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When The Blog Pack Attacks

We here in the blogosphere often rain contempt on the media for how they run in packs; for how they repeat the wisdom of the "village", a self anointed group of a few hundred key people who think that their opinion is the same as the opinions of America, which is why they constantly go on about what Americans want in ways that are completely disconnected from poll results or reality. The "center" to the village, is the consensus opinion of the Village.

We like to think we’re better than them. That we see through the BS, that we are more objective—that we’re not as insular or addicted to our predetermined storylines as they are. That we are independent and willing to strike out on our own, not addicted to the cover of the pack, not playing high-school games of in-groups and out, of dominance and hierarchy, of cool-kids and outcasts.

If only it were so. Oh, I suppose we aren’t quite as bad as them. There are a few more mavericks. There is more truth telling about certain things.

But when the pack decides on a storyline, we’re as good at sticking to it as they are and of refusing to see either contrary evidence or why the other side feels as it does as the media is.

This primary season has to have dispelled the myth of the objective blogosphere that doesn’t drink the kool-aid. If it hasn’t, it certainly should have. The majority of the blogosphere became pro-Obama and savagely so, so much so that many major bloggers will tell you with a straight face that nothing misogynistic has ever come from the Obama campaign. (For example, nothing like Jesse Jackson saying that Clinton only cries for her looks, not for blacks who lost everything in Katrina.)

A much smaller, but nonetheless vocal part of the blogosphere clustered into a few enclaves to represent the other side, with at least a couple blogs becoming the mirror of what Corrente likes to call "Clinton Derangement Syndrome." The pure visceral contempt poured out by many pro-Obama bloggers was matched and returned.

That loathing has become so ingrained after months of attacks on the fundamental character of both candidates (she’s fundamentally a racist southern cracker, he’s a misogynist empty suit, according to the most rabid supporters of either side) that at all of these blogs one can regularly hear the commenters, and on the diary sites, even front paged posts saying they would never vote for the other candidate. In the early months you’d hear it more from the Obama side, but of late, as it’s become clear that Obama was the strong favorite to win, it came more and more from Clinton’s supporters.

Now I’m no sweet disinterested observer. I have a preference, and it’s for Clinton. I’ve even defended her, being one of the few not firmly at one of the Clinton-blogs willing to come out swinging on her behalf when she was, in my opinion, ludicrously accused of staying in the nomination battle in hopes of Obama being assassinated. It was an odd accusation, because even if Clinton had stepped out of the nomination battle and then Obama had been assassinated, it was unthinkable that anyone but her would be nominated. I can’t think of any scenario in which the second place finisher who received almost 50% of the vote, wouldn’t have received the nod. Clinton didn’t need to stay in the nomination battle to be the nominee in such a scenario. It made less than no sense.

Bloggers pride themselves in somehow "not drinking the kool-aid". But for the past few months too many of them have acted like the worst members of the media pack. Whoever their candidate is can do no harm, and anything the opposing candidate done is spun in whatever way it can be read worse. Rezko is a corrupt bagman and Obama knew everything. Clinton is so stupid and evil that the only reason she’s staying in the race is in hopes of Obama being killed. Obama is a misogynistic jerk and his wife hates America. Clinton is personally racist and her husband is so racist he essentially a southern cracker, not the president who liked African-Americans so much he set up his office in Harlem.

And yet, I’m here to tell you that on most major issues, there isn’t a huge amount of sunlight between Clinton and Obama. Oh, there are places where there’s some difference. Clinton’s health care plan is universal, Obama’s is not. But neither are that progressive, neither is, say, "single payer". Obama’s telecom plan is better than Clinton’s. Clinton’s economic stimulus plan was slightly more progressive than Obama’s. (You might argue that. You would be proving my point at how little light there is between them.) Obama’s key economic advisers are Chicago School economists—guys who are essentially acolytes of Milton Friedman, the Republican icon. Clinton’s aren’t quite that bad, but they sure aren’t progressive.

And the actual voting records of Obama and Clinton, their actions, which are supposed to speak louder than their words, indicate that they are centrist Democrats, not progressives.

Despite the fact that neither of them, on their actual records, is a progressive and the fact that their actual policy proposals are pretty similar to each other, the "progressive" blogosphere has been acting as if this is a battle which matters a great deal. It has acted as if the difference between Obama and Clinton is night and day, and that one of them (usually Obama, but sometimes Clinton) is so much better than the other one that it isn’t even close.

Not only is it close, but the differences are minor. Folks like Dodd and Kucinich, and to a lesser extent Edwards, who actually made a somewhat radical critique of what is wrong with America, aren’t in this fight anymore.

As the line runs about academia, the fight has been so vicious because so little is at stake.

Now none of this is to deny culpability exists in other places. Both the campaigns have pushed storylines they would have better left alone. The media has certainly been happy to spill endless ink on accusations of racism and misogyny and to assume the worst of both candidates.

But we were supposed to be better. More able to see through the BS. We were the ones who knew the war was wrong. We are the ones who slice and dice media bias on a daily basis.

And we drank the kool-aid to the lees, then went on a drunken spree screaming insults at the other side.

And all the anger, all the hatred, has had an effect. As Matt Stoller notes, late February 56% of white Boomer women liked Obama. Today, 43%. 13% loss. And 39% of them think that misogyny hurt Clinton badly. And they resent it and it has spilled over into what they think of the almost certain Democratic nominee for President: Barack Obama.

Way to keep our eye on the ball. So what if Obama loses the actual election, and we slice and dice the numbers, and it turns out that if just a few more white Boomer women, say, had voted for him, he would have won?

(The same argument could easily be made in reverse if Clinton had won, looking at African-Americans or 20-somethings. But she didn’t win.)

Part of the blame will belong to us. And honestly, to me, all of this has felt mostly like high-school pack politics. Too many bloggers, just like the media we despise, wanted to be part of the pack. Wanted to be on the "right" side with their peers and friends. Damn near 50% of Democratic voters went for Clinton in the primary, but you’d never know it online. The largest pro-Obama (and not shy about it, either) blogs dwarf the size of the largest pro-Clinton blogs. I doubt the pro-Clinton blogosphere is one-tenth the size of the pro-Obama blogosphere. It’s probably closer to one-twentieth.

Part of this is probably because "if it bleeds it leads". Many of the blogs supporting one side or the other have seen large increases in traffic. Not all have, mind you, but there certainly are blogs whose traffic has doubled from tossing out daily red meat.

The larger reason isn’t even as understandable as traffic. It’s just the instinct drilled into us that being out of step with your peer group is a really bad, and really dangerous, idea.

But that sort of group-think has combined with a self-reinforcing spiral of received truth to build to a crescendo of accusations against both sides (Racist! Sexist! Murderer!) that are going to be very hard to talk down from.

And the blogosphere, created in part to say "just put down the kool-aid" has become what it sought to end, just another part of the echo chamber, endlessly screaming horrible accusations and unable to see either the other side or the damage it was doing to the cause it claimed to believe in.

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Ian Welsh

Ian Welsh

Ian Welsh was the Managing Editor of FireDogLake and the Agonist. His work has also appeared at Huffington Post, Alternet, and Truthout, as well as the now defunct Blogging of the President (BOPNews). In Canada his work has appeared in and BlogsCanada. He is also a social media strategy consultant and currently lives in Toronto.

His homeblog is at