Blogosphere: Dems vs. the G.O.P.

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I think that in the end it will be, much more than any partisan bickering, much more than any partisan triumphs, much more than anything political… the true virtue of [the blogs] is that more people get to participate, and more communities get to be built and more ideas get to be heard.

Ezra Klein

The YearlyKos bloggers’ convention just finished up in Las Vegas yesterday, drawing left-leaning bloggers from all over the country. Also in attendance were many national political figures from the Democratic party, hoping to catch the bloggers’ ears. About the conference the New York Times opined:

The blogosphere has become for the left what talk radio has been for the right: a way of organizing and communicating to supporters. Blogging is nowhere near the force among Republicans as it is among Democrats, and talk radio is a much more effective tool for Republicans.

Adam Nagourney in the New York Times, 6/10/06

For those of us who read blogs daily, this conclusion seems over-simplistic and way off. The online world has heady conversation from across the political spectrum, and all you have to do is look at Captain’s Quarters, Instapundit, Red State, or any number of other conservative blogs to see that conservatives have also figured out how to use the blogosphere to get their message across.

Our question is, *is* there a difference in the way that the Democratic and Republican parties use blogs to deliver messages, frame political issues, and reach voters in their base? And if so, what are those differences? Have Democrats, in their search for a national identity and platform, begun relying on bloggers to shape that conversation? (Michael Scherer said in Salon today that the Dems were courting bloggers as if they were a special interest group.) Have Republicans, with their history of successfully framing political conversation through think-tanks and talk radio, moved to use those same tactics through blogs?

Let us know what you think, and please, cite examples if you can find them!

George Lakoff

Professor of Linguistics, University of Berkeley

Ezra Klein

Writing Fellow, American Prospect

Blogger, Ezra Klein: Tomorrow’s Media Conspiracy Today

Mary Katharine Ham

Former Senior Writer and Associate Editor,

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  • voices

    Yes- there are huge differences- one being that many Republican sites don’t have comment sections or allow posts by readers- they are overall much less democratic (what a shock!). The one thing that I think is missing on both the left and right in the blogosphere is more civility. Sometimes the conversations can be great when people really pay attention to the issues, but often they devolve into talk radio-esque venom and nonsense (on both the left and right leaning blogs). The left needs to try to rise above this and create a truly open and civil forum.


  • At least here in Washington State there seems to be a big difference. Progressive blogs seemed more bent on conversation and getting people to respond to what you’re saying, while conservative blogs take a standard, “just putting it out there,” stance.

    A good example of this is the difference between two of the biggest blogs in Washington, for progressives and for conservatives. Washblog is an open community, where anyone can post a diary (my like DailyKos and Mydd), despite its long line of contributors, only publishes work of a few, and I’ve rarely ever seen original authors respond to what is going on in their comment threads.

    My general impression is that progressives use blogs to break down the barriers while conservatives use them to reinforce their already built message machine. Here is a great conversation from

  • I’m afraid this argument will be victim to small sample sizes and comparing apples with ducks… (e.g., InstaPundit vs. Daily Kos) Over a year ago, in the The American Prospect, Garance Franke-Ruta slammed conservative blogs on the above reasoning. Her reasoning was roundly criticized by Chris Nolan, a sharp political journalist/blogger.

    Local political consultant Brian Reich participated in panel at MIT on the differences between the parties in blogging (comparing Red State v. Daily Kos). Unfortunately, I can’t find it on his blog or on PDF.

    Also, there’s academic research in this field. Read The Political Blogosphere and the 2004 U.S. Election: Divided They Blog, research on linking patterns between liberal and conservative bloggers by Lada Adamic (then of HP Labs) and Natalie Glance of Intelliseek.

  • To the perception that “many Republican sites don’t have comment sections or allow posts by readers”– this is true of the well-known Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit (a pro-war libertarian who supported Gore), and it was of the Bush website. But it’s a mistake to see this as anti-democratic.

    See these comments by Bush webmaster Michael Turk (from November 2005– I’ve followed this issue, btw). It’s not so simple. The Kerry campaign, by allowing comments, got so many that they couldn’t in actuality respond.

  • Questions:

    Does the blogosphere represent the electorate– the present or the future?

    Does DKos reflect the Democratic party– the present or the future?

  • joshua hendrickson

    Emmett says:

    My general impression is that progressives use blogs to break down the barriers while conservatives use them to reinforce their already built message machine.

    I don’t know enough about political blogs to judge this generalization as it applies to blogs. But it does seem to me an apt generalization about the attitudes of the two political sides. Conservatism, in my opinion, is all about authority, which of course is not really interested in varying opinions, since, in order to claim any authority at all, it has to pretend that its view is reality. Liberalism, often though not always, welcomes contrary opinions and denies the possibility of ultimate authority, which seems to me a healthier approach.

    Great to hear George Lakoff talking here! I loved DON’T THINK OF AN ELEPHANT!

  • Yes, good point by Klein– by what you say, dKos community seems to care more about politics than policy.

  • joshua hendrickson

    In response to Jon Garfunkel’s first question:

    The blogosphere doesn’t represent the electorate, for the simple reason that nothing really does–even the electorate doesn’t represent the electorate. Some groups vote out of proportion to their numbers in the general population.

    There will never be truly representative elections in this country until we have some means of getting literally every opinion registered, which doesn’t seem likely to happen anytime soon. Churchill said that democracy was the worst form of government, except for all the others. Hear hear!

  • George is disagreeing with the above. But, let’s face it, one can learn more about policy– in the spectrum from liberal-to-moderate by spending 5 minutes with The Nation, The American Prospect, The New Republic, or Slate then you can with five minutes with the Daily Kos.

  • mulp

    Having worked for DEC where the UofIl Plato notes was cloned too many years ago, I may not fully appreciate what a blog is, but I have found the PBS NOW! forum to be an active view into the writings of people across the spectrum.

    What I note is a general tendency of those supporting Bush and/or conservative points of view to merely post essays written by such as Coulter or for such as NewsMax. In general, the dominant theme is related to liberals or Democrats. The only issues that seem to engender original writing are abortion as murder, liberals hating America, abortion as the destruction of the Democrat party by aborting its base of future voters, and so on.

    On the other hand, the other voices seem to be more varied, some writing completely original essays, to using an article as the foundation for comments, or sometimes merely reposting an article, but the nature of the topics is quite varied.

    Of course, the biggest weakness from both sides is the near complete lack of any real analysis, reasoning, and real writing. However, when something is analyzed, reasoned, and written, the topic, the essay, is nearly always ignored. Such topics as energy policy is not something that interests conservatives or Republicans. Or if there is a comment, it is about how the liberals won’t allow drilling in ANWAR, (to which I counter, why did Bush and Bush prevent drilling in Florida).

    On the other hand, the liberal or Democrat statements on such issues are generally of the motherhood and apple pie type – “we need a sustainable energy policy” or “we need to invest in clean energy”. Nothing provides any hint that a Democratic proposal of this type is going to result in any better laws or policies than the current Republican policies.

    I got booted from that forum within three days because I insisted that Bush had authorized the use of all Federal resources in dealing with Katrina, a day before Bush said that in Louisiana in a press conference – of course I was quoting the Bush executive order which said as much while the RedState moderator seemed to hold the position that the executive order didn’t override the law which didn’t allow Federal involvement, or something. Consequently, I haven’t been involved in anything more than reading comments on RedState, but I see the comments there as just the same as the comments by like minded people in the NOW! forum. The difference is there is almost no one to challenge the posts in RedState.

    To sum up, what I see is no real discussion about issues in the NOW! forum, nor in the RedState forum which I have followed on occasion. That is the most disappointing thing because I have used online forums for decades to explore topics and issues in great depth, and the real joy is to have all the discussion and analysis recorded permanently.

  • Ezra is stating that Kos fits a “philosophy on a style” — “pugilistic,” “muscular” good point. I guess Kos goes for who will stroke the netroots.

  • mulp wrote:

    “The difference is there is almost no one to challenge the posts in RedState.”

    Interesting. Also known as the “echo chamber.” What happens on many blogs is that any opposition simply tires of challenging many of the posts/comments/ideas by a given blogger.

  • I don’t read many liberal blogs, however I agree with points above about Conservative blogs being not as interactive, in fact the large ones are more like journals. But the real point I want to raise is the idea that talk radio is really feeding off of the blogoshere. Listening to Rush Limbaugh at work, he will consult both the Daily Kos and one of his favorite blogs American Thinker, one ot show how the “kook fringe left” feel about a topic and the other to emphasize his point. I have also noticed that Left leaning blogs tend to bring up more ideas, whereas blogs on the right tend to be more commentary on the news of the day.

  • Yes, good point by Brooks, that as more people give Kos credence, he provides a convenient foil.

    I’m willing to accept that liberal bloggers write more ideas, and conservative bloggers repeat more talking points. But there hasn’t been a lot of research in this area; there could be and there should be.

  • Christopher just said “a new way to talk politics.” This may miss the point a bit, because blogs and just about every piece of this new generation of web applications isn’t just about politics, but about social, civic and all other parts of our lives. But, this of course changes politics because it empowers us as citizens.

    It isn’t just talking politics, but Doing politics and Doing citizenship.

  • Question for George Lakoff– how come the liberals haven’t picked up on my phrase the the Sock-it veto for the more formal “presidential signing statements”?

  • DHP

    I’m particularly interested in the citizen journalism aspect to blogging and podcasting. You analogy about the woman from North Carolina who was given a voice via blogging sounded terribly familiar. I am a South Dakota blogger/podcaster. In late January, one of my subscribers sent me a phone number and access code to join the press conference with SD Gov Mike Rounds where he announced that he would sign South Dakota House Bill 1215 – the ‘abortion ban bill.’ I was able to question Rounds between journalists from Newsweek and the New York Times. More importantly, I was able to be aggressive and approach Rounds from a perspective the MSM is unable to.

    I greatly enjoyed this discussion. However, to constrain this discussion to oversimplified generalizations (right/left, conservative/liberal) would be to miss the point. In addition to acknowledging the fact the blogs exist, and are growing outside mainstream politics, we must also acknowledge those left out of the blogosphere. Millions of Americans cannot afford a computer, let alone high-speed Internet or a hosting package. Yet, these people are undeniably a part of the political process. Yes, blogs are representative of growing demographic of politically motivated and angry people. And yet, the demographic of poor and truly politically disenfranchised is growing every day. When will we ask them to join this discussion? How can the digital revolution include those who cannot afford to be a part of it?

    Yes, this is a revolution. Let us not be so arrogant, however, to presume that this revolution extends to everyone. How relevant can it be when it excludes millions of people?

  • “How relevant can it be when it excludes millions of people?” Maybe that is one of the benefits of those of us who are online organizing. In Olympia Wa, we’re thinking of not only building citizen journalism and the local blogoshere, but also building a community wifi network.

    I’d also like to counter the assertion by a couple of the panelists that this is a movement without an ideology. I’d say that if there was one ideology, it is of one leveling out the process, that we’re all citizens, we all have a voice. And, democracy works best when we’re all involved.

  • Tim

    This was a fantastic interview! I’m so glad I finally found out where Christopher Lydon moved after BOPNews – I still listen to his Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer interviews over there from time to time. Vidal’s ‘run on taking back the Constitution’ still strikes me as the best frame to invoke.

    I suggest people who liked Ezra and Lakoff’s light sparring but don’t want to pore over Lakoff’s books, which are good but not as clear as they could be to just read this quick post by a Cognitive Science person:

    As the post says, everyone participating or watching politics has some kind of idea about the sausagemaking part of it, but being a skeptic or a cynic doesn’t = knowledge of frames. Nor, as this interview didn’t really touch on, is this vaguely Machiavellian-sounding thing imply really pragmatic or a dark morality. Non-political junkies associate all this stuff into some kinda broad bad thing at first, since we’re all used to being bombarded with sophisticated advertising techniques to get us to buy stupid things. So talk about framing for the layperson needs something of an ethical clear-up so it doesn’t get instantly linked to the dirty tricks of Rove and Republican wedge issue stuff. It’s already happened in a big way to the Democrats after 2004 with all those cynically minded stories about how ‘maybe they should ramp up the God-Talk?’, like that registers as sincere regardless of how religious a candidate before the debate.

    Anyway, besides framing introduction stuff, this interview’s best info tidbits came when Ezra said the Net supports ‘muscular’ candidates – people who will stand up to the despair/lack of direction the electorate feels with Bush. Just like social/fiscal to liberal/conservative has long since been a terrible frame to gauge American politics, the intro of the idea that the left netroots are not radicals, just angry about the far right turn American politics has taken with relatively small electoral victories by Bush et al. is ridiculously important to get into the debate.

    What exactly that means is still vague since this year Howard Dean’s 50 state strategy (which I love) is as far as the Democratic Party structure, which muscular progressive bloggers like to curse most as the DLC, is willing to go. There aren’t yet a lot of candidates who fit that bill, and people like Paul Hackett get interesting kinds of media buzz when they speak out. ‘Better than a Republican’ still dominates watercooler conversations who get their info from top-down media. It’s tough to break more than a few points of conventional wisdom at once.

    Getting away from all that to these great comments, I think it’s easy to classify the political blogosphere. To say simply that the left, emblemized by DailyKos’ diary and comment structure, is bottom-up while the right’s is top-down a la Instapundit picking the chosen ones to receive more traffic is a great short answer.

    More indepth, it’s exactly what Ezra said in the interview – the right, after it gave up McCain’s Net flash in 2000, came in hard for Bush, and since then have had to defend him, since otherwise they can’t tap into the huge money machine the Republicans have for supporters. On the left, Atrios and Kos made their money with ads, not Dem help, so they’re far less beholden to that machine. Meanwhile there are billions (Regnery, the foundations, etc.) waiting to be taken for earnest Republicans to either repeat talking points or make their own phrases saying the same thing in a pretence of independence. That can’t be stressed enough – it’s easy to be a career republican,, just be an unwavering supporter and try to push the debate to the right. David Neiwert of Orcinus has done a lot of journalistic work on how Instapundit, Michelle Malkin, and the rest are ‘mainstreamers’ of far right rhetoric, like with immigration and the constant toying around with (and occasionally saying outright) the idea that liberals are traitors.

    So summing up, on the left there’s no huge power structure to suppress/bribe away aiming for a big new tent, where muscular Democrats can rally their bases by pushing for universally-minded things instead of quietly acquiescing on the regular wedge issues, while the right’s big push is for mainstreaming far right rhetoric and trying to find faux-contrarian niches in think tanks. Instapundit and Hugh Hewitt, big tech-blogger dudes, have only been to happy to join the sneering top-down Fox News echelons. On the left too there’s Ana Marie Cox, whose job in the top-down media went from being ‘the most mentioned liberal blogger b/c she dealt with gossip and so wasn’t too serious’ to Time’s head blogger basher. Funny how that ended up.

    This is far too long already, so I’ll wrap up with my prediction that this’ll change even faster now. I watch the 24 hour news networks in my spare time (when the Simpsons aren’t on) and since that Tony Snow(job) appointment, and now with the easily replaceable and hyped up anyways Al Qaeda guy dead, the top-downers are back on the bandwagon. That’ll speed up the general malaise the public has felt with the government and the press faster than any detailed blog post on Judy Miller, and push more people to look on the Net and for the money people looking for trends to give telegenic bloggers more access. And considering the number of bloggers, if a few of the newly chosen turn sour to their people they’ll get turned on quickly enough to stop schmoozing (like Mark Warner’s party at YearlyKos) from doing too much damage.

  • mulp

    This show prompted me to actually take a look at dailykos, and to take a look at captiansquarter that I wasn’t aware of, and revisit redstate. The one thing I note with interest is the frequent use of KOS as a touchstone for conservatives/Republicans. This reinforces my view of the “dialog” on the NOW! forum where a very high percentage of the conservative/Republican posts involve some statement by or an attack on a liberal or Democrat. I don’t claim that there are no liberal/Democrat attacks on those like Bush or Rumsfeld, but the policies and actions of Bush and Rumsfeld today are clearly relevant, but to make the claim that “Carter would have surrendered to Osama” as the central thesis that “Carter being the worst president in history” justifies supporting Bush and Rumsfeld is a bit of a stretch.

    I was struck by the reference by KOS to his “libertarian Dem” posting and the 888 responses – clearly that does represent a search for principle, at least in view. And KOS does say something like “I’m sorting out my views in this area….” I just can’t imagine something like that being said by any of the “conservatives” and “Republicans” I’ve followed.

  • jeremy

    Prof. Lakoff is so sure that a unitary story binds the GOP constituency together, namely his notion of the stern father. But his overarching or underlying (choose your metaphor) framework doesn’t have to explain all GOP voters. The wealthy few have always had the challenge of getting support from many who are not as wealthy or powerful as they. This challenge becomes greater as the social contract is extended to those who don’t hold land, who were enslaved, women, …

    On the left we sometimes think that the right must be animated with a single coherent vision. I suspect that a much more pragmatic approach is at work. The strategists realize that all they need is a coalition who can hang together (and thanks to winner take all election systems) get just over 50% of the votes. Thanks to a 2 party systems this simple majority can be achieved both with votes for and votes against (so negative slurs make a regular appearance). Thanks to fixing elections and disenfranchising groups of voters they have even managed to win with just under 50%. If democrats don’t win by more than a couple of percentage points they may well find that they lose on technicalities.

    This coalition approach means giving people just enough to keep them headed to the polls and away from the other party. So we see the cynical offer of no condoms, no abortions and no gays as cheap buy for the rich whose own families don’t need to abide by any of those strictures. Similar bits are doled out until you cross 49%. And some subset of those may be Lakoff’s stern father masochists. But they don’t all need to be.

    Other countries form their coalitions more publicly (as when parliaments do or don’t form governments).

    When discussions, like this one, occur without this as a backdrop it feels like a false see saw pitting right against left and then being bemused when some new voice doesn’t drop neatly into those categories. But the problem with bloggers who aren’t of a single ideology is a pseudo-problem that flows from the caricature and leaves Lakoff insisting that the do have one that is ever more occult as other guests introduce counterexamples.

    Chris’ habitual need to bumpersticker doesn’t help in this case.

    fight the caricature… we have seen the coalition, and if need be, they will be us… – j