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Taking Kos Seriously

The Daily Kos is the most popular and important force in the blogosphere; it's a fact with which Democrats are just now coming to grips.

11:00 PM, Feb 1, 2005 • By DEAN BARNETT
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WHEN DISCUSSING Markos Moulitsas and the eponymous left wing blog that he runs, The Daily Kos, it's helpful to start with a few facts. The Daily Kos (rhymes with rose, based on Moulitsas' old army nickname) is far and away the most popular blog on the Internet: Kos averages over 400,000 page views a day. By comparison, the second most popular blog, right leaning law professor Glenn Reynolds's Instapundit, averages barely 200,000 page views a day.

Kos also walks a different beat than his conservative counterparts. Most popular conservative bloggers (like Instapundit, Power Line, and Roger Simon) use their blogs as a platform to discuss not only their political views but anything else that catches their fancy. For instance, Power Line might devote 500 words to celebrating Riche Haven's birthday or Reynolds might devote half an afternoon to digital photography or nanotechnology. While all of these gentleman are supporters of George W. Bush, none are activists--at least not on their blogs. The prototypical conservative blogger offers political commentary, but that's where his mission ends.

Kos outwardly and unambiguously defines his role differently. He has proudly assumed the task of getting Democrats elected and never denies that he is an activist, not an objective commentator. He has built the Daily Kos community to further that activism with painstaking care. And while Kos is certainly not the finest writer in the blogosphere, he is amongst its shrewdest operators. And by almost any measure, he is the most successful blogger in the business.

TEN MONTHS AGO Kos's ascendancy seemed hardly pre-ordained. On April 1, 2004, Kos responded to the savage murder of four American contractors in Falluja by writing, "I feel nothing over the death of the mercenaries [sic]. They are there to wage war for profit. Screw them."

At the time of this outburst, Kos was using his blog as a platform to create advertising revenue and to establish credibility for a political consulting business. His outburst threatened to destroy the budding project.

Immediately Kos' foils in the conservative blogosphere demanded that the politicians who advertised on Daily Kos remove their ads and disassociate themselves from both the site and its proprietor. One of the first to heed this call was Texas Democrat Martin Frost. His campaign noted its departure from Kos's site by saying, "There is no place for these disgusting remarks in this nation's discussion on foreign policy." Other campaigns followed the Frost campaign's lead and it seemed like Kos might have been in trouble.

But then something funny happened. While politicians distanced themselves from the site, Kos's fans stayed put. A quick glance at Kos's traffic figures for April of 2004 shows no drop-off in the wake of Moulitsas' controversial comments. And since the eyeballs remained, politicians soon returned. Political advertisers who had left were replaced in short order by other office seekers. At first it seemed the entire affair might ruin Kos; in the end it was, as he put it in an interview with the New York Times, nothing more than a "blip."

THE ZEAL of Kos's advocacy has only intensified since then. Kos was an early (if not the first) proponent of Howard Dean's soon to be successful candidacy for the DNC chairmanship. Although Kos never formally endorsed Dean, he was emphatic that the position should go to an outsider like Dean or Simon Rosenberg, not an "establishment" figure. During the ensuing intra-party skirmish, Kos must have relished taking down the most prominent establishment candidate (and Kos's old Democratic critic) Martin Frost. By exhuming a Frost campaign spot that claimed a tight relationship between the then congressman and President Bush, Kos fatally wounded Frost's bid for the chairmanship.

More recently Senator Barbara Boxer, sent a fawning note thanking the Daily Kos community for its support in her courageous and lonely efforts to speak truth to power. She fondly recalled a chat she had with two Kos contributors and concluded by proclaiming: "I look forward to future interactions with the Daily Kos community. I hope to have the time to drop by here and participate in the discussion from time to time--I value your input, and I thank you for caring so much about the future of our country."

Yes, Kos is definitely on a roll. This week, under the headline "They Finally Fear Us," Kos excerpted a Los Angeles Times story which reported that in spite of some unease with the idea of a Dean chairmanship, prominent Democrats were loath to speak out against the Vermont governor, lest they enrage the increasingly powerful lobby of Internet activists personified and led by Kos. As Kos astutely summarized the situation, the Internet activists are in the process of achieving parity with special interest groups like NARAL, the unions, and the NAACP. What he doesn't point out is that those groups for the most part maxed out long ago in terms of power and influence. The Kos community is still in its infancy.

In recent days, Kos has begun suggesting that someone challenge conservative Democrat Joe Lieberman in the 2006 Democratic primary. Given Kos's recent successes, Lieberman would be wise to not take this threat lightly.

Many in the conservative blogosphere have been quick to label Kos a "moon bat" because of his unforgiving left-wing politics and his strident tone. Kos in turn dismisses these critics as "wing nuts." (Who says dialogue in the blogosphere isn't edifying?) This kind of juvenile give and take, however, obscures the vital fact that Moulitsas leads an influential movement, a movement whose influence is likely to grow even larger.

Whether or not that's good for the Democratic party remains to be seen.

Dean Barnett writes on politics at SoxBlog.com under his online pseudonym "James Frederick Dwight."