Sunday, January 29, 2006

Bloggers vs Democratic Establishment

The Washington Post has an interesting article on the tension between the American liberal blogs and the Washington Democratic establishment. The conflict between online party activists and the traditional Democratic power base has reached a new level over the decision on whether or not to filibuster Samuel Alito.

Anyone who visits the big American liberal blogs like DailyKos knows how united the online community has been in objecting Alito's Supreme Court nomination. Despite the wishes of the blogs, the Alito nomination looked poised for easy confirmation. Enter Senator John Kerry, with a seismic diary entry on DailyKos, telling the online community that he would lead the charge for a filibuster, with the support of bloggers. This single diary, has shown the chasm between the insiders and the outsiders. It has also revealed a new avenue of opposition for wayward elected officials who wish to drum up support for their pet causes.

The filibuster is still destined to fail, but Kerry's gambit has changed the rules of engagement. Senators, who had already outright rejected the idea of filibuster are now under pressure from a group of well organized online activists. Those Senators that now choose to not support the idea of a filibuster are endangering their own credibility with the new power base. Today's announcement by Senator Barrack Obama that he would not support a filibuster, has caused a great deal of damage to his online, golden boy image. Senator Joe Biden, an admitted 2008 hopeful, now says he will reluctantly support the filibuster idea, primarily motivated by his own personal ambitions.

For anyone that knows the history of the American liberal blogs, John Kerry, despite his presidential bid, has never been a favorite of the bloggers- if anything he has generally been despised. This outreach on DailyKos is a stroke of political genius, as well as an admission of the new rules. John Kerry never makes a move without political calculus in mind. Kerry's 2008 aspirations are well known to everybody. Given the rising influence of blogs, both monetarily and logistically, any future Kerry bid would be wise to attempt to change his online perception. With this one diary, Kerry, the consummate insider, has gained outsider credibility that could serve him well heading into the future. Championing the online cause has essentially erased all the established hostility towards Kerry and his suspect voting record. Using the internet as a source of support to change minds and policies also reveals the new dynamic:

"John Kerry is beginning to bring the traditional Democratic leadership in Washington together with the untraditional netroots activists of the country," James Boyce wrote on the Huffington Post. "A man often accused of being the ultimate Washington insider looked outside of the beltway and saw the concern, in fact, the distress among literally millions of online Democrats."...

"The bloggers and online donors represent an important resource for the party, but they are not representative of the majority you need to win elections," said Steve Elmendorf, a Democratic lobbyist who advised Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign. "The trick will be to harness their energy and their money without looking like you are a captive of the activist left."

The blogs-vs.-establishment fight represents the latest version of a familiar Democratic dispute. It boils down to how much national candidates should compromise on what are considered core Democratic values -- such as abortion rights, gun control and opposition to conservative judges -- to win national elections.

Kerry's diary has cemented the progression of blogs from the fringes to a real player, that demands consultation and attention. Democracy is well served when party elites are forced to respond to the lowly peons in the hinterland, armed with an opinion and a keyboard.

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