Blogs and the 2006 Election

Jon Henke, brought aboard a sinking ship as George Allen’s New Media Coordinator, argues that the Left Blogosphere and Democratic candidates did a far better job of working together than their Right/Republican counterparts in the decisive Allen-Webb race in particular and the election in general. Given the number of very close races, Henke proclaims, “Were Democrats not as engaged, they would not have the Senate today; were Republicans more engaged, they would still have the Senate.”

That’s not falsifiable, of course, but it’s at least plausible. While Kos and company have been derided here and elsewhere for their poor showings in the last two election cycles, having an 0-and-whatever record with candidates they supported, they undeniably laid the groundwork for a get-out-the-meme network that is unparalleled on the right.

Kos, MyDD and others pioneered blogs as a communitarian enterprise rather than outlets for individual punditry. John Amato invented video blogging before there was such a thing as YouTube. They have done a tremendous job of capitalizing on the popularity, especially among college students and 20-somethings, of Jon Stewart, Steven Colbert, and (more recently) Keith Olbermann and quickly spreading their more effective bits and rants. Red State, Hot Air, and others have arisen in reaction but have not achieved anything like the critical mass of their predecessors.

Whether these differences are cultural reflections of what makes some people “conservatives” and others “liberals” or a natural outcome of the Left having come just short of winning a series of close elections (which many of them believe were stolen from them) or some other factor, I don’t know. Henke is right, though, that the Right will have to figure out how to use the power of the New Media (or Personal Media, or whatever name ultimately attaches to it) more effectively.

The problem, though, is that I don’t want the Right Blogosphere to turn into a mirror image of the Left Blogosphere. While I’d love to have the traffic and influence of DailyKos, I’m not interested in emulating its style. It remains to be seen whether there’s a way to maximize the influence of the blogosphere while being civil and thoughtful.

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, Campaign 2006, , , , , , , , , , ,
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. Party, or at least not anymore so than I already am. But, and again my modem might explode, there is no denying that the Daily Kos is an asset to the Democratic Party in terms of winning elections. Or at least it was this past cycle. See also James Joyner and Ed Morrisey, and George Allen’s blog man Jon Henke. h/t Conn Carroll. [IMG]

  2. , threatening to wreck the village, but I think it should be noted that it was the GOP’s village that got wrecked first. I think we’re supposed to be the angry villagers with pitchforks in this analogy … UPDATE UPDATE: James Joyner at Outside the Beltway has contributed to the discussion and — because he’s home folks — I added a comment at OTB which I will now copy here: A major problem of the Right blogosphere in ‘06, I believe, was widespread conservative disaffection with the Republican Party

  3. Original Article syndicated via RSS from Outside The Beltway | OTB

  4. Jeff Harrell says:

    What a load of manure. The crucial little fact that Henke omits is that a seemingly great number of highly engaged, conservative (or conservative-ish) bloggers supported Webb, either publicly or in the voting booth or both. It’s not like the right was pulling like crazy for Allen and the left was pulling like crazy for Webb and the left won. That race in particular was one that divided people who would otherwise have been more likely to vote for a Republican candidate over a Democrat. So it doesn’t really stand as an example of great effectiveness by either, or any, political party.

    (And as for the “macaca” thing, it seems like the Washington Post did more to keep that story alive that any blogger, but maybe that’s just my myopic, inside-the-beltway view of it.)

  5. Cernig says:

    Hi James,

    I wouldn’t worry. You’re style and content is more akin to Kevin Drum’s and neither of you are like Free Republic or Kos. I read both you and Drum and neither of the latter. Some of us like a bit of civil thought with our politics.

    I think the primary direction of debate is what makes the difference. Rightwing blogs are seen, rightly or wrongly, as being mostly followers (and are especially seen as that by the Republican political leadership who view them as simply another part of the top-down message machine). Left wing blogs are more of a bottom-up venture, and I think the Dem politicos see them as something to be heeded – to find the message they should be using – rather than as something to be used to get their message out.

    Regards, Cernig

    P.S. I’ve got to say I think John Amato and his team rock. They’ve been very good to me, with lots of good linkage to my blog. Their links account for half my traffic, easily.

  6. Anderson says:

    While I’d love to have the traffic and influence of DailyKos, I’m not interested in emulating its style.

    Fear not. RedState’s already there, and then some.

  7. James Joyner says:

    Cernig: I think you’re right on the way the parties view their respective blogospheres. And, yes, Amato does a terrific job with the site and seems like a genuinely nice guy.

    Anderson: Being a Republican version of Kos was RedState’s raison detre. I’m not sure that they’ve succeeded, though. I’m not a regular reader, as much owing to their confusing organization as to their style, but I like Krempasky, Trevino, Erricson, Moe Lane, and others over there. I’ve never ventured into the diaries, though, except via the occasional direct link.

  8. Anderson says:

    Trevino? Good god, man.

    Lane was a bit crazed by the elections, I hope, but perhaps he’ll return to form.

  9. Ali-Bubba says:

    A major problem of the Right blogosphere in ’06, I believe, was widespread conservative disaffection with the Republican Party establishment. Conservative bloggers have been forced to choose between (a) criticizing the failures of Bush, Rove, DeLay, Frist, etc.; and (b) biting their lips and cheering for “The Team.”

    The Left blogosphere faced no such dilemma: They chould cheer for their team and attack the Establishment simultaneously, thus capitalizing on the naturally anti-Establishment vibe of the blogosphere.

    Henke and Dean Barnett both are describing the same basic phenomenon — and I took a swing at it myself. It seems that the Republican power elite became emotionally attached to the means of their ascent, the political methodology of ’94 and ’00, and have not therefore embraced the rise of the blogosphere — a strange and unpredictable medium.

    The Republican power elite’s attitude toward the blogosphere in ’06 was rather like a Prussian cavalryman’s attitude toward the machine gun in 1914: They have simply refused to believe that this technological advance requires a fundamental rethinking of their strategies and tactics.

    I am not optimistic that conservatives will solve this problem so long as the current GOP machinery remains unaltered. The existing think-tank apparatus, the current congressional leadership and the Rove-dominated White House all exhibit a hierarchical, control-oriented mentality that seeks to impose ideology — a relationship of Leaders to Followers — rather than to reflect the (small-d) democratic consensus of the conservative coalition.

  10. […] There is a fair amount of discussion going on right now about something Jon Henke posted over at QandO. I read it yesterday and have also read al lot of the commentary from others, the newest one from James Joyner: Jon Henke, brought aboard a sinking ship as George Allen’s New Media Coordinator, argues that the Left Blogosphere and Democratic candidates did a far better job of working together than their Right/Republican counterparts in the decisive Allen-Webb race in particular and the election in general. Given the number of very close races, Henke proclaims, “Were Democrats not as engaged, they would not have the Senate today; were Republicans more engaged, they would still have the Senate.” […]

  11. Bill's Bites says:

    A Look At Blogs, Elections, And Political Parties…

    A Look At Blogs, Elections, And Political PartiesEd Morrissey Jon Henke, one of my earliest friends in the blogosphere, spent the last three months trying to rescue a flailing George Allen campaign in Virginia, landing himself in the middle of…

  12. Anderson says:

    rather like a Prussian cavalryman’s attitude toward the machine gun in 1914

    Eh? French or Russian cavalryman, would be better. Doubtless, no cavalryman really believed that the machine gun made any difference; but the Germans certainly didn’t take such antiquarians into account in their own tactics, which the French and Russians did, to their sorrow.

  13. jukeboxgrad says:

    Many smart statements above.

    I’d like to add that I think blatant hackery (intellectual dishonesty) is a serious problem for certain major righty blogs. I see this as tied to an epidemic of corruption on the right, up and down the line. History shows that Ds are far from immune to corruption; it’s just that right now I think the GOP has caught a bad case of the illness. (I’m treating hackery, dishonesty and corruption essentially as synonyms.)

    Obviously we see that at the top of the GOP, with a POTUS that most Americans consider untrustworthy (worse on this than Clinton) and multiple R congressmen forced out and/or losing elections over ethics issues, Abramoff-related and otherwise. Then there’s Limbaugh’s recent waterboy admission, which James covered well.

    But I find it especially striking how certain righty blogs routinely dissemble. I think this can be shown objectively, and I think this goes beyond any allegedly similar problem with lefty blogs. I think the fact that leading righty blogs don’t allow comments (while most leading lefty blogs do) has a lot to do with this phenomenon. Of course this also relates to astute remarks above regarding message machines that flow downward as compared with upward.

    I think Power Line is a particularly egregious offender, and I’ve documented several examples (which can seen directly or indirectly here, here, and here).

    In today’s WaPo, Ron Suskind says “the results of the midterm elections suggest that people’s eyes are adjusting to the Bush administration’s message management innovations.” I think “message management innovations” is a genteel euphemism for “lies.” I think Suskind is right. I think the GOP has disempowered itself by telling too many lies. This applies to the way Bush has discredited himself, and it also applies to the way righty blogs have discredited themselves. They’ve lost traction by betraying their readers, who are finally wising up, just like voters.

  14. Kevin Hayden says:

    I could be wrong, but I thought Norm at onegoodmove preceded Crooks & Liars in videoblogging.

  15. BWE says:

    What a load of manure. The crucial little fact that Henke omits is that a seemingly great number of highly engaged, conservative (or conservative-ish) bloggers supported Webb, either publicly or in the voting booth or both. … That race in particular was one that divided people who would otherwise have been more likely to vote for a Republican candidate over a Democrat. So it doesn’t really stand as an example of great effectiveness by either, or any, political party.

    Posted by Jeff Harrell at November 19, 2006 10:44

    And that is the deeper issue. The candidate was the one people voted for, not the party. Our streamlined, 2 party system provides jack to someone who wants, oh, for example, a fiscally conservative, semi-social liberal who doesn’t simply use the government to ROB, CHEAT and STEAL! Anyone remember the Gingrich revolution? Remember why we swept the house? The sick thing is that, even with a blatantly corrupt leadership in nearly every elected and appointed position in the whole friggin gov’t, there were still people out there saying “I hate the Dems! I’ll only vote Republican!” And then there’s guys like Webb who are actually good candidates, are likely to make good leaders, and we’re so brainwashed we can’t even see it because the activation words that OReilly planted when we went to that last goddam “Trade Show COnference” in confewrence room 8 in New Orleans last year keep coming up. “Liberal”! Taxes! Evil! A-fukin-bortion! Faggots will be marrying sheep and public sex will be mandated in elementary schools! and the others, and the programmming works. We stop listening to Webb (or guys like him), we believe unbelievable things, we forget that evangelicals are treading a fine line with utter contemptability on one side and we vote for the worse guy just because he’s in the right party. I lived in Washington state when Henry Jackson was Senator. And Tom Foley was speaker, come to think of it. Get things done kind of guys. As long as ethics wasn’t a big problem for you. But eventually, the Dems had to stop voting dem. the players started getting too sick. I certainly was tempted to vote straight dem (although I would have voted for Arnie if I was in California) this time around. It’s a real problem when we start thinking of ourself as liberal or conservative; it’s pathology when we call ourselves republican or democrat. You can be a Cubs fan (me) or a White Sox fan (losers) and still agree on some other things. That same marketing is affecting us politically and it is becoming a wasting disease.

    I think the primary direction of debate is what makes the difference. Rightwing blogs are seen, rightly or wrongly, as being mostly followers (and are especially seen as that by the Republican political leadership who view them as simply another part of the top-down message machine). Left wing blogs are more of a bottom-up venture, and I think the Dem politicos see them as something to be heeded – to find the message they should be using – rather than as something to be used to get their message out.

    Sort of my point.

  16. Ted says:

    Hmm, well, if you want to talk about “civil debate” or whatever, you can start by acknowledging that the whole “0 for whatever” meme was always bullshit. Factually so. Even before this year, liberal bloggers were solidly behind Ben Chandler’s victory in Kentucky, Barack Obama’s primary victory, and Stephanie Herseth in South Dakota. And all these campaigns have publicly acknowledged the important role the netroots played in their races.

  17. Elrod says:

    Re: Kos, it’s all about the diaries. Most of the diaries are crap, and that’s coming from a liberal Democrat. They whine about some minor humiliation or drum up some bizarre conspiracy theory. But some of the diaries are top-notch. And the beauty of Daily Kos is that most readers know how to separate the wheat from the chaff. By recommending the better diaries, you get to read the insightful ones without thumbing through the tin-foil rants.

    The other thing Kos and MyDD do is fundraise. They are the perfect answer to McCain-Feingold and a perfectly appropriate Democratic response to the Ranger program in the GOP. Whereas the GOP has effectively corraled maxed-out individual donors, and reward the corrallers with all sorts of chits, the Dems needed their own plan to jack up individual donations. With the traditional big-wig donors (like trial lawyers and Hollywood) locked out of donations to the DNC, the blogs made it “cool” to donate money to political campaigns. The big, wealthy liberal donors now have to give their money to the 527s, which are of dubious effectiveness in the long run. It’s fundraising that blogosphere has helped the DNC on more than anything else. Oh, and the architect of the Web-as-fundraising source was Howard Dean, now Chair of the DNC and approved of almost unanimously by Kossites.

    The Right may do the same thing, but I don’t think the anger is there enough to stage an insurgency against the leadership. Remember, Kos was as much about dismantling the DC-based Democratic Party as it was about winning elections in the short term. Republican blogs are split on how much to criticize the GOP leadership. Blogs like this one, Ed Morrissey or Jon Henke will criticize the hell out of the GOP for abandoning conservative principles. But for every Ed Morrissey there is a Hugh Hewitt or Powerline ready to cheerlead the status quo.

    The other elephant in the room is AM talk radio. Republicans have had Limbaugh and co. on their side for 15 years. Do ordinary conservative voters get their fix from the right-leaning blogs more than they do Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity? I seriously doubt it.