Hacks Vs. Wonks, and Authenticity Vs. Propoganda
by Chris Bowers, Tue May 01, 2007 at 11:27:40 AM EDT
The netroots are a subset of the liberal blogs, constituting those blogs that are directly involved in political activism, often urging their readers to volunteer for, or donate money to, Democratic candidatesActually, the progressive blogosphere is a subset of the progressive netroots, as our polling has previously shown. For example, the article never mentions MoveOn.org, which is undeniably the largest progressive netroots organization of all. However, only 36% of MoveOn.org members read progressive blogs "regularly" or "sometimes."
Secondly, I think Chait fundamentally misunderstands both the way many prominent progressive bloggers approach the world of "political ideas," and the means by which we are held accountable for our writing. From a point late in the piece:
Before it announced the decision, however, Marcotte and McEwan's allies lobbied heavily on their behalf. The liberal online magazine Salon reported the firings, but the Edwards camp hunkered down and refused to release a public statement while it decided on a course of action, then denied the firings to Salon the following day. Liberal bloggers in close contact with the campaign remained resolutely cryptic about what they knew. "The bloggers closed ranks around the Edwards campaign, some even claiming that Salon had gotten the story wrong," Salon's Joan Walsh later reported. To Walsh and other journalists, the relevant metric is true versus untrue. To an activist, the relevant metric is politically helpful versus politically unhelpful.First, as the blogger who reported that Salon was wrong in reporting that Marcotte and McEwan were fired, I was not being untruthful. As I told the Salon reporter the next week, I simply had different information. Just like many journalists, I have contacts inside the Edwards campaign too, and when I reported that Marcotte and McEwan has not been fired I was reporting what I heard from those contacts. It turned out the next morning that I was right, because they were not fired. There appears simply to have been disagreement in the Edwards camp at the time, and Salon and MyDD were apparently drawing our information from different sources. I wasn't hiding anything. I wasn't being being untruthful. I was simply reporting, and it turned out that I got the story right. It is pretty damn irritating that Chait would accuse oe me of lying about the story without even asking me, or even considering the possibility that I have reliable contacts inside the Edwards campaign.
There is a term for this sort of political discourse: propaganda. The word has a bad odor, but it is not necessarily a bad thing. Propaganda is often true, and it can be deployed on behalf of a worthy cause (say, the fight against Nazism in World War II). Still, propaganda should not be confused with intellectual inquiry. Propagandists do not follow their logic wherever it may lead them; they are not interested in originality. Propaganda is an attempt to marshal arguments in order to create a specific real-world result--to win a political war.(...)
Conservatives have crowed for years that they have "won the war of ideas." More often than not, such boasts include a citation of Richard Weaver's famous dictum, "Ideas have consequences." A war of ideas, though, is not an intellectual process; it is a political process. As my colleague Leon Wieseltier has written, "[I]f you are chiefly interested in the consequences, then you are not chiefly interested in the ideas." The netroots, like most of the conservative movement, is interested in the consequences, not the ideas. The battle is being joined at last.
Secondly, while Chait is correct that the activist blogosphere is generally focused on achieving politically positive results, he seems to miss the fact that that in order to achieve politically positive results, it is necessary to engage in political strategy that is based on solid ideas. In other words, the activist blogosphere has long been concerned with improving the political tactics and strategies of Democrats and progressives, and we won't be very effective at that if we intentionally float misinformed ideas on political tactics and strategy. Misinformed, poorly researched, and ill-conceived strategy is not helpful in creating positive political outcomes. We need solid tactics based on solid research and analysis in order to succeed in politics. In that sense, we in the activist blogosphere are very concerned with ideas, logic and truth, but we are more focused on ideas, logical conclusions, and truth as they relate to improving political strategy rather than with debating policy specifics. That isn't propaganda--it is simply a difference between hacks and wonks.
Third, by referring to our efforts as "propaganda," Chait also implies that progressive bloggers often intentionally write false misinformation in order to achieve a political end. This is simply hogwash. Bloggers, including political bloggers, live and die on the perceived authenticity, transparency, and credibility of their voices. Certainly, progressive bloggers are incorrect at times, just as everyone is incorrect at times, but I don't know any progressive bloggers who intentionally spread false information. If anyone was thought to be doing so on a wide scale s/he would suffer massive hits to their traffic and incoming links. Honesty and authenticity are crucial to the success of progressives bloggers. Just because we are wrong sometimes does not mean we are engaging in propaganda--it just means we are wrong.
Overall, Chait's standard for what counts as propaganda is absurdly broad. Basically, he seems to imply that anyone who is interested in making any impact on politics is engaging in propaganda, because that person is no longer engaging in a purely disinterested pursuit of ideas. It makes me wonder how Chait would classify his 2003-2004 Dean-O-Phobe series. Was that propaganda, or was it the pursuit of ideas?