Bloggers as a Political Force

Mister Snitch has some interesting ideas for ramping up the Porkbusters effort into a more powerful grassroots movement. He suggests some “serious, real-world steps it must take” if it “wants to have a serious, real-world impact.” Among them:

2) Establish tangible relationships with politicians. That means get in their face. Literally. They need to see Porkbusters’ reps in their offices.

But it also means Porkbusters podcasts. Podcasts are more tangible than blog posts. They portray bloggers in a way politicians understand – faces, body language, voices, unedited behavior. More significantly, podcasts allow bloggers to easily cross over into television. Big-name bloggers (and certainly some are involved here) have an audience that they can drive to TV, and the newtworks know it (particularly networks that are hurting for compelling programming, such as MSNBC). Podcasts hand free content to the nets, along with a ready-made audience. Once Porkbusters podcasts are a TV staple, they will develop an offline constituency. Crossing over to the mainstream from online is key to Porkbusters’ success, and this is a step PB’s founders are particularly well-positioned to take.

[…]

4) Raise funds. Raising funds accomplishes two goals. First, it is a demonstration of Porkbusters’ resolve. See points 3 and 4 at top. Proving that he could raise funds online was what lifted Howard Dean above the pack. (Knowing Dean as we now do, it turns out that’s pretty much all he had going for him, but it was enough to make him spokesman of the DNC today.) Raise funds, and raise them regularly, and you’ll become a player. Your calls will be returned. (Welcome to real-world politics!)

Now, there’s something to all of this. The status quo is backed not only be inertia but by powerful, well-organized, well-funded interest groups. It may well be that best way to fight that is through superior organization and fundraising. But are bloggers the best choice for doing this?

There are several problems, it seems to me, with bloggers trying to band together to become a Movement.

1) There are people who are much better at organizing and fundraising than we are. There are hundreds upon hundreds of established organizations who already do this. There are certainly numerous well-heeled groups out there already trying to call attention to wasteful government spending. Adding amateurs to the mix will likely not change the balance much.

2) We would, in essence, become a K-Street lobbying organization lobbying against K-Street lobbying organizations. And, as noted, there are already people doing precisely that.

3) By hammering on a collective agenda rather than offering our independent analysis on a case-by-case basis, we seriously risk compromising our appeal. I don’t want to be the blogging equivalent of the hacks who go on television representing the two political parties and won’t deviate from the party line one iota.

4) Most of us have day jobs. Who among us has the time to hang out in politicians’ offices, record amateur television shows, and so forth? It’s hard enough finding time to blog.

The best way for bloggers to influence the system is by being effective bloggers. In those instances where the Blogosphere has made a substantial impact–Trent Lott, RatherGate, Eason Jordan, etc.–it has because our research and writing has generated attention on its own accord.

Rather than trying to become a third-rate interest group, we should concentrate on being first-rate bloggers.

Update: I should caveat that blogging and activism aren’t mutually exclusive. DailyKos and RedState are obvious examples of combining those endeavors. In both cases, though, they are run by full-time political operatives. The above discussion is about bloggers in the pure sense–people from other walks of life who write on the side.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Finf says:

    James, speaking of podcasts, when are we going to get an OTB podcast?

  2. James Joyner says:

    Probably not anytime soon. I’m a better writer than talker, I think, and it’d take quite a lot of practice to stop feeling silly talking to myself into a microphone.

    Plus, I’m not sure how to go about doing it and what the impact would be on bandwidth and so forth.

  3. Mr. Snitch! says:

    Thanks for the interest in my post (even if you didn’t agree with its conclusions). I did suggest fundraising and hiring someone at least part-time in order for Porkbusters to be effective, as everyone is too overwhelmed to take this much further AND blog, after all. As far as benevolent lobbyists, well, they do exist. There are (obviously) a lot of lobbyists representing various interests in DC. It’s not a contradiction, in my opinion, to also have lobbyists representing those of us who simply want smaller, more efficient government, competing for time and attention with tobacco, oil, education, labor, etc. (They don’t have to whisk Senators off to the Carribbean, OK?) Otherwise, it’s out-of-sight, out-of-mindshare.

    Sure, bloggers should be effective by running worthwhile blogs and writing compelling posts. No doubt of that. My post concerned what do you do if you really want to take it further? It was a reaction to the frustration expressed in many PB posts, to the effect that these ideas weren’t getting any traction. Phone calls weren’t getting returned and so on. The posts were falling on deaf, um, eyes.

    I should add that I have no preferred timetable for extending PB into the “real world” of politics. Perhaps Glenn, Bear and whoever else is at the center of this should concentrate on video podcasts for now, distributing them free (via the net of course) to any media outlet that wants them. That would expand mindshare, without straying too far from ‘pure’ blogging.

    When (if) the time comes, I like to think that Glenn has enough credibility that some of his readers will be able to scare up some grant money and other resources to put together the beginnings of an honest lobbying effort. I don’t think Glenn or Bear would need to quit their jobs. (Or that they want to.)

    Again, thank you for considering my ideas, and taking the (precious) time to comment on them.