If the liberal blogs want to understand why so few people outside their narrow echo chamber take them seriously, and what it will take to gain the broader credibility they crave, they should look no further than their handling of the recent flap over John Edwards’ foul-mouthed blogger hires.
Throughout the course of the controversy, the left’s bigger digital diatribers never stopped to address the substance of what the Edwards bloggers actually wrote before joining the campaign. Had the bloggers done so, they might have found the postings were widely deemed by Democrats and Republicans alike as bigoted and patently offensive to many Christians, not just devout Catholics or evangelicals.
Nor did they ever stop to think how hollow and hypocritical it sounded for the same people who ravaged George Allen, for his “macaca” moment in last year’s Virginia Senate campaign to cry “free speech” when confronted with a far more nasty, vulgar, and hurtful display of prejudice from two of their own.
Instead, right until the bitter end, most liberal bloggers responded in their familiar mode – by lashing out at their critics and trying to marginalize them. This was, in their eyes, purely a manufactured controversy by the “right-wing smear machine” and a cynical attempt to silence and marginalize the Netroots.
Indeed, even after the two Edwards staffers essentially surrendered, the few bloggers who wrote postscripts kept up the front of the petulant, blame-deflecting 15-year-old who got caught spreading rumors about the homecoming queen.
Consider a posting on MyDD Tuesday by Scott Shields. Not satisfied with attacking conservative critics of the two Edwards bloggers, Shields felt obliged to discredit religious progressives like Brian O’Dwyer, who condemned the bigotry behind the Edwards bloggers’ writings, and thus put the lie to the blogosphere’s mythology of the matter.
O’Dwyer apparently hails from a distinguished Democratic family, and chairs the National Democratic Ethnic Leadership Council. In a Politico article, he joined with several other leaders of the liberal faith community in openly expressing unease with the way the blogosphere was treating this controversy.
Rather than engage O’Dwyer on the merits and rebut his arguments, Shields opted to attack his motives:
Could it be that O’Dwyer’s anger is less about the words of one blogger and more about his own personal political loyalties? After all, O’Dwyer has given $12,100 to Edwards’s opponent Hillary Clinton since 2000 – more than he’s given to any other single candidate. And according to his official bio, he was the National Co-Chair of Irish-Americans for Clinton-Gore in 1992 and 1996.
I’m not accusing the Clinton camp of orchestrating this campaign against Edwards. After all, O’Dwyer was relatively late to the game. But it’s simply impossible to believe that it was anything but his loyalty to Clinton that led O’Dwyer to join in the right-wing pile-on.
Now, if this were an isolated incident, one could argue that the left-wing bloggers were just following one of the cardinal rules of modern hardball politics – when you can’t defend your position, go on offense and attack your critics.
But the reality is, as I experienced over and over again in the Lamont-Lieberman race, this is the liberal blogosphere’s standard-less operating procedure. They have decided that the best way to fight the “right-wing smear machine” that they so despise is to create an even more venomous, boundary-less, and destructive counterpart and fight ire with more ire.
It also goes to show just how deeply most liberal bloggers believe that Republicans and conservative are morally illegitimate, and as such, any criticism or argument made by the other side is on its face corrupt and dismissible. If it is said by Catholic League President Bill Donohue, who has a history of controversial statements himself, it automatically becomes invalid, no matter the inherent integrity of the underlying proposition.
What these liberal bloggers fail to appreciate is that this petty, polarizing approach is not how you ultimately win in politics – especially in an era when most average voters outside the ideological extremes are fed up with the shrill, reflexive partisanship that dominates Washington, and when the fastest growing party in America is no party.
The blogger bomb-throwing may be good for inflaming the activist base, and, as they demonstrated in the 2006 Lieberman-Lamont Senate primary race in Connecticut, for occasionally blowing up the opposition. It’s not bad for bullying your friends, either, as the liberal blogosphere did last week in pressuring Edwards to not fire the two bloggers who penned the offensive anti-religious posts.
But the typical blog mix of insults and incitements is just not an effective strategy for persuading people outside of your circle of belief – be they moderate Democrats, moderate Republicans, or the swelling number of independents – to join your cause. In fact, it’s far more likely to alienate than propagate them.
Something else most liberal bloggers fail to appreciate – we as Democrats can’t afford to repel those middle of the road, largely non-partisan voters.
The Iraq war notwithstanding, which has temporarily tilted the political landscape in our favor, the long-term electoral math is stacked against us – surveys show conservatives currently outnumber liberals three-to-two. Thus, if we want to win the White House and become a majority party again, it’s not enough to excite our base. We must also expand it.
One sure way to do the opposite, and consign our party to minority status, is to broadly tar Christians in general and Catholics in particular as “Christo-fascists” and misogynists, as the Edwards bloggers did.
Catholics are one of the biggest and most important swing-voting blocs in this country. They often tend to decide elections. So it’s probably not the smartest idea for a leading Democratic presidential candidate to hire people who openly defame Catholicism’s sacred figures by talking about the Lord filling the Virgin Mary with “his hot, white, sticky spirit.”
That so many leading bloggers could not see or acknowledge that point suggests at a minimum a giant blind spot on their part – after all, these guys are the first to protest the notion that Democrats are in any way hostile to religion and denounce it as a conservative canard.
But more than likely it just indicates that these bloggers didn’t see anything wrong with the bigoted rants of their peers – and that the far left’s disdain for people of faith is not only alive and well, but has gone digital.
Howard Dean, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the party leadership recognize this religion problem is real, and much to their credit, they have made it a priority to reach out to faith-based voters over the last few years and show them that they are welcome in the Democratic fold.
One has to wonder what they thought as they watched their blogger wards, whom they have lately been favoring with public praise and special access, trample the godly garden they have been trying to re-seed.
In the long run, the only way to prevent embarrassments like this from escalating and causing greater damage – and more importantly, to fulfill the rich potential of the blogosphere as a persuasion and organizing tool – is for the voices of reason within the Netroots to stand up to the smack down artists and prod their peers to trade their juvenile accusations for mature arguments.
This is not to say that liberal bloggers or Democrats in general don’t have good reason to be angry about the war or the Bush Administration, or that we should drain our politics of passion. We can and should be aggressive in our convictions and tough in our defenses. It’s just that all available evidence indicates that labeling people who don’t agree with us “liars” and “morons” and “fascists” is not the best way to get them to vote for us.
In the meantime, it wouldn’t hurt if the party’s top leaders step in and provide some adult supervision. If the bloggers are going to behave like spoiled children, then maybe it’s time to punish them accordingly.
Shut the line-crossers out of press briefings. Deny them jobs that confer party approval. And for god’s sake, please quit kissing Kos’s ring at his convention until he and his acolytes grow out of their high-tech tantrum tactics.
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