Monday, June 12, 2006

Emptying the blogger notebook

Well, that’s what I get for weighing in here the other day on Ann Coulter. The producers of It’s Your Call, the Comcast roundtable on CN8, phoned to ask whether I’d like to join the festivities in the studio tonight at 9. Topic: Ann Coulter. Normally I’m more of a C-Span kind of guy, but maybe this can be a chance to put Coulter in the, um, proper perspective. If you're a Comcast subscriber with nothing better to do, feel free to call in.
My newspaper column on the liberal blogger convention is here. It's reasonably lengthy, by today's print standards. Nevertheless, there is much more to say. For instance:

The liberal blogosphere has grown so quickly that nobody has quite figured out whether they should come up with some sort of endorsement process for presidential candidates. And even if they did come up with a process, they’d have to figure out how to pick somebody -– no easy task, given the fact that, despite the presence of a few blogger-leaders (Markos Moulitsas, Jerome Armstrong, Chris Bowers, Duncan Black, to name a few), the blogs tout the notion of a freewheeling democracy in which everybody has a voice, anybody can be a leader.

The issue is surfacing now, because four possible 2008 candidates decided to show up in Vegas: ex-Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (he threw a party at the Stratosphere Hotel & Casino), retired Gen. Wesley Clark (he hosted a schmooze session at the Hard Rock Café), New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (he hosted a breakfast), and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (he appeared on an education panel).

A fair number of bloggers at the Vegas confab were privately perturbed that Warner, a staunch centrist, seems to be getting so much attention from Moulitsas and Armstrong. The latter is working for Warner’s political action committee, as tekkie guru and de facto liaison to the bloggers. Moulitsas praises Warner regularly (even though Warner is hardly a two-fisted partisan brawler, the style that bloggers prefer), and, even though that isn’t tantamount to an endorsement, his warm words for Warner contrast sharply with his pithy dismissals of most everybody else.

In a May 8 online chat with the Washington Post website, for example, the scion of dumped on Russ Feingold (“two divorces, no family to use as campaign props, and he’s short”), Joe Biden (“completely irrelevant”), John Kerry (“yesterday’s news”), and Hillary Clinton (“I can’t imagine a single state that HRC would’ve won that Kerry lost in 2004”). He said that Al Gore won’t run, out of fear of the “moronic media,” and, for good measure, he dumped on Bill Clinton, too (“he killed the party”).

Is Moulitsas trying to nudge blogworld toward Warner? He says no. That would not be a popular move among the bloggers, many of whom suspect that Warner is wooing the bloggers merrely to neutralize them and prevent a stampede toward the guy they love most, Wisconsin Senator Feingold (who voted no on the Iraq war, and authored the recent motion to censure President Bush).

Chris Bowers at, with the cooperation of, recently conducted a survey of the latter group’s members, hoping to gauge intensity of support for various candidates. Feingold drew the most intense support; 38 percent viewed him very favorably. Warner was at the bottom; only eight percent saw him that way.

Many of the bloggers were also annoyed by Warner's Saturday luncheon address. Before he took the stage, he was featured in a lengthy laudatory video that trumpeted his economic record as Virginia governor -- the standard kind of campaign video, with all the tear-inducing artifice, that many in the audience have come to loathe over the years. One blogger from New Haven, Edward Anderson later said, "I can see his TV ads already, 'I created this many jobs, I created that many jobs.' I can see the whole checklist."

On one level, people were flattered by Warner's lavish attention; after all, this guy saw the future of cellphones back in the early '80s -- and invested his money accordingly -- when few others could even grasp the idea. So the bloggers figure that maybe he's also a seer about blogger power. But they sense that maybe the guy is pushing too hard for a quid pro quo.

So there are bound to be clashes between pro-Warner bloggers who see him as a futurist, and anti-Warner bloggers who dismiss him as a "corporatist" (a word I heard frequently). "So far," said Tim Tageris, a blogosphere guru who works for Ned Lamont’s insurgent Senate campaign in Connecticut, “we have all been generally pulling together. But (in the runup to '08)we’ll start to see a lot of different people pulling a lot of different ways.”

Moulitsas also senses that the normally disputatious blogosphere will soon become even worse, as the next election draws closer: “How are we going to enforce a code of civility on the (DailyKos) site when passions are going to be running very high? That’s what keeps me up at night.”


Bloggers consider themselves to be political outsiders, but in truth they have already fashioned their own insider culture, with their own lingo and norms of online behavior. On the DailyKos website, for instance, trolls are jerky people who post highly disruptive comments. And the blogosphere has also spawned its own celebrities, people who are known only by their pseudonyms.

A lot of those folks "came out" at the blogger convention. They showed up in their actual physical state, and during Q&A sessions, they announced who they were -- and the audience would respond with audibly breathless delight.

"You might know me as Major Danby." Gasp...
"I am McJoan." Gasp...
"I blog as DDay." Gasp...

It quickly became a ritual that whenever a blogger stood at a mike and came out, he or she would pause for a long moment, waiting (or hoping) for that gasp of recognition, before proceeding. Some were met with silence, which perhaps should be viewed as the new equivalent of lousy Nielsen ratings.


Some blogger stereotypes are clearly inaccurate. Surveys show that they are not overwhelmingly young. A Pew poll has found that the largest share (33 percent of all bloggers, at least in 2004) are actually between the ages of 45 and 64. And most are highly educated, at a markedly greater percentage than the general population.

Also contrary to the stereotype, most bloggers don't seem interested in forcing Democrats to pass ideological litmus tests. They love Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid (for his feisty anti-Bush style), even though he is an opponent of abortion. They seem flexible on Iraq; despite the Bush administration's claim that everyone on the left is a "cut and runner," the bloggers are not insisting that their favorite political candidates endorse a plan for immediate troop withdrawal.
Arianna Huffington, who hosts her own blog at, was greeted indifferently on Saturday when she insisted that all blogworthy presidential candidates should take that view, "strategically and morally."

At the same time, there are clearly limits to what the bloggers will accept. Joe Lieberman, the hawkish Connecticut Democratic senator, is in the crosshairs because of his strong support for the war, and his stronger support for Bush as commander in chief. One could even argue that this points up an important caveat in liberal blogosphere philosophy: the bloggers hunger for Democrats who will stand up for what they believe -- but, clearly, there are limits to what the bloggers define as acceptable beliefs worth standing up for.


And lastly, despite the fact that many of these bloggers come off as cocky about their potential clout, Markos Moulitsas made it clear that he expects no overnight miracles. Late in the convention, he noted that it took the conservatives 30 years to turn the 1964 Barry Goldwater debacle into the 1994 Newt Gingrich congressional takeover. Then he said:

"It won't take us 30 years. But it may take us 10. People ask me, 'Which Republican scares you most in 2008?' Well, they all do. Whoever they nominate, that person will be pumped up (by the well-oiled, well-financed Republican message machine) , and ours will be dragged down. If we had Jesus as our nominee, he'd be dragged through the mud."

Oh oh...I can see it now, in the conservative media:
Liberal bloggers attack Jesus!