Saturday, June 17, 2006

Blogs: The Medium and the Message --
Posted to Daily Kos:

Detroit Mark notes Karl Rove claim that Republicans use the Internet more effectively than Democrats. While Rove is probably wrong, a case can be made that Democrats could use the Internet more effectively.

Over at
MyDD, Chris Bowers has been posting about a survey of netroots. One of his conclusions is that the netroots are not particularly ideological, but want the Democratic Party to stand for something, to have a message and a vision.

If the Democratic Party has any sort of message, it hasn't been using the Internet to disseminate it, any more than it has effectively used the mainstream media to get out a message.

The left-of-center bloggers that I read (Kos included) generally seem to think of the blogosphere and the internet as some sort of open think tank for creating progressive ideas and tactics. But the Internet and blogs can be so much more.

Much has been made of the failure of the mainstream media to hold the Republican Party accountable. While there is truth in that statement, I also think that the Democrats have done a miserable job of managing the media. If Karl Rove is talking to Chris Matthews on the phone, Howard Dean or someone else in the party should also have Matthews on speed dial and try to bully the big pumpkinhead into being more balanced.

Given the failings of the MSM, the netroots have touted blogs as a new sort of alternative media. Well, the Democratic Party as an institution needs to use this new media to disseminate its message. And it hasn't. Put bluntly, the Democratic Party needs to build informational infrastructure in the same way that conservatives have taken over talk radio and use the Internet and blogs as one avenue for spreading talking points.

If you think I am saying that the Democrats need to use the blogosphere to push spin, then you would be 100% correct. If you balk and say that in the spirit of progressive politics we should opt for some sort of spin-free purity of discourse, then you would be 100% not reality-based. Even the truth needs spinning and complaining about that fact of political life is like whining that your opponent won't follow Marquess of Queensbury Rules in a street fight.

The good thing is that blogs have shown themselves to be a good way to disseminate talking points. The 50-state strategy is a Howard Dean talking point and has been spread by blogs, as the BlogPac netroots survey shows. If the Democratic message can't be spread easily through conventional media outlets, the Internet has proven to be useful in that regard.

How the Democratic Party should go about this is a bit stickier. We probably don't want astroturfing or bloggers secretly paid to parrot the Democratic line. On the other hand, we would like talking points repeated by bloggers with some journalistic credentials who do some original investigative work and parlay their blog-writing into book deals in the same way that talk radio pundits have. This requires bloggers who have the self-discipline not to go off on a Lieberman-esque off-message pilgrimage if a particular Democratic talking point is not to their liking and will instead use the tried and true method of deafening silence instead of in-fighting. In other words, we need communication between the Democratic Party and progressive bloggers who value party loyalty and who can repeat Democratic talking points without being obvious hacks and losing credibility with a thinking reading public. People like that will be hard to find.

The Internet is a useful tool for the Democratic Party, both as an online think tank and as propaganda machine (and propaganda is not an inherently evil word). Until it uses the Internet in both capacities, I can't say that Democrats are using the Internet anywhere near its full capacities.
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