Criticizing Democrats and Preaching to The Choir

One of the most frequent complaints I receive from commenters is that I spend more time criticizing Democrats than Republicans. This complaint is an interesting counterpoint to an oft-voiced complaint about the blogosphere by our deriders: namely that we are an echo chamber and / or that we preach to the choir. While I will not presume to speak for other blogs, when it comes to MyDD, I actually feel that both complaints are off target.

The focus of MyDD is on elections, campaigns, and political infrastructure. As such, we are not an all-purpose news and current events resource that comments on whatever the latest big story is. I am actually regularly amazed at how people complain that MyDD has not posted on a subject that has basically nothing at all to do with our primary focus, but I have complained about that before. This is why we will focus on political advertising much more than we will focus on Iran, why we talk more about polls than we talk about health care proposals, and why we focus on lobbyist infrastructure than on what Paul Krugman recently wrote. If you are looking for regular commentary and analysis on the news of the day, there are dozens of blogs better suited to your desires than MyDD. Either TPM Café or the diaries at Dailykos might be your best bets. All good bloggers focus on areas of expertise, and as non-policy based political professionals, we focus on our areas.

It is important to keep the focus on MyDD in mind when complaining that we criticize Democrats too much, or that we are preaching to the choir. We are, instead, concerned, progressive, political professionals who are trying to help improve the functionality of Democrats and progressives when it comes to elections, campaigns, and political infrastructure. Given our goals, of course we are going to criticize Democrats more than Republicans, because we don't want to see Republican or conservative political infrastructure improve. We do want to see Democratic and progressive political infrastructure improve, so naturally we are going to spend a lot more time looking into what ways we feel it can improve. I also certainly do not think that this means we are preaching to the choir, because how Democratic and progressive infrastructure can be improved is both a hotly debated topic within Democratic and progressive circles, as well as a wide-ranging, ongoing, collaborative research project.

Despite their seeming divergence, both of the common criticisms of MyDD in particular, and blogs in general, that I mentioned above are actually similar. Both criticisms, seem to me to assume that all blogs serve exactly the same function as established news outlets. In this view, people turn to blogs for the same reason that they turn to any other media outlet: to hear the news of the day, and to receive commentary on that news from an at least somewhat diverse range of political perspectives (far-right and center-right, usually). Viewing blogs in this manner is useless, because it ignores the important ways that we are different from established media outlets, as well as what we are good at and what we are not good at. Here are what blogs can do well:Blogs and the netroots are able to influence low-information and moderate information voters indirectly through these means but, generally speaking, if you want to reach a large number of relatively disengaged people fast, don't go through blogs. That is what the established media is for. If blogs served the same purpose, then I could see the complaints that blogs spend too much time preaching to the choir, and / or the complaints that progressive blogs spend too much time criticizing Democrats. However, that is not out purpose, and endlessly targeting swing voters is not the end all, be all of politics anyway. Before people lodge complaints against blogs, they should keep in mind what blogs in general, or any given blog, is trying to actually accomplish. To view us through any other lens is both unfair and inaccurate.

Tags: Blogosphere, Media, meta, netroots (all tags)

Comments

13 Comments

Re: Media

My only issue with the current emphasis is that non-professionals are attempting to pass themselves off as professionals on media criticism. This is profession of it's own and MyDD would do well to recruit one or two from the existing blogs that follow media, written and broadcast, to fill out their media critics.

Having been, a million years ago, a film and TV major when that was nearly unheard of I am very sensitive to people not understanding what the purpose of a piece may be....even if it doesn't fit the Critics or the audience here at MyDD, policy AGENDA.

Admittedly, most political advertising is boring. My personal hero is Bill Hillsman. While I disagree with him politically, I love his ability to create media that in itself creates FREE media and talk around the 'watercooler'.

If you are going to be Media critics...bring some trained Critics in that do NOT have a built in policy agenda.

by BigDog 2006-09-05 09:18AM | 0 recs
Re: Media

As someone who is now shifting to media as my career- I find your comment complicated. Here's where I agree- one needs to understand media to see what goals are involved, but here's what's also true- there is no one out there unless they are living in a cave who doesn't know the common language that the media uses and can therefore understanding meaning. In fact, I would argue if meaning is lost on people then the media isn't doing its job, not the other way around as some of you have asserted such as when someone says "this ad doesn't work."  Some of you have retorted well this is a combo of ads, and this is the first installment. Which really makes me question how much you understand the modern mindset if you think peo are going to give you multiple chances in a crowded market for ideas to explain yourself over multiple ads rather than getting t he maximum bang from the first ad on.

by bruh21 2006-09-05 10:46AM | 0 recs
Re: Media

ps by the way- the some of you was not referring to you specifically but those who have criticized stoller and bowers in other diaries regarding poorly executed ads

by bruh21 2006-09-05 10:49AM | 0 recs
Re: Criticizing Democrats and Preaching to The Cho

That is what the established media is for.

Gotta disagree with this, that is what cavassing for.

by Alice Marshall 2006-09-05 09:20AM | 0 recs
big difference

Also, criticizing Democrats on a blog read almost exclusively by Democrats is very different from criticizing Democrats in the mainstream media, like some Senators from Connecticut are wont to do.

by Fran for Dean 2006-09-05 09:27AM | 0 recs
Re: Criticizing Democrats and Preaching to The Cho

Very interesting. I chose MyDD (and DailyKos, though MyDD has for the most part proven more fertile for discussion) as the place to post my series, in part because MyDD is one of the "big ones" and has an open system, but also because it is explicitly about "political infrastructure." Still, I always felt like the subject (of canvass fundraising) was maybe a little off the mark -- PIRG/Fund/GCI is political infrastructure, I think, but not the kind that people here often think about as such.

On the other hand, I think that this issue could be pushed along by blogs toward all four of the objectives that are listed in Chris's post.

So my question right now is (perhaps slightly off-topic): can anyone think of other blogs that are even more appropriate than MyDD for the subject of GCI/DNC/MoveOn/DCCC's fundraising and GOTV operations?

by greg bloom 2006-09-05 09:48AM | 0 recs
Criticizing and Preaching

Like it or not, this place is not part of a closed loop. The audience is not just those who are concerned with and/or supportive of the agenda of this site. There are those with other axes to grind and in opposition to the philosophical reason(s) for the existence of this very place who will use whatever transpires here as they see fit. Once anything is posted here all control of purpose, meaning and context is potentially lost - if those in opposition can use it, they will.

On the old Dean for America Forum (was it late 2003, or early 2004?) I recall a thread which expressed some pragmatic criticism of one thing or another in the Dean campaign which was picked up by the traditional media (they had a stringer monitoring the site) which was later characterized in that particular weekly "news" magazine as "Dean supporter's express doubt".

Subsequently there was a huge Forum thread on the subject in which the supporters who were quoted by the "news" entity tried, in vain, to get the "news" entity to issue a correction (or, to even notice).

We're not functioning in a vacuum here - it's important to remember that the whole political world is watching, and they'll use whatever they can for their own agendas.

by Michael Bersin 2006-09-05 09:56AM | 0 recs
Crikey

You aren't covering the death of the Crocodile Hunter and I hate you for that.

Seriously, as an ex-political hacktivist (I hesitate to use the word professional as my pay scale was pretty darn low) this is a great site for those who want to understand political strategery and such. During the CT primary it was especially interesting.

As for media/advertising criticism, everyone's a critic in campaigns anyway, so in the brave new era of blogging might as well let it all hang out in the hopes of improving Democratic candidate efforts. But I have to agree with the commenter above that most political advertising is painfully boring. Don't know how you can stand to watch all those commercials (espresso?)

by jondevore 2006-09-05 09:58AM | 0 recs
Re: Criticizing Democrats and Preaching to The Cho

I recently made a comment that your diary on the Tammy Duckworth had about, wow, 176 comments, while a story on Medicare D and the McClellan resignation had 3.  

Now.  Looking at this through the eyes of your current story, it seems that I was wrong.  The Duckworth post was more central to the theme of MyDD that you are trying to sell, "The focus of MyDD is on elections, campaigns, and political infrastructure".  

I can live with that.  We have a lot of work to do before we perfect messaging like the Republicans.  There are other places to go for updates on Republican hiring and firing, although Jonathan did make some electionish comments on that post.

Nevertheless, we should not, for one second, overlook the fact that the Bush administration crafted a terrible program that benefits huge pharmaceutical companies more than seniors in dire need of prescription drugs and poorly implemented the program, making it more difficult for seniors to get the coverage. And given this abysmal record, did President Bush or the Republcian Congress hold McClellan or others responsible for the poorly designed and implemented program accountable? Not whatsoever. No, they just let McClellan move on to a well-paying position at a conservative think tank.

by Robert P 2006-09-05 10:10AM | 0 recs
the Eeyore Factor

I actually think that there could be a little more done on blogs to amplify or highlight and help frame what Democrats are doing and saying right instead of always finding the thing to critique. We can be a dour and cynical bunch at times...a bunch of friggin' Eeyores... I think a lot of the critiques here at myDD in particular are quite valuable and well thought out, although not always as much as I would like.... In many DKOS diaries people tend to flame out, lash out at Dems without fact checking or context checking at all, without some basic googling, and I think that's pretty harmful, if understandable.....I just think that on DKOS and on blogs in general, there could be many more efforts to contextualize and highlight even incremental good. We are, after all, interested in encouraging good action and positive outcomes for Democrats, aren't we? Dems do have the decks stacked against them in the media for getting their story out when they do do things good, try to get a good message out. I think we should consider that part of the netroots mission.

by buffalo girl 2006-09-05 10:54AM | 0 recs
Re: Criticizing Democrats and Preaching

The Democrats deserve criticism. They need it. What will they do it with it ultimately?

The Democrats continue to have no SIMPLE message. The Democrats continue to have no marketing strategy. The Democrats continue to execute poorly.

This will be another disappointing election cycle. Will it be what it takes to create a new, thoughtful, strategic, marketing-focused Democratic party? We'll see.

What's the answer long term?
Get all of the young collage-aged Democrats out of Political Science programs. Out of all Liberal Arts endeavors. Out of all ART endeavors.

Get them into some good strategic marketing and business programs. Let's remember how we are getting beat: product and marketing ... strategy and execution.

Product = simple, emotional messages that resonate.
Marketing = good execution of basic tactics.

Let's remember how Rove got the Republicans here. No he is NOT a brilliant man. Yes, he has a knack for understanding the product-side of this equation, and he works it very well. But more importantly, he has leveraged BASIC marketing tactics (such as direct mail, viral marketing via churches, etc) to hammer the simple messages. Because the messages are simple - they get through the clutter. Because they are emotional - they resonate.

Becuase they execute well - Democrats lose lose.

Keep up the criticism, please.....

Patrick Thompson
Hightstown NJ

by Patrick Thompson 2006-09-05 11:04AM | 0 recs
Right on -- see also the comments re media experts

The money part for me is this:[quote]Here are what blogs can do well:

   * Put pressure on the media and help alter conventional wisdom narratives.
    * Agitate the politically engaged into higher levels of political activism.
    * Change minds on a variety of topics over the long-term in the absence of media attention.
    * Fill the void on specialized topics in the face of total market failure from established news organizations.[/quote]

We have a blog about to debut, scoop powered, that has front pagers who are the leading experts in political debate. The blog will "fill the void" on coverage of candidate debates and "put pressure on the media . . . conventional wisdom narratives."

I love scoop because "experts" can lead, but the meritocracy also discovers and promotes hitherto unrecognized expertise.

Chris, each blog will get a set of "frequent complaints." People want one-stop shopping and forget that if they wanted an information source that was all things to all people, they would be reading USA TODAY (your sports coverage sucks, btw).

I imagine our blog will be criticized because it is not partisan enough. But that's the price we'll pay for expertise and media attention to our niche. (My belief is that the high quality argument is a progressive force so I am not too concerned).

by demondeac 2006-09-05 11:20AM | 0 recs
MyDD has superior emphasis

The MyDD emphasis on elections and campaigns is much appreciated. Yesterday was a perfect example, the lack of Steve Irwin focus, as someone mentioned earlier. Frankly, it was disgraceful on other liberal blogs, virtually cheering about his fate. I kid you not. Many people on DU mentioned they were going to leave that site and disgusted by their fellow Democrats for the comments regarding his lifestyle and death.

Patrick Thompson's comment was excellent, IMO. I talk to apolotical people all the time, in casino sportsbooks, outside movie theaters, at 7-11, you name it. When I ask them what Democrats stand for, and that's a quick question I use frequently, there is inevitably a blank stare for several seconds. Then they either say they don't know, or "they hate Bush" or "higher taxes." Seriously, there's almost nothing else, and if we ignore that we earn the disappointing election results. You've got to put something simple and effective into the public vocabulary, even if it has no weight in day to day politics.

This year voting against will allow us to win, but no chance it reaches the victory numbers that a high Democratic favorability level would allow. And it's why I get so furious when people want nothing but tunnelvision assault on Iraq. That is not a foundation. The GOP benefits from negativity to fire up the angry white males they depend upon. Our fate is based on white women and they are not impressed or swayed by relentless negativity.

I completely disagree that only media experts can understand or handicap these commercials. That reminds me of when I moved to Las Vegas in the '80s and some old timers were stuffily announcing what the most vital sports statistics were, and dismissing anyone who disagreed. The problem was they were relying on very old conventional wisdom that hadn't been checked for years if not decades, and they were completely ignorant of the new ideas in the field. Once some of the younger guys got on the radio shows and detailed the new findings, the old guard shut up and fled. Their themes would be laughed out of the city if mentioned today.

by jagakid 2006-09-05 02:12PM | 0 recs

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