I wrote this essay for USA Today in response to a meeting between leftbloggers and former President Bill Clinton at his Harlem headquarters. Along with my forthcoming book, BLOGWARS, it argues that blogging has “arrived” in politics today. Politicians and political professionals (as well as journalists and media workers) are “blogging up,” and trying to figure out how to use blogs in their business.
The original is below. A few lines that were cut–mostly for reasons of length–are now restored.
The attractions of blogging for politicians are many. Blogging directly reaches a national (and even global) audience without the filtering of the newspaper or the price of television time. Blogging, if done well, renders an aura of intimacy and personalization difficult to attain (except for “great communicators” like Clinton and Reagan) via traditional mass media. Blogging can generate a national fund-raising vortex for the local candidate, as was the case for Ned Lamont in Connecticut. Blogging is also a boon for retired politicians who are out of the public eye. John Edwards, probably the most blog-aware of the 2008 contenders, blogs and guest blogs extensively and meets regularly with bloggers while on speaking tours. (Retired General Wesley Clark is another out-of-office [or service] blog maestro via his “Securing America” site).
The disadvantages of blogging are manifest as well—perhaps most so to frontrunners. Blogging takes up time in a busy politician’s day. The stream-of-consciousness nature of the good blog post is a minefield of possible gaffes and misstatements. Bloggers and blogging audiences are high maintenance. As researchers Jennifer Stromer-Galley and Andrea B. Baker uncovered, during Howard Dean’s blogging effort in 2003-2004 the campaign found it hard to keep up with the comments by bloggers on their websites, and thus many loyalists felt abandoned or unheard.  And while millions blog, the actual blogger-Get-Out-the-Vote link is yet to be apparent in any particular race.
What, then, should be Hillary’s blog strategy? Should she have one at all?
1. Ignore the leftblogs. Hillary could do nothing with, to or about Democratic blogs, assuming that they will end up supporting her if she wins the first few primaries of the nomination season. But bloggers are not a herd to be led (by fiat or force) wherever a politician wants. Also there is the fear-and-loathing factor: George Bush and the Iraq war have spurred immense anger and mobilization in the leftblogs. It is not as clear that the 2008 Republican nominee (say John McCain) will generate as much antipathy, especially if he promises an eventual pull-out from Iraq. Nevertheless, as leftblogger Natasha “Pacific Views” Celine notes, any Republican conservative enough to win his party’s nomination will be perceived as quite threatening enough to motivate the online Democratic left. 
2. Attack the leftblogs. An intriguing option for Hillary Clinton is to use (or rather abuse) leftblogs to push forward her appeal to middle voters via a “Sister Souljah” moment, referring to the time in 1992 when Bill Clinton criticized the black, female rap artist. The political implication was that Clinton came off as a moderate Democrat not beholden to an “extremist” and thus was more acceptable to socio-cultural moderates and conservatives. It might be tempting, now, to dis a leftblog, preferably one that has made some heated statement about the Iraq war that is beyond the pale of mainstream American public opinion. The danger is that this is not 1992. Sister Souljah could only complain to the big media and her friends (by phone), whereas blogs can swarm the world with a mouse-click. And, if the war sinks further into chaos and U.S. military deaths, it is the current centrist position that is drifting away from mainstream opinion about the war, not that of the blogleft.
3. Co-opt the leftblogs. Clinton can—following the example of John Edwards—meet with leftbloggers, brief them, show (or feign) respect for them, make the case that she must attract a majority of the electorate and ask for leftblog help in the “crusade” to retake the White House. And, in some instances, she can buy cooperation by hiring any major blogger who will sign on as a consultant. Indeed, the Senator is building a blogger staff, hiring among others, Peter Daou, of Salon.com’s “Daou Report” and director of blog operations for John Kerry in 2004.
Hence the significance of Bill’s dine-in with the leftbloggers. Has the Clinton machine determined that the former president become the designated ambassador to the blogs? Proclaimed TalkLeft: “It was awesome,” though to many leftbloggers, affection for Bill does not transfer to Hillary, her perceived or real calculated opportunism or her policies.
How the Clintons play the blogs, or are played up or down by them, is one of the most important political stories of next few years. The 2006 and 2008 election cycles will be the coming-of-age era for political blogging and all the new, interactive, interlinking media technologies like Facebook, Youtube, podcasting and MySpace that they have inspired. The blog political playbook is now being written and will map out campaign strategies for a generation to come.
David D. Perlmutter is a professor at the School of Journalism & Mass Communications at the University of Kansas. He is author “BLOGWARS” (forthcoming, OXFORD, 2007) and blogs at policybyblog.squarespace.com.