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August 8, 2007

politics and a medium of choice

Kos (Markos Moulitsas Zúniga) gave a very strong speech about what the netroots have accomplished. I wasn't anywhere near the Yearly Kos convention, but the transcript is online here or you can click below to watch.

Kos is modest about his own contribution but argues that creating an online forum allowed thousands of people to become leaders:

It’s a world in which the gatekeepers in the traditional media, political and activist establishments can be easily bypassed. It doesn’t matter whether the elite think we are respectable or not. They have no right to judge us.

It is those leaders – YOU -- who are changing your country. Me? I’m just a guy who built a website. You – the thousands of YOU -- have taken hold of Daily Kos and so many great sites like it to become your own leaders. YOU are running for office. YOU are walking precincts. YOU are making campaign phone calls, talking to neighbors, families, co-workers – YOU are bringing passion back to true progressivism. YOU are building the institutions of our new progressive movement – MoveOn, Democracy for America, ActBlue, TPM Media, SoapBlox ... The culture of entrepreneurship you’ve created will provide the foundation for our future progressive majority.

All of this is true, and good news. I happen to find the discussion on DailyKos a little too tactical and insufficiently focused on visions for America. But there's some good material over there. Besides, it's better for many people to debate and influence political tactics than for tactical decisions to be left to a few professionals.

Still, I think the hand-wringing about the dominance of white men in the blogosphere is not merely PC. Old white men dominate the US Senate because there are major barriers to access and political power is unequally distributed in society. The demographic composition of the Senate reflects those underlying facts. The great question is whether online politics can shift the distribution of political power. To achieve that, we would need more than a few thousand individuals to enter the political debate. We would need a change in the underlying balance of power, which would be reflected in more diverse participants. In other words, diversity is not only a goal; it is evidence of social equity.

But the Internet is a medium of choice. So is TV, in the age of cable. Both reflect a powerful shift toward consumer choice as the central organizing principle of society. Choice is great for the politically active: those with knowledge, confidence, and interest. They have access to countless channels of information and can add their own opinions and ideas. But if you lack a political identity, choice allows you to avoid politics altogether.

In the past, you might sign up for a union because you needed a job. The union had an incentive to give you political confidence, knowledge, and interest, whether you wanted to be political or not. Unions were thus mechanisms for changing the underlying political balance of power, and they had an impact. It's not at all clear to me that the Internet (or the various net-based forms of political organizing) have had comparable effects.

August 8, 2007 1:38 PM | category: Internet and public issues | Comments


Well, in one respect they almost certainly haven't had a similar effect, because while at the peak 35% of workers belonged to a union, and their clout had an impact on workers who were not in unions, the left netroots reach at most 5 or 10 million people a month. In this respect they're about on par with conservative talk radio, maybe a little smaller. On the other hand, they do seem to have had an outsized influence on the political elite, and allowed a larger class of individuals some access to the political elite.

I do think there is an interesting question about who it is that the netroots have caused to get engaged in politics. The studies of the Dean campaign activists suggest there were a lot of boomer ex-hippies. I wonder if there is a similar dynamic with Daily Kos ... how many of the people who are connected to politics through Kos would otherwise not be connected?

I will say that gen Y is on the whole more politically active than gen X was. Whether this is because of specific outlets like Kos or not, or because politics somehow became fashionable, or because the war impacts young people more, I don't think anyone knows.

August 8, 2007 3:28 PM | Comments (1) | posted by Nick Beaudrot

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