Sunday, May 10, 2009

No Ticket to Ride

I am perusing my complimentary copy of Eric Boehlert's new book, Bloggers on the Bus (thanks, Eric), and I am mystified by an enormous lacuna in its pages.

Nowhere is Bob Somerby or The Daily Howler directly mentioned.

Perhaps I have not looked in the right place in the index or missed the specific pages where The Incomparable One is discussed, but I'm sitting here, scratching my head, trying to figure out how anyone, let alone someone as perceptive as Boehlert, can omit Bob Somerby from an analysis of the media and the blogs in Election '08, especially as Somerby was cranking out some of the most clear-eyed, trenchant commentary on the circus.

Where is mention of Somerby's brilliant phrase, Whoever Kidnapped Josh Marshall?

A phrase that neatly sums up the schizophrenia gripping Left Blogistan by the throat from November 2007 through the Democratic National Convention, and continued to rear its psychotic head through the confirmation hearings for Secretary of State Clinton. A phrase that points directly to the paradox Boehlert himself identifies, then shies away from investigating, in the final few pages of the book - that "The bad news for liberal bloggers was that as the Obama campaign unfolded... it became obvious that bloggers were never really invited to the party." (p.261)

Boehlert's book is interesting in a number of ways, and I encourage my readers to get your hands on a copy and read it, but something I find disconcerting is its presentism. Part of this is in the nature of the topic - the recent election - but to represent the political critique of both the Movement Conservatives (to use Paul Krugman's phrase) and the Villager media culture as having started with Chris Bowers, Kos and Atrios boggles my mind. In the introduction, Boehlert talks about Timothy Crouse's 1972 expose of the political press, The Boys on the Bus, from which this new book draws its name. He says,
And yet there hasn't been enough serious public attention paid to the netroots phenomenon, which is why I decided to write Bloggers on the Bus. Inspired by Crouse's book, although I'm in no way comparing my work with his pioneering effort, I believe the uniquely twenty-first-century phenomenon of the netroots ought to be documented. (p. xi, Introduction)
I agree that there has not been enough serious public attention paid to the netroots, but, Eric, sorry, Bob Somerby was blogging back in 1998, the twentieth-century. The foundation of the liberal blogosphere is Somerby's writings on the war against liberal politics and the Democratic Party conducted by the so-called liberal media. The impetus for his blog was the media assault on the Clinton Administration.

The Daily Howler is one of the (if not the) longest published political blog of substance out there. The Howler and The Horse (Media Whores Online - The site that set out to bring mainstream journalism to its knees, but found it was already there...) were the two must-read sites for anyone who wanted to get around the courtiers of Versailles. Somerby's influence on and inspiration for what we know today as Left Blogistan is as incomparable as his archives. Somerby is difficult to read, bugs the hell out of me at least half the time, and some of his obsessions are not on my radar, but unlike people like Kos, Josh Marshall, Big Media Matt and other Blogger Boyz, he has never allowed himself to be compromised or co-opted by the mainstream media. Or by a political campaign.

Somerby would probably agree when Eric says,
The outdated campaign bus had broken down. Worse, over the years not only had its media passengers slavishly maintained the same pack-driven approach that Crouse bemoaned decades earlier, but the political press had become increasingly unserious, with an almost nonstop devotion to campaign tactics, process, and trivia. (p. x, Introduction)
but would add "and the big name bloggers of the netroots, the people you so admiringly write about in your book, are part of that unserious press corps. They want to be the pool boys servicing the media celebrities in their cabanas."

On the same page, Boehlert can describe in excellent detail how thoroughly the Obama campaign worked with the mainstream media to ensure delivery of his message with his spin, and then state (with no hint of irony), "The Internet, as Barack Obama demonstrated in 2008, offered a way for candidates to go around the traditional Beltway media and communicate directly with voters." (p.x)


Obama was the candidate the MSM wanted to see elected. Obama's "joke" at the press roast this weekend (some of you reported on me, all of you voted for me) is as revealing on this count as George Bush's quip about the mega-rich ("or, as I call them, my base."). They worked just as assiduously for Obama's election as any of the Blogger Boyz. Their political war in 2008, just as it had been from 1992 through 2000, was conducted against those upstarts from Arkansas and Gore the Bore. The paradox of the 2008 election was how little effect the liberal thinkers and writers, from Paul Krugman down to yours truly, had on the public discourse. Obama was the establishment candidate, and the leading lights of the Left Blogosphere were as thoroughly managed by that establishment as any of the talking heads.

The Election of 2008 marks the moment when some bloggers were allowed on the media bus, as long as they directed their ire at the same people Tweety and Tim Russert held in contempt. Those who refused to adopt the language and goals of the CDS-afflicted DC Elite were shoved in front of that juggernaut. We're still there, clinging to the grill, just as undisciplined and scrappy as ever.

Chapter 8, The Blog War of 2008, tries to capture some of that dynamic, but is still captive to the misapprehension that the A-list blogs on the Left were not part of the media's magic circle. Or perhaps Boehlert is well aware of the phenomenon, but not willing to state it himself. Instead, he quotes a conversation he had with Paul Krugman about the campaign:
But as the primary unfolded in 2008, Krugman, a Clinton supporter, did not like what he saw online. He objected to what he called the creation of a false portrait of Hillary Clinton. To him, the pile on recalled how the traditional media savaged Al Gore during the 2000 campaign, portraying him as borderline delusional. In 2008, Krugman watched Clinton get tagged by the press as delusional, except this time lots of liberal bloggers joined in as well, he said, twisting stories and quotes to make CLinton look as unappealing as possible.

"It was ugly," said Krugman, who was also startled to see portions of the Obama-loving netroots alter their views on cornerstone issues, such as the need for universal health care. Specifically, the netroots had been stalwart in calling for government mandates to insure universal coverage. Clinton supported mandates and Obama did not, yet progressives online flocked to Obama despite his position. "Suddenly being opposed to mandates, which for me is basically being opposed to universality, becomes a touchstone of being a real progresssive?" Krugman asked incredulously. "Wow. There was a definite [Orwellian] 'we-have-always-been-at-war-with-Eastasia' feel to that."

For the columnist, the Democratic race represented a turning point for the blogs, an end to innocence. Said Krugman, "I don't think people like myself are ever going to look at Daily Kos the same way."
What we witnessed in 2008 was the cognitive capture of the major blogs by the Beltway. The A-List bloggers are now functionally and culturally part of the Village.

I doubt those bloggers will ever leave the bus.



Caro said...

Bartcop started "blogging" in 1996, though blogging software didn't exist then. And Bartcop is the true blogfather. Most, if not all, of the boyz got their start sending him their comments on his posts, via email. I haven't finished the book, but so far I haven't seen a mention of Bart.

A bunch of us got started in 2000, and we're not mentioned. In fact, the book seems to assume that the blogosphere sprang, fully formed, from the head of Zeus in 2002. It's not a complete history of the development of the blogosphere.

Carolyn Kay

R. S. Martin said...

Hi Anglachel:

First of all, welcome back. You've been missed.

I'm certainly looking forward to Eric Boehlert's book after reading about it here, at Talk Left, and at Alegre's Corner. A full discussion of what happened is necessary, and the book presents an excellent opportunity for that. The 2008 election, primary season and all, is now the province of historians, and the definitive treatment of it probably won't be written for decades, but we should certainly work on getting things pointed in the right direction now.

The major legacy of the Obama campaign has been the top-down authoritarianism of the leaders of the Democratic Party. You can see it with Dean, the DNC, Pelosi, and Reid with Obama, but there were also local manifestations of it, such as when the Michigan Democratic Party rammed Gary Peters down my Congressional district's throat. Back in 2006, Nancy Skinner, with no party support, nearly unseated entrenched GOP Congressman Joe Knollenberg. The party, thanks to her, now knew taking his seat was possible, but they wouldn't let Skinner be the one to do it. She was forced out of last year's race so they could run Peters, a long-time party hack, instead. Peters, of course, won.

This top-down attitude can also be seen in the attempt to install Caroline Kennedy in Hillary's Senate seat, as well as the golden-boy treatment given Arlen Specter for switching parties. The heartening thing about these instances was that there was successful pushback by those getting leaned on. Kennedy was ultimately forced to withdraw, and Reid had to back off the seniority guarantee Specter was given. And there's still a good chance Specter may be facing a primary challenge in PA next year--the very thing he switched parties to avoid.

The tyranny of those at the top can be defeated if we remain vigilant and fight back.

Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy said...

What a way to start the day! Anglachel is back, and quite possibly the most gratifying link to Corrente ever! Thank you and thank you.

The reality-based community misses you!

cgeye said...

And the historians are already busy:

... at least the social scientists are.


Which factors allowed the Democratic Party to heal the rift created by the 2008 presidential nominating campaign? Using original data from surveys of 449 pledged delegates at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, this research examines the conditions under which the delegates for one candidate embrace the opposing candidate. Specifically, when do delegates for Barack Obama embrace Hillary Clinton, and vice versa? The results demonstrate that Clinton delegates’ network centrality in the convention caucus network exacerbates, rather than heals, the rift in the party. Clinton delegates’ friendship networks perpetuate the rift when they are homophilous, but contribute to healing when they are heterophilous. Network effects influence the attitudes of Clinton delegates toward Obama, but not the perspective of Obama delegates toward Clinton. Experience with party institutions and views on intra-party democracy contribute to healing the rift for both sets of delegates. Clinton’s endorsement of Obama moved Obama’s delegates in her direction, but failed to sway her own supporters. Hypotheses for overembeddedness and cross-cutting networks are supported in the data, but a strict social-capital view of networks is not supported.

Anne said...

Thanks for this post.

Bartcop's wit and wisdom kept me sane though out the late '90s. Those who aren't old enough to remember the whole Monica thing in detail,can't know how bad it was.It was like the MaCarthy era

Also, somehow blog round ups for years have often somehow missed mentioning Bob Somerby...I see that trend continues. He's too right on for thier notice.

Media Whores Online was awesome! Reminded me of Spy Magazine in the early 90's when you could publish a mag that took pot shots at the elite . How fondly I remember thier 100 worse
list....ah memories.

But indeed, many blogs, all they wanted was to be loved by the villagers on the bus and they were so easily gathered in.

Mad Feminist said...

After reading what you say here,

"The paradox of the 2008 election was how little effect the liberal thinkers and writers, from Paul
Krugman down to yours truly, had on the public discourse. Obama was the establishment candidate,
and the leading lights of the Left Blogosphere were as thoroughly managed by that establishment as
any of the talking heads."

I started wondering if Obama's anointment wasn't also driven by male and male-identified fear and
hatred of being ruled by 'nanny' mom types. Wondering if The Paul Krugmans weren't listened to,
and the bloggers were able to be thoroughly managed, because of these almost unconscious (i.e.,
covered up) emotions.

I think the 'nanny' mom state of mind, fully empowered, would be the start of real solution to our
problems, making short shrift of corporate rule, the preposterous financial system, and woman hating.

And hey, glad to hear from you, Anglachel !

Koshem Bos said...

The right to rewrite history is given to the victors. They never miss the opportunity to twist and distort the recent, and at times remote, past.

Boehlert does his part quite well. For him, the Netroots are the dominant force behind Obama despite Obama not seeing it this way.

Obama jumped on opportunity to raise Reagan and lower Clinton even before he had the spoils.

We will survive.

Anglachel said...


Argh, that paper reminds me why I abandoned political science as a career.

First, they did not extend the "empirical" analysis of the "caucus" backwards into the state caucuses to understand the origin of the support groups for the candidates. Second (and this is the Achilles heel of all American statistical political science), they have no content or substance to why one group of supporters is adamantly opposed to the prospective nominee, even when race and gender are controlled as variables.

In short, the implicit blame on HRC supporters for "failing to heal the rift" is derived from a snapshot of a single convention, rather than looking at the national convention as the cumulative effect of months of caucus events where extremely compact and exclusive factions exploited a form of delegate selection that favored the "establishment" candidate - Obama.

The myth of Obama-as-Outsider is getting old. He was the preferred candidate of the northern tier elite and faced off against the preferred candidate of the southern tier up-and-comers.


Anonymous said...

I don't want to downplay the importance of either Bartcop or Media Whores, or of Bob Somerby (at least through early 2001; I think that Somerby's annoying and repetitive presentation started to overwhelm his material sometime in there, to the point where I finally stopped reading him and now read him only reluctantly).

But to me the Left Blogosphere really began with Phil Agre's Red Rock Eater mailing broadcasts, starting in 1993, were definitely lefto-blogging avant la lettre. His "What Is Conservatism and What Is Wrong with It?" (a version of an essay he wrote for RRE in the late 1990s, before the Usurpation) is still an indispensable piece of analysis.

Anonymous said...

"the southern tier up-and-comers"....

I will confess that I'm baffled by the idea that Southerners are somehow an emerging power within the Democratic Party, given that four of the last five* Democrats to win a presidential election have been Southerners.

*LBJ, Carter, B. Clinton, Gore; five out of six if you believe that Kerry won in 2004.

There's more than one "establishment" within the Democratic Party; Hillary was the candidate of one of them, and Obama of another.

Anglachel said...


That's why I said "southern tier up-and-comers", not "Southerners". There is a rising Hispanic political contingent, as well as non-traditional party members in the Southeast, who are a long way from the old guard of the Democratic Party.

My use of southern tier is also a play on the idea of south = down = low = the unworthy.

WJC represented something new on the Democratic political landscape. HRC pushes this new face of the party further along, without getting sidetracked by a cause the way Gore has done.

Please read some of my previous entries on the cultural and ideological split of the party into a Truman and a Stevensonian wing. Also look up my commentaries on Whole Foods Nation.


Anonymous said...

Welcome back, Anglachel. I will read Boehlert's book when I have the chance. But for some reason it appears to me that the book is simply Somerby or Krugman Lite. A rehash of everything you've documented and written about since 2007 for the majority of those in Boehlert's circle and the progressive movement who refuse to believe that Clinton Derangement Syndrome, sexism, or misogyny exists in the media. If this is accurate then he doesn't really understand a crucial aspect of the story he attempts to record (or he is just aware of the backlash he'll receive if he admits to it). Maybe you should try your hand at writing an accurate account of what happened beginning in 2007? All you'd really need to do is compile everything you've already written here.