Afterthoughts: Edwards & the Netroots: What happened?

I am too busy writing on my thesis, tutoring in a campaign strategy course at my University and blogging on this blog to have a clear overview of everything that’s happening in the political blogosphere and what is being said about it at all times. That’s why I sometimes save some of the good articles and posts I want to write about later. Unfortunately I forget about most of them - they become outdated - and there is no point in discussing them. But the one I am about to discuss now is too good to just let go of: Ari Melber had a great piece in the Nation two weeks ago where he reflected on what the Edwards/Marcotte scandal really was all about. What is interesting about the article is that Melber makes a point of discussing how the netroots has become a powerful and political force in the progressive landscape in American politics and how the conservatives has come up with strategies to limit this force.

Melber writes:

The netroots are the most aggressive, ascendant force in progressive politics, wielding more members, money and media impact than most liberal organizations. In the 2006 election cycle, MoveOn alone spent more than every other liberal political action committee except the prochoice EMILY's List. According to the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet, online donors gave Kerry $82 million in 2004, and Democrats expect much more in 2008. (Bush pulled only $14 million from the web.) And now top bloggers--like Jerome Armstrong, Markos Moulitsas and Glenn Greenwald--have hundreds of thousands of readers, successful books and a bully pulpit in print and broadcast media.

Republicans cannot stop the donations or pressure the media into ignoring liberal bloggers. Instead, the GOP has tried to drive a wedge between Democratic leaders and the netroots by attacking bloggers--and their readers--as an extreme vitriolic embarrassment. During the midterms, the Republican National Committee repeatedly attacked Democratic candidates for accepting netroots donations and working with bloggers, even distributing a six-page "research" brief maligning Moulitsas, the founder of Daily Kos. Conservative operatives recently floated smears of anti-Semitism at MoveOn [see Eric Alterman, "No Comment," October 30, 2006], Republican donor Bob Perry sank $1 million into a new group devoted to battling MoveOn and Bill O'Reilly regularly denounces the "far left websites." The strategy is to scare Democratic politicians away from tapping their motivated base.

And what happened in case of the Edwards\Marcotte scandal?

Edwards hired two bloggers. They had previously written entries mocking religion. Donohue, president of the Catholic League, assailed them as "anti-Catholic vulgar trash-talking bigots" and demanded they be fired – A by the book strategy where Donohue had made Democrats upset with the netroots.

So what becomes of the relationship between campaigns and bloggers?


"On our blogs, we all say things that might offend someone. Truth is, in life--in bars, in restaurants, in offices, on the phone--we all do that, only now there is...a permanent record," wrote Jeff Jarvis, director of CUNY's interactive journalism program, about the Edwards affair. When campaigns hire bloggers, he explained, they empower people who talk "without the veils of spin and PR and plastic discretion that politicians must learn." Yet the very skills that make a good blogger--provoking people with passionate, authentic opinions--are considered a handicap on the campaign trail. John Edwards took a bold step by hiring and standing by two liberal feminist firebrands, but he was not prepared for their written words to compete with his campaign message.

The best political blogs thrive on a discourse built in opposition to the mainstream; people gather to commune in ways not permitted by media and political gatekeepers. The vigorous dialogue is probably closer to voters' real conversations than politicians' sanitized talking points or the breathless speculation that passes for news today, from premature presidential polls to Anna Nicole Smith's death. In the end, campaigns prefer discipline over authenticity, and many bloggers do not. So Democrats should focus on tapping bloggers' energy while managing their passion--and disregard the self-serving complaints of their opponents. 

Very interesting reflections by Melber.

However, here's a question: Do the counterattacks from the conservatives reflect the power of bloggers/netroots or are they just an excuse or opportunity that comes along for conservatives to smear progressive campaigns? Maybe both?