The influence of blogs and bloggersSteve Mule has some very interesting thoughts on my commentary yesterday about the influence of blogs in the election cycle this year, as evidenced in Connecticut. I think what he had to say deserves a bit of elaboration, and I hope he'll forgive me if I don't cover absolutely everything.
The reason the blogs were so prominent was because of what was going on on the ground in Connecticut. The blogs could have blogged until Christ returned and it would not have made any difference if the folks had been satisfied with Lieberman.
It is quite true that blogging by itself is not yet in a position to change the political landscape, anymore than National Review (the NR of the Buckley era-William F. Buckley Jr. is no longer the editor-in-chief or proprietor, and you can tell, because with the exception of any work by my friend Aaron Harris, the magazine isn't as good as it was even ten or fifteen years ago) changed the political landscape in its heyday. What Buckley's NR did do was function as a tool to organize the grassroots of the conservative movement that was already out there, and that is a function that weblogs and bloggers have a real ability to perform now and in the days ahead.
Does this mean that the blogs had/have/will have no role? No. Will they be more important in the future? Maybe, it depends. The blogs can not create a situation/environment for change that favors any particular political ideology. They, like any campaign tool can only exploit what is already there.
Any political writer does that-exploit what is already there. The challenge is to frame those thoughts in such a way that it makes all sides stop and think. Blogs and bloggers now have the ability to influence the way that people inside campaigns do business. If there is one thing I've figured out about people who are regular political opinion bloggers, it is that we are very active politically. We assist and promote ideas, parties, and candidates-and a few even run for office themselves. Because of that, what is happening inside campaigns can often be exposed and critiqued through independent bloggers. That's also why the best campaign blogs are the "unofficial" independent variety, those which support a given candidate but have no official tie to the campaign they are supporting.
You also need to keep in mind the current level of internet "connectivness" present in America (East TN or wherever). It's not as high as you might think. I forget what it is but I was surprised that it was as low as it was. There really aren't that many people that have internet access (and most of it is dial-up; <56K) and of those that do have it even fewer read blogs. It'll be a long time (if ever) before blogs become a critical factor in a political campaign.
Even though the level of internet connectivity is relatively low, the U.S. still has the highest level of internet connectivity of any country in the developed world. This is largely due to the fact that in many other countries, such as Britain, ISP's have yet to develop the ability to offer flat-rate internet service the way we can offer it here in the States. In many countries, the further you are away from your ISP's server, the higher your rate for internet service. This makes internet service in many countries unaffordable.
However, more libraries, schools, and public institutions are offering free and open access to the internet every day in this country. Even here in tiny White Pine, the local library has some eight computers free for anyone to use to access the internet (I think it says a lot about the Ragsdale administration that Jefferson County, which has a much lower tax base and therefore much less money to spend, the libraries have nicer computers with better technology than anything I used in a Knox County Public Library), and a lot of people do use them. Our connectivity seems low, but if you don't have it at home, you can access the net at school, work, or the library absolutely free, and that is more than can be said for most places in the world. Connectivity is on the rise. As for 56K-for the longest time that's what I used and it certainly didn't stop me!
Your point about people connecting to blogs is well-taken. There are many people who connect via those "free" means that I spoke of have yet to discover the blogosphere, and that is precisely why the influence of blogs is limited. That will take time but as connectivity increases, so will the readership and usage of blogs.
Case in point - "Blogging for Bryant". How did that work out? I'm not bagging on Bryant or anyone that blogged for him. Just asking the question - Did it make any difference? What if the national/state media had picked it up and highlighted how it pointed out Corker's many shortcomings?
Without question, had the national press picked up on Blogging for Bryant, it would have attracted greater readership, it would have wielded much more influence in the race, and may have even countered some of Corker's big money.
However, I think B4B did "work out" even though Bryant didn't come out in first place. Now that the race is over, I feel a bit more free to state the obvious. Two months from the Primary, Bryant was what we who have worked on campaigns before would call "in a hole." He was in third place and his numbers were stagnant, and (even though I would never have admitted it on my blog while the campaign was going on) a lot of us thought he was "done." Bryant's strategy of effective door-to-door campaigning didn't change, however, but B4B began to increase posts and got Bryant press releases out to the public. In many cases, press releases were posted there about stories and events that the mainstream press was not even covering, and I believe it got the word out to the conservative grassroots that Bryant wasn't giving in. When Bryant's TV ads finally came out, I believe B4B helped the process by creating a built-in "base boost" that TV and radio then built on. As a result, Bryant's campaign began to surge, so much so that veteran observers like Sharon Cobb began to smell an upset. So did I, and as much of an optimist as I tend to be, I wasn't born yesterday, so it takes a lot of turnaround to get me in that kind of mood. The numbers were turning in Ed Bryant's favor-so much so that had the Primary been the following Tuesday, we just might have pulled it off. As it was, it turned out to be Van Hilleary who stood in Bryant's way, not Bob Corker. Unlike some, however, I don't blame Hilleary, he was just one factor. If Bryant had as much money as Corker, he could have left both men in the dust on Primary night.
After pointing out that most bloggers only read blogs that represent their point of view (for the most part he is right-but that is also slowly changing), Steve Mule said:
You're an exception as far as I'm concerned and that's why I respect you and your blog so much.
I am truly humbled by that kind of respect, and I thank Steve Mule for it. I also thank everyone who is reading my blog on a regular basis, no matter what side of the spectrum you are coming from. I thank you all for your time and your personal confidence in me.