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The Bloggers' Lament

Thanks for your post, Dayo. I haven't been to many of these internet-and-politics confabs (like YearlyKos) for comparison, but my impression is that there's a certain wistfulness or disappointment here. The morning's more lively speakers (those, that is, who weren't just presenting modish gadgets like linkfluence, which creates pop-art-esque maps of the blogosphere) expressed sadness that a) the progressive revolution that the internet was supposed to foment hasn't yet really panned out, and b) that instead of destroying the mainstream media, classic liberal blogs like Firedoglake, Atrios, Daily Kos, etc now actually feel themselves to be losing ground against MSM blogs. The newly-platinum-blonde Jane Hamsher, a founder of Firedoglake, lamented:

We're under increasing pressure from blogs like [Time's] Swampland and [Jake Tapper's blog at] ABC News. What can we do that Swampland can't?

Hamsher's answers to this existential question for a blogger were these: a) Firedoglake can "recontextualize" the "media narrative"; b) it can "take all that energy and frustration and turn it into action"; and c) it can push edgy issues that the Democratic establishment won't for fear of "affect[ing] their cocktail party access."

Well -- it's a little funny to hear someone crowing about their independence from the nefarious influence of cocktail parties while ensconced in one of the fanciest conference centers in Manhattan, in which there will later be a posh cocktail party sponsored by MySpace. But, more fundamentally, some of the big machers here are questioning whether the internet has really taken energy and frustration and turned it into much action, either. The wonderfully eccentric Zephyr Teachout, a veteran of the '04 Dean campaign and the Sunlight Foundation, used Alexis de Tocqueville's observations on the activist energy in early America to illustrate her disappointment with the web's capacity to organize:

"Associations" are an American tradition. Tocqueville marveled at them ... As of 1955 5% of Americans were president of associations ... 80 years ago we had the political muscle ... to create small groups. If we had foreclosures like this 90 years ago you would have seen things happening - people organizing at the mayoral level ... The internet should make this easier!

It should, but, she suggests, it hasn't -- instead, it's atomized people, providing an outlet for venting frustrations without actually requiring people to get out of their chairs and start doing anything about their grievances.

I don't mean to affect a grumpy-Luddite attitude towards the influence of the internet on politics. It's had an undeniably radical effect on this campaign, not least in the speeding-up of the news cycle and the dominance of "Blackberry politics" (a concept first born, incidentally, on Swampland). But even after Dean's implosion in '04, I think there was still the hope that the internet wouldn't merely become an ideologically neutral tool -- like electricity -- that many political actors would use towards highly various and even cross-purpose ends, but that it would be a specifically progressive thing, a platform to launch a structured progressive revolution. With hopes so high there's bound to be some let-down.

--Eve Fairbanks