Aug
01
2006

Sidebar: The Internet Problem

[Note: this piece is a sidebar to Move Over—Over and Over: Media's rightward push for Democrats]

Political reporters looking to identify a new obstacle standing in the way of Democratic electoral success often find it online, where party activists and progressives congregate around liberal blogs and websites. Writing under the headline “Blogs Attack From Left as Democrats Reach for the Center” (1/29/06), Washington Post reporter Jim VandeHei reported that “Democrats are getting an early glimpse of an intraparty rift that could complicate efforts to win back the White House: fiery liberals raising their voices on Web sites and in interest groups vs. elected officials trying to appeal to a much broader audience.”

Los Angeles Times reporter Ron Brownstein (6/11/06) emphasized the concern “among Democratic centrists who fear that the new activists are pressuring the party toward liberal positions that will impede its ability to build a national electoral majority.” Washington Post political reporter Dan Balz (6/11/06) underlined a similar concern, suggesting that the growing influence of such websites raised “questions about whether the often-angry rhetoric and uncompromising positions of the bloggers will drive the party too far left and endanger its chances of winning national elections.”

But the issues identified as being pushed by bloggers and Internet activists that might “complicate” a Democrat’s chances in 2008 were not actually unpopular. A more forceful critique of the Iraq War was one example—a position with majority support, if public opinion polls are any indication. When a CNN poll (6/14-15/06) asked an unusually straightforward question—“Do you favor or oppose the U.S. war with Iraq?”—the response was 54 percent opposed and only 38 percent in favor.

In another piece about the troubling influence of liberal bloggers (4/2/06), New York Times reporter Adam Nagourney wrote that the websites “have proved to be a complicating political influence for Democrats. They have tugged the party consistently to the left, particularly on issues like the war, and have been openly critical of such moderate Democrats as Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut.” In the media’s peculiar political arithmetic, to move toward the majority position is to move to the left, while staking out a minority view is to be “moderate.”

Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl (5/22/06) blamed the Internet for giving a distorted impression of the range of views in the Democratic Party:

Though you’d never know it from surfing the Internet, there exists in the Democratic Party a substantial body of politicians and policymakers who believe the U.S. mission in Iraq must be sustained until it succeeds; who want to intensify American attempts to spread democracy in the greater Middle East; and who think that the Army needs to be expanded to fight a long war against Islamic extremism.

“Don’t be surprised,” Diehl concludes, “if, after all the Internet noise fades away, such ideas are at the center of the next presidential campaign.”

In fact, you can find the kind of Democrats Diehl likes on the Internet—at sites like Bull Moose, for example. It’s just that they tend to be much less popular than the sites of Democratic bloggers who—like the overwhelming majority of Democrats—oppose the war in Iraq.