Thursday, April 9. 2009
Alex Koppelman: Liberal blogs vs. the Obama administration. Title isn't real accurate here: it's more like the Obama administration vs. the liberal blogs. I suppose it's natural that the Democratic Party establishment would have looked at liberal (maybe even leftist) blogs during the Bush era as useful propaganda instruments, and that now that the Democrats are in power they still do -- and so they'd like to impose a little partisan discipline, like the Republicans did so effectively (and are still doing in a very disciplined way today, albeit with diminishing credibility). Part of the problem is that liberals, leftists, and free thinkers in general, tend to be contrary -- indeed have become accustomed to as much given the rightward political drift of the last 30-60 years -- but also it's often hard to reconcile the principles that got us here with the triangulations of the Obama administration. I could give you a dozen quick examples that bug me -- e.g., the new defense budget is significantly up (contrary to what Republicans are saying) and it's up specifically in areas which make the US military more likely to engage in operations around the globe, as opposed to pure waste like the F-22 program. On the other hand, there is usually some nuance to Obama's moves, often something that's merely suggested but not publicly committed to -- e.g., Obama on Israel is thus far terrible, but he's put some serious and practical people on the case, rather than surrendering the issue to someone like Dennis Ross (let alone Elliott Abrams).
But Republicans have always had an advantage with their bloggers and propagandists: they've kept them on the payroll. A big part of what this piece cites also has to do with money:
Obviously, their problem isn't my problem, but the problem is a general one. I haven't tried to make a living off this blog, but some good people do, and their efforts need to be supported somehow. Philip Weiss makes a big point of this, and he proved to be the single most useful resource anywhere on the recent Gaza atrocity. The demise of Cursor.org has made it much more difficult to find out what's going on. I sure wish Billmon could afford to quit his day job and return to the Whiskey Bar full time. Of course, the problem is structural: the right can always depend on special interest groups because they see nothing wrong with doing their bidding. The left tries to balance off against established power, to check the excesses of special interests, and to promote the general welfare. While in theory virtually everyone stands to benefit from the left's efforts, in practice few people feel enough of a stake to finance those efforts, and many who wish they could just don't have the cash -- or given the extent to which established organizations dominate political life, see the left as a good, practical investment.
The plight of the liberal/left blogs is an example of a more general trend. A bigger example is the ongoing collapse of the newspaper industry. We live in this bizarre system where we've come to expect unbiased information about the world to be paid for by advertising -- the most blatant form of bias ever -- and responsibly managed by rich establishment corporations. That it has ever worked at all is a tribute to the fact that even the rich and powerful needed accurate information, but the mismatch between what people want from a newspaper and what sponsors are willing to pay for has gnawed away at the moral foundation of newspapers practically forever. When they die now it becomes obvious that we're not losing much -- mostly because we've gradually lost it.
There is an obvious way out of this, which is to provide public support for organizations to provide free information to the public. We're a long ways from the consensus to make this happen: such a system would have to be policy-neutral, which is contrary to every established interest, including whatever political part is in power at the moment; it would hasten the destruction of existing media, at least those based on advertising business models; it would alter the balance of power, e.g. between consumers and vendors. But this is the way technology is trending, and free information groups are sprouting up all over -- inadequately funded, to be sure, but the entry costs are so low that anyone can get started for little more than the willingness to put some time into it. Public funding would add to this trend, providing better support and tools and bandwidth, letting people to graduate from part-time to full-time, from amateur to professional status.
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