The Left and the Blathersphere

Alexander Cockburn weighs in on recent “progressive” Democratic conferences and their blog counterparts who did an admirable job of ignoring the war as well as any even vaguely hot button issues.

In political terms the blogosphere is like white noise, insistent and meaningless, like the wash of Pacific surf I can hear most days. But MoveOn.Org and Daily Kos have been hailed as the emergent form of modern politics, the target of excited articles in the New York Review of Books.

Beyond raising money swiftly handed over to the gratified veterans of the election industry both MoveOn and Daily Kos have had zero political effect, except as a demobilizing force.

Precisely, they are fundraising tools for the Democratic Party. Their actual political impact has been negligible, except to fundraise and support the very same Democratic establishment they claim they want to reform. Worse, they sap energy from genuinely progressive causes into the sink hole that is D.C. Democratic politics. Shall I back Wesley Clark or Hillary Clinton? Now there’s a real choice.

At the Kos convention if we are to believe â┚¬â€œ which I do â┚¬â€œ the hilarious reports by Michael J. Smith on our CounterPunch site â┚¬â€œ the ugly matter of the war in Iraq was scarcely raised, as the Kosniks reserved the surge of their passion forâ┚¬Â¦ Joe Wilson, husband of Valerie Plame.

He says, and I agree, what’s wrong with a CIA agent being outed? This being the same CIA that sends prisoners to Third World countries to be tortured, yet the ‘progressive’ conventions managed to avoid the subject almost completely. Goodness, we don’t want to be upsetting our donor base with all that icky talk about torture.

Cockburn goes on to ponder why such ‘progressives’ spend inordinate amounts of time focusing on Karl Rove and Dick Cheney, incompetents at best, rather than mobilizing against the war, an issue that has genuine traction with the public.

He then rips Truthout a new one, documenting their mind-numbingly stupid insistence that Rove would be indicted, longer after actual facts showed it wasn’t going to happen.

Welcome to blog world. They’re loonies, beyond any sanction or reproof by reality. These people are going to stop a war, change the direction of our politics? They make Barbra Streisand sound like Che Guevara.

But I must protest here. Lots of leftie websites aren’t this dimwitted!

But the larger point is that too many allegedly progressive groups exist solely in cyberspace. They have little grounding in the real-life world of organizing, of building coalitions, of being in the rough-and-tumble of politics as it truly exists. They fantasize it can all be done via the Net. It can’t. The Net is an auxilary tool, the real work is done in the streets. That’s how you build a political organization.

Which is why netroots and the rest of them are ineffective and will fade away. They exist only in the bitstream, in a self-referential bubble, unaware of how they are being gamed by real world pols, with no real plan, strategy, or tactics. It’s like the Children’s Crusade, “our cause is pure, so we must triumph” so they marched against the enemy – and were decimated. A righteous cause is certainly a good thing, but reality needs a seat at the table too. Several seats, actually.



  1. Bob,

    Great post, and thanks for the link. That’s pretty good company. You nailed it on the head–as you have before–the web is just a tool, not the end all of activism. You’ve probably seen this lame march on global warming via the net. It’s a ‘virtual march’ around the country, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I think I managed to get about five people to sign up to the stupid thing. Five people! And all they had to do was click their mouse button a few times. As you know, it’s not easy getting people into gear.

    Blogging does have it’s place, but it’s good to keep it in perspective. That’s why posts like this are so important.


  2. Bob,

    yeah this is an interesting observation but I guess it begs a larger question: what is the role and what is the tactics that the ‘hard’ left should pursue in cyberspace?

    Coming from a format resting on Lenin’s perspective of an ‘all Russia newspaper’ and leafleting, forusm and the like,the socialist groups have made a jump to cyberspace but then I think a lot of opportunities are squandered there. Green Left Weekly here is the most popular political web site in the country with significant international rankings but I reckon a lot of this Web 2.0 stuff offers a platform to do more, to experiment a bit and consolidate some highly potent ways to deliver content.

    The problem partly is that a newspaper per se is a group project — it’s a collective exercise — while a lot of the web interfaces can be simply individual activities. Blogging is a prime example — although group blogs exist.

    My problem is that I’m trying to get some sort of perspective in my head to pilot by.. Because political activism is so much focused at running hard in the real world it’s difficult for these same activists to muse about the passive universe of the web. And it is passive despite any amount of interactivity.

    But I kinda think there’s a lot on offer that can greatly enhance the collective activism and democracy of what we do –or try to do.

    So I wondered if — in your blog — you had a sort of perspective with notation you could share with us?

    I also posted your post here —

  3. I must have missed something. What effective political organization in America got its influence in the streets?

  4. […] Dave Riley, long-time organizer in Australia comments on my recent post, The Left and the Blathersphere. Yeah, this is an interesting observation but I guess it begs a larger question: what is the role and what is the tactics that the ‘hard’ left should pursue in cyberspace? […]

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