Parallax View

Partly following up the last post, “Why We Blog” — Take a look at this WaPo headline on an article by Jim VandeHei: “Blogs Attack From Left as Democrats Reach for Center.”

And then take in this first paragraph:

Democrats are getting an early glimpse of an intraparty rift that could complicate efforts to win back the White House: fiery liberals raising their voices on Web sites and in interest groups vs. elected officials trying to appeal to a much broader audience.

My revision:

    “Blogs Demand that Democrats Be Democrats”

    Democrats are being put on notice that they can no longer ignore their base to appeal to right-of-center “swing” voters. Fiery liberals are raising their voices on Web sites and in interest groups to tell elected officials that in trying to appeal to a “broader” audience, the party is in danger of losing all definition and becoming an amorphous, unidentifiable blob.

Some of what VandeHei claims is going on in liberal blogoland is a bit, um, wrong. “First, liberal Web logs went after Democrats for selecting Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine to deliver the response to Bush’s speech next Tuesday,” writes VandeHei. Really? I hadn’t noticed, and I’m here pretty much all the time. But if you keep reading, you find that “liberal Web logs” is Arianna Huffington. I like her, but she’s hardly the entire liberal blogosphere.

VandeHei’s article describes a war between wild-eyed, far-leftist ideological commandos against the sober, realistic Democratic Party establishment professionals. If the Dems cater too much to us whackjobs, they risk alienating centrist voters.

Yeah, right. This is the same conventional “wisdom” that tells Dems they’d better be careful about criticizing Bush’s handling of the Iraq War, even though adults nationwide disapprove of Bush’s handling of the war by 58 to 39 percent (CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll conducted Jan. 20-22, 2006). And this is the same conventional wisdom telling Dems to back away from Roe v. Wade, even though 66 percent of adults nationwide say they don’t want it overturned (ibid.).

But the fact is that our problems with the establishment Dems aren’t really about ideology. I agree with Scott Shields at MyDD:

To be fair, there is some tension between the Democratic Party and the progressive blogosphere. Unlike the rightist blogosphere, we tend to be a bit more independent and suspicious of power. But to pretend that we’re in an all-out war is silly. If that were the case, I doubt the majority of us would still consider ourselves Democrats. Some of our favorite Democrats are people like Jack Murtha, the pro-life Harry Reid, and Russ Feingold, who voted to confirm Chief Justice Roberts. As Markos has pointed out time and again, the tension doesn’t stem from ideology. It’s all about entrenched power and reform.

What we really want is for Dems to work with the liberal blogosphere and with progressive organizations like Moveon to form an effective liberal/progressive coalition to counter the Right. In other words, we in the blogosphere want to work with the party to form a Daou power triangle. The Republican Party uses rightie bloggers to get their message out; much of the Democratic Party runs away from us, screaming. But just exactly who these Dems expect to vote for them — if not people looking for an alternative to the GOP — is a mystery to me. As Peter Daou wrote,

Unfortunately for the progressive netroots, the intricate interplay of Republican persuasion tactics, media story-telling, and 21st century information flow seems beyond the ken of most Democratic strategists and leaders. The hellish reality progressive bloggers have acknowledged and internalized is still alien to the party establishment. Dem strategy is still two parts hackneyed sloganeering and one part befuddlement over the stifling of their message.

Maybe the Democratic establishment wants it so, maybe they don’t know better, but progressive bloggers and activists are starting to see the bitter reality of their isolation: the triangle is broken and they’re on their own until further notice.

Back to VandeHei:

“The bloggers and online donors represent an important resource for the party, but they are not representative of the majority you need to win elections,” said Steve Elmendorf, a Democratic lobbyist who advised Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign. “The trick will be to harness their energy and their money without looking like you are a captive of the activist left.”

We may or may not be representative of the majority the Dems need to win elections now, but what the Dems need to do is work with us to educate and persuade people that the GOP way of governing the country isn’t the only way.

How in the world did the extremist whackjob Right get itself framed as the “center,” after all? VandeHei provides a clue:

The closest historic parallel would be the talk-radio phenomenon of the early 1980s, when conservatives — like liberals now — felt powerless and certain they did not have a way to voice their views because the mainstream media and many of their own leaders considered them out of touch. Through talk radio, often aired in rural parts of the country on the AM dial, conservatives pushed the party to the right on social issues and tax cuts.

And we know, even if VandeHei doesn’t say so, that those 1980s righties were not howling in the wilderness, but were being mentored and funded and promoted by big bucks donors and right-wing think tanks. And pretty soon the only message most people heard though the allegedly liberal “MSM” was the rightie message. Thus, the Right runs everything now.

You’d think that would be a clue.

VandeHei again:

The question Democrats will debate over the next few years is whether the prevailing views of liberal activists on the war, the role of religion in politics and budget policies will help or hinder efforts to recapture the presidency and Congress.

In fact, the prevailing views of liberal activists on these matters are the views of a large part of the American public. Like most Americans we think the war was a mistake (although there are diverse views about how to get out), most of us support the separation of church and state as Thomas Jefferson described it, and we’d like to go back to the dear departed days of budget surpluses that we enjoyed in the Clinton Administration. In other words — this is not radical stuff. We are not trying to turn America into a socialist utopia. We’re just trying to pull the government away from the extreme Right and back toward the center. And we’d like to live in a nation in which progressive policy views can get a fair hearing in public, and are not shouted down by rightie goons.

I honestly believe that if most Americans could hear what we had to say, they’d realize we’re mostly right. And the Dems could help themselves in the long run by helping us.

Even if they disagree with their positions, Democratic candidates recognize from the Dean experience the power of the activists to raise money and infuse a campaign with their energy. On the flip side, the Alito and Kaine episodes serve as a cautionary tales of what can happen to politicians when they spurn the blogs.

Once again, there was not a Kaine “episode”; most of us were thrilled when Kaine won the Virginia gubernatorial race in November, and I for one look forward to what he has to say next week. But what really worries the establishment Dems is whether we’ll continue to let them use us as campaign ATM machines if they’re afraid to be seen with us in public.

Why We Blog

I started blogging in 2002 out of frustration with the shallowness, sloppiness, and bias coming out of what’s loosely called “news media” in this country. Although professional standards had been slipping for some time, coverage of the 2000 election made me fully realize the clowns were running the circus, as it were. By 2002 I had figured out how to use technology to publish a web page, and I decided it was time to stop mumbling to myself and start communicating.*

Now, the clowns are having to reckon with us bloggers.

If you haven’t been following the recent snarking between theWashington Post ombudsperson, Deborah Howell, and the liberal blogosphere — in a nutshell, Howell wrote in one of her columns that Jack Abramoff had given tainted money to Democrats as well as Republicans, which is not true. When that bit of sloppiness raised a firestorm of irate mail, she “corrected” herself — “I should have said he directed his client Indian tribes to make campaign contributions to members of Congress from both parties.”

What can one say, but — aaaargh.

Jane Hamsher:

No. What you should have said was that although Abramoff’s victims, the Indian tribes, gave money to Democrats it was much less than they did before Abramoff appeared on the scene and there is no indication that there was anything quid-pro-quo about it. Unlike the Republicans, who are up to their eyeballs in shit over this. To say anything else provides improper context and implies that legitimate contributions and illegal influence peddling are one, which they most certainly are not.

See also “Abramoff Clients Shifted Money to GOP” by Scott Shields at MyDD.

Anyway, discussion on the WaPo blog became so heated that comments were shut off because, said executive editor Jim Brady, too many comments contained profanity and other hate speech. (This started some crowing on the Right Blogosphere because, you know, righties never engage in profanity and hate speech. Cough.) Further, the nasty comments were being posted too quickly for WaPo staffers to read and delete them. So comments had to be turned off.**

Jukeboxgrad of Daily Kos posted analysis that shows this claim was bullshit. Among other things, Jukeboxgrad retrieved deleted messages that contained no profanity or personal attacks. He also explains why it wouldn’t have been difficult, much less impossible, for a WaPo staffer to “keep up” with messages as they were posted.

Thursday (I believe) there was an actual close encounter between Howell and bloggers at a National Press Club luncheon, which you can read about here on the Blogometer. “To summarize both sides’ point of view,” writes William Beutler, “the bloggers in attendance implored the press to ‘do your job’ while the establishment journalists argued that their mistakes did not warrant the harsh response.”

Except that their “mistakes” are hurting America, as Jon Stewart said. And it’s not just one mistake. It’s all the “mistakes,” the sloppiness, the pulling back from plain truth about the Right because of some skewed idea of “balance”; reporters obviously writing from GOP handouts (you can tell by the “framing”); reporters who plainly take dictation from White House officials; covering election campaigns like a horse race in lieu of providing meaningful information about the candidates; and giving George W. Bush’s serial bleep-ups one pass after another (except for Katrina; I guess even the blow-dried brigades can’t ignore dead bodies).

I’ve worked in print media for many years, and it’s a fact that everybody gets something wrong now and then, and mistakes will be made even by the careful. But we’re talking about a pattern here. And we’re sick of it.

You can take any political story that’s more complicated than man-bites-dog, and you’ll find that completely accurate, objective reporting is the exception rather than the rule. I don’t believe any single cable news reporter has ever gotten the Plamegate saga right, for example, and the print reporters aren’t much better. Some of them are, in fact, worse.

When I was in Wales and England last summer, I met a few natives who were baffled why Americans had chosen (as if) George W. Bush to be our leader. “You do know he’s an idiot?” one lady, gently, asked. There was anxiety in her voice, as if she thought mention of Bush’s name might cause us Yanks to transform from rational beings into beasts with claws and snouts that would dig up her garden.

Well, yes, we said. Lots of Americans realize that. But it’s … complicated. But it isn’t, really. The biggest reason we’ve got a pack of hard right extremists in charge of our government is that the American people aren’t being told the truth about them. And the Right has gotten wonderfully good at using media to scare the stuffing out of enough people to keep them in line.

In the words of the soc-psych study I cited here, Americans are being exposed “to a wide-ranging multidimensional mortality salience induction.” And the “MSM” is complicit.

But let’s go back to Deborah Howell. Jane Hamsher writes,

Matt Stoller and John Aravosis had a Deborah Howell encounter yesterday at the Washington Press Club. The Hotline Blogometer recounts the affair where after an hour and a half of listening to Howell and others describe her experience like she was the sole survivor of the Bismark, Matt Stoller grabbed the microphone and said “The antagonism here is coming from you guys….Nothing happened to you!” Aravosis says Stoller went on for a bit more — “You’re fine…it’s not like you were hit by a car…you’re sitting here, eating a nice meal” or words to that effect.

Atrios points out that the pros aren’t accustomed to anything like the instant feedback of the Blogosophere. “Boo hoo. People were mean. Welcome to my world.”

See also Steve Gilliard and Digby.

In other MSM v. bloggers news, NBC smeared Arianna Huffington because of Huffington’s criticisms of Tim Russert (like this). I say Russert is one of the most overrated hacks on television. (There are worse hacks, but Russert has a “rep” for being a real journalist and tough interviewer, which he is not.) “Personality” journalists in particular have been able to operate in their own protective bubble for far too long; they desperately need the kind of critical razzing the Blogosphere can provide. It would do them good; force them to work harder to get their facts right and to think about what they are presenting to news consumers. If the lords and ladies of the press stop getting the vapors for being criticized, maybe we can learn to work together to everyone’s benefit.

But, bottom line — this is why I blog. To get the facts straight and to get the truth out. If the “MSM” ever straightens itself up and does its job properly, I will retire.

(Click “more” for footnotes.) Continue reading