I picked up Eric Boehlert’s new book, Bloggers on the Bus: How the Internet Changed Politics and the Press, because I wanted to find out how a journalist like Boehlert shows that bloggers have a real-life impact on politics.
I mean, we all know there are who-knows-how-many bloggers out there, posting political opinions, facts, corrections, and errors of their own on the Internet for all to see. But what do they actually achieve, beyond talking to each other? Or should I say, linking to each other? How does their work affect mainstream politics?
That’s the beauty of Bloggers on the Bus. It captures the tactics used by blogging activists, who have writing skills but often minimal political experience, to move a lefty notion out of fantasy land and into the mainstream consciousness.
One way bloggers do this is by using cyber fundraising tools to steer political donations to promising underdog candidates, like unknown Elwyn Tinklenberg, who came inches away from unseating Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachman, a GOP rising star, who stirred the ire of bloggers when she suggested that Obama was anti-American.
The book also explains how a “blogswarm” (many blogs focusing on the same topic) creates a wave of actions by blog readers. For example, bloggers mobilized their minions to inform the Democratic presidential candidates that planned debates on the Fox Network would have given undue legitimacy to Fox as a news source. The Democrats eventually agreed, and the debates were canceled.
Bloggers are probably best at swarming, and influencing the mainstream media in the process, but they also investigate. Liberal bloggers revealed that right wing pastor John Hagee, who had endorsed the Republican nominee, sermonized that God sent Hitler to “hunt” Jews and force them to go to Israel. After a video was uncovered and promoted by a little-known blogger, John Wilson, McCain denounced the pastor…-to the dismay of right wingers.
After reading Bloggers on the Bus, you’ll be able to list substantive political victories that can be attributed fully or mostly to bloggers.
As he explains how these political stories unfolded, Boehlert profiles the bloggers involved, illuminating their all-American brand of hard work and entrepreneurialism. The how-I-became-a-blogger stories (e.g., from art gallery manager to famous lefty blogger) are entertaining and inspiring.
The credibility of Bloggers on the Bus is enhanced by its willingness to air the nasty disagreements among liberal bloggers…-as well show the erroneous information that promulgated by top blogs (e.g., the false claim that Gov. Sarah Palin was not the real mother of her young son).
Boehlert acknowledges that left-leaning bloggers swarm around topics that most voters unfortunately could often care less about. Liberal blogs sink their teeth into wonky issues, like the Bush Administration’s wiretapping or President Obama’s refusal to pursue Bush officials who committed war crimes.
The tendency to fixate on fringe issues makes sense when the bloggers are in pure combat mode against the right wing.
But now their man, Obama, is in power…-even though, as Boehlert reports, Obama has unfortunately distanced himself from bloggers who helped him get elected.
Should these bloggers adjust their tactics to help Obama succeed in the compromised Washington milieu? Or should they continue to slash and burn and demand the President address their off-the-radar-screen screeds?
If you’ve read Bloggers on the Bus, you know moderate voices urging compromise will likely encounter a sea of venom online.
That’s too bad, because bloggers can clearly get things done when they have a focus, which should now be to dig into Obama’s core agenda (health care, the economy, and energy).
If they do this, they’ll be taking advantage of an opportunity for political change unlike any they’ll likely see again in their lifetimes.
If you had any doubt that liberal bloggers are a force to be reckoned with in American politics, Bloggers on the Bus will make you a believer.