Monday, September 19, 2005

PETER DAOU MAKES A CONVINCING CASE that right-wingers have been very effectively using the triangle formed by bloggers, the media, and the Republican leadership to advance their political agenda. With Katrina, this triangle broke down for the right, and came together for the left -- and that, Daou says, is why the Bush administration was forced to take Michael Brown off hurricane relief; why Pres. Bush was forced to take personal responsibility for Katrina relief failures; and why public support for his effectiveness as a leader have been dropping even below what they were before the last week of August.

Rather than continue to hammer away at the Bush administration, Daou thinks liberal bloggers would be much better advised to keep the heat on the MSM and the Democrats to keep this triangle going.

Looking at the political landscape, one proposition seems unambiguous: blog power on both the right and left is a function of the relationship of the netroots to the media and the political establishment. Forming a triangle of blogs, media, and the political establishment is an essential step in creating the kind of sea change we’ve seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Simply put, without the participation of the media and the political establishment, the netroots alone cannot generate the critical mass necessary to alter or create conventional wisdom. This is partly a factor of audience size, but it’s also a matter, frankly, of trust and legitimacy. Despite the astronomical growth of the netroots (see Bowers and Stoller for hard numbers), and the slow and steady encroachment of bloggers on the hallowed turf of Washington’s opinion-makers, it is still the Russerts and Broders and Gergens and Finemans, the WSJ, WaPo and NYT editorial pages, the cable nets, Stewart and Letterman and Leno, and senior elected officials, who play a pivotal role in shaping people’s political views. That is not to say that blogs can’t be the first to draw attention to an issue, as they often do, but the half-life of an online buzz can be measured in days and weeks, and even when a story has enough netroots momentum to float around for months, it will have little effect on the wider public discourse without the other sides of the triangle in place. Witness the Plame case, an obsession of left-leaning bloggers long before the media and the political establishment got on board and turned it into a political liability for Rove and Bush.

The blogosphere is very effective at calling attention to particular issues; but without the other sides of the triangle formed by the media and the political leadership, it's hard to bring the kind of broader pressure to bear that actually can make changes as significant as the ones that happened in the wake of Katrina.

The power of the triangle has been demonstrated again and again: Josh Marshall and social security, Steve Clemons and the Bolton nomination (the recess appointment was emblematic of Bolton’s defeat, not his victory), right-wing bloggers and Eason Jordan, right-wing bloggers and Dick Durbin, progressive bloggers and Jeff Gannon, and so on. In each of these cases, and to varying degrees, bloggers, the media, and senior elected officials played a role in pushing a story and influencing public perceptions. To understand what happens when the online community is on its own, look no further than electronic voting. The progressive netroots has been hammering away at this for years, but the media and the political establishment is largely mute. Traction = Zero. The conventional wisdom puts it squarely in the realm of conspiracy theories.
It would seem reasonable to conclude, then, that the best strategy for the progressive netroots is to go after the media and Democratic Party leaders and spend less time and energy attacking the Bush administration. If the netroots alone can’t change the political landscape without the participation of the media and Democratic establishment, then there’s no point wasting precious online space blasting away at Republicans while the other sides of the triangle stand idly by. Indeed, blog powerhouses like Kos and Josh Marshall have taken an aggressive stance toward Democratic politicians they see as selling out core Democratic Party principles. Kos’s willingness to attack the DLC is mocked on the right, but it is precisely the right’s fear that Kos will “close the triangle” that causes them to protest so loudly. Similarly, when Atrios, Digby, Oliver Willis, and so many other progressive bloggers attack the media, they are leveraging whatever power they have to compel the media to assume a role as the third side of their triangle.
Setting aside 2006 congressional prospects and the remote hope for progressives that Bush will be impeached, the grand political battle of the next three years is over Bush’s legacy.

For right-wing bloggers who have fiercely defended one of the most controversial and polarizing presidents in our history, their fortunes will rise or fall with his approval ratings. The blind allegiance to Bush and the furious assault on his detractors will be vindicated if he leaves office with popular support.

Right-wing bloggers will thus do everything in their power to prevent another Katrina triangle, where the confluence of blogs, media, and Democratic leadership exposes the real Bush and shatters the conventional wisdom about his ability to lead. And they will struggle mightily to boost his poll numbers, whether it means ignoring the reality of the Iraq fiasco or the terrifying implications of the bungled federal response to Katrina.

For progressive bloggers who see a president presiding over the collapse of America's credibility, the urgent work ahead is to cement the post-Katrina impression of Bush as a failed president. Whether or not they succeed depends to a large extent on their ability to compel the media and Democratic establishment to stand with them and speak the truth.

Via Liberal Oasis.

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