The Magazine

Riding with the Kossacks

Markos Moulitsas Zúniga and me.

Jun 26, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 39 • By MATT LABASH
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You tell them, SusanG. You tell them why the politicians from Barbara Boxer to Wes Clark are turning the Riviera into a giant kissing booth. You tell them why prospective Democratic presidential candidate Mark Warner rented out the observation tower of the Stratosphere Hotel to toast you with sushi and "Kosmopolitans" and chocolate fountains and Blues Brothers and Elvis impersonators and laptop-shaped ice sculptures. You tell them why the New York Times sent six people and TheWeekly Standard sent two (flood the zone!). Never mind SusanG, I'll tell them. I'll tell them that it's because the Kossacks, as they call themselves, are happening now. They are so of the moment that a moment ago, when I wrote that they were happening now, I was sort of predictive blogging. But that was then, this is now. So don't blink or you'll miss it, because it's happening.

Okay, not all of them are happening now. Not all the ones wearing Howard Dean T-shirts, for instance. Not all the ones hanging on former Dean consigliere Joe Trippi's every word in the "Using the Blogosphere Workshop." Not all the ones who are memorizing the Democracy For America handout, which contains tips from Zephyr Teachout, Dean's former online guru, who dispenses advice like "Draft drunk, edit sober" and "People like stories and poems and songs--they like DJ's--you're the DJ for this effort." These people were happening now about three years ago. They're yesterday's now. But now, they're ready to be today's now.

Don't misunderstand--the thousand or so conferees aren't all Deaniacs. A lot of them are just good, honest-to-God activist bloggers who like their politics progressive and their sandals with low heels. Now, see, that was a stereotype. And Kos warns the Kossacks about stereotypes. He's always getting stereotyped, in fact. The media are always trying to turn him into the leader of some creepy cult, because the media are unfair to Kossacks. Just like they are to the Moonies and the Scientologists.

Kos doesn't even like being the L. Ron Hubbard of the progressive blogosphere, which everybody just assumes he is because it's his face front and center in a Ned Lamont Democratic primary commercial against Joe Lieberman, or because he term-limits his all-star bloggers (or "frontpagers"), or because it's his name on the website, and the conference, and the tote bags, and the beanies, and the hoodies, and the organic sustainable cotton T-shirts.

I mean, sure, some cynics--I didn't meet any at YearlyKos, but I'm sure they're out there--would say this is a hype, like Internet IPOs or Vanilla Coke or Ross Perot. There are guys like Daily Standard contributor Dean Barnett who've reported that Daily Kos, which everybody assumes is growing by leaps and bounds, actually went from 23 million visitors in one month last fall to 16 million in May. There's evidence like the recent Gallup poll which shows that blog reader growth was "somewhere between nil and negative in the past year," that reading blogs ranks at the bottom of online activities, and that only 15 percent of the public reads blogs, even though there are over 40 million of them, meaning a lot of bloggers are talking to themselves. But Kos wants you to know this is a real, enduring movement not centered around his cult of personality. It's about non-hierarchical netroots, it's about "the volunteers." Just like it was in the Reform party, a vibrant, healthy organization that, even after Ross Perot left it, still dominates American politics to this day.

Kos doesn't even like doing media. When you see him chatting with the New York Times (which reported he had a media coach) or going on Meet the Press or doing a photo shoot in the halls of the Riviera, sure, he looks like he's kind of enjoying it. But reluctantly. He said as much on his blog the other day. He said, "The media glare is not something I crave." And I think he means it. After all, he said it in a diary entry that was facetiously titled "It's all about me." It was 1,100 words long, painstakingly analyzed his media coverage, and was all about him.

But that's the media for you. Unfair, unbalanced, and afraid of their own obsolescence. Because that's what the dead-tree media do. They have their stories written before they get off the plane. They need to fit your round peg into their square hole, if I may work blue since we're here in Vegas. Take the Kossacks, for instance. I mean yeah okay, they're bloggers. They live and die by the blog. They blogged in between panels and during panels and some even while they were moderating panels. The hallways were clotted with people sitting on the floor, click-clacking laptops in a blogging bacchanal. They were blogging every which way: one-handed blogging, blogging their brains out, blogging from behind.