September 30, 2006


Henry Farrell in the Boston Review has decided to discuss the influence and power of the so-called Netroots movement which clusters around the website Daily Kos . His article is interesting and well worth reading for anyone who wishes to understand how Kos and other liberal bloggers atrios or Jerome Armstrong have attacked the current Democratic Party establishment over their bipartisanship, general ceding of space to the Republican noise machine and ignoring of various state which can't be won. These blogger have definitely challenged the cozy Washington atmosphere of consensus between consultants like Bob Shrum who can't help losing every time and politicians like John Kerry who have lived their political lives, accepting their minority status.

There is something in these blogs that reminds a student of American politics of the highly controversial spin doctors of the early Clinton years, the rajun cajun Jimmy Carville for instance, in their attention to Republican attacks and repudiating them and their general aggressiveness they fit the template well. Farrell thinks that they need to do more, to recapture the agenda of debate and reframe it. The problem is that Kos and his Kossacks are never going to do that- its fascinating that in politics today we frequently here about how x side has run out of ideas or how y side has lots of ideas but never about what those ideas are. Kos has no ideas about policy- he seldom expresses anything apart from opposition to Republicans. What he has is ideas about how to run and win elections- that's as true of so many of these bloggers. To reannex the framing of ideas in part what you need is a rapid rebuttle machine- which is what these guys do well- they do rebutt and use evidence to good effect, look for example at the George Allen racism affair in Virginia almost entirely constructed by bloggers.

Political success and political ideas are not tied together. Merely looking at the magazines that Blogs like Kos are going to replace magazines like the American Spectator but never going to be able to replace a magazine like Foreign Affairs. (One reason for the hatred expressed at places like the New Republic for Kos et al is a sign that they see a competitor which lays bare the fact that that was what these magazines were about, not serious ideas). What is fascinating is the way that on both sides of the Atlantic the Blogosphere has become the netroots- whether Kos or Guido Fawkes- the main icons of the blogosphere are not blogs about ideas but blogs about tactics. The interesting thing about this is what it reveals about the people who read blogs- most of them come convinced to Blogs and read there the tactics of getting their message about there, the blogs in that sense are the equivalent of seminaries sending missionaries out into the communities. What Kos and his comrades reccomend is not a particular policy position but an ethics of evangelisation. Curiously Farrell reccomends them to begin doing other things- ie reconstructing the argumentative space in which politics takes place, but this account shows in one sense they are doing it, they are becoming a democratic noise machine, but on the other they can't replicate the work done by Milton Freidman and F.A. Hayek.

These bloggers are not manufacturers of truth, they are brand managers for what they think is the truth.