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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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A FEW MONTHS AGO, Markos Moulitsas, proprietor and founder of the left-wing blog Daily Kos, penned a brief but extremely insightful posting. Under the heading, "Evidence that we live in a different world," Moulitsas pointed to a recent Time magazine poll that showed 79 percent of the American public had never heard of (or didn't have an opinion of) Ann Coulter. Moulitsas wrote, "I'd venture to say that 100 percent of this site's readers know who Anthrax is."

Indeed, there is little doubt that the habitués of the Daily Kos, like their hated cousins who read popular conservative blogs such as Power Line and Little Green Footballs, live in very different worlds than their friends and neighbors. Blog readers are typically voracious gatherers of news. They not only simply know who people such as Ann Coulter are, they usually have strong opinions about these minor public figures, too. This is an unusual trait. After all, while Ann Coulter may be a polarizing firebrand beloved by her supporters and loathed by her detractors, when it comes to fame she's hardly Madonna.

For students of the blogosphere, it came as little surprise when the popularity of politically oriented blogs began to tumble in the wake of the presidential election this past November. But something funny has happened since then. While the traffic numbers of conservative blogs have remained at roughly the same levels following their post election slide, the left-wing blogosphere--and especially the Daily Kos--have almost fully rebounded. While Glenn Reynold's Instapundit, the most popular conservative blog, averages in the neighborhood of 150,000 page views a day, the Daily Kos now averages over 550,000; the sites were almost equally trafficked just last fall.

Theories abound for why the Daily Kos has left the right-wing blogosphere so far in the dust. One plausible explanation is that the Daily Kos has engendered a tremendous sense of community amongst it audience/contributors. While conservative blogs remain for the most part virtual op-ed columns (with the notable exception of Charles Johnson's Little Green Footballs), the Daily Kos has become a virtual family which allows readers to write their own blogs-within-the-blog (called diaries) and to engage in limitless amounts of commenting. Whatever the reason, there is nothing like the Daily Kos on the web--it is a phenomenon and the unquestioned leader of the blogs.

IN THEORY, THIS SHOULD BE A POSITIVE DEVELOPMENT for Democrats. The Daily Kos should provide the party's most devoted adherents with a constructive outlet for their energy; indeed it does. The site has raised bundles of money for Democratic politicians and its patrons certainly have a surfeit of passion that they're willing to bring to any political conversation.

The problem for the Democratic party is that, like much of the country, it has a dim understanding of the blogosphere. The party is not alone in its denseness here. Much of America's existing power structure still has no idea what to make of blogs.

This trait was recently put on embarrassing public display in an obtuse Doonesbury strip. In the piece at issue, Garry Trudeau suggested that bloggers were "angry, semi-employed losers" who survived on a diet of cat food. Contra Trudeau, most accomplished bloggers are highly educated--a great many of them are lawyers and college professors--and have been successful in other fields of endeavor. Typical bloggers include law professors like Hugh Hewitt and the contributors at the Volokh Conspiracy, as well as the Academy Award nominated (and Ivy League educated) Roger L. Simon.

The Democratic party, on the other hand, errs in precisely the opposite fashion as Trudeau. While Moulitsas recognizes that the left-wing blogosphere is a world unto itself, if establishment Democrats have any awareness of that fact they have yet to betray it. Where Trudeau feels bloggers are a bunch of shut-in half-wits, the Democratic party seems to be under the impression that bloggers are an enormous, important constituency--and that it must go to whatever lengths necessary to win the hearts and minds of this virtual community.