In the middle of a dozen or so articles assessing the explosion of political blogs into mainstream culture, there was one story that begged to differ. “Netroots Hit Their Limits” (predictably) emerged from the stodgy and stalwart publication, Time Magazine. In it, Perry Bacon, Jr. describes “Netroots” and the concomitant rise of political blogs as “the Democratic Party’s equivalent of a punk garage band–edgy, loud and antiauthoritarian.”

Bacon makes an interesting note. While most would agree that the political pendulum is beginning its swing back to the left, he states “moderate Democrats say it with remorse, conservatives with glee, but the conventional wisdom is bipartisan: progressive bloggers are pushing the Democratic Party so far to the left that it will have no chance of capturing the presidency in 2008.”

He generates some statistical data that deserves stricter scrutiny. Bacon claims that “a coarse estimate of the Netroots’ numbers shows them to be something less than a groundswell. The readership of the largest liberal blogs and the membership of MoveOn suggest that the Netroots could total 6 million people, and that assumes blog audiences don’t overlap, which they do.” While it is possible and even probable that blog audiences overlap, what Bacon fails to mention is the possibility and probability that a certain percentage of those 6 million people will disseminate information from the blogs in other arenas and formats as well.

Bacon goes on to assess the limits of Netroots and blogging. In doing so, he manufactures another interesting pearl of wisdom: “No one recognizes the Netroots’ limits more than the activists themselves, which is why they are changing their tactics. First of all, they’re becoming pragmatic about policy goals…And the bloggers are actively supporting and giving money to many of these more centrist candidates.” It is a bit difficult to reconcile this statement about bloggers “becoming pragmatic about policy goals” and supporting “more centrist candidates” to his prediction just one page earlier that bloggers are pushing things “so far to the left that it will have no chance of capturing the presidency in 2008.”

After credit for the recent primary victory of Ned Lamont over Joseph Lieberman was given to political blogs, it would seem that any lingering questions concerning their effectiveness and potency would be extinguished. But as long as the printing press powerhouses like Time Magazine are around, columnists like Perry Bacon, Jr. will continue to make bold assertions like “The Netroots won’t be kingmakers…If the Democrats win in the fall elections, the roots of that victory will not be on the Net.”

Perhaps Bacon is right, and blogging has already enjoyed its day in the sun. Or maybe this is a final act of desperation from an informational medium in its final throes. It would appear that such a dismissive attitude toward a broad trend is merely a demonstration of denial.

Before the Battle of Bunker Hill, William Prescott famously, courageously (and stupidly) advised his soldiers: “Don’t fire until you see the [color?] whites of their eyes.” If we have learned anything from the Bunker Hill debacle, it would be to address threats before they become overwhelming. By dismissing the efficacy of political blogs, Bacon seems to offer an opinion that is a bit like Prescott’s: courageous – yet almost tragically – too little, too late. —Nathan Rodriguez

Originally posted September 25, 2006 at PolicyByBlog

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