What Role Should Center-Left Blogs Play In Battling The GOP?
Peter Daou had the thankless job of being the blog liaison for the Kerry campaign last year. There were many times that stuff we wrote about here at The Left Coaster made its way onto Peter’s desk at campaign headquarters, and he had the miserable job of trying to assimilate all the ideas from here, Kos, Atrios, Digby, Seeing the Forest, Liberal Oasis, and others into a summary that he would take up the chain of command to the campaign’s “brain trust” of Bob Shrum, Tad Devine, and Mary Beth Cahill, along with Joe Lockhart towards the end. Peter told me several months ago that every time he tried to share with the Washington know-it-alls what was being suggested by the Internet community (namely “attack the bastard and keep your foot on his damn throat”) here and elsewhere, the reaction he frequently got was “who the hell are they?” Peter also told me that there were many in the campaign at the lower levels that agreed with what the blogosphere was saying about the campaign’s problems, but that a gulf between the younger, more aggressively minded staff and the senior brain trust emerged.
Peter has just posted a piece on his Daou Report over at Salon.com, where he goes public with a small part of this narrative, and I encourage you to read it. What I would like comments on is not the role bloggers played last year, but rather on Peter’s suggestions for how we go from here:
Simply put, without the participation of the media and the political establishment, the netroots alone cannot generate the critical mass necessary to alter or create conventional wisdom. This is partly a factor of audience size, but it’s also a matter, frankly, of trust and legitimacy. Despite the astronomical growth of the netroots (see Bowers and Stoller for hard numbers), and the slow and steady encroachment of bloggers on the hallowed turf of Washington’s opinion-makers, it is still the Russerts and Broders and Gergens and Finemans, the WSJ, WaPo and NYT editorial pages, the cable nets, Stewart and Letterman and Leno, and senior elected officials, who play a pivotal role in shaping people’s political views. That is not to say that blogs can’t be the first to draw attention to an issue, as they often do, but the half-life of an online buzz can be measured in days and weeks, and even when a story has enough netroots momentum to float around for months, it will have little effect on the wider public discourse without the other sides of the triangle in place. Witness the Plame case, an obsession of left-leaning bloggers long before the media and the political establishment got on board and turned it into a political liability for Rove and Bush.
Bloggers can exert disproportionate pressure on the media and on politicians. Reporters, pundits, and politicians read blogs, and, more importantly, they care what bloggers say about them because they know other reporters, pundits, and politicians are reading the same blogs. It’s a virtuous circle for the netroots and a source of political power. The netroots can also bring the force of sheer numbers to bear on a non-compliant politician, reporter, or media outlet. Nobody wants a flood of complaints from thousands of angry activists. And further, bloggers can raise money, fact-check, and help break stories and/or keep them in circulation long enough for the media and political establishment to pick them up.
Consequently, bloggers, though unable to change conventional wisdom on their own, are able to use these proficiencies and resources to persuade the media and political establishment to join them in pushing a particular story or issue.
It would seem reasonable to conclude, then, that the best strategy for the progressive netroots is to go after the media and Democratic Party leaders and spend less time and energy attacking the Bush administration. If the netroots alone can’t change the political landscape without the participation of the media and Democratic establishment, then there’s no point wasting precious online space blasting away at Republicans while the other sides of the triangle stand idly by. Indeed, blog powerhouses like Kos and Josh Marshall have taken an aggressive stance toward Democratic politicians they see as selling out core Democratic Party principles. Kos’s willingness to attack the DLC is mocked on the right, but it is precisely the right’s fear that Kos will “close the triangle” that causes them to protest so loudly. Similarly, when Atrios, Digby, Oliver Willis, and so many other progressive bloggers attack the media, they are leveraging whatever power they have to compel the media to assume a role as the third side of their triangle.I have truncated Peter’s essay to be sure here, but I want to get a sense of what you think about the best way the center-left blogosphere can be effective. Many of you know that I have no problem bashing the media, and holding them accountable is critical. But I have also gone after those in our own party for betraying our base and forgetting whom they are supposed to represent. At times, I hear back from some of you that we shouldn’t be bashing Democrats, and should only be attacking Republicans. For the reasons that Peter mentions, this may be like shouting down an empty hallway, and our attention may be better served by focusing on the two parts of the equation that would actually listen to what we have to say, even if they eventually discard it.
I have several questions, such as:
Do you really think the public pays that much attention any more to the Washington talking heads, or does the public pay attention to what they can see with their own eyes?
Is the problem with all Democratic consultants inside the Beltway, or is the problem that Democrats keep using the same old losing consultants instead of letting a successful outside-the-Beltway consultant run an aggressive campaign for a change (i.e.-Mudcat Sanders, David Axelrod, or even Garry South?)
Should Democrats boycott Fox News and even MSNBC and call those shows for what they are: GOP propaganda outlets, or should Democrats still try and reach that audience?
Your thoughts are welcome