The Left Blogs Close the Door on the Big Tent

Posted: Jul 17, 2006 12:00 AM

I disagree with Glenn Reynolds. Not on everything, but on some things.

Support for the war in Iraq as an important battleground in the War on Terror? Ditto, Glenn. Unequivocal backing of the notion that Americans should have the right to pack heat? I’m with you. A general respect for the free market and the innovations, efficiency, and gifts it visits upon us? Yep, there again.

On the stem-cell debate and other social issues, I can’t say the same. And, the “I had an abortion” T-shirt is not a fashion choice I would have made.

But here’s the thing. If you were to ask me if he’s with me or against me-- if you were to say, politically speaking, “is he on your team?”-- I’d say yes. Yes, the politically hybrid, libertarianish law professor who threatens to vote Democrat if they’d only give him something to work with on national security is on my team.

I feel the same way about a long list of other libertarianish political hybrids who vocally disagree with me on social issues—folks like Ann Althouse and Jeff Goldstein, both of whose blogs I consider favorites. And, I think most of the Right blogosphere feels the same way, even though many right bloggers are more conservative than these three writers. Their traffic numbers certainly reflect acceptance and popularity among righty blog-readers.

It occurred to me, after reading about the now-infamous Deborah Frisch’s comments to blogger Jeff Goldstein of Protein Wisdom—well, more like bolted down from Heaven and hit everyone within a thousand-mile radius of an Internet connection between the eyes than “occurred”—that the Left blogosphere does not feel the same way about political hybrids.

For instance, I imagine that socially conservative bloggers disagree with Goldstein on just as many issues as the good Prof. Frisch does, and yet they regularly read his site, debate with him civilly, and manage to hang out in his comments section without threatening toddlers.

On the contrary, instead of seeing folks like Goldstein or Reynolds as possible allies on certain issues, the Left blogosphere doesn’t just avoid engaging or wooing these guys—it actively attacks them.

In the run-up to the ’04 election and in the time since, many of these politically hybrid bloggers—who I can only assume speak for and speak to an audience of many, many more similarly-minded folks, also known by the term “swing voter”—have positively advertised the fact that they are up for grabs when it comes to party affiliation.

Give us a Democrat who’s serious about national security and I’ll go there, they say. Give us a Democrat who doesn’t race-bait and play identity politics, and I’d come on over. I’m with you guys on social issues, so work on some of these other important issues and win me over, they write…in public…on blogs…for everyone to see.

The Left reads these messages and sends them Deborah Frisch and DOS attacks. The Right reads these messages and sends them links and invites to appear on conservative talk radio shows.

Ann Althouse has noticed:

I'm just saying that I'm struck by the way the right perceives me as a potential ally and uses positive reinforcement and the left doesn't see me as anything but an opponent -- doesn't even try to engage me with reasoned argument. Maybe the left feels beleaguered these days, but how do they expect to make any progress if they don't see the ways they can include the people in the middle? If you look around and only see opponents and curl up with your little group of insiders, you are putting your efforts into insuring that you remain a political minority.

Left blogger Crooked Timber attributes such treatment of Althouse to the fact that she’s perceived, not as a political moderate, but as a moderate conservative. That may be, but I tried to imagine myself perceiving folks like Armed Liberal of Winds of Change, or Jeralyn Merritt of TalkLeft, both of whom can probably be rightly considered moderate liberals, as out-and-out political enemies to be only attacked, never embraced. Instead, I serve with those two on a Blogger Board of Contributors for the Examiner, and all of us were recruited for the board by a conservative blogger.

I can’t help but think that, as blogs continue to become a bigger part of electoral politics and the parties inevitably become more practiced at working with them, this difference in approach doesn’t bode well for Democrats. As much as the Left blogosphere likes to accuse the whole center-right of existing only to parrot the command-and-control messages of Chimpy McBushitler, it is the Left blogosphere that has seemed so intent on alienating itself and the Democratic Party from political hybrids and moderate Democrats of late, and doing so in dramatic, nasty fashion.

Jeff Goldstein gets vile sexual comments about his toddler and Joe Lieberman gets a new nickname—“Rape Gurney Joe.”

Once again, I wondered whether the Right does go after its moderates in a similar fashion, so I looked up the Right’s harshest critic of the Right’s least-loved moderate—Hugh Hewitt on Lincoln Chafee.

Hewitt has called Chafee an “alleged GOP Senator,” “shortsighted,” and knocked him repeatedly for not voting for Bush, and for various obstructions in the Senate, but it hasn’t gotten much nastier than that. I imagine Lieberman would smile to get such courteous treatment on a big liberal blog these days.

I don’t suggest that there isn’t nastiness on both sides of the blogosphere. There is. Nor do I suggest that each side of the blogosphere must take responsibility for every wacky commenter on its side (although avoiding abetting them with DOS attacks would help immensely).

What I do say is there is a difference in tone and approach to moderates, and moderates are noticing it.

The political blogosphere is growing in reach and power. Readers are turning to them on both ends of the political spectrum because they trust the folks who write them. Blogs will continue to inform and affect the behavior of voters, but how will each side use that knowledge?

In 2004, the Bush campaign, according to most political observers, overtook the Dem ground game by delegating the spreading of the President’s message, not to impersonal canvassers, but to neighbors and friends and family.

Many voters were more likely to listen to arguments for the President from a mom from three houses down—someone they liked and trusted—than a shipped-in volunteer and stranger.

If politically hybrid bloggers can be seen as the swing voters of the blogosphere—if a Jeff Goldstein is a guy who could conceivably be convinced to vote the other way if the Dems would assuage his doubts on certain issues—who do you think is more convincing showing up on his virtual doorstep?

Deborah Frisch, the liberal who threatens his child, or Right-Wing Sparkle, the conservative who has read his site for years and comes to his defense upon Frisch’s attack?

When you’re knocking on doors at election time, burning dog poo has never been known to get out the vote.