Sunday, December 11, 2005

The nature of the conservative blogosphere

A couple of days ago, I mentioned an upcoming piece in the Times by Michael Crowley on the power and influence of the conservative blogosphere.

My initial post, with a link to Atrios, is here. Crowley's (rather short) piece is here.

Here's some of what Crowley has to say: "Liberals use the Web to air ideas and vent grievances with one another, often ripping into Democratic leaders. (Hillary Clinton, for instance, is routinely vilified on liberal Web sites for supporting the Iraq war.) Conservatives, by contrast, skillfully use the Web to provide maximum benefit for their issues and candidates. They are generally less interested in examining every side of every issue and more focused on eliciting strong emotional responses from their supporters."

Well, fair enough, but I think Atrios is right to point out that while the conservative blogosphere is more "effective," the liberal blogosphere is of greater "value".

Michelle Malkin calls Crowley's piece "one of most insipid, shallow, and uninformed wastes of space to grace the NYTimes' pages". She's right that there may be some diversity within the right-wing blogosphere, as evidenced most obviously by the Schiavo and Miers stories earlier this year, but there does seem to be a good deal of uniformity over there, too, and I would venture to suggest that there is far more diversity on the left, among liberals, than on the right, among conservatives.

But the conservative blogosphere is also very much a part of a unified conservative movement that includes multimillionaire donors, media conglomerates, think tanks, newspapers and magazines, academics, lobbying firms, and so on. As a Straussian whose education has been funded by some of the largest conservative philanthropic foundations, I've been privileged to see some of that movement, and how it operates, from within. And here's how I put it in a post on the conservative movement way back in April:

"[W]hat I can say with confidence is that what I know of conservatism -- beyond the ranting and raving and drooling of the O'Reillys, Limbaughs, Hannitys, Coulters, Malkins, etc. (ad nauseam) -- is intellectually diverse and self-reflective... But what conservatives have discovered is that it is possible to maintain diversity of thought behind a unified front... This is how they have been able to translate intellectual diversity and productive debate into political success, as the Republican Party has effectively become the bottleneck for conservative thought in America. Meanwhile, on the other side, liberals have grown smug and self-righteous, and they have not learned to put aside their internecine squabbles for the sake of unity. This is why they often look disorganized, discombobulated, and, at times, simply unelectable."

The conservative blogosphere may indeed be diverse in its own way -- diverse insofar as different elements of conservatism are debated and discussed, if rarely allowed to be challenged by non-conservative thought -- but like other parts of the conservative movement it sets aside such difference for the sake of political unity and the goal of electoral success. Yes, Schiavo and Miers revealed deep fissures in the conservative blogosphere, not to mention in the conservative movement as a whole, but those fissures were quickly paved over in the regrouping that followed those divisive moments. Call it a lack of principle, if you will, but conservatives seem to understand how to win better than liberals do.

This doesn't mean that we should be like them or that I would like to see the liberal blogosphere become the kind of narrow echosphere that is the conservative blogosphere. Like so many other bloggers, I cherish my independence, and the last thing I want is for The Reaction, or any of my favourite liberal blogs, to become relay mechanisms for centralized talking points. What defines us is our difference, our willingness to challenge and be challenged, our ability to discuss ideas without degenerating into propaganda.

However, there is much that we can learn from the right, and we would do well, I think, to support each other in our efforts to defend and promote a multifaceted conception of liberalism that can serve to sustain electoral success for liberals in much the same way that conservatives have benefitted from the movement that underpins them.

(Others commenting on Crowley's piece include Instapundit and, more substantially, MyDD.)

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