Under the Radar

Last week, as the mighty national MSM wagged its finger at Nancy Pelosi over the Murtha-Hoyer flap, another House leadership fight was being ignored. This was the fight between the Right Blogosphere and the Washington Republican establishment.

Oh, it wasn’t much of a fight. Rightie bloggers and other conservative activists put up their fists, and the establishment Republicans ignored them. But it reveals something about where the Right (and the Left) might be going.

Last week House Republicans kept John Boehner (Ohio) and Roy Blunt (Missouri) as their respective Leader and Whip, albeit changing from Majority to Minority in January. This was a rebuff of the bloggers, who championed Mike Pence (Indiana) and John Shadegg (Arizona). (For an explanation of the blogger position, see this article written before the House vote by Dick “The Other Dick” Morris.)

McQ at Q and O wrote,

The Arizona Republic pretty well expressed my feelings with their endorsement of Shadegg (who is, of course, a favorite son):

    We’re going to learn very quickly, likely this week, whether a lick of sense has been pounded into the craniums of congressional Republicans following their midterm disaster last Tuesday….

    …If House Republicans leave either of those gentlemen – Boehner or Blunt – in charge when they vote for new leaders later this week, they will be declaring themselves even more blithering than voters thought. And voters thought Republicans were pretty blithering this election cycle, if you hadn’t noticed.

A lot of times when you hear the coach of a losing team explain how he plans to get his team back on track, he says “we have to get back to basics”. Well that’s precisely what Republicans have to do. And that requires leadership which is actively committed to those basics and steering its members that way.

The results were even more lopsided than in the Hoyer-Burth contest. Boehner bettered Pence 168 to 27, and Blunt beat Shadegg 137 to 57. The Washington Post editorialized,

The results marked a setback for conservative activists who tried to wrest control of the party by arguing that it had lost its ideological moorings and that voters had signaled they wanted Republicans to renew the energetic, activist style that swept them to power in 1994. …

… Rather than retooling political concepts, GOP strategists say, they will focus on strategies that will promote their agenda of making tax cuts permanent, appointing conservatives to the federal bench, and making select spending cuts, while trying to foil many of the Democrats’ domestic proposals, to the extent that the Republicans’ new status allows.

Remember the GOP motto: It’s not what you do, but what you say, that counts.

While researching this development I found this intriguing FAQ by Dean Barnett at Townhall. It begins:

1) How could this have happened? The entire weight and heft of the right-wing blogosphere stood behind a campaign to change the House leadership and nothing happened. Kos holds a putz-fest in Vegas and virtually the complete Democratic establishment comes to kiss his ring. Is the right wing blogosphere only capable of getting congressional types to give us a few minutes of their time on conference calls?

The FAQ answer is “The right wing blogosphere has to deal with the facts. The politicians just aren’t that into us.” But this perception from the Right turns old leftie conventional wisdom on its head — we think they’re marching in lockstep with the GOP while we’re outsiders, crashing the gates of the Dem establishment. So which is it?

I think you can find part of the story in posts by Chris Bowers at MyDD. In fact, the titles of the posts in chronological order tell the story:

September 12, 2004: “Top-Down Right-Wing Blogosphere Growing Powerful.”

January 20, 2005: “Partisan Left-Wing Blogs Growing Far More Influential Than ‘Independent’ Right-Wing Blogs.”

June 12, 2005: “Aristocratic Right Wing Blogosphere Stagnating.”

March 21, 2006: “There Is No Right-Wing Blogosphere Anymore.”

Although the title of that last post may seem a tad premature, the point he makes is about the different natures of the Right and Left Blogosphere and the fact that the two halves of the blogosphere brain are not mirror images of each other.

In a nutshell — in the first post, Chris looked at traffic patterns on both sides of the blogosphere and explained why the Right was better at pushing that “one big story” and getting that story into the headlines than the Left. Back in the glory days of Rathergate, for example, we saw a story travel from an anonymous comment on Free Republic to national media in 12 hours. “The right-wing blogosphere has become integrated into the Mighty Wurlitzer,’ wrote Chris, “while we remain a loose confederation of outrage, analysis and action.”

In the second post, Chris noted that the righties were still better at getting and keeping the attention of news media than we were. But, under the radar, the Left Blogosphere was busy with other matters:

We raised well over a million dollars for Democratic candidates in the 2004 cycle whereas they did not even come close to 100K. We crushed Roemer’s candidacy for DNC chair and are on the verge of basically selecting the new DNC chair, whereas they said nothing about the RNC chair. We changed a law in Virginia, but I have never heard of them contacting lawmakers. We organized a challenge to the electoral vote certification, but I can’t remember the last time a Republican Senator did something on the urging of the right-wing netroots. We have significantly whipped our own party into line on Social Security, and there is nothing comparable on their side.

In the third post, Chris wrote about the growth of community on the Left Blogosphere and the lack thereof on the Right. On the Left, it’s much easier for new voices to join our discourse and introduce ideas that will be noticed throughout our side of the ‘sphere. The Right Blogosphere, however, is far more hierarchical, with a relatively small pool of über-bloggers dominating rightie web conversation.

And in the fourth and last post, Chris noted that those über-bloggers had mostly been absorbed into the conservative establishment.

Most major right-wing bloggers have now been incorporated into the established news media apparatus. Glenn Reynolds is a columnist for MSNBC. Andrew Sullivan is a columnist for Time. Michelle Malkin is a frequently published columnist in a number of offline outlets. And now, RedState co-founder Ben Ben Domenech has a regular column in the Washington Post.

We all remember that Ben Domenech didn’t last long in the WaPo position, for which he was colossally unsuited. Still, the fact that a 24-year-old pedestrian writer and college dropout was given such a position at all is wonderfully illustrative of how the Right is becoming a tad inbred; for more on this see DHinMI at Kos.

The many ties between conservative institutions (including media, think tanks, and the Republican Party) and the Right Blogosphere were documented by Garance Franke-Ruta in The American Prospect; see “Blogged Down” from the April 2005 issue. Please do take a look at this, because I don’t want to repeat it all here but it makes an important point about how the conservative establishment has been using the Right Blogosphere all along. There is little parallel with the Left Blogosphere. While some of us have received occasional media attention and gigs with campaigns after we got into blogging, only a handful of people on my blogroll had media exposure or establishment connections before blogging. Of course, what little progressive/liberal media-think tank infrastructure exists is no match for the Right’s.

And then go read (or re-read) Peter Daou’s original “Triangle” essay from September 2005. “[B]log power on both the right and left is a function of the relationship of the netroots to the media and the political establishment,” Peter wrote. Bloggers become effective at pushing a story or addressing an issue when blogs, media, and the political establishment form a power triangle and work together to promote that story or address that issue. And, until recently, the Right was a whole lot better at that than we were. Even before the political blogosphere took off, the establishment Right was incorporating the web into the triangle; think Drudge and the blue dress.

Chris continues,

The right wing tends not to build independent online communities, using their existing offline communities to generate web sites that reinforce their politics and their ideology.

Their web presence is nurtured by institutions and is part of the conservative, right-wing media machine. The Drudge Report, for instance, is one of the largest conservative sites and frequently receives its information from Republican operatives.

Most right-wing blogs reiterate talking points that are generated from inside formal conservative institutions; conversations center on feeling victimized for being right-wing, attacking and hating progressives, and attacking and hating the media….

… I feel it has developed to such a degree that the right-wing blogosphere itself has been all but annihilated … there is almost nothing in the way of an independent right-wing blogosphere operating outside of existing, established news media outlets. The days of the rise of Free Republic have long passed.

By “annihilated” Chris isn’t saying there is no Right Blogosphere, he’s saying there is no community of activist rightie bloggers independent from the conservative establishment that can effectively challenge the establishment. And that takes us back to Dean Barnett’s FAQ.

2) But how come the Democrats are so into the blogosphere and the Republicans aren’t? How come we don’t generate fear and respect like the Kosfather?

Because all we do is opine, and often in an annoyingly independent way. While all of us root for the Republican Party, we’re also pretty expressive when members of the party let us down. We might carry a little water, but as a group, I bet the Republican establishment thought of us as more as a pain in the neck than an asset during the last campaign season. I know I won’t be on George Allen’s Christmas card list.

3) And Kos is different?

Yes. Although he rips Democrats when he’s of a mind to do so, he also brings something else to the party. He brings volunteers and money and buzz. Although my modem might well explode as I type these words, Jon Tester would not be a senator starting in January if it weren’t for the Daily Kos. Same for Jim Webb. He never would have made it out of the primary.

It’s true that, all along, plenty of rightie bloggers have bucked Washington establishment opinion. Most of them hate President Bush’s immigration plans. Many have complained about Congress’s out-of-control spending. But they’ve done very little [*] counter-organizing or activism. They complain, and the establishment ignores them.

[*] One of the few independent rightie blog initiatives that has generated some heat is the Porkbuster project founded by NZ Bear and Glenn Reynolds.

Leftie bloggers on the other hand, began as outsiders, and we have been fighting our way in. A couple of years ago few in the Democratic Party gave us the time of day. Now we’re a force, although how much of a force is a matter of opinion. But the realization that it’s not wise to ignore the bloggers is slowly dawning in some inside-the-beltway Democratic heads.

Dean Barnett wrote of rightie blogs, “I bet the Republican establishment thought of us as more as a pain in the neck than an asset during the last campaign season.” Possibly less of a pain in the neck than dead weight. The Right Blogosphere did plenty of water-carrying for the GOP in the 2004 campaign. They were practically the right arm of the Swift Boaters, for example. Last month they worked mightily to inflate John Kerry’s flubbed joke into a substantial issue, and certainly they helped make it a bigger deal than it deserved to be. (Too bad for them that John Kerry wasn’t running; he would have lost again.) But they couldn’t sustain a power triangle strong enough to hold back the blue wave. This is not the fault of rightie bloggers alone, of course, but rather is symptomatic of a systemic weakening of the entire Right versus a rising tide of discontent across the land.

On the other hand, until recently most of the Democratic establishment did think we leftie bloggers were a pain in the neck, and some of it still does, and we leftie bloggers regard much of the Democratic establishment in the same light. This is an alliance born more of pragmatism than loyalty, although perhaps we’ll get chummier as we get to know each other.

The Right Blogosphere from the beginning was seamlessly integrated into the establishment Right’s message machine, whether the bloggers realized it or not. As long as rightie bloggers can be counted on to support the message or swift-boat attack du jour, the establishment can tolerate (and ignore) their grumblings about Roy Blunt as majority whip. It’s not their independence from the GOP but their lack thereof that makes them ignorable.

On the other hand, the Left Blogosphere did not sit around and wait for direction from the Dems, but worked independently from the Dems to become activists and organizers and influencers in our own right. The point of this is not to be tools of the Democratic Party, which overall has displeased us mightily in recent years. The point is to make the party a better tool for effecting a progressive agenda. And this is just part of a larger effort to heal America’s sick political culture. This effort has only just begun, and we’ve got a long way to go. But we’ve made a good beginning.

The challenge for us going forward is to work more effectively with the Dems without being absorbed into the existing Democratic Party establishment. The Right Blogosphere faces a different challenge, but that’s something they’ll have to figure out for themselves.

18 thoughts on “Under the Radar

  1. Newt perhaps did a bang up job of creating a cohesive, never wavering Repub message to be carried out in perpetuity by his minions of obedient fellow-believers. He told them what to believe, to say, to do on behalf of the Repub party – and apparently they haven’t forgotten it. I think it is also in the nature of the Repub beast to be more comfortable under authoritarian rule and to shrink at the mere suggestion of a possible heresy.

    Dems, however, chomp at the bit under authoritarian anything. It seems quite natural that they would willingly question their party’s policies and have no compunction about shouting their grievances to the roof tops. The danger is that even though Dems are easy to fire up their staying power is usually iffy.

    The Dems in Congress should make note of our lack of staying power and fire off “causes” that we can “take up” weekly or maybe even bi-weekly.

  2. ok, I can’t think of a way to say this nicely so stay with me, but I think people have lost interest with rightie blogs because they tend to support party line message over PEOPLE.

    Their snake oil crap sold for awhile but I think people figured out what bloggers on the right were saying not only turned out to be wrong,but they could have gotten the short version of the same old line in a million other places.

    People figured out that rightie bloggers,are, for the most part the equal to used car salesmen who jump on top of your car as you pull into a lot…They don’t believe in what they sell, they just sell it.

    I understand a person who blogs may want to support the party they belong to and the agenda of said party, but it is a slap in the face to see anyone putting a political party over people, over whats right,over what they believe in their hearts(and believe me after awhile it shows).

    If the outstanding bloggers I read on the left want to avoid that they need only stay true to themselves.But working with your party to get things done is GREAT…I don’t think there is any shame in, for example, declaring with one proud voice on the left that torture is bad and working with anyone and everyone else who agrees in order to change things if that is what the blogger really believes in.

    As you pointed out, when rightie bloggers don’t agree with the party line they are ignored.But if they are indeed not just paid hacks and are just regular folks speaking out then why should they be treated any different then any other American who disagrees? Hell yeah they are ignored.The only “power” they have is granted to them by good behavior.And if they are paid hacks then they don’t agree or disagree- they just sling the product; And honey there is no status in being equal to a corner boy.

    I think the difference is that as a whole the left is much more open to the ideas bloggers bring to the table,even if it did take awhile .I don’t think they both need to agree all the time to learn from each other and improve a very broken system.I don’t worry one bit about the blogs that I read falling into the pattern of rightie blogs I know the writers will keep their standard a cut above the rest.I know they will never copy their pieces from the DNC talking points, the bloggers I read know most of their readers are smart enough to know how to find the DNC website ourselves should we find ourselves in need of the info..perhaps the story is different at the rightie blogs?

    My advice to rightie bloggers, get a spine and if your waiting for a pat on the head from the higher ups in your party your blogging for the wrong reason.Political blogging makes people aware of issues and then people act to fix what is broken..that is where power should come from…rightie bloggers seem to want a to throw a tantrum and have daddy pay attention to them and act to make them happy?yeah right!…LoL..Someone needs a time out.

  3. Reading ‘Blogged Down’, I was reminded of the Gannon take-down.

    When that expose was happening, I was agog at the skills of those coordinating Kos folks. In fact, I finally printed out, and then sort of diagrammed and took notes of, some 110 pages of comments at that site [all of which Kos action/discovery took place in mere hours] That note-taking exercise led me to be very impressed with and hopeful about the internet medium for citizen activism.

    I do not read many rightie sites, but when I do, I notice that their attack echoes far outweigh their fact-seeking.

  4. That note-taking exercise led me to be very impressed with and hopeful about the internet medium for citizen activism.

    That’s one of the things President Clinton said when we met with him. He was very impressed by the Left Blogosphere’s ability to respond to breaking news with facts, context, and background. No one else is doing what we’re doing, he said.

  5. Leftie blogs are the great hope for this country, with its corrupt media and corrupt government. I wonder how many seats the Dems would’ve gained this last election had there not be a left wing blogosphere.

    It’s insightful to me how left wing attempts at AM talk radio work about as well as right wing attempts at blogging. Not that there aren’t some crossover successes, but each medium favors a different style of social organization.

    And I think our style of organization, peer-to-peer, every person speaking their own mind, every person correcting another is far more what this country was intended to be, instead of just following orders from on high. Mega-dittoes, Rush.

  6. It’s insightful to me how left wing attempts at AM talk radio work about as well as right wing attempts at blogging.

    To be fair, I have heard a lot of rightie talk radio was subsidized by the deep pockets of the VRWC for a few years before it became profitable, and leftie talk radio wasn’t given that kind of care and nurturing.

    I can only speak for myself, but I prefer to read rather than listen to a voice speaking or reading to me. One, I read a lot faster than anyone can talk; and two, reading gives me a chance to pause and reflect when the mood strikes me, and then pick up the thread later. Further, radio is still one-way mass media, and I like a medium that lets me join in and talk back.

    One of the things I love about the Left Blogosphere is the way people bounce facts and ideas off each other. Somebody posts something, and then a dozen other people pick it up and say, yes, and then there’s this … and add more facts, more perspective, perhaps look at the same issue from another angle. It’s like a perpetual panel discussion.

    There’s some of that on the Right Blogosphere, too, but more of the Right is ditto, ditto, ditto, liberals and Muslims stink, ditto, we hate Hillary, ditto, etc.

    I also think the Left Blogosphere has matured considerably over the past five or six years. There used to be blogs that were mostly just about making fun of Bush, and those seem to have disappeared. The blogs that have survived are more substantive and look at a bigger range of issues, as a rule.

  7. justme, glad to see you got through the spam filter phase. Your comment was right on.

    I left here, went to Memorandum, and clicked onto the links re: news of John Bolton. Except for the India source that just lays out facts about Bolton’s recent rhetoric at the UN, all the other sites seem to be rightie sites [so far].

    To underscore what I said in comment #3 about echoes vs facts on rightie sites, I want to list the main echo points of the rightie sites first, and then have you consider these echo points in the light of one fact from the India article, an important fact which not one of the rightie sites addresses.

    First, the rightie ‘praise Bolton’ echo chamber chorus:
    1] ‘John Bolton has done an exceptional job’
    2] ‘the clear-thinking and solid John Bolton’
    3] ‘Bolton smacks down the UN’
    4] ‘Bolton has once again displayed the strength not often seen in the halls of the UN’
    5] ‘Bolton is da man’
    6] ‘God bless this man’
    7] ‘he….confronts rabid despoilers of freedom and decency at the UN’

    Now for the one fact that seems a tad important:
    “Despite the resolution being significantly watered down at the behest of the United States, and being passing by 156 votes to seven, Bolton launched a blistering attack on the UN, and many of its members. [The United States, and Australia joined Israel in voting against the motion, together with four small Pacific island nations. All countries in Europe, including Britain, voted to support the resolution]”

  8. …I also think the Left Blogosphere has matured considerably over the past five or six years.

    This amazes me too, for the increasing quality of material and discussions I’ve seen and particpated in, and the connections people have made with one another, that wouldn’t exist otherwise.

    What’s cool is that the left blogosphere is a self-reflecting, maturing media, where people are becoming more aware of their power, individually and collectively, and are becoming more skillful and creative in using it. It’s a medium that is finding itself, in much the same way that both old style broadcast radio and television were mediums that had to find their strengths and define themselves.

    I think leftie radio has a bright future, but it’s going to take some bright and creative people to find a unique delivery with the right emotional and intellectual tone to reach people’s hearts in a way that’s alien to the right’s dumbed down fear-based screeching. Simply copying right wing radio and tweaking it produces an imitation of the real thing, which is pretty boring and uncreative. Instead, we have to find our own uniqueness in this medium and capitalize on it, much as we have done and are doing with blogs.

    Having a patient sugar daddy (paging George Soros…) would certainly help left wing radio. And the whole project probably won’t succeed in a massive way until years of Republican misrule finally become apparent in a personal, economic sense to large numbers of folks. People are going to have to become tired of the outdated music produced by the mighty Wurlitzer before they’ll switch that dial.

  9. Lefties don’t march in lockstep to the sound of one message coming out of a megaphone (or radio). We’re all over the map, covering the terrain like a web. This is why the blogosphere is a good fit for the left. Righties tend to fall in line behind a single voice — thus the radio “one-way mass media” model works well for them.

    I’m sure I’ve over-simplified, and I look forward to reading the illuminating/dissenting comments from fellow posters.

  10. I can only speak for myself, but I prefer to read rather than listen to a voice speaking or reading to me.

    Reading allows me to digest information and analyze what I am being told. When you get a fast talker who is slick lipped like Rush Limbaugh, it’s hard to take in all the things that he is saying , and more often than not he can insert a false premise without the listener being any the wiser. An example would be Bush’s speech to the nation about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction..in that speech he also mentioned that regime change was a reason for invading Iraq, but because of it’s positioning in the wording it was difficult to absorb through hearing, It wasn’t until some rightie claimed that Bush mentioned regime change in his address that I went back to read what he said..sure enough one of his stated goals was regime change…I heard it but didn’t hear it because it was over shadowed by WMD’s. My point is that it’s easier to find the bullshit in the written word than it is by find it with an untrained ear. When bullshit is coming at you at high speed, you can’t take it all in and analyze it.

  11. Oh, bottom line…Rightie are insecure in their being..My being a leftie is not the result of intellect, it’s the result of security in my exisistance..believe me! I was lost and now I’m found, was blind but now I see ( although through bloodshot eyes)

  12. Excellent indepth article. Enjoyed very much.
    I have noticed the right establishment attacking the left blogs quite abit lately. I thought they were jealous of the power of the left blogs to move things.
    I think the rights problem is what is touted as thier strength and that is conformity. Righties and lefties think different. righties tend to be people who toe the establishment line and want to be as much establishment as possible. They see independence as unorganized and rebellous. To rebel is to go totally against thier grain. So, of course thier blogs is going to be part of the establishment and pecking order. They will not go against thier party enough to force change because that goes against what they are.
    Lefties are very independent thinkers. They do not see being part of the establishment as something to be proud of. They are naturally more contrary. We are the people who are part of the Will Rogers “I’m not part of an organized party. I’m a democrat” and wear it with pride. We buck the established order and rebel if needed. And are proud of it. We work well with others as long as they don’t try to incorporate us. Our strength is what the MSM complains about. We are not conforming and toe the line.
    So, the righties cannot do alot to affect change due to thier need to be a part of the establishment and conform to the established order. They will not strike out on thier own to do the activist things unless told to by the establishment and told how (this also caused alot of problems with candidates who were given the script to follow to the letter even if it did not play well in pookipsie. The message fell flat in thier areas and yet, they stuck to the script because they were told to. No deviating. No message to thier area’s concern)
    We will independently go out and do whatever on our own.

  13. The MSM continues to paint Democratic Party differences of opinion as a weakness, when the truth is that it is one of the Party’s strengths. The contentious nature of the Democratic Party, (“herding cats”) reveals that it is a political party that accepts differences of opinion, is willing to entertain criticism, and allows all voices to be heard.

    Differences of opinion are a sign that the concept of a democratic republic is a vital and real part of the Party’s agenda, and that agenda is American in principle and at its best, in deed.

    Of course, once a direction is settled after necessary debate whether everyone has what they want or not, it is then time to unite behind the compromise that has been hammered out or the best alternative under prevailing circumstances.

    As democrats should now know, one can have the best intentions, but unless a political party has unity at crunch time it will not have the power to implement necessary legislation, accomplish its responsibilities toward its constituents, nor strengthen the nation.

    From Bernie Sanders to Zell Miller, from intellectually challenging, to instinctually base, and from advocate to the self-serving the Democratic Party renews itself and its thinking.

    An observer may not be aware of this considering that the MSM crunches out negativity about liberalism and worships the hypocrisy of the neo-cons. Never-the-less, just as the neo-cons succeed by repeating their lies endlessly and in unison, liberals must repeat their truths with the same regimen and vigor.

    Liberals in politics should not put their heads on the block by advancing the most liberal ideas in their agenda; they should test the water first through liberals in the media and adapt their ideas to the reality of the responses received. In this way the democratic representatives do not end up offering themselves as sacrifices to the MSM oligarchy.

  14. “the Democratic Party renews itself and its thinking”.

    Good point, elephty. Sort of makes me think of the difference between aikido and body-building…….aikido is a practice of alertness and flexibility, while body-building is a practice of dumbing down the interior muscles in favor of a rigid [bug-mimicing] eco-skeleton.

  15. Actually, body-building can build character and discipline as well as enhance one’s health and physique when done correctly. When done for the wrong reasons or when involving enhancement drugs, trouble is just around the corner.When I was involved in body-building in the mid 80’s, I was frustrated that I couldn’t get big results, but I trained clean and hard which got me the nickname of Tarzan for several years.I no longer have the time or drive to train and may soon be known as “Flabio”.A little Sunday morn humor.
    But seriously, it seems to me Liberals tend to follow the “Mommy”pattern while Conservatives are the strict” Daddy”.
    Too bad Daddy is a narrow-minded half-drunk bully/biggot lately while Mommy has been wringing her hands on the sidelines in dispair.
    Mommy has finally found her legs, and Daddy is about to go to the wood shed Mommy has been listening to all her children while Daddy has time only for the ones that suck up the hardest Daddy and his bad boy friends have wrecked the house, now Mommy and her kids are stuck with quite a mess to clean up.

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