Sunday, November 19, 2006



A few weeks ago I was approached by the Steny Hoyer's office to see if I would do an interview with him before the showdown with Jack Murtha. I was surprised because I had had some pretty nasty things to say in the past about the Democrats' version of a K Street pol. But Hoyer was also aware of the fact that I had pointed out how reactionary Murtha's voting record had been and that was the message he wanted out in the blogosphere. (He already had a vicious media campaign planned out to smear Murtha in terms of corruption so that the ethically-challenged system politicians like Tom DeLay, Rick Santorum, Bill Frist, Rahm Emanuel and Steny Hoyer use to "sell access," give a seat at the table or give preferential treatment-- how ever you want to put it-- to Big Business in return for "contributions" [bribes] and a patronage scheme, would get lost in complexities that TV is incapable of making into soundbites.) Anyway, you can read about my Hoyer interview here.

The reason I'm bringing it up again has nothing really to do with the Hoyer-Murtha battle for the leadership of the Democratic caucus, a fight that was set up so that it could have had no good outcome. My original goal was to get Hoyer into a live blog session at Firedoglake where members of the community could talk to him in depth and get a feel for his thinking. We've been doing this for the last several months and we've raised over half a million dollars for politicians whose ideas we bought into. Hoyer had some reservations about the format. His assistant didn't have a problem with people asking tough questions about, for example-- hers-- his role in the passage of the hated bankruptcy bill, but she wanted a guarantee that people wouldn't call him names. I think she mentioned "shill" or "hack" or something like that. We guaranteed her we would hire extra site monitors and prevent any name calling or abuse. Eventually they said they didn't have the time for an hour blog session but that they would do a 30 minute phone interview and after the leadership election they'd do the blogging. I haven't heard back yet.

Most politicians don't quite know what to make of blogging and bloggers. Bush, Sr., a man who lost the presidency in part because he didn't know what a bar code scanner at a supermarket checkout stand was, thinks blogs are mean to Junior and have caused people to hate him. They poison the atmosphere; and here I always though Republicans favor poisoning the atmosphere!

Friday, on the day Tony Blair submitted to an online interview, the BBC ran a more perceptive examination based on a speech given by the British prime minister's outgoing chief strategy advisor, Matthew Taylor. Acknowledging that the web could be "fantastic for democracy," he bemoaned that it was more often used to encourage the "shrill discourse of demands" that dominate modern politics. Ah... for the good old days, where whatever the king said goes!

Speaking at an e- democracy conference in central London, he said modern politics was all about "quality of life" and that voters had a "very complex set of needs."

The end of deference, the rapid pace of social change and growing diversity were all good things, he argued, but they also meant governments found it increasingly difficult to govern.

"We have a citizenry which can be caricatured as being increasingly unwilling to be governed but not yet capable of self-government," Mr Taylor told the audience.

Like "teenagers", people were demanding, but "conflicted" about what they actually wanted, he argued.

They wanted "sustainability," for example, but not higher fuel prices, affordable homes for their children but not new housing developments in their town or village.

But rather than work out these dilemmas in partnership with their elected leaders, they were encouraged to regard all politicians as corrupt or "mendacious" by the media, which he described as "a conspiracy to maintain the population in a perpetual state of self-righteous rage."

Whether media was left wing or right wing, the message was always that "leaders are out there to shaft you."

He went on: "At a time at which we need a richer relationship between politicians and citizens than we have ever had, to confront the shared challenges we face, arguably we have a more impoverished relationship between politicians and citizens than we have ever had.

"It seems to me this is something which is worth calling a crisis."

The Internet, he told the conference, was part of that "crisis."

"The Internet has immense potential but we face a real problem if the main way in which that potential expresses itself is through allowing citizens to participate in a shrill discourse of demands.

"If you look at the way in which citizens are using technology and the way that is growing up, there are worrying signs that that is the case.

"What is the big breakthrough, in terms of politics, on the web in the last few years? It's basically blogs which are, generally speaking, hostile and, generally speaking, basically see their job as every day exposing how venal, stupid, mendacious politicians are.

"The Internet is being used as a tool of mobilization, which is fantastic, but it only adds to the growing, incommensurate nature of the demands being made on government."

He challenged the online community to provide more opportunities for "people to try to understand the real trade-offs that politicians face and the real dilemmas that citizens face."

Taylor-- and Blair-- are far more sophisticated in their outlook towards the new technology than Bush and say... Ted Stevens. But their view is still hostile, defensive and based on pacification, co-option and subjugation. He decried the basic anti-establishment attitude. "I want people to have more power, but I want them to have more power in the context of a more mature discourse about the responsibilities of government and the responsibilities of citizens." He ought to drop by one of our Saturday sessions at Firedoglake. I'm sure Bush never will and I doubt Steny Hoyer will.

Meanwhile, a right-wing blogger, Jon Henke, who headed up Felix Macacawitz' ineffectual blogging operation during his failed bid for re-election, acknowledges the effectiveness of the netroots and the lefty blogosphere. Henke's essay, unlike Macacawitz' propaganda, is very much worth reading. "Make no mistake, without the netroots, Webb would not have won. He may not even have been close. It was a long-cultivated activism/outreach/media-hounding New Media campaign that brought Webb to the attention of the institutional Democrats, sold him to the activists and shaped the narratives of both Webb and Allen for the media... Republicans have not quite caught onto the potential of engaging the blogosphere yet."


At 1:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for your in-depth analysis ot the Leftosphere. In effect, our muscle has been noted and they've "watched us in our virtual gym--and will now be opening their own for 2008".

The "powers-that-be" are making noises that show their contempt and fear of us. I predict that we will see legislation proposed to reform the New Media; we must read the text carefully to see what gems are hidden in it, before it is passed by our laconic legislators. It wouldn't be the first time in the last six years...

Soldier on, DWT! I have your back.


At 7:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"We have a citizenry which can be caricatured as being increasingly unwilling to be governed but not yet capable of self-government," Mr Taylor told the audience.
Ughh, Mr. Taylor's comments put a really bad taste in my mouth. Ughh!They ring of the old Tory argument against Democracy, only slightly updated for the electronic age: We little people need to be "saved from themselves." We're too immature and don't understand the "tradeoffs" and so on and so forth of our most "caring" politicians.
Politicians!?! Mr. Taylor would get along just fine with HoJoe.


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