July 18, 2005

Left-Wing Blogs - Good or Bad for the Democrats?

Have left-wing blogs been bad for the Democrats?? Dean Barnett of the Weekly Standard thinks so:

The Democratic party, on the other hand, errs in precisely the opposite fashion as Trudeau. While Moulitsas recognizes that the left-wing blogosphere is a world unto itself, if establishment Democrats have any awareness of that fact they have yet to betray it. Where Trudeau feels bloggers are a bunch of shut-in half-wits, the Democratic party seems to be under the impression that bloggers are an enormous, important constituency--and that it must go to whatever lengths necessary to win the hearts and minds of this virtual community. THIS SEEMS LIKE A MAJOR MISCALCULATION, because the politics of the left-wing blogs are far out of the American mainstream. Where most of the 120 million Americans who voted in the last election bear a benign indifference to political matters, the left half of the blogosphere seethes with hatred for George W. Bush and his supporters. What's more, the blogs take numerous positions that would strike all but the most passionate Democratic partisans as patently preposterous. For example, several of the left-wing blogs recently ran an advertisement that referred to West Virginia Senator and former Ku Klux Klan Kleagle Robert Byrd as an "American Hero." Also, the level of discourse on the Daily Kos and other prominent liberal blogs is not something that would be attractive to the majority of the American public. The writings are often obscene and usually relentlessly hostile and negative. Crude personal attacks, whether aimed at right-wing bloggers or politicians, are the order of the day. A typical example came on July 4 inresponse to a humorous piece by the internet satirist "Iowahawk", which purported to be written by Abu Masab Al-Zarqawi and was titled, "Stop Questioning My Patriotism." This relatively benign and (and extremely funny) essay elicited the following response from regular Kos contributor "Armando:" "Fucking pricks. You goosestepping McCarthyites. Now go cry to momma. You yellow-bellied elephants." And yet mainstream Democratic politicians are desperately trying to ingratiate themselves with Kos and his audience. A Who's Who of top tier Democrats have written "diaries" for the site, including Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer, and Ted Kennedy. The above listed politicians, and their less mainstream colleagues (think the John Conyers/Louise Slaughter variety), are constantly romancing the Kossacks. . . .Perhaps most pathetically, these politicians' earnest efforts to win Moulitsas's affections often fall flat. On the Daily Kos, the "front page" gets the heaviest traffic; a typical diary languishes in obscurity, one of dozens of similar efforts offered each day by the community unless Moulitsas plucks it from relative anonymity and promotes it to the front page. The vast majority of diaries written by politicians for the site do not get promoted to the front page. Moulitsas didn't even deem Ted Kennedy's screed worthy of special note. . . . How has this strategy been working? Disastrously. The last six months have been a horror show for Republicans. And yet, astonishingly, the Democratic party has suffered more in the polls than the Republicans. According to a recent poll done by Democrats Stanley Greenberg and James Carville, 43 percent of Americans have warm feelings for the Republican party compared to 38 percent who feel the same way for Democrats. Greenberg characterizes his poll's results this way: "Republicans weakened in this poll . . . but it shows Democrats weakening more." Greenberg says the Democrats' fall is due to voters feeling that the party has "no core set of convictions or point of view." Why is that? The Democratic party has decided to imitate the style of the political blogs, even though the most trafficked one, the Daily Kos, receives fewer than 600,000 visits a day. While the traffic numbers of the Daily Kos are a great accomplishment, even 600,000 readers (a generous estimate) are nearly insignificant from a national electoral perspective. And while Kos's readers represent a constituency which prefers a steady diet of heated rhetoric and non-stop Bush bashing, there is nothing to suggest that a larger movement is developing with a similar taste for bare-knuckled, obscenity-laced politics. As Markos Moulitsas observed, his virtual community is a "different world." Democrats seem to have forgotten that elections are held in the real one.
I am not sure that I agree with most of his conclusions. Quite frankly, I am of the belief that blogs - whether Republican or Democratic leaning - are great tools to encourage grass root activism and excitement for politics. The Democrats do not have any new, exciting policy positions or ideas . . . . Although an oversimplification, lately their "platform" has seemed to be focused on opposing Bush. They need all the help they can get in stirring up interest in their candidates. John Kerry had to be one of the worst, uninspired candidates ever fielded by the Democratic Party, yet he was able to attract approximately 48% of the popular vote in the 2004 election. I credit that to the success of the Left-Wing blogs such as Daily Kos.
Barnett does, of course, have a point that the Left-Wing blogs tend to be full of obscenity laced and heated anti-Bush rhetoric. Is this the best face to put on your political party? Do you want "swing" voters to stop by Daily Kos and be told why "Bush is worse than Hitler" or "Bush has murdered more people than Sadaam Hussein"?? Do you want to have Daily Kos explain to swing voters why "Republicans are worse than Al Quaeda"? Most centrists would find these comparisons over the top and not indicative of serious people. As I have written before, you don't win votes by telling people that their family members and friends are the moral equivalents of Osama Bin Laden.
The vilification of one's political opponents is getting out of hand. Intelligent people can certainly disagree with Bush's policies on Iraq, taxes, education, energy, environment, etc. However, this does not mean that Bush is evil, that he is destroying the country or that he is the next Adolf Hitler.
To the extent that the vitriol of the Left-Wing blogs is spilling over into "mainstream" politics, then maybe Barnett does have a point. Lately, Democratic politicians do seem to be more intent on Bush-bashing and scandal mongering than creating serious policy initiatives. If this is an effort to curry favor with the Democratic activists that frequent Daily Kos an Moveon.org, then it is not a sign of good things to come for the Democratic party.
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