Thursday, August 09, 2007

Eugene on Bloggers' Irrelevance

the Kos Krew is pretty uncomfortably aware of how much power they demonstrated that they DON'T have when that whole FISA debacle happened. One of the Kos diarists, eugene, talks about the "disconnect":

Watching both of these from afar, I am struck by the disconnect between the two - how at one moment our movement has been given a powerful sense of validation through the experience of Yearly Kos, as presidential candidates came to pay homage and as bloggers came to continue the work of building a new, open, left politics; and how at the other moment, we were completely powerless to stop our Democrats from selling out yet another one of our rights, from giving Bush even more unaccountable and unconstitutional power.
He goes on:

This seems to be at the heart of the disconnect. This year's Yearly Kos seems to have shown that in Democratic campaigns, the netroots are a welcome part of the process. Maybe it's merely because the establishment sees us as an ATM, or because they genuinely believe we wield influence beyond our numbers, or some combination of the two. Although it is quite an accomplishment to have the Democratic candidates appear at Yearly Kos seeking our approval, it seems that's all they seek of us.

I grow concerned that our success is increasingly being limited and confined to campaign politics. It's as if the DC Dems are saying to us "help us get elected, but don't expect us to listen to you once we win." We have not yet developed any effective means of changing their behavior - and really, that is what we really want from them. We want them to stop hoarding the gunpowder and start using it...
The rest is about Democratic policy differences; while interesting, it doesn't really address the central problem. Bloggers have indeed gone up in the world: from being seen as irrelevant, to being seen as a campaign resource. They're seen as a special interest group: to be pandered to when you need volunteers and cash, but they're ignored between elections. (Kinda like labor.)

Now, eugene has a good grasp of the situation, but there's a question not addressed, not really: if the Dems don't listen to them between elections, who DO they listen to? And why? A HUGE discussion followed, and like many Kos comment threads, little was new and what was new wasn't true. Yes, yes, they listen to corporations, but again, why? Corps donate cash, sure, but so do bloggers, and bloggers are the best bundlers around these days. Indeed, that's WHY they're so popular; one of the reasons for the shift away from pseudonymous, policy-based blogging to real-name "netrooting" is because a pseudonym can't bundle, and Kos figured out a while ago that that's where a lot of power comes from. Politicians like money, and Kos can channel it.

So if it isn't campaign cash, what IS it all about? Leaving aside the conspiracy theories and "RepubliCrats" and everything else, and leaving aside the natural tendency towards listening to those you see every day and ignoring the random voice in the wilderness that is your typical blog, who are they listening to? And why aren't bloggers part of that group.

I'm not sure, but I can suggest one thing that has really taken the sails out of Kos' "storming the gates": Lieberman. Power comes from the ability to build, but it also comes from the ability to destroy. I hate to say it, but there need to be consequences for pissing them off. Kos almost managed to drive that point home in Connecticut, but he ran up against an extraordinarily powerful campaign machine and the Republican party's willingness to support its pet "Democrat".

Had he taken Lieberman down, Kos would be one hell of a lot more respected and powerful than he is right now; all bloggers would be. The Dems would get the message that pissing off their base is as disastrous as it is for Republicans. (And it is. Republicans live in fear of their base.) Instead, they got the message that while bringing the bloggers onside is nice and maybe even necessary, ticking them off doesn't carry any serious consequences.

And, yes, the whole "nobody cares what they're writing" problem matters too. The reason why CATO/Heritage/AEI enjoy power on the Republican side isn't just that they're farms for Republican policymakers, but because they can get things published that make it sound like Scholars think you're an idiot and a danger to America. Sure, anybody who knows anything about these organizations knows that you shouldn't listen to AEI, but meanwhile they're all over the television, they're prompting dozens of opinion editorials, getting emailed all over the place, and are going to end up on your opponent's campaign literature.

That's why partisan think tanks EXIST. They provide the imprimatur of scholarly legitimacy on partisan attacks and defenses. Academia can't do that, "leftist" as it is. Issues-based think tanks try to avoid it, as it hurts their issue. The partisan shops, though? It's the entire reason they exist, and at this point they're very good at it.

And, yes, bloggers could do it too, if they were given any legitimacy. Unfortunately, since Kos and co. are treating bloggers as a loud mob, the actual writings don't have much (any?) legitimacy, and aren't listened to. They're just more fodder; a community-building activity at best.

In the meantime, though, as a community, they need to stop and think about how and why Democratic decisionmaking takes place.

And if it is because they're cowards?

Then the bloggers need to give the Dems a reason to fear THEM.

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