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The Electoral-Based Community

Why the rise of the left-wing blogosphere has been bad for the Democratic party.

12:00 AM, Jul 15, 2005 • By DEAN BARNETT
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Durbin's attempt to curry favor with the left-wing worked. Temporarily, at least. But one shouldn't require the counsel of David Gergen or Michael Barone to realize that outside the alternative worlds of the blogs, comparing America's military to Nazis, Stalin, and the Khmer Rouge is a political loser.

In the week that followed, it became apparent to the senator and his staff that he had made a terrible mistake. Now that he was in the soup, to whom did the senator turn?

To the bloggers. On June 21, Senator Durbin's office held a conference call with several left-wing bloggers. Of the seven attendees, there was no representative of the left-wing blogosphere's royalty. There was no Moulitsas, no Gilliard, no Atrios.

Even more indicative of the pathetic nature of this outreach attempt is the fact that this became probably the first Senatorial background conference-call ever to be "liveblogged." One of the participants, "Annatopia" of MyDD.com, posted a fairly detailed account of the proceedings on her blog . (Curiously, this post was later taken down for reasons unknown; you can see a copy of the post here.) At least two members of the senator's staff talked strategy with the bloggers and testified that thanks to the senator's acquaintance with a constituent who was a POW in Vietnam, Durbin felt very strongly about this issue.

(It is interesting to note that there is some disagreement as to how the call came together in the first place. Durbin spokesman Joe Shoemaker insists that the senator's office arranged the call in response to a request from the blogging community. Jeralyn Merritt of Talkleft.com, one of the call's participants, recalls things differently. She writes in an email, "A number of bloggers, myself included, had been e-mailing back and forth with individual members of Senator Durbin's staff on the issue of Guantanamo and his remarks. Sen. Durbin decided it would be more productive to get us all on one call. I was asked to invite some bloggers to participate, and I did.")

Yet later that day, Durbin offered an overwrought apology from the Senate floor, his commitment to his former POW constituent having apparently evanesced with remarkable rapidity. Shortly thereafter, Durbin learned that the left-wing blogosphere was not won over by his charm offensive and that liberal bloggers far prefer substance (in this case, determined and unflinching opposition to the Bush war effort) to touching the hem of a senator's garment.

For many of the bloggers who had supported Durbin through his ordeal, his apology occasioned a spasm of characteristically potty-mouthed outrage. Steve Gilliard suggested that Durbin "go fuck himself"; on the Daily Kos, Markos Moulitsas concurred, observing that he agreed with Gilliard and added that "Durbin fucked up."

WHILE THE FURY SPEWED AT DURBIN is out of place in mainstream political discourse, it represents business as usual in the most prominent precincts of the left-wing blogosphere. Of course, left-wing blogs do not have a monopoly on offensive and vitriolic rhetoric--the right also has its crank bloggers, too.

Yet only Democratic politicians have concluded that "their" blogs somehow represent a new norm. As left-wing blogs have become ascendant, the left's politicians have become increasingly strident and bilious.

How has this strategy been working? Disastrously. The last six months have been a horror show for Republicans. And yet, astonishingly, the Democratic party has suffered more in the polls than the Republicans. According to a recent poll done by Democrats Stanley Greenberg and James Carville, 43 percent of Americans have warm feelings for the Republican party compared to 38 percent who feel the same way for Democrats. Greenberg characterizes his poll's results this way: "Republicans weakened in this poll . . . but it shows Democrats weakening more." Greenberg says the Democrats' fall is due to voters feeling that the party has "no core set of convictions or point of view."

Why is that? The Democratic party has decided to imitate the style of the political blogs, even though the most trafficked one, the Daily Kos, receives fewer than 600,000 visits a day.

While the traffic numbers of the Daily Kos are a great accomplishment, even 600,000 readers (a generous estimate) are nearly insignificant from a national electoral perspective. And while Kos's readers represent a constituency which prefers a steady diet of heated rhetoric and non-stop Bush bashing, there is nothing to suggest that a larger movement is developing with a similar taste for bare-knuckled, obscenity-laced politics.

As Markos Moulitsas observed, his virtual community is a "different world." Democrats seem to have forgotten that elections are held in the real one.

Dean Barnett writes about politics and other matters at soxblog.com

Correction appended 7/15/05: The article originally misidentified Rep. John Conyers as "David Conyers."