Why The Blogosphere and the Netroots Do Not Like Hillary Clinton
by Chris Bowers, Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 10:21:57 AM EST
Mystery Pollster has been writing up quite a few good articles lately, including Muskie in'70, And Pew Makes Four, and So When Is An Attitude Really An Attitude?. These are all cool posts, but the one I would like to comment upon comes from last week, Hillary, The Blogs, and The Base.
I have placed my discussion in the extended entry. Please check it out. It is long and elliptical, but I really think it is worth a read.
The answer may depend in part on how what we mean by "the base." Are we talking about voters who think of themselves as Democrats? Or are we talking about only those who vote in primaries, who consistently support Democratic candidates or feel "strongly" about their party affiliation? Or are we talking about the yet smaller populations of those who donate to campaigns or who are active as supporters in the grass- or net-roots?I do not know which of these three terms is the proper use of the term "base" in a political context. I do know, however, that the netroots and the blogosphere are best characterized by the third possibility, "the yet smaller populations of those who donate to campaigns or who are active as supporters in the grass- or net-roots." To be as blunt as I can, anyone who does not know this by now really just does not understand political blogging at all (not that I'm accusing Mystery Pollster and David Perlmutter of not knowing this, as I believe they do know this). This is really basic stuff. Bloggers and blog readers are not "the people." When understood as a group, they are not representative of America either in terms of demography or in terms of political engagement.
Political blog readers are the highly engaged avant-garde of American politics. As last year's Blogads survey showed, their level of engagement in politics is incredibly high. 67% said donated to a political campaign in 2004, compared to 15% nationwide. 72% of blog readers said they signed a petition in 2004, 66% said they contacted an elected official, 44% said they wrote a letter to the editor, and 43% said that they attended a campaign event. Further, among self-identified Democratic Blog readers, these percentages were actually much higher. Other studies of netroots activists, such as the study of Dean activists conducted by Pew, have shown similar, or even greater, levels of political engagement among the netroots.
I write this to try and put to bed, once and for all, two of the major stereotypes about bloggers. First, while many blog utopianists would have you believe otherwise, bloggers are not the people, and the blogosphere is not a spontaneous rise of the political rank and file to challenge to establishment. Blog readers are actually wealthy, highly educated, and highly politically active. That is not the profile of the rank and file of any political party (although it is more the profile of the Republican rank and file than the Democratic rank and file). The already linked demographics of blog readers demonstrate how different they are from the rest of the nation. Also, as David Perlmutter puts it:When we look at actual surveys of bloggers we find that they may be high in number but they tend to come from the higher-education and upper-income portions of the population, which is as true in Kyrgyzstan or Nigeria as it is in the United States. In the U.S., bloggers are overwhelmingly white, and a majority are male. At the same time, this also disproves the other main stereotype about the blogosphere. Although many detractors, from Bill O'Reilly to Gary Trudaeu, would have you think otherwise, blog readers are actually wealthy, highly educated, and highly politically active. To again quote from Perlmutter: But...even if blogs are not vox populi it does not follow that, as blog critics love to taunt, bloggers are the fringe-dwellers, tinfoil-hatters, anti-fluorides and loony Star Trek fans of American political life. To the contrary, while bloggers may not be the people, there is growing evidence that they have an extraordinary and extra-proportional effect on the people--and politics, campaigns and elections, public affairs, policy making, press agendas and coverage, and public opinion. Vocal minorities, we should recall, have in political history changed the world and affected the fate of millions. The audience of the blogosphere is full of political activists, and the blogosphere has emerged as the primary means for progressive to communicate with a large segment of their activist class. That segment is perhaps best understood as the "creative class" segment of the progressive activist class. Got it?
Now I can explain what this all has to do with Hillary Clinton. As obvious as I thought my last point was, it is probably even more obvious by now that Hillary Clinton is, um, not exactly the most popular Democrat within the blogosphere and the netroots. I can offer loads of anecdotal information to support this, but perhaps the most striking evidence is that despite her large lead in national telephone surveys, she polls around fifth or sixth in our presidential preference polls. The real question we face is to figure out why she is not very popular among this large segment of the progressive activist class.
People will offer lots of reasons for this. In the past, I have done so myself. However, when one understands who actually makes up the blogosphere, a rarely, if ever, discussed reason comes to the fore. Within the progressive activist universe, there is also a very real class stratification. While the blogosphere and the netroots may not be "the people" within America or the Democratic party as a whole, within the world of progressive activists, they are definitely "the people,""the masses,""the rank and file," and any other populist term you want to throw out there. I believe the main mark against Hillary Clinton within the blogs and the netroots is the degree to which she is perceived as the uber-representative of the upper, aristocratic classes of the progressive activist world.
Really consider this idea. As an example, think about the way it realtes to fundraising. The main division in American political fundraising is not between large donors and small donors, but between people who donate the political campaigns and people who do not. When it comes to politics, big donors and small donors are similar in almost every way except that one group is wealthier than the other. Both small donors and wealthy donors are activists, and both highly politically engaged. However, those who donate to political campaigns are very different than those who do not, in that their levels of political engagement differ widely. "The people" do not donate to political campaigns, only activists do. However, within the world of donors, "the people" are the small donors. Small donors are the working and middle classes in the world of progressive activists, and hold much of the same class-based animosity against wealthy donors that the working and middle classes of America hold against "big business" plutocrats. Within the world of progressive activists, Hillary Clinton is seen as hopelessly on the side of the big donors, and against the small donors.
And this applies to more areas than just fundraising. Within the world of progressive activists, from the viewpoint of the working and middle class progressive activists, Hillary Clinton is seen as hopelessly aligned with the establishment activists, with the insider activists, with the wealthy activists, with the well-connected activists, and with every possible progressive activist "elite" you can possibly imagine. Is it thus in any way surprising that the activist base, which is largely on the outside looking in, generally does not harbor much positive feeling toward her? The progressive activist base considers the progressive activist elite to be the main culprit in progressives losing power around the country. We keep losing, and we blame them. Thus, why should it be a surprise to anyone that we dislike the person who is viewed as their primary representative? We literally hold her, and what she represents within the world of progressive activism, to be responsible for the massive progressive backslide that has taken place over the past twelve years.
This also present significant insight into what the progressive activist base does like. First and foremost, we like progressive who challenge the activist elite and who do not seem to be of the activist elite. Just look at Howard Dean's 2003 speech at the California Democratic convention, which was a major turning point online in the 2003-2004 primaries, and remains a seminal moment in the history of the netroots. The entire beginning of the speech takes direct aim at the Democratic activist elite, and appeals for support directly from the progressive activist base.
Now, look at progressive netroots preference for 2008 once again. The entire top tier--Senator Feingold, General Clark, Governor Warner and Senator Edwards--is filled with candidates who are perceived as coming from outside the progressive activist elite, or who regularly challenge that elite. These are candidates who are perceived by the activist base as for the activist base, rather than for the activist elite. Senator Feingold, who is viewed as perhaps the ultimate progressive maverick, is now comfortably leading these polls.
I believe that Hillary Clinton is disliked by a large segment of the progressive activist base primarily because she is perceived by the activist base as standing with the progressive activist elite. In 2008, I believe the Democratic candidate who will do best among the netroots will be the candidate who does the best job of overtly distancing themselves from the progressive activist elite while still representing him or herself as standing with the progressive activist base. In retrospect, this is pretty much exactly how the Dean campaign was able to portray itself, and portray Howard Dean, to the activist base in 2003. I intentionally list the Dean campaign and Howard Dean as two separate entities, because for any Presidential campaign to succeed among the netroots next cycle, it needs to portray not only its candidate, but itself as representative of the progressive activist base.
Figuring out exactly how a campaign does this will not be easy. In order for any campaign to pull it off, they will need to draw upon staffers and consultants from within the netroots itself. It is simply not possible to use institutional staffers and well-heeled consultants to pull this off, and not just because I don't believe such staffers and consultants would understand the nature of the beast with which they are dealing. The main problem is that the use of institutional staffers and well-heeled consultants are one of the primary complaints the progressive activist base has against the progressive elite, and no matter how brilliant those people may or may not be, they will usually be considered part of the problem on an a priori level.
I really think I am on to something here, and I would like to hear your thoughts on this matter. Is there really a class divide within the world of progressive activists, and could it be the primary source of not only blogosphere dislike of Hillary Clinton, but of our friction with nearly the entire Democratic establishment? Let me know.