Sunday, August 16, 2009

Netroots and Power

In his review of a couple of books looking at the role of the netroots in electoral politics, Henry Farrell downplays the impact of bloggers that some see in the 2008 Obama win. While he doesn't see their influence on behalf of the current White House, he does see more a more substantive role for the netroots in a broader context:
The story of the netroots is less one of individual heroes and villains than of the revival of an overt left-of-center partisanship that had largely disappeared from mainstream debate. Although many elite journalists and opinion makers continued to be liberal, they were genteelly so, preferring to maintain a polite consensus around the proper limits of debate than to engage in fisticuffs with conservatives.

The netroots are neither genteel nor interested in nuance. They want to aggressively confront a right that they see as dangerous and an establishment that they see as at best semi-corrupt. Their combativeness can be a problem ....

But they also potentially provide a model for a politics that can actually engage citizens. As political scientists such as Theda Skocpol and Nancy Rosenblum have argued, vigorous political contention mobilizes people and gets them involved in civil society.

The netroots may help to create a more participatory American politics. If they do succeed, however, it will be the result of their long-term effects in building political movements, not their short-term effects in an election like that of 2008, when they were not especially consequential.
It seems to me that the tactics of good bloggers lie somewhere between the genteel and the coarse. Participatory democracy is fractious and unkempt. But public discourse should not be reduced to free-for-all or a no-holds-barred brawl. Bloggers should be willing to mix-it-up under something akin to Queensberry rules.

And I agree with Farrell, that the netroots is better suited to influencing everyday politics than it is the party- and campaign-dominated election calendar. Frankly, it is wise for bloggers to form associations with interest groups outside of parties and political campaigns:
If the netroots are to have any hope of pushing back against the parts of Obama's agenda that they don't like, they are going to need more allies. These will not be hard to find. Civil-liberties organizations are unhappy about Obama's policies on wiretapping and lack of interest in prosecuting Bush administration officials who signed off on torture. Union leaders are increasingly impatient with the administration's reluctance to move forward on the Employee Free Choice Act. Left-wing economic think tanks are critical of bailout deals for large financial institutions.I believe that blogs operate at their best when they push agendas instead of candidates.
They're at their best and not likely to be turned into tools or to be discarded by agendas.

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