks of the Heritage and AEI stripe, and academe is still too particularist and resolutely non-partisan to play that role. If the Dems are going to get ideas, it needs to come from here.

(Well, not here. Maybe back when I had 1000+ readers a day. But you know what I mean.)

I'll leave it with Amato:

That obviously isn't going to happen. So the sooner Democrats realize that the blogosphere and citizen activism is something to embrace rather than scorn, the sooner it will be that they can find ways to finally cause the Bush Administration and all of its appendages to come crashing down.

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