Monday, June 12, 2006

How Powerful Can the Progressive Blogosphere Become?

The first annual YearlyKos Convention just took place in Las Vegas, June 8 – 11, 2006, named after its main organizer, Markos Moulitsas, of the most successful progressive blog, the Daily Kos. Its main purpose was to bring together leading bloggers (about 1000 attended) and Democrats (Dean, Warner, Vilsack, Reid, Richardson). For a general background on the conference, see Blogger’s Convention Draws Democrats, in yesterday’s Washington Post.

As far as progressive strategy is concerned, two of the most interesting questions concern the potential power of the blogosphere, and the relationship between bloggers and candidates. While most bloggers ultimately want nothing less than to fundamentally transform the way politics is done, many politicians still seem to ask themselves how they could ever become more than a new and useful fundraising and organizing tool. In trying to challenge the Democratic ‘establishment’ consisting of moderate and centrist Democrats, major corporate donors, and consultants based in Washington, DC, the netroots will have to be careful not to be co-opted or worse even instrumentalized in the process. For indications for this uncertainty and tension, see Gathering Highlights Power of the Blog and A Mixed Bag of First Impressions by Democrats at Blog Rendezvous, that appeared this weekend in the New York Times.

The bloggers’ record of success so far is not very impressive. Their first major ‘success’ that can be attributed to the model they envision was Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign, and Dean appears to remain very supportive of them. The DNC apparently just established an Internet Department to track the blogosphere’s development. Of the leading Democratic candidates for 2008, Mark Warner seems the closest to the netroots, while Hilary Clinton is very much criticized, mainly because of her support for the Iraq War. Jerome Armstrong, who together with Moulitsas co-authored Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics, is a senior adviser to Mark Warner.

In this context, Byron York, National Review White House correspondent, warns in his article today, What Fame Will Bring to Daily Kos: With Recognition Comes Scrutiny, that with all the attention Moulitsas has recently received, his statements and positions will be examined more closely, which could cause problems for those politicians too closely associated with him.

For a good background on the netroots, see the report by Chris Bowers and Matthew Stoller, Emergence of the Progressive Blogosphere: A New Force in American Politics, published last year by the NDN's New Politics Institute.

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