Saturday, April 08, 2006

An historical moment: the rise of political blogs

I am thoroughly enjoying Bill McKibben's review of Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics by bloggers Jerome Armstrong (of My DD) and Markos Moulitsas ZĂșniga (of the Daily Kos). McKibben's review provides an historic overview of the internet's affect on politics in the United States, which must by any measures be understood as monumental. Take as an example the Democratic Senatorial primary challenge in Connecticut that is being waged by Ned Lamont. Not only have blogs like The Daily Kos consistently drummed up support and financial contributions for Lamont (I myself made a small donation to the campaign), but these blogs also began the drumbeat for change in Connecticut in view of current-Senator Joseph Lieberman's unbelievable unwillingness to challenge George W. Bush or to change his position on supporting Bush's Iraq War.

According to McKibben, such blogger-driven influence emerged when the Presidential campaign of Vermont governor Howard Dean coincided with and picked up on the voices of regular Americans in 2003, a movement that, as McKibben says, "rose in the shadows of the Bush ascendancy in the years following September 11, when very few people—certainly not presidential candidates with an eye to getting elected—were willing to challenge the White House directly." These voices were coming especially from the web, where Americans were logging on to connect with their fellow citizens who shared similar sentiments but were scattered across the country. The internet bridged this geographic divide and therefore created a new, people-powered movement. As McKibben says:
the Dean campaign also launched the Internet era in American politics. Previously, even if people became excited about a candidate in the primaries, there wasn't all that much they could do to help. They might find a mailing address and send a check, or wait for the primary campaign to reach their state so they could take part in the campaign and then vote. But Dean's young campaign staff opened a new channel through their Web site, which featured the then still fresh idea of a blog.
...Most important of all, they pioneered on-line money-raising. Every time something unusual happened (when some pundit would disparage the "kiddie corps" running the Dean show, say) the Web site staffers would "put up a bat" on the home page—a picture of a baseball bat, empty like a United Way thermometer in front of a town hall, which they would fill with red as the contributions would come in from people taking a few minutes to read the blog from their home or office computers. The supporters of the Dean campaign easily raised more money than their opponents in the early primaries and caucuses, and for the first time in recent political history, they did it largely with $20 and $50 and $75 contributions from across a large base of his ardent fans.

Such influence was acknowledged in an April 2 article in the New York Times about the internet's influence on politics and campaigning. Most encouraging, perhaps is the threat that web use brings to the television campaign ad, what has morphed into one of the most deplorable and methods of vote-getting because of how wellthe television medium facilitates half-truths and fear-mongering:
Analysts say the campaign television advertisement, already diminishing in influence with the proliferation of cable stations, faces new challenges as campaigns experiment with technology that allows direct messaging to more specific audiences, and through unconventional means.

Of course, the internet has brought with it certain ills too, from shadowy kiddie porn rings to well shadowy bestiality rings, but the success of blogs like those of Jerome Armstrong's and Markos Moulitsas's is encouraging when one thinks back to the helpless and depressed state many of us were in six years ago after a bunch of cronies essentially decided the president of the United States instead of looking to the votes of the American people.

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