The relationship between the Democratic Party and the liberal blogosphere has been good lately--maybe not so good that they're ready to move in together, but at least good enough that they've been staying overnight at each other's apartments pretty regularly. Two recent events bear this out.
First is the tanking of Fox News. After documenting the network's ratings slide today in Salon, Eric Boehlert offers this as a reason why:
The problem for Fox News is that it's the Democratic race that's creating most of the excitement, yet Fox News has been forced to mostly watch the race from the sidelines. That's because last winter, after the network tried to smear Obama for purportedly attending a radical Muslim school as a child, liberal bloggers launched an initiative to get Democratic candidates to boycott a debate co-sponsored by Fox News and the Nevada Democratic Party. (The boycott, powered by Foxattacks.com, was later extended to any and all Fox News debates.)
The point of the online crusade was not simply to embarrass Fox News or rattle Nevada Democrats for being out of touch with the grass-roots masses that distrusted and despised Fox News. The point, instead, was to begin chipping away, in a serious, consistent method, at Fox News' reputation. To spell out that Fox News was nothing more than a Republican mouthpiece and that Democrats need not engage with the News Corp. giant.
The lack of Democratic debates for Fox News has meant a huge setback for the news organization from a ratings perspective. Just look at the grand slam CNN hit last week when, on Jan. 21, it broadcast the much-talked-about Democratic debate from South Carolina. The CNN event not only creamed Fox News in the ratings, nearly tripling its audience that night, but the debate set a new cable news mark for the most viewers ever to watch a primary debate.
In other words, the liberal blogosphere asked the Democratic establishment a pretty good question: why confer ratings and legitimacy on a network that is so obviously working against our interests, and whose news programs are not generally watched by people who are going to vote for Democrats anyway?
The second W for the blogs came earlier this week as Senate Republicans and their Democratic allies failed to pass a sweeping new wiretap law that would, among other pernicious things, grant retroactive immunity to the phone companies that violated the law by permitting the government to place broad, all-encompassing wiretaps on its customers without first obtaining a warrant. The fight against this bill has been led in the senate by Chris Dodd and Russ Feingold with the active encouragement of liberal bloggers such as Glenn Greenwald and Jane Hamsher.
Sometimes I wonder who are the leaders and who are the constituents here, and I get frustrated that elected Democrats don't get out in front of issues like Fox's partisanship or telecomm immunity. Why should mere bloggers have to be the engines pulling the Democratic Party forward into battle? But lately I've come to think that this de facto arrangement isn't so bad. It gives citizens like me the powerful sense that our ideas and opinions do matter. It's evidence that the party has started to open source its brain trust. It provides elected Democrats with political cover ("my constituents demanded it!") for taking potentially risky political stands.
The interests of the ideologically-motivated blogosphere and the power-motivated Democratic officials are not the same. There is a risk that we will all turn into a leftish version of Fox News. So I still get uneasy about the idea of cohabitating with the Democratic party--but I guess there's nothing wrong with regular sleepovers. After all, we're friends with benefits.