The recent skuffle over John Edwards’ decision to hire the bloggers behind Pandagon and Shakespeare’s Sister illuminates the differences between the political blogosphere and the conventional mores of US politics. Bloggers, particularly young, leftist bloggers, tend to be irreverant, personal, and opinionated. US presidential politics tends to the bland and milquetoast – witness Gore distancing himself from Clinton, Kerry distancing himself from the anti-war movement and Bush distancing himself from reality-based thinking- and the kinds of strong opinions found in people’s blog archives aren’t considered appropriate for public consumption. One of the reasons Dean was so popular with the blogosphere was that his blowsy, aggressive rhetoric was in concordance with the way most liberal bloggers viewed Bush at the time.
I’m glad Edwards didn’t bow to extremist pressure and fire Amanda and Shakes, but the fact that both women had to back-pedal and apologize for their previous remarks demonstrates a certain lack of, shall we say, balls on the part of the Edwards campaign.
At some point, people need to call out so-called “Christians” on their involvement in politics while still happily claiming 501(c) status as non-profit, non-political organizations. I fully support your right to worship in any way you want. But legislating religious morality on others, such as the display of the Ten Commandments, outlawing gay marriage, promoting abstinence-only education and campaigning against the HPV vaccine, goes far beyond personal spirituality. My mother is a committed Christian and I was raised Christian; I am not anti-Christian. But I am against strategic promotion of particular political viewpoints under the guise of Christianity.
Bill Donohue may be Catholic, but his group sure doesn’t represent most Catholics, and he’s very selective about which anti-Catholic comments bother him. It’s also clear that “taking offense” is a political strategy. Extremist right-wingers will jump all over any suggestion of leftist bias against Christians, but will ignore Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter’s horribly racist remarks about Muslims, calls for the death of liberals, etc., and will make apologies for charming anti-semites like Mel Gibson.
Here’s a remark from Donahue himself:
“The gay community has yet to apologize to straight people for all the damage that they have done.” – MSNBC, Scarborough Country, 4/11/05
Lovely! What a religious man.
Anyway, getting back to the blogosphere: I finished Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks a few weeks ago and I’ve been musing over his claims that participatory culture will improve democracy. I loved the book and I like all of Benkler’s enthusiasm and positive thinking, but I really don’t think that the blogsophere, especially when he’s mostly talking about Daily Kos and Talking Points Memo, is really having an enormous effect on democracy per se.
What’s “democracy”? We don’t live in a direct democracy, we live in a republic. By “democracy”, most people mean “increased participation”. Does the blogosphere actually increase political participation in meaningful ways, or does it just increase the number of people who can talk about politics in the public arena? Sure, I know all the Habermasian theory about the public sphere. But I’m not convinced that political blogging is having an effect that goes deeper than that.
I do think that political blogging is great for investigative journalism of certain topics– although it still requires legitimacy from the mass media in order to have a significant effect. Trent Lott’s pro-segregation remarks, for example, were ignored by the mass media, then harped on by the blogsophere, then picked up by the mass media, then actually impacted him. And now, several years later, he’s in the exact position he was previously in. I also think that political blogging is good for fund-raising and coordinating targeted activist efforts. Although, again, the anti-war movement has been one of the most organized leftist movements of the last two decades and has drawn enormous crowds to huge, record-breaking rallies, and has basically been ignored by the mass media until conventional media polls showed that the majority of Americans agreed with it (and I’m never convinced that pollsters are really getting representative samples; I think they skew too suburban/rural and leave out everyone without landlines, which is all my peer group).
The blogosphere operates in its own rarified atmosphere. Amanda and Shakes’ comments were par for the course for leftist political bloggers. The fact that Edwards was shocked– shocked!– to see such filth coming out of the mouths of nice young women (and let’s face it, the fact that they are women had a lot to do with this supposed offense and shock) just shows how out of touch mainstream politics and “blog politics” are.
Let’s not forget what the real problems in the political system over all the online hype.