Blogs on the Left (and Right):

The Washington Post has a story this morning worth a read, "Blogs Attack From Left as Democrats Reach for Center."

I found particularly interesting the references to Senator (and presumably Presdential-aspirant) Kerry's efforts to reach out to bloggers, such as his post this week on Daily Kos announcing his decision to try to filibuster the Alito nomination (and before that his comments on Iraq). My initial thought is that it is quite a savvy way by him of trying to establish his bona fides with the Democratic grass-roots base so as to try to peel away some of this constituency that otherwise seems naturally inclined Senator Clinton. The use of blogs in this manner, it seems to me, may be important in two ways. First, it allows for unusually well-targeted messaging to particular audiences at low cost, with minimal spillover to other audiences. Second, at least for the current moment in time, it provides a useful symbolic shorthand for politicians to define themselves with a particular "team"--i.e., simply by acknowledging and talking to these guys it provides a symbolic reaching out beyond traditional party establishments, in the same way that conservative politicians have used talk radio to cultivate a similar image.

Which prompts a final speculation--given the apparent inability of liberal talk radio (e.g., Air America) to get traction, I wonder if this has anything to do with the way that liberal and conservative blogs have evolved into having different structures. Think of it this way--if John Kerry were a conservative, he would have probably phoned-in a filibuster to Rush Limbaugh rather than blogging on Daily Kos. This leads me to wonder whether one explanation for the apparent difference between conservative and liberal blogs is that in some sense conservative blogs and talk radio work in tandem with each other, whereas liberal blogs essentially have to perform simultaneously both of the functions served by two distinct outlets by conservative media (talk radio and blogs). My impression is that liberal blogs tend to be in some sense larger and more centralized (such as Daily Kos), whereas conservative blogs tend to be more plentiful, smaller, and more decentralized in structure.

I'm raising the question of whether perhaps this is because because whereas blogs and talk radio essentially function as complementary technologies for conservatives, liberal blogs are essentially forced by the market into performing both the narrowcasting functions of, say, Powerline as well as the broadcasting functions of Limbaugh. Perhaps others have made this observation previously, or perhaps I'm just all wet, but Senator Kerry's blogging appearances on Daily Kos framed the question in a new way for me, so I thought I'd throw it out there. Most commentary I have seen tends to lump conservative talk radio and blogs together as essentially redundant "new" forms of new political technology, but its not obvious to me that is necessarily true.

If this is true, then it would predict that more liberal politicians might follow Sen. Kerry into the blogosphere, whereas we wouldn't necessarily expect to see conservative politicians reach out in exactly the same way.

zwichenzug (mail) (www):
I might draw the contrast somewhat differently. It seems to me that liberal blogs tend to be more participatory than conservative blogs and, similarly, that conservative talk radio tends to be more participatory than liberal talk radio.

So, on this analysis, what happens is that on the liberal side the community building function is carried by blogs with radio serving to amplify the message of the community, whereas on the conservative side the community building function was taken on by radio and blogs tend to serve as an amplifying echo chamber.
1.28.2006 9:25am
TomFromMD (mail):
I disagree about the spillover effect. After all, here we are on a conservative blog, talking about what he said on a liberal blog. As a conservative that held his nose and voted for Kerry, his talking about filibustering Alito hurts my impression of him, and that he's associating himself with a pretty far left crowd makes it worse. If he was talking to Kevin Drum, I'd be more accepting. But Kos and crowd are a bit off the deep end.
1.28.2006 9:31am
dk35 (mail):
Can someone please explain to me on what basis you peg a blog as "far left" that opposes the Iraq war, thinks George Bush lies, and supports a woman's right to an abortion. I'm sorry, but poll after poll shows that large majorities of the American public hold these views.

I'm perfectly aware that many visitors to this site (as well as Zwicki) disagree with the majority of the American people on the above issues...but calling those views "far left" can only be correct if the majority of Americans can be categorized as "far left."
1.28.2006 9:42am
Ted Frank (www):
Filibustering Alito and Borking him as opposed to interracial marriage is far left. 85% of Americans support civil justice reform, so Daily Kos's knee-jerk opposition is far left. DK's disproportionate support of Dean and Kucinich in the primaries was far left. That some of DK's far-left views can be recharacterized in a manner that makes them seem majoritarian doesn't make it not far-left -- for example, while the majority of Americans support a woman's right to choose, only a small minority are as opposed to regulation of abortion to the extent DK is. But the Democrats will find this out the hard way in 2008 when they adopt a DK platform to win the primary--assuming the Republicans don't self-destruct in their own primary.
1.28.2006 10:35am
Duncan Frissell (mail):

I'm shocked by your claim that Markos Alberto Moulitsas ZĂșniga is a squishy moderate. You will be immediately reported to the Party. Accusations that the Leader is insufficiently radical are a serious matter.
1.28.2006 10:37am
Rizalist (www):
<a rel="nofollow" href="">A post</a> on MyDD by Chris Bowers last month states his observation of the difference between Left and Right blogs based on data from :"Of the twenty-four liberal blogs in the top quintile, Dailykos, TPM Café, Smirking Chimp, Metafilter, BooMan Tribune, MyDD, and Dembloggers are full-fledged community sites where members cannot only comment, but they can also post diaries / articles / polls. By comparison, there are no community sites among the top twenty-four conservative blogs. None, zip, zero, nada. This is particularly stunning when one considers the importance of the Free Republic community to the conservative netroots. While it would appear that there are hordes of Glenn Reynolds wannabe's among conservatives in the netroots, sticks out as the only success story for a community oriented blog within the conservative blogosphere. In fact, of the five most trafficked conservative blogs (over 200,000 page views per week), only one, Little Green Footballs, even allows comments, much less the ability to actually write a diary or a new article."

He notes that a symbiosis arose between Liberal Left blogs and certain elements of the Democratic Party itself during the 2004 campaign. This seems parallel the role played by talk radio you note with Conservative Right blogs. The "community" nature of the Left Liberal sites Bowers credits for the huge lead they have over Conservative Right sites in traffic recently. Daily Kos is his case in point.

Of course, as Fleetwood Mac claims, No one falls into a simple set of labels. But there evidently are distinguishable, quantifiable, "topological" differences in the two genres of online citizen journalism now and the websites they tend to build and populate.
1.28.2006 10:50am
dk35 (mail):

A filibuster is a tactic, not an ideology. Under Clinton, Republican senators used tactics to keep his nominees off he bench. The polls show that the majority of Americans disagree with Alito's views on many of the important issues of the day, so once again I don't see the point in the characterization of those who oppose his nomination as "far left."
1.28.2006 11:04am
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Just out of curiosity, dk35... do you read kos? I doubt we really have many crossover readers here. It's not the fact that they oppose the war, that they favor abortion rights, or even that they support a filibuster. It's that they're a bunch of nuts! Most of them can sum up their entire point in the topic sentence to their post, and the substance is a tagline or emoticon. Many of them would probably be insulted if you attributed "mainstream" opinions to them.

"Far Left" isn't something Kossacks deny... it's a badge they wear with pride in order to gain respect in their forums.
1.28.2006 11:11am
Ed in texas (mail):
Don't know if this actually true. During the recent Alito hearings, the RNC hosted a number of conservative bloggers, setting up interviews with various republican senators. On the last day, Rove showed up. See Captain's Quarter's archive over the specific period. I think (a) the republican strategy is still evolving, and (b) the default is to wait till the democrats settle on a specific approach before attacking. No sense wasting ammo on an empty bunker.
And dk35, Markos will be shocked to find out he's not far left, so drop the pose. Don't believe me? Ask him.
1.28.2006 11:15am
One of the tricks in business competition is to redefine the customer segments. Make them more encompassing or less so; regroup customers differently in the way you communicate or what you actually offer.

Radio was used by the Republican and libertarian elements to break away from what's being reported in TV; blogs to take the fight even to smaller or more defined (i.e., "radical") segments, or to redefine segmentation overall.

(A case in point for this redefinition concept is that after years of conservative radio, Fox News springs up and at least doesn't ignore the so-called conservative and the libertarian side. Though Fox could be called pretty weak on that front, we at least now see some airing of the non-"established" point of view in TV.)

The easy, inexpensive mass market access that the internet makes possible has enabled even fringe ideas to get to enough eyes to find a market. It works the same way that web-based auction sites enable you to sell some horrible old knick-knack that you can't sell at your garage sale or anywhere around town.

So blogs make for an excellent grassroots collector. Look at it this way: identify a useful fringe point of view and use a blog(s) to speak to that group and give them somewhere to feel a sense of belonging. Then direct them to progressively broader-view sites that move them toward where you want them to be. It's manipulative, but I've never known that to be a problem for most political groups.

As an aside, dk35 hints at an interesting point: the concepts of Left and Right, Liberal and Conservative have become almost meaningless.

If we were to ask someone from the 18th Century, we'd probably find that they consider most American politicians today extremely "conservative," believing in the primacy of the state and giving it a lot of power. They'd see today's differentiations as more "flavor" than as substantively ideological.
1.28.2006 11:24am
Flatlander100 (mail):
Since others have taken issue with your characterization of DK readers as "far left" [and rightly], this frequent reader of both DK and VC would like to challenge another assumption in your original post: that DK readers are, somehow, a natural constituency for the presidential aspirations of Senator Clinton. I find it difficult to believe any frequent reader of DK could conclude Senator Clinton is doing well among posters there. Rather the reverse, I would say, with respect to her stand on the mess in Iraq and her waffle on flag-burning as a crime just for openers. She may have been seen as a stand-up liberal in the past, but she is rapidly repackaging herself it seems to me [and evidently to many others over at DK] as a waffling wet-finger-in-the-air poll-gazing pol who constantly refers to the latest subtle shift in public opinion to decide what it is safe for her to say. As a thoroughly un-reconstructed New Deal Democrat, I think (a) that does not constitute leadership in any meaningful sense of the word and that (b) my party has had more than enough of candidates who seem more interested in saying what their pollsters tell them the public wants to hear, rather than saying what they think is best for the nation on any given issue.
Further deponent sayeth not.
1.28.2006 11:32am
John Herbison (mail):
Is it a coincidence that Rush Limbaugh and his progeny have thrived in the only medium whose audience need not know how to read?
1.28.2006 11:50am
Todd, I think you're a bit out of touch. First, Democratic grass-root organizations are generally opposed to Hillary (as am I) because of her stance on the war. Second, conservative politicians have been reaching out to conservative blogs for a while now. See, e.g., Red State, which often gets conservative politicians to guest blog.
1.28.2006 12:05pm
anonymous coward:
zwichenzug (in the first comment) is IMO correct--the biggest distinction is that more top liberal blogs have comments and comment communities. Kos (the biggest) uses a modified version of Scoop--software created to be a better Slashdot, predating the rise of blogging. I'm not entirely sure we should think of Kos as just a "blog."

Forums like Kos, slashdot, kuro5hin, etc. have well-known and obvious problems along with their virtues (like giving a voice within the community to individual users in their diaries).

The current American right-of-center is pretty silly about conflating people and language and tactics they find distasteful with radical politics. I suppose since the right governs the country, the "left" seems relevant only in how they oppose the right, so left-of-center ideas (concrete policy or more abstract) seem an incohate muddle. The curious delusion that Hillary is a lefty, for example...not usually shared on the left. (Is she actually popular with Kosites? I'd be very surprised--not a regular reader, so I could be wrong.)
1.28.2006 12:24pm
Brainster (mail) (www):
The key point that VandeHei misses in his analysis is that while the lefty blogs are tugging the Democrats to port, talk radio pulled the country to starboard. The liberal blogs seem to have no interest in this task, which of course is a whole lot more effective to the goal of winning electoral victories for their party. As others have commented, conservative blogs seem interested in making converts; liberal blogs seem more interested in expelling heretics (i.e., the centrists/moderates than any successful party needs). Witness the backlash this week among the lefty blogs to Chris Matthews, Katie Couric and Tim Russert, their natural allies.
1.28.2006 12:59pm
It's all about money, isn't it? The Kos crowd keeps saying that they will not "support" anyone who doesn't fight for a filibuster. Kerry hopes to get the kind of early internet money Dean got last time 'round, so he can step out in front of H.Clinton. To do that, he has to pander to the Kos people.
1.28.2006 1:09pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
Clinton keeps talking about insanity being repeating the same action and expecting a different result. Like nominating another northeastern liberal for the presidency.
1.28.2006 1:17pm
Roger Arango (mail) (www):
John Herbison: that is one possible analysis; however, it is possible talk radio reaches people who work jobs where they do not have time to read or that reading is an essential part of their job----nah, that couldnt be it.
1.28.2006 2:17pm
CrazyTrain (mail):
Ted Frank, as usual, has no idea what he's talking about. Kos did not support Kucinich AT ALL. Rather, he supported Wes Clark early on when he got sick of Dean. Ted Frank, extremist that he is, just gets his info from far right websites from Malkin, etc., and probably has never read Kos -- to say that Kos is out of the mainstream again shows no familiarity with Kos, but rather with the tired Republican blogosphere talking points that Kos is a "cesspool." --- considering the source, Malkin, a hateful racist, I would think Kos or his fans would take it as a compliment. And sorry Ted, just because you want to nationalize every woman's uterus doesn't make Kos out of the mainstream. Your views explain why you could never get a chick when I knew you.
1.28.2006 2:30pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Classy, CT... classy.

I take it that you, on the other hand, are a regular over there?
1.28.2006 2:58pm
Michael B (mail):
"I might draw the contrast somewhat differently. It seems to me that liberal blogs tend to be more participatory than conservative blogs ..." zwichenzug

Yes, absolutely. Dissent, even heresies, are positively welcomed at Atrios, Kos, etc. The warmth and receptivity accorded counter-arguments in these pews and within these congregations of dissent is positively endearing. Of course, if "participatory" is being used to denote ad hominem snark and vitriol, demonization via a wide arrary of tactics, reductionist and caricatures of counter-arguments, etc., then little or no argument is intended.

Of engagement and John Kerry, it would have been far more engaging if he had more thoughtfully and substantively commented in a middle-of-the-road blog (e.g., Donklephant) and taken on - actively engaged and competed with - contrasting and even contrary opinions. Instead he demagogues and speaks in platitudes. A further, inspiring example of some of that "warmth" and "receptivity to counter-arguments". Even in the safe womb and hive of Kos, Kerry doesn't seriously engage, he does little or nothing more than announce himself - and await his laurels.
1.28.2006 3:25pm
Roger Arango (mail) (www):
"Nationalize every woman's uterus;" ad hominum attack on one's ability to "get a chick?" WOW--those are impressive arguments--clearly a Kossac/DUer regular!
1.28.2006 3:41pm
anonymous coward:
Michael B: The "participatory" nature of Kos et al. isn't refuted by the bad behavior of some of their commentators. I suppose you feel the term connotes some sort of mannerly discourse. Self-consciously polite discourse is rarely productive or interesting on the internets; neither is Kos, but that's because it is dumb. (Atrios is ordinary blogger format but there's often not much content outside of the comment threads, so I think it's partially in the same category as Kos.)

Kos (Slashdot, Usenet, listservs) is an ecosystem. Due to self-reinforcing group dynamics and the trolls that exploit and subvert them, open forums eventually and inevitably spin out of control. Perhaps the difficulty of maintaining high-quality participatory forums explains the relative success of blogging, where user participation is secondary (appended to, and commenting on, the blogger's posts) or absent.
1.28.2006 4:37pm
Wintermute (www):
I commented on the other post.

I didn't know this was a conservative blog. I thought it was a law blog, or more specifically, a law professors' blog.

Repubs' online operation is more of a top-down, disseminate talking points, mass-email upon signal, troll liberal sites thing. Demos' operation has now started the bias watchdogging once mainly done by the Repubs; but as pointed out by others, is more participatory in discussion (hence more computer-based than radio-based), younger, more college-age-based than retiree-based.
1.28.2006 4:43pm
Michael B (mail):
anonymous coward,

Your (seemingly patronizing) construal (e.g., "mannerly discourse" or "self-consciously polite discourse") is not only not what was intended, it is not at all what was explicitly indicated.
1.28.2006 5:03pm
John Lederer (mail):
Gee, I am hopelessly out of step. I thought one of the advantages of blogs was that they required only a very small audience (enough to gratify the author). The natural result should be very large numbers of blogs representing lots of views.

As a reader I will read a blog whose author is interesting. If i want to say something about a particular issue, I will simply pull up the blog most likely to cover it and start commenting there. Thus for instance, I was interested in the NSA isues, and came here. I am also interested in military issues, but I don't normally come here for that. I go elsewhere for my economics, and still elsewhere for my iformation on New Orleans reconstruction. "Politics" is a far wider topic, and I still hit a lot of different blogs for that -- some for political p[hilosophy. some for polls, some for election reform, some for local politics, etc..

The idea of a "super blog" makes sense to me if what it is is basically an index to other sources, perhaps with comments, e.g. Instapundit.

The idea of a "super blog" as the main blog one goes to most of the time doesn't suit my taste. Indeed, it seems a little, well, Stalinesque. But perhaps for one who has an inclination to a statist approach to things it makes sense? It does seem like an attempt to reconstruct network TV in a new medium.
1.28.2006 8:01pm
anonymous coward:
Abject apologies! Next time I'm "patronizing" you, Mike, I'll construe a denunciation of lefty blogs' lack of "warmth and receptivity accorded counter-arguments" and "ad hominem snark and vitriol, demonization via a wide arrary of tactics, reductionist and caricatures of counter-arguments" and as something completely different than a call for civilized discourse.

We usually find our priors confirmed when we wade into forums we expect to be unpalatable; The Althouse Affair was a case of this. And liberals may be rude, but they have nothing on a provoked Placido Domingo fan on Opera-L. That is the way of the internet--it's fun to be outraged!
1.28.2006 8:16pm
Some sites are interesting because of the selection of topics by the moderators. That's where you can get the most information.

Reading the "comments sections" on the liberal blogs can get old fast as it's mostly passion, and very little intelligent debate. I check out left and right blogs every day just to see what issues are in the forefront. I find the Huffington Post a good place to look at the front page and see which issues are making people most passionate.

Some times you can actually be enlightened. I had no idea what a repugnant and reprehensible person Russert was until I read the discussion on the Huffington Post. Same with Bill Frist.

I was also surprised at the constant vitriolic comments against McCain on some of the conservative blogs. I didn't know he was held in such low regard by the religious right.
1.29.2006 7:29am
ChuckW (mail):
The original point about why left and right blogs have evolved differently is a good one, but I would suggest at least on other factor: George W. Bush.
Based on my browsing of both sides of the blogosphere, right leaning blogs seem to be smaller, more numerous and more "diverse", left leaning ones fewer, larger, and united by a common point of reference, opposition to all things Bush.
Given a year or two of a liberal Democratic administration, I would expect to see the left side of the blogosphere fracture, as without opposition to Bush as a unifying force the left side will begin to split over finer and finer points of doctrine, much as the right side has already done.
1.29.2006 10:25am
Andy Freeman (mail):
> By comparison, there are no community sites among the top twenty-four conservative blogs. None, zip, zero, nada. This is particularly stunning when one considers the importance of the Free Republic community to the conservative netroots.

In other words, there is an aggregated conservative community site.
1.29.2006 12:59pm
Michael B (mail):
anonymous coward,

The "warmth" comment was solely tongue-in-cheek and the comment in general was not primarily to whine about any rudeness but was foremost a complaint about a general lack of serious engagement. Nonetheless, I can now readily see how I failed to communicate that primary complaint very well at all, so, while nothing "abject" will be offered, I will admit the fault was mine.
1.29.2006 1:06pm
Burky (mail):
Kerry's methods of communication are telling: a phone call from the ski slopes of Europe and blogging on radical leftist websites. Americans see right through this and want Alito confirmed.
1.30.2006 3:34pm