The Magazine

Betting on the Bloggers

Democrats should hope that what happened at Vegas stays in Vegas.

Jun 26, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 39 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
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Las Vegas

IN 1971, Markos Moulitsas was born in Chicago. In 2002, when he started his website, Daily Kos, Moulitsas was an unemployed tech worker living in Berkeley. On a June morning in 2006, as he stood inside the Riviera hotel and casino here, Moulitsas was the most influential blogger in the Democratic party, and about to introduce one of that party's most prominent politicians--the governor of New Mexico and former secretary of energy, Bill Richardson, who sat on a stool in the middle of the room, smiling wanly while looking tired and more than a little confused.

"I get to introduce everybody," Moulitsas told the small group of bloggers attending the breakfast with Richardson. "It's one of the perks of being who I am now. It's pretty cool."

It was the second morning of the first annual YearlyKos, a gathering of more than 900 left-wing bloggers, more than 100 journalists, and half a dozen national Democratic politicians, all inspired by Moulitsas's website. For the bloggers, the road to Las Vegas had been long. One of Moulitsas's readers, a former secondary school teacher named Gina Cooper, first had the idea for the gathering shortly after the 2004 elections. She approached Moulitsas, who lent his moniker while leaving most of the organizing to Cooper and more than two dozen unpaid volunteers.

Their central achievement was getting the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, whose hometown is 45 minutes south of here, to agree to attend. Once that happened, other politicians signed on: Mark Warner, the former governor of Virginia and prospective presidential candidate; Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean; California senator Barbara Boxer; House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (who cancelled at the last minute); Iowa governor and prospective presidential candidate Tom Vilsack; and the once and future presidential candidate General Wesley Clark.

And Richardson. The governor has been in politics for a long time, and is a master of the art--always ready with an answer, articulate, assured yet self-deprecating. But his form of politics is different from the bloggers'. They spend their time online, reading and sometimes commenting on each other's posts about the latest Republican evils. By contrast, Richardson currently holds the world handshaking record. He's a one-on-one pol who bases his appeals on human interaction. He's probably never "blogged" in his life.

That much was apparent, anyway, when, more than halfway through his talk, Richardson told the bloggers, "I think many of your customers . . . " Then he paused. "Readers," he said. Then he paused again, and turned to Moulitsas. "What do you call your readers?" he asked. "Customers?"

"Readers," a few people said.

"Readers," Richardson said, resuming his speech.

The governor's slip-up seemed to bother no one, which makes sense, considering it occurred in the middle of what could only be called a slavish attempt to further inflate the bloggers' already considerable self-regard. At one point, Richardson said, "I am here most of the morning to recognize you guys, to recognize the power of bloggers." Later, he said, "I wanted to meet you," before flashing a smile and asking, "I'm paying for this breakfast, aren't I?" Later still, he said, "I see you guys as agents of advocacy."

And then, just to make sure he got his point across, Richardson repeated: "I'm mainly here to acknowledge that you guys are big players."

ARE THEY? Certainly the bloggers think so. In his opening-night keynote address, Moulitsas told the crowd, "These have been heady days for the People Power Movement. And it's only four years old."

The politicians seem to agree. "You are an unstoppable force in educating Americans on important issues and ensuring the American people know the truth," Sen. Reid wrote in a letter to each attendee. In her speech, Sen. Boxer said, "The netroots"--another word for the left-wing blogs--"is key to giving people courage and strength to stand up--even when it's lonely." The next morning, Howard Dean told the crowd, "You are the first generation, I think, that [are] citizens of the whole world, because of the Net."

How many lefty political bloggers there actually are is unclear. The press often cites the figure that Daily Kos receives more than 600,000 unique visitors a day. Yet Moulitsas's bio on the jacket of Crashing the Gate, the new book he wrote with fellow blogger and Democratic strategist Jerome Armstrong, claims Daily Kos "now gets more than a million unique visitors each day."