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Bloggers, Netroots and the Democratic Presidential Primary

obamaclinton.jpgJerome Armstrong goes a little meta on the ways the blogosphere has adjusted to this rather unique presidential primary season, and because I have no sense, and because Jane asked me to, I’m going to use his post to share a few of my own impressions. So here goes:

Jerome is essentially right that there are really no meaningful policy differences to be divined between our two candidates, and Samantha Powers’ comments now about Obama’s likelihood of revising his withdrawal plans if elected serve simply to remind us that the tea leaves people are currently reading during the campaign re: policy really mean nothing. If Obama were a true anti-occupation believer, he could have jumped full guns behind Lamont when he had the chance instead of ducking and running through the state and pulling the plug on his participation in a Lamont multi-platform ad buy.

So, we have no progressive candidate. We have no Wellstone, no Feingold, no ideologically based movement person. My question is this: which of these candidates is more likely to reveal an inner Lieberman of some form once in power? I don’t have an answer. People can believe what they choose to believe, but both candidates have Liebermanish historical tendencies and both propel narratives reminiscent of Lieberman, the earlier years.

So, it then has to be explained why the netroots has tended to ignore what I take to be this fundamental reality. I think many, though not all, people are doing some combination of projecting their hopes about one candidate or the other onto the candidate with whom they most personally identify, bloggers in some cases getting mau maued by very engaged partisan commenters who flock to threads, browbeat and seek to intimidate, wielding accusations of various forms of bad faith and character smear, etc. The blogosphere has tended, de facto, to divide itself among sites that lean toward one candidate or another and commenters (1% of our readers, but the most engaged and vocal ones) allocate themselves accordingly.

It so happens that, once Edwards dropped out, more of the online readership sorted itself to Obama. Now, I can’t see any meaningful policy reasons for having done so (and Edwards hasn’t endorsed), so to me it seems more like a consolidation of the anti-Clinton movement among tech literate activists than it seems like anything about any ideologically or policy based progressive agenda. Moreover, judging by the comments I read, the emails I see and the comments I hear when I talk to people, it’s pretty common to hear something like the sentiment, if not the outright expression, that "the bitch must be stopped!" This is among self-identified liberals, progressives.

I conclude from this that the hundreds of millions of dollars at least that have poured into branding Hillary Clinton – whose policies in general I hardly care for – as a lesbo cunning corrupt cold calculating bitch, have altogether not been without their effect on many online activists and readers in particular. I include in this the very many newer readers coming to our sites who have become politically engaged primarily as Obama partisans, the people who have not had as much opportunity to deconstruct the misogyny of right wing narratives pervading national political discourse since time immemorial, and certainly since the rise of feminism. These people tend to outnumber the Clinton partisans, at least online, where Obama’s stronger pull among independents, younger people and the technoliterati makes a difference.

As a result, there’s a bit more of a traffic niche to be taken for a site that leans toward Obama. One only need look at the recommended diaries at DailyKos (Obama talking point and Clinton oppo dump central) to see this in action. Still, there’s a counterniche to be filled among the Clinton loyalists. And then there’s Firedoglake, which sustains its unaligned position, pissing everyone off, although the core analysis of the site’s approach is based on a sense that, as I mentioned earlier, there is no clear "Never Become Lieberman-ish Candidate" in the race.

So, in my very personal and not claimed to be The Truth view, I think there have been subtle pressures or incentives for bloggers to line up more toward one side or another, on either end of the spectrum, though I don’t believe the people I know who have lined up one way or another have done so intentionally for these reasons. But at least, if you tend to side with one or another, by God, at least somebody likes you, and it’s not a lot of fun blogging when no matter what you write, you’re in the crosshairs of some very vocal readers, day after day, post after post. Bloggers are, in fact, human, and I think we can all admit that part of why we do this is for sheer pleasure: we find it pleasing, and we like to feel connected to our audiences.

I think all these things have tended to combine to move the blogosphere away from its previous role more akin to behavior as a referee on the process and on the narratives propelled by anyone claiming a Dem label, and toward more of a partisan candidate sorting. I see a lot of right wingy talking points coming from either side over the course of this campaign, to the detriment of any sustainable progressive movement, but I don’t see a lot of people calling out both sides. More bloggers than readers do, but readers, or should I specify, commenters? Very many, and the most passionate ones, are not holding their own side accountable. At all. And they’re working us like they’re working the refs in a sporting event.

The ultimate question I will have for supporters of either candidate during these days of pie fights will be, whoever gets power, what will you hold your winning candidate accountable for once in office, assuming s/he wins? If your winner gets some accountability fire from people who once supported your opponent, will you simply defend your winner, or will you join in for merited criticism?

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