Garance Franke-Ruta’s recent American Prospect article on key differences between Left and Right bloggers has created an interesting and useful debate. But I suspect she may be spurring a different, but equally useful, debate in a new post on Tapped that challenges the idea that bloggers are mainly “citizen-journalists” who represent an entirely new phenomenon in political commentary.Franke-Ruta goes through a whole list of leading Left and Center-Left blogs, including this one, and notes the various credentials–in terms of background, experience, institutional ties, and even social connections–their authors bring to the keyboard. Her post will probably set off a backlash among bloggers who (a) fear the blogosphere is being taken over by Washington and/or Establishment Types, and (b) really freak out at the idea that Washington and/or Establishment Types are eating, boozing, and shmoozing together in order to promote each other at the expense of their less-connected peers.I did a long post last fall providing my own, tentative take on the relationship between blogs and other forms of political expression, and concluded that the whole phenomenon represents the confluence of a new technology with a classic market failure in political journalism and advocacy.Alternatives to market failures create all sorts of new outlets for creativity and expanded involvement, and that’s been the case with blogs. But alternatives to market failures also produce a market response, and that’s why so many Washington political institutions have started up or blessed blogs.So: does that mean the Establishment is neutering the blogosphere? No, for two major reasons.First, the Establishment response to the growing influence of online competition has loosened up the Establishment itself in significant ways. Kos is now a player in Democratic campaign planning. Nobody involved in Democratic strategy on the Social Security issue can ignore Josh Marshall. And institutional blogging is changing institutions. The stable of young bloggers at the Prospect is changing that staid journal’s image and emphasis significantly. I can tell you a lot of people seem to be taking a new look at the DLC thanks to this blog and The Moose. The Center for American Progress and the New America Foundation are now sponsoring blogs, along with most political magazines. Co-optation of market-share-threatening trends is generally a two-way street. So the invasion of the blogosphere by the Establishment is a tribute to the medium’s influence.But secondly, whatever advantages Establishment bloggers have, everybody else remains just a click or a google-search away, and the quality and value-added of non-Establishment blogs continue to bubble up. I’m forever discovering that some blog I read now and then is being written by somebody living in America rather than Washington–someone with a day job who is light years away from getting a hand on the greasy pole of print or electronic journalism, or from a gig with a major political outfit or think-tank. Like most low-mid-major bloggers, I get a constant stream of email from people wanting me to link to their blogs, and the backlog of requests is a constant source of anxious guilt.But they are there, in far greater numbers than the people lining up for interviews with Establishment outlets, and boasting qualifications–like the ability to write, and an actual knowledge of actual conditions around the country–that their Ivy-educated peers often don’t have.Yeah, many bloggers are people who’d be doing faily well in the punditocracy if the internet did not exist, and yeah, the internet has created opportunities for intelligent commentary and advocacy by a whole lot of folks who didn’t go to Harvard and thus can’t get in the door at The New Republic. Let’s hope the supply and demand curves ultimately begin to converge. In the mean time, there’s space for us all.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
While mulling some recent material from The Bulwark, I thought I’d explain something to the converted “Never Trumpers” the outlet represents, and did so at New York:
For a while now I’ve had a guilty-pleasure reading habit: The Bulwark, that semi-official outlet of Never Trumpers who view themselves as having definitively broken with the GOP thanks to their former party’s thralldom to Donald J. Trump. I share its contributors’ belief that they (the tribe usefully described by Miller as Red Dog Democrats) represent not just a self-promoting claque of elite scribblers but a real if marginal faction of the Democratic Party, having burned a lot of bridges on their way out of the GOP. Their views appear to parallel those of a significant number of suburban Republicans and independents who voted Democratic in 2018 and 2020. And given the very close balance between voters of the two parties, as reflected most recently in 2020, Democrats really can’t afford to contemptuously reject any potential adherents, however alien or even repugnant they might find their backgrounds.
So it’s understandable when Bulwark co-founder Charlie Sykes expresses frustration that Democrats refuse to consider their pleas for policy concessions on grounds of holding old grudges:
“The spending. The wokeness. The repeal of the Hyde Amendment. I could go on …
“These are difficult times for folks on the center-right, who’ve tried to join Democrats in a loose alliance to protect the Republic from Trumpism …
“Litmus tests are applied: it’s not enough to be pro-democracy, NTers are also expected to embrace the elements of the progressive agenda — from free community college, to abortion, rent moratoriums, police funding, transgenderism, CRT, social spending, and the candidacy of Greta Thunberg for sainthood.”
Sykes fears it’s all very personal, and warns, “If you cancel moderates/conservatives for their past sins, you don’t have a coalition.”
Here’s the thing, though: It’s not really about the Red Dogs. Yes, I’m sure it’s been tough for them to watch Democrats largely come together around a legislative program that’s significantly more progressive than the one advanced by the Obama administration. But Democrats have been coalescing around the basics of the Build Back Better agenda for some time now. That the famously moderate Joe Biden now embraces it is a sign of how the party has slowly evolved, not some sort of betrayal or surrender to the left. And anyone who paid close attention to the 2020 presidential primaries should have understood that there is less distance between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders than between Joe Biden and the Joe Biden of the 1990s.
Part of what has happened is simply a resolution of internal conflicts among Democrats that left them defensive and at times incoherent. A classic example is one that Sykes mentioned: abortion policy. For years, Democrats claimed to value reproductive rights even as they accepted significant limitations on them: e.g., the Hyde Amendment, which made abortion services, unlike any other medical services, ineligible for any sort of federal support. That amendment, along with acceptance of some largely symbolic restrictions on rare late-term abortions, and the whole “safe, legal, and rare” messaging introduced by Bill Clinton, represented concessions to a significant bloc of Democratic voters and Democratic pols who did not recognize reproductive rights at all.
That has changed over time. Anti-abortion Democratic politicians are a rare and shrinking breed, and there are now significantly fewer anti-abortion Democratic voters than there are pro-choice Republicans. Most Democrats, including Joe Biden, have made the leap into a more coherent and unified position. They aren’t going to turn back the clock to satisfy ex-Republicans, but they aren’t insisting on a “litmus test” just to annoy or exclude them, either. The same could be said for other policy tenets once beloved by a significant number of Democrats — from fiscal hawkishness to armed interventionism to an openness to “entitlement reform” — that remain attractive to the newest proto-Democrats. As for the idea that Democrats are some sort of rigid ideological cult: Come on, seriously? Look at what’s going on with the attempted enactment of the Build Back Better reconciliation bill. If this is an intolerant and exclusive political party, I’d hate to see a loosey-goosey one try to function. It may just be that the issues Red Dogs fret about may lie outside the still relatively loose bounds of party unity.
This doesn’t mean Red Dogs should despair, but it may mean another painful reevaluation of priorities, recognizing that most have already had to sacrifice a lot of old allegiances and even the habitual language used to make sense of the political world. In many respects, the Never Trumpers resemble their spiritual (and in some cases biological) predecessors, the neo-conservatives. These were people who broke with the Democratic Party out of a conviction that Democratic views on national security made continued party loyalty impossible. But most of them retained many views that horrified their new Republican allies until they accepted the inevitable role of a factional minority and grew to accommodate or even share the policy positions and ideological language of the GOP, which was increasingly dominated by conservatives with their own ideological-consistency demands.
Most Red Dogs have no illusions about the party they’ve left and understand their constituencies are too small to form a third force or demand concessions from a position of strength. Most, I suppose, will get used to the strange and sometimes lurid landscape of the Donkey Party. Others will embrace the posture of the gadfly, the people of no party or coalition. But it’s really not personal. It’s just politics.