Do political bloggers matter? Of course not, except when they do

The political blogosphere, a technology that has shaken up politics, does not matter as much as they want to, but surely matters as much as any major constituency group in the Republican and Democratic Parties.

To hear them tell it, they are the base of the political parties who have the power to elevate and destroy. To hear their detractors talk about it, they are know-nothing brats with a keyboard. The political blogosphere has come a long way, baby. But it's still the new kid on the block, wanting desperately to fit in but being shut out by all the self-styled cool kids that were on the playground first.

Just ask a political blogger, probably a white guy, over-educated, higher-than-average income, and in his late 30s. Fueled by technology-enhanced testosterone, these folks see themselves as enforcers of a sometimes moving ideological purity and as fighters for a cause that they, and only they, are allowed to define. Sometimes more interested in being against something (John McCain, Hillary Clinton, the "establishment," weak-kneed moderates) than being for something, many of these folks are just as likely to hit one of their own party loyalists as they are to take it out on the other side. They blame others when things don't go well and take credit when they weren't the only ones to deliver success.

For their nasty bark, though, the bloggers so far have not really shown good enough teeth for a real dogfight. The Democratic blogroll, for example, is not impressive, even in Democratic primaries where it's mostly Democrats who vote -- Howard Dean for President, Wesley Clark for President, Paul Hackett for Senate (OH), Marcy Winograd for Congress (CA). Oh, yes, and there's that guy from Connecticut. Declaring their own jihad against Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman in 2006 with comments like Matt Stoller's of MyDD, "Lieberman has no principle, no vision, and no ability to lead this country," the lefty bloggers convinced themselves that only George W. Bush himself could be worse than a moderate Democrat. Yep. Lieberman lost the Democratic primary to a wealthy venture capitalist who (shhhh!!) was really not all that liberal. But very, very few Connecticut primary voters read the blogs, even though every national political reporter did. Besides, Senator Lieberman's seeds of destruction were planted long before the digital stork delivered Web 2.0 to the pajama-clad masses. And, Lieberman won the general election, the real prize. Still a senator. And despite the guarantees by many bloggers that he would personally keep the Senate red by switching parties, he's still a Democrat. That's pretty important where a single senator switching parties would take power away from the blue team. So why should the blogs get accolades for a victory that, in the end, mattered as much as parsley?

Stop right there. You technological Luddites, you short-sighted "establishment" operatives, you blogo-phobes. Before you pat yourself on your analog back, take note. The political blogs and their readers are actually here to stay (at least until something else like mobile YouTube captures the attention of the political class). Any candidate or political party who ignores them is making a mistake that can cost them support and even do irreparable damage. The recent grassroots uprising that killed the U.S. Senate's and President Bush's immigration legislation came from conservative (and a few lefty) activists who organized using the Internet.

So blogs do matter after all? Why? First of all, the leading blog writers do not fully speak for their entire readership and, more importantly, cannot deliver their votes in a bloc. So even if the leading bloggers don't like you, Mr. and Mrs. Candidate, you might still get their readers to give you votes and (pretty please!) dollars be engaging with them in their own political arena of choice.

Second, the blogosphere -- or as one leading blogger said, "the highly engaged avant-garde of American politics" -- does represent one of many important constituencies in both the Republican and Democratic Parties. (Avante-garde? Really?) Just because a Republican candidate is not the darling of conservative Christian leaders like Pat Robertson or James Dobson, no Republican is going to ignore church-going voters. Just because a Democratic candidate is not the favorite of labor presidents or is not the darling of Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton, that candidate is still going to visit labor halls and talk to African-Americans.

The lesson of the way the political blogosphere has developed: just because some of the blog writers and even many blog readers do not support your candidate or cause, ignoring this vital constituency and new technology in your political endeavors would be short-sighted. Really, it would make you about as significant as that little green plant limply laying next to your steak and potatoes.

 

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