Blogs and the 2008 Election

My trip to the Blogworld New Media and Expo in Las Vegas was, in the end, something of a disappointment. It appeared to me that there were fewer political bloggers in attendance, while the number of attendees who were more concerned with trying to sell something to bloggers rather than learn or share anything about blogging was greatly increased over last year's inaugural event.

The buzz at the conference was the 2008 election. I was somewhat surprised that there seemed to be very little discussion of the role of blogs in the political process given the strides made by leftwing blogs in organizing themselves into a force that has a voice in Democratic Party politics. Not much discussion either of how conservative blogs have lagged behind in this area and what can be done to change that situation.

I suppose it was unrealistic to expect that the political blogosphere might make some positive contributions to the 2008 election campaign. But judging by the smears and lies that are either created by bloggers or are simply echoed again and again on websites both right and left, along with the painfully shallow emphasis on whatever bloggers can blow up into a "gaffe" by hugely exaggerating some minor misstatement by either candidate, one is left with the sad conclusion that most blogs are contributing absolutely nothing of substance to this election.

While the nation is going through an economic crisis, trying to decide the best course of action in Iraq, and wrestling with serious questions of war, peace, and financial security, blogs as a whole are concerned with either promoting or knocking down the latest smear from their opponents. Or, even worse, trivializing the utterances of both candidates so that the elections seems more about the best way to make the opposition look bad by blowing a statement out of all sensible proportion while, at the same time, accusing the candidate of all manner of hair raising-perfidy.

Perhaps it is time to pause and ask "Is this the best blogs can do?"

Both campaigns send out a steady stream of news releases and emails highlighting these "gaffes" and then sit back and watch as blogs pounce on each incident, posting in real time so that in a few hours the blogospheric echo chamber has made an "issue" of it. Admittedly, some of these gaffes are real and deserve an airing. But there is nothing rational or reasoned about most of these distractions. Both campaigns and both sides of the blogosphere are at fault, so there is little to be gained by trying to point fingers at one side or the other and declare one side is "worse" than the other.

In a time of crisis, the fact that there is so much silliness reveals that the promise that blogs once represented has been shelved in the interest of partisan hackery. (Blogs are  not necessarily responsible for this, but they nevertheless are the engine driving campaigns to play this game.)

Blogs are a unique form of information dissemination and, with their large,politically active readership, could have performed a valuable service to the public by explaining the issues at stake while advancing the cause of their favored candidates.

Some blogs are indeed helpful in this regard. On the center-left, Crooked Timber has good, incisive commentary on the issues featuring a plethora of very smart, very talented writers. Also, Jerlyn Merritt's Talk Left has featured a partisan but reasonable take on the election.