What was he thinking?
As one looks back at John Edwards and his Potty-Mouthed bloggers, that’s the question that keeps springing to mind. What circuit misfired in the Edwards campaign that led him to hire two of the blogosphere’s most notoriously bilious, hate-filled and obviously controversial denizens?
By now, the outlines of the scandal are well known. The week before last, John Edwards hired Amanda Marcotte as his webmaster and blogger-in-chief. Marcotte had previously blogged at a site called Pandagon where she routinely called people of faith “godbags” who blindly worshipped “jeebus” while trumpeting her own atheism in as indecorous a fashion as imaginable. Her “greatest hits” evidence the enlightened wit and expressive skills of the garden variety sociopath.
Marcotte’s success at blogging should also be kept in some sort of perspective. When mainstream media outlets tout her blogging curriculum vitae, they always seem to fail to mention that under Marcotte’s leadership Pandagon attracted roughly 10,000 visitors a day. While this does mean Marcotte had a successful blog, the figure of 10,000 devotees should have been a decidedly underwhelming one for a presidential campaign that needs mainstream appeal to get anywhere. As Edwards probably should have realized, there are a lot more “godbags” out there than blog-readers.
Last week and early this week, the controversy was limited to right wing bloggers (including me) who were having a good laugh at Edwards’ expense. For no apparent reason, Edwards sought out an association that would lard his campaign with unwanted and unneeded baggage. For those of us who are part of the blogosphere and observers of the blogosphere, it was obvious that Edwards’ political opponents would sooner or later make great mirth over the writings of Amanda Marcotte.
The mirth came sooner rather than later. Within a week of Marcotte’s hiring, the story crossed over from the blogosphere to the more respectable realms of the New York Times and CNN. As Wolf Blitzer and the Grey Lady documented Edwards’ strange hire, Edwards had a decision to make – lance the Amanda Marcotte boil immediately or wait for it to come back at him in another news cycle.
Edwards acted promptly. He fired Marcotte and one of her colleagues in potty-blogging. His campaign, however, maintained a curious radio silence pertaining to the terminations. Other than a background notice to Salon that alerted Salon alone of the firings, no one knew exactly what was going on at Edwards HQ.
The left wing blogopshere greeted the firings with a predictable hue and cry. Well, the hue and cry was predictable to just about everybody, but apparently not to anyone inside the Edwards campaign. Prominent blogger Chris Bowers of MyDD (25,000 visitors a day) vowed to never support Edwards if the firing stood. Ominously, he vowed to release a “vicious rant” if the blogresses remained terminated. Showing the kind of spine that only truly special leaders have, Edwards promptly unfired them. Or he released a statement that seemed to suggest he was keeping them on. The statement read in its entirety:
"The tone and the sentiment of some of Amanda Marcotte's and Melissa McEwen's posts personally offended me. It's not how I talk to people, and it's not how I expect the people who work for me to talk to people. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but that kind of intolerant language will not be permitted from anyone on my campaign, whether it's intended as satire, humor, or anything else. But I also believe in giving everyone a fair shake. I've talked to Amanda and Melissa; they have both assured me that it was never their intention to malign anyone's faith, and I take them at their word. We're beginning a great debate about the future of our country, and we can't let it be hijacked. It will take discipline, focus, and courage to build the America we believe in."
Since Edwards is Clintonian in nature, some intensive parsing is warranted. He does not say the bloggresses remain in his campaign’s employ. He does not say they are terminated. He promises a “fair shake,” but declines to specify what a fair shake consists of in this instance. In short, Edwards offers the very quintessence of 21st century leadership – His chin is jutted forward, while his finger is planted firmly in the air.
SO WHAT’S THE TAKEWAY FROM ALL OF THIS? The first thing we can safely conclude is that the Edwards campaign is clueless when it comes to the blogopshere. A campaign blogger/webmaster’s job is sending out messages to prominent bloggers praying for the occasional link and writing blog posts for the candidate’s website that are sufficiently bland and uninteresting that they won’t possibly offend anyone. In short, the job calls for a political operative who works calmly, quietly and effectively behind the scenes. There is nothing in Amanda Marcotte’s background that would have suggested she was qualified for such a post.
Next, Edwards badly misapprehends the importance of the blogosphere. The blogosphere is a significant factor that no intelligent campaign would discount. But after his ill-advised hire, Edwards had the choice to offend the blogosphere or to offend the “godbags.” He chose to offend the “godbags.” Since the country is composed of 98% “godbags,” this was a decision every bit as short-sighted and idiotic as was the original hire that kicked off the controversy.
As for the blogosphere, self aware bloggers will learn a lesson: There’s no erasing the internet. Google has seen to that. If you’re going to blog 10,000 words a week like many bloggers do, you’ll have to exercise extreme caution if you want to publicly enter the political realm.
Smart bloggers have already learned this lesson. Markos Moulitsas runs the Daily Kos, the most widely-read blog extant. He’s had his bouts with infamy, and he’s learned from them. Moulitsas wants to be a political player, and he knows he can’t be if he’s radioactive. So he runs his massive site like a benevolent dictator. It used to be easy to find outlandish and offensive stuff on the Daily Kos. Markos has been in the on-going process of making it harder.
Love him or hate hit him, Markos is a shrewd guy. What he’s accomplished cannot be easily dismissed. Thus, it’s noteworthy that during this entire controversy that virtually consumed the entire blogosphere, Markos uttered nary a peep.
Markos generally doesn’t respond to my emails, so I can only speculate as to why he has refrained from making a comment. I figure he knows that Edwards made an idiotic hire. And I also figure he thinks that the angry blogresses should grow up and become acquainted with the real world. You can’t play blue and then expect a long term contract from Disney.
In other words, all parties should have known better. But most leftward bloggers haven’t learned a thing – they consider Edwards apparent “decision” to keep Marcotte as proof that they’ve developed mainstream acceptability. The fact that Edwards only reached this alleged decision at the point of a virtual bayonet eludes them. Furthermore, the fact that one of their preferred candidates remains saddled with unnecessary and potentially damaging baggage doesn’t seem to bother them. A lot of people think bloggers are preening and self-important narcissists – they’ll find no evidence to the contrary in this whole affair.
As far as Edwards is concerned, one conclusion is inescapable: The erstwhile ambulance chaser remains determinedly stuck on stupid.