Following is the essay you can designate as Volume 10, Number 15 of
This Week’s Clue, based on the e-mail newsletter I have produced since
March, 1997. Enjoy.
One trend that informed my work on The Internet Thesis over the last year was my observing of the political blogosphere.
I have covered online politics since
1996. I have witnessed an ongoing transformation in how politics is
conducted. That transformation is not yet complete.
A highlight was my visit to the nascent
Dean campaign offices, almost four years ago now. I told Joe Trippi (left),
Zephyr Teachout and the rest they were about to become a tourist
They laughed. I was right.
Joe Trippi, who is now considered the
“go-to” analyst when it comes to the Internet and politics, was
wrong about a lot of things that year. He failed to scale the
intimacy of the early blog efforts. He failed to truly make his
campaign interactive. He used the Internet as a cash machine, and he
continues to look at Internet politics through the prism of what
worked for him then.
Joe Trippi is still wrong about
politics and the Internet. Don’t listen to him.
The big trend of the last four years
has been the rise of online communities, especially DailyKos
MyDD, whose advice Trippi explicitly rejected
when they offered to give this power to him and to his candidate.
These are now scaled operations akin to the early America Online, not
blogs. They offer important features like diaries and threaded
discussions. They are staffed-up to bring work from the “bottom of
the stack” to the top. They are truly interactive, and truly
intimate. Anyone within these communities can be heard, is heard, and
in being heard is empowered. They have become the de-facto Democratic
Party clubhouses of our time.
A second vital trend has been the
democratization of reporting, represented best by Firedoglake and
a group blog (Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake is shown at the bottom of this post), did more on the Scooter Libby story than any news
organization in the world – more than The New York Times, more than
the Washington Post, more than the TV networks, more than the cable
(that’s Justin Rood of TPM to the right) first rose to prominence on the Jack Abramoff story, but it’s their
work on the U.S. Attorney scandal which really shows the potential of
this medium as a game-changer. When the Bush Administration tried to
fudge reality with late Friday “document dumps,” it was the
TPMMuckraker user base that pored over those documents, and found the
nuggets of scandal in the mounds of paper. As paid media reporters
have continued to downplay this scandal, TPMMuckraker’s volunteers
have continue to drive it.
The ability of committed, politicized
Internet users to break and drive stories has been the great game
changer of our time. Conservatives like to claim it was their own
scoop which began the trend. But that was the work of one user, a
Buckhead lawyer who posted to a right wing community FreeRepublic.
Other than that, none of the conservative blogs or communities has
really taken advantage of what the Internet can do.
Instead, for the Right, the Internet
has been an echo chamber. Stories are driven from the top of the
stack – the National Review, the
Republican National Committee, Fox News, the
Drudge Report – and endlessly repeated,
in practically the same words, around the country. (Often, these
three sites are repeating what one of them said, rather than all
coming up with new stuff.) The truth of any matter is never really
considered, as in the recent example of Michael Ware “heckling”
John McCain in Baghdad .
It never happened. Yet dozens of right-wing blogs around the country
reported this lie as fact, and not a one ever retracted the lie. They
never saw the hit to their credibility. They still don’t. Perhaps
they never will.
One fact, one incontrovertible fact,
will prove my case. Redstate, supposedly the
leading conservative “community” site (run by Erick Erickson, left), the right’s answer to DailyKos,
was bought last
year by Eagle Publishing,
which subsidizes so much of the Right Wing Noise Machine. It was not
economically viable on its own. This speaks volumes.
All this illustrates crucial
differences between the two political sides. On the right truth is
malleable, results are everything, and the purpose of a blog is to
repeat what comes down, to lead cheers, to “keep up the skeer”
as Nathan Bedford Forrest, founder of the KKK, said so eloquently. On
the left truth is real, and the purpose of a blog is either to
analyze truth or bring it to light. More important, it’s to listen as
much as speak, to really listen, and to learn.
I know that right-wing readers will
object to this characterization. Tough. It’s the simple, plain truth.
None of your rhetoric can change that truth. I see it every day. The right engages in rhetoric, in name-calling,
in cheerleading, and in character assassination. The left engages in
organization, in journalism, in satire, in message creation as well as
dissemination. The one goes from the top down, the other from the
This is a crucial difference, one that
is now telling in surveys of political opinion. The majority of
Americans now agree with liberals on nearly every issue. A plurality
agree with liberals on what had been the right’s signature issue, the
War on Terror. How much is the result of Bush’s poor performance, how
much the result of media reporting, and how much was the result of
blogger activism is difficult to measure. The fact is that blogger
activists have played a role, and this role will only increase with
All this rolls into my Internet Thesis
in an important way. Conservatives today all believe in the Nixon
Thesis – in government as power, in enemies as intractable, in
top-down politics. The number of people crafting the messages which
roll over Right Blogistan can possibly be counted on the fingers of
two hands. This is not true on the left, where power has transferred
from the bottom-up.
It wasn’t the Dean campaign and Joe
Trippi who changed how our politics works. It was Markos Moulitsas,
it was Jane Hamsher (right), it was Josh Marshall and John Amato of Crooks &
Liars, along with literally tens of thousands of others. These people
refused to be told by their leaders what to think. These were people
who did the hard work of separating truth from press fiction. They
are people who organized, people who interacted, people who listened
as well as spoke.
This force can no longer be put back in
its place, not by George W. Bush but (most importantly) not by
Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama either. Not even by Howard Dean. We
are all just a mouse click from our leaders now, and we demand to be
heard when we have something to say. The ability of Left Blogistan to
drive this conversation, to listen as well as speak, and to scale the intimacy, has transformed
American politics in ways we can’t yet count. And which no reporter
Except, perhaps, for you. And over the
next four years, it will transform American government even more.