David Rodeback's Blog

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Saturday, February 13, 2010
Don't Blame the Bloggers

A feisty little essay about the importance of political bloggers and the unfortunate tendency to use them as scapegoats.

When holders of and runners for political office, advocates of causes, and others who have something at stake in the world find themselves frustrated or even defeated, they tend to look outside themselves to explain or excuse their misfortune. It's human nature.

Some find worse excuses than others. The intellectually bankrupt often settle upon a particularly lame bugaboo: the conspiracy. It's not that there aren't conspiracies out there. It's that there are not that many. It's that they are very difficult to conceal over time. And, perhaps above all, it's that the logic these conspiracy theorists use is so perverse. My personal favorite is this, and I've heard it over and over again, in various forms: The fact that there is no concrete proof of a conspiracy is proof that it exists. In fewer words, the absence of proof is proof. After all, if they -- whoever they are -- weren't trying so hard to conceal their conspiracy, there would be plenty of proof of it. By this sort of logic, the fact that I don't believe in your conspiracy is just one more bit of evidence that it exists; it must exist, if it has duped me into disbelieving it.

I used to traffic a bit in conspiracy theories, until I began to see that they have only an occasional connection with reality and logic.

More intelligent people who are nonetheless politically immature will blame their defeat or failure on the media which misrepresented or ignored them or their cause, or favored an opponent. Or they'll blame the opponents themselves for the misrepresentation which led to the defeat. Or they'll blame the people, either for failing to turn out to the polls in force, or for failing to communicate their will with sufficient zeal to their representatives, or for being too self-interested in their views, or not self-interested enough.

You know the drill; you've seen it in local, state, and national politics, and in a host of other pursuits. In fact, you've probably even done it yourself. I have. It might feel good from the inside, at least for a while. It doesn't look good from the outside.

Yes, the media often take sides, sometimes overtly, often subtly. It's part of the game. You have to plan for it, if you're serious about playing the game.

Yes, opponents will misrepresent you. The answer to that is not to whine. It is for your advocacy to be better and more persuasive than your opponents' misrepresentation.

Yes, the people sometimes stay home in droves, or stay silent. This is theoretically the same as their choosing to be represented by those who care enough to vote or to speak out. So an election with a low turnout, for example, is not inherently illegitimate.

And as for the voters being too selfish or not selfish enough, the accusation is narrow-minded and facile. It's pretty clear that someone with an agenda can interpret others' self-interest in any way that seems convenient at the moment. Yet you might say that the only interpretation of my self-interest that has real credibility is my own.

Shakespeare's Cassius to the contrary notwithstanding, candidates, officials, and all the rest of us want to believe that the flaw is in our stars, not in ourselves. For example, no defeated candidate wants to realize, let alone confess, the mistake of failing to work hard enough or smart enough, or badly misreading the voters, or being bested at debate or in the ground game, or losing on actual record and real issues instead of hype, or simply not being as appealing as the other guy (or gal). No one who cares about an important issue wants to believe that a large majority disagrees or simply does not find it important. The search for scapegoats in politics and in life will not end anytime soon.

What does this have to do with political blogging? This is the part where I explain.

In recent years, the Internet has provided a handy new scapegoat to those who seek one: bloggers. We're evil. We stink -- literally. We sit around in our underwear (which, like ourselves, hasn't been washed lately), thinking thoughts we are unqualified to think, imagining and then writing scandalous distortions, which we then post on the Internet anonymously (or pseudonymously, if that's a word). We're hard to identify, let alone to discredit. There's no accountability for our lies, and there's no way to know who we are, so we can be properly corrected or exposed, or simply have our kneecaps broken. We're amoral on weekdays and immoral all weekend. We destroy dreams and promising political careers just for the sport of it. We bloggers are the weapon against which they have no defense.

I know perfectly well that some bloggers really are anonymous, unaccountable, unqualified, and irresponsible. They are much like those overgrown children who lurk at the comment pages of newspaper web sites, using their quasi-anonymity to be foolish, bigoted, and vengeful. The only positive use these scoundrels serve in our politics is to signal that our crucial freedoms of press and speech are still alive and well. On the modern Internet, they tend mostly to talk among themselves; fortunately, most reasonable people have learned to ignore them.

The rest of us bloggers put our names on what we write and feel some sense of responsibility for it. Some of us have qualifications, too. For example, the bloggers who quickly exposed CBS's fraudulent anti-Bush documents just before the 2004 election had some serious professional and technical qualifications. My favorite local bloggers have professional qualifications as writers. My favorite political bloggers have worked (or now work) in government and have studied the issues inside and out for years. I have writing credentials of my own, two degrees related to politics and government, some modest experience in local and national government, and about a dozen political campaigns under my belt.

Oh, one more thing. I tend to be fully dressed when I blog, though sometimes I'm not wearing shoes and/or socks.

More to the credit of the good bloggers than to the blame of the bad ones, the blogosphere has become a major part of our politics at the national level, and it is playing an increasing role in state and local politics, as well. I think that's wonderful. It allows candidates and others who could not buy or seduce the Big Media Acronyms to have a voice -- a large voice, if they make enough sense to enough people. From time to time the blogosphere has quickly and relentlessly revealed truth, exposed fraud, and spread dissent -- important political functions which other sources sometimes carefully ignore or resist. If there is also some folly and malice among some bloggers, is that so much different from any other political medium? Do we not sometimes see these things in network television, letters to the editor, and over-the-back-fence conversations?

We've learned by necessity, in our data-flooded world, and we're still learning better, to sort the wheat from the chaff. Ultimately, as I said, people learn to give little credence to the anonymous cowards and to value people who sign their names to sensible things. The best bloggers develop a following; readers trust them.

There really is not that much need to fret over the bad bloggers. Very few people look brainlessly to the blogosphere for marching orders, or feel obligated to believe whatever they read, without reflection. Those who do probably have difficulty finding the door to their polling place; at least, such is my hope. Smart candidates, politicians, and others with an agenda give the rest of the people some credit, and they use the blogosphere instead of fearing it. If they encounter some injustice there from time to time, they don't panic and start blaming the medium. They calmly keep using it, understanding that the best response to chaff is more wheat.

Let me put that another way. Nobody likes being misrepresented, or having an important cause misrepresented. Few enjoy being opposed at all. Not all opposition is misrepresentation, to be sure, but some of it is. In any case, it makes no sense to blame the entire public square, virtual or otherwise, for the disagreement or even the injustice of some who linger there. On the other hand, if you have a cause or want to be a cause, it makes a great deal of sense to mingle fearlessly (but responsibly)  in the public square, electronic and otherwise. Instead of complaining, why not try to become a prominent or even dominant voice there, if you can? If you're as much of a leader as you think you are, or if good, participatory government matters to you as much as you claim, we'll see and hear and read you there -- and you won't be whining.

I'm saying that political bloggers are as American as apple pie. In the modern political world we are not a necessary evil. We are a necessary good. Blame us, if you must, for your misfortunes. (Yawn!) Or, if you're serious, join us.

Heidi Rodeback comments (2/15/10):

Well said.

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