In Which I Get Pessimistic About the Blogosphere

Bruce has an excellent post about the Democratic blogosphere, the traditional media, and the Plame pseudo-scandal (I can’t bring myself to calling it a scandal). His contention is that Washington insiders have the mentality of an upper class clique that concentrates more on developing a powerful social network rather than on showing off as people do in Beverly Hills.

So of course it’s reasonable to expect that if Vice-President Cheney and Scooter Libby dropped the dime on Valerie Plame to slap and humiliate her and her husband, or lied about hearing it from Russert first, or whatever, the entire Washington culture is likely to take care of this matter as an in-house issue. Not something to be handled by some sawed-off arrogant former mob prosecutor from Chicago. Special U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald is not part of their world. Neither are the vulgar, keyboard-punching activists with strange names like “Emptywheel” and “Atrios” and “Majikthise.” The contempt dripping from George Will and Cokie Roberts in their various discussions of the blogosphere as a concept – not for specific things said or done by specific bloggers, but its very existence as a hated, hostile phenomenon – is amazing, and deserves a full post in its own right. They have their culture, and they handle things their way. The U.S. Code and the FBI be damned; if the Washington insiders do it, then it is not illegal.

My pessimism is derived from the fact that the same mentality holds in various sections of the blogosphere. The big Democratic and even liberal bloggers protect their own: this doesn’t apply so much to pundits like Ezra and Matthew Yglesias or outsiders like Amanda, but the Kos-MyDD-Atrios-FDL landmass is nothing if not a clique.

First, its organizational structure isn’t that different from this of a shrunk version of the right-wing political machine. Each blogger has a specific role in the left-wing blogospheric machine – Josh Marshall is the mainstream media contact, Jane Hamsher is the shrill talk radio host, Atrios is the news breaker, the people on Kos decide what issues everyone should care about, and the people on MyDD decide party strategy. The role of Daily Kos is singularly important, because other bloggers really do internalize what Kos declares to be real issues.

The most worrying thing is the blogosphere’s total ineptitude when it comes to taking on the Democratic establishment. The Lamont gambit was understandable; there was a serious chance Lamont could defeat Lieberman, making the Senate more anti-war. But once Lamont’s defeat made it clear that there was no point in spending energies on defeating conservative Democrats, the left-wing blogosphere should have moved on.

Instead, it decided to take on Ellen Tauscher. Beyond the knee-jerk sympathy every non-heartless person should have with anyone Firedoglake attacks with analogies to prostitution, it’s the height of wankery to go after someone whose main crime is being a DLC member and trumpeting bipartisanship. Kos says that since 58% of the people in her district voted for Kerry she could be replaced by a more liberal Representative, but given that Connecticut, where 54% of the voters supported Kerry, reelected Lieberman by a safe margin, Kos is likely dead wrong.

The online communities that prop up the Democratic blogosphere bear a striking resemblence to Washington as Bruce describes it. They feature a lot of at least upper middle class people: lawyers, tech writers, economists, and so on. Even the less well-off people, like Ezra or Lindsay or me, are more young than poor. I may have a $23,000/year income, but anyone who describes me as a working class person is an idiot (for one, I don’t work, as my posting frequency indicates…).

That, and every longlasting forum I’ve posted to has had cliquish tendencies. It’s perfectly fine when it’s a community of 15 people exchanging jokes and bitter articles about Bush’s stupidity, but when it’s a community of A-list bloggers who comprise a significant portion of the Democratic base, something is wrong. In the closest thing the Democratic blogosphere has had to a scandal, it indeed viewed it as an internal matter. Every time feminists criticized Kos for engaging in sexist behavior, he scorned them as outsiders not worthy of his attention; the one female blogger who publicly snubbed those feminists, Jane Hamsher, is the one the A-listers showered with links to make her one of their own.

Finally, as the Commissar notes, the Democratic blogosphere has certain control issues. I appreciate Kos’s sentiments in calling for “50 demerits” for any Democrat who participates in a Fox-organized Democratic Presidential debate, but seriously, he’s only justifying the epithet “nutroots.” In 1976, 1980, and 1984, the Presidential debates were hosted by the liberal League of Women Voters; what’s wrong with letting Fox host a primary debate?

My main fear is that the Democratic blogosphere will eventually evolve into a left-wing noise machine. I appreciate shifting the center to the left in the US, but as with the rise of the right-wing noise machine, a lot of important issues will be ignored or subverted. Cultural issues are already being tossed away, as the Democrats are inviting Dominionists like Jim Wallis into their ranks. Civil liberties and foreign policy will likely follow once the Democrats return to the White House.

3 Responses to In Which I Get Pessimistic About the Blogosphere

  1. Bruce says:

    Thanks for the link and comments, Alon.

  2. The left-wing blogosphere will no doubt develop into it’s own equivalent of the right-wing noise machine. It’s just a reality of politics, really. 15-20 years down the road the left will in all likelihood be the same trainwreck the right currently is. There seems to be a certain periodicity to politics.

  3. SLC says:

    Re Plane affair

    I have heard that first class schmuck Bob Woodward state that, in his opinion, the entire Plane affair is a non-issue. Typical of the inside the beltway crowd. For instance, even strongly pro-Israel commentators don’t denounce the anti-semitic Nazi bastard columnist Robert Novak.

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