Peter Daou, currently at Salon and formerly with the Kerry campaign, writes on The Triangle and the Limits of Blog Power and charts the future of the blogosphere:
After a year of my life spent at the intersection of pre-blog and post-blog political thinking, and with Bush getting the second term he craved, one question has preoccupied me since last November: What is the scope of netroots power? Put differently: How influential are bloggers?
...It might be easier to approach the question by setting a more specific, and admittedly somewhat arbitrary, definition of political influence: the capacity to alter or create conventional wisdom. And a working definition of “conventional wisdom” is a widely held belief on which most people act. Finally, by “people” I mean all Americans, regardless of ideology or political participation.
Looking at the political landscape, one proposition seems unambiguous: blog power on both the right and left is a function of the relationship of the netroots to the media and the political establishment. Forming a triangle of blogs, media, and the political establishment is an essential step in creating the kind of sea change we’ve seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Simply put, without the participation of the media and the political establishment, the netroots alone cannot generate the critical mass necessary to alter or create conventional wisdom. This is partly a factor of audience size, but it’s also a matter, frankly, of trust and legitimacy. Despite the astronomical growth of the netroots (see Bowers and Stoller for hard numbers), and the slow and steady encroachment of bloggers on the hallowed turf of Washington’s opinion-makers, it is still the Russerts and Broders and Gergens and Finemans, the WSJ, WaPo and NYT editorial pages, the cable nets, Stewart and Letterman and Leno, and senior elected officials, who play a pivotal role in shaping people’s political views. That is not to say that blogs can’t be the first to draw attention to an issue, as they often do, but the half-life of an online buzz can be measured in days and weeks, and even when a story has enough netroots momentum to float around for months, it will have little effect on the wider public discourse without the other sides of the triangle in place. Witness the Plame case, an obsession of left-leaning bloggers long before the media and the political establishment got on board and turned it into a political liability for Rove and Bush.
...Bloggers can exert disproportionate pressure on the media and on politicians. Reporters, pundits, and politicians read blogs, and, more importantly, they care what bloggers say about them because they know other reporters, pundits, and politicians are reading the same blogs. It’s a virtuous circle for the netroots and a source of political power. The netroots can also bring the force of sheer numbers to bear on a non-compliant politician, reporter, or media outlet. Nobody wants a flood of complaints from thousands of angry activists. And further, bloggers can raise money, fact-check, and help break stories and/or keep them in circulation long enough for the media and political establishment to pick them up.
Consequently, bloggers, though unable to change conventional wisdom on their own, are able to use these proficiencies and resources to persuade the media and political establishment to join them in pushing a particular story or issue.
Mr. Daou then identifies blog strategies for the left and right, or, (let me yield to his unstated preference), the Party of Evil and the Party of Virtue. In his view, the Party of evil has it all buttoned down:
With a well-developed echo chamber and superior top-down discipline, the right has a much easier time forming the triangle. Fox News, talk radio, Drudge, a well-trained and highly visible punditocracy, and a lily-livered press corps takes care of the media side of the triangle. Iron-clad party loyalty – with rare exceptions – and a willingness of Republican officials to jump on the Limbaugh-Hannity bandwagon du jour takes care of the party establishment side of the triangle. The rightwing netroots, therefore, is already working within the triangle on most issues. Their primary strategic aim is to prevent the left from forming its own triangle, as occurred with Katrina.
No mention of the coordination and communication benefits of Rove's mind rays.
For the Party of Virtue, bringing truth to the world is a bit more complicated:
Whereas rightwing bloggers can rely on their leadership and the rightwing noise machine to build the triangle, left-leaning bloggers face the challenge of a mass media consumed by the shop-worn narrative of Bush the popular, plain-spoken leader, and a Democratic Party incapacitated (for the most part) by the focus-grouped fear of turning off "swing voters" by attacking Bush. For the progressive netroots, the past half-decade has been a Sisyphean loop of scandal after scandal melting away as the media and party establishment remain disengaged.
It would seem reasonable to conclude, then, that the best strategy for the progressive netroots is to go after the media and Democratic Party leaders and spend less time and energy attacking the Bush administration. If the netroots alone can’t change the political landscape without the participation of the media and Democratic establishment, then there’s no point wasting precious online space blasting away at Republicans while the other sides of the triangle stand idly by. Indeed, blog powerhouses like
Kos and Josh Marshall have taken an aggressive stance toward Democratic politicians they see as selling out core Democratic Party principles. Kos’s willingness to attack the DLC is mocked on the right, but it is precisely the right’s fear that Kos will “close the triangle” that causes them to protest so loudly. Similarly, when Atrios, Digby, Oliver Willis, and so many other progressive bloggers attack the media, they are leveraging whatever power they have to compel the media to assume a role as the third side of their triangle.
Emphasis added, and let me have a show of hands among the right wing bloggers who have been afraid that Kos, in attacking the DLC, was going to improve the message discipline of the Dem Party.
I lose the last vapor trail of his argument right here:
Setting aside 2006 congressional prospects and the remote hope for progressives that Bush will be impeached, the grand political battle of the next three years is over Bush’s legacy.
For rightwing bloggers who have fiercely defended one of the most controversial and polarizing presidents in our history, their fortunes will rise or fall with his approval ratings. The blind allegiance to Bush and the furious assault on his detractors will be vindicated if he leaves office with popular support.
Really? I suspect Mr. Daou has been beguiled by the many "Dear Leader" jibes that are a staple of a certain type of left-wing blog. Over in my slice of reality, I could rally up plenty of right wing bloggers who couldn't give two cents for Bush's approval ratings. Getting proper conservatives elected in 2006 and 2008, and finding someone (anyone!) to provide credible leadership on Iraq specifically and terror generally - that will excite right wing bloggers. And yes, that goal may overlap with defending certain Bush legacy projects, such as Iraq, but let's not confuse tactics with objectives.
Jonah Goldberg can be dragged out as Exhibit A of Bush fatigue. However, Jonah does diagnose the Democratic problem:
If you listened to the Democrats fight John Roberts this month, it’s impossible not to conclude the Democrats are a runt party and will remain one for a while. The gravitational pull of their base makes it all but impossible for them to attain escape velocity from Planet Permanent Minority.
The planet in question might be Atrios.
More skepticism from a fellow who remembers Rathergate and wonders why Daou does not.