Published online 20 January 2010.
This is just a short list of what I think the responsibilities of a good political blogger are. I know we fill up the physical world with garbage:
Here I just wish to suggest ways of producing not-garbage in the political blogosphere. Opinions below are merely the product of the author.
(Crossposted at Docudharma)
Cats like me and you
Have got laws
That they adhere to
Laws outside the laws
As laid down
By those we don’t subscribe to
From the song “Revolution,” by The Pretenders
- The first obligation of a political blogger is to be proactive. Let’s look at the dictionary definition of “proactive.” Here’s Merriam-Webster:
acting in anticipation of future problems, needs, or changes
serving to prepare for, intervene in, or control an expected occurrence or situation, esp. a negative or difficult one; anticipatory
So, to be succinct: good political bloggers help their readers deal with the future. Political blogging damn well better be about a proactive stance toward our future, given what our future looks like right now. Global warming? Indefinite deep recession? Entitlements reform? Yikes.
Let me clarify here. Good political blogging does not discuss politics as a mere contest between political personalities. Politics isn’t about Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton or Ralph Nader or Jane Hamsher or whomever. Politics is not about political “horseraces,” either — the mass media have you paying attention to this and that and the other thing according to their wandering eyes, and you duplicate these wandering eyes in the Rec Lists here at Orange. Good political blogging is an ANTIDOTE to the wandering eye and fetishes of the mass media. Our atrophied brains need to know what’s important, not what’s popular.
Oh, sure, it matters just before election day if Candidate A or Candidate B gets elected. But not a whole lot. Not really. Generally speaking, the quantity and shrillness of the hype surrounding elections is in inverse proportion to each voter’s potential ability to change the election results. When the fever pitch is the highest, the election has probably already been decided. If you really want to change the world, work early. Reagan’s victory in 1980 was decided way before 1980.
Moreover, if voters are to look in terms of the triumph of our historic bloc, they have to be able to see the bigger picture. A good political blogger helps her viewers see that bigger picture.
To conclude: a good political blog takes the position that politics is about you and me and our relationship to each other and to the future. Oh, sure, this can be an implied position — especially when good political bloggers are discussing history or the latest economic statistics. We all get something from a good education. But ultimately good political blogging is about not using celebrities to sell us crap. We change the channel when the commercials come on our TV screen.
- Political bloggers should appeal to the rational self-interest of the readership. Briefly: if we’re any good we don’t write merely to cheerlead. Sure, it can be said that unity is often an important goal in politics; but in a certain sense we are here to disrupt simple, stupid unities. In 1914, for instance, Europe was “united” in cheerleading for the idea of “let’s fight a war,” through appeals to national pride and so forth as launched in every country. So then the Germans and the French and the British and the Italians and the Austrians and the Serbians and the Russians and the Ottomans fought what we now call World War I, leading to the loss of millions of lives. There are hundreds of examples like that one.
If you want unity, then, it needs to be behind something good, something which has been critically examined beforehand. And “winning” your debates through the simple employment of bandwagon effects only makes a mockery of rigorous efforts to be ethical and truthful.
Oh, sure, appeals to emotion have their place. Yes, please, let’s get our audiences riled up, bring out the calls for total upheaval, and whatever’s necessary. In fact we need a total upheaval right now, if only to survive abrupt climate change in the next two decades. But, generally, it’s stupid to be heedless. Let’s show that we’ve thought things through before we rouse the rabble. There has to be a critical, rational component here.
- Good political bloggers need to have some sort of respect, necessarily compromised, for the mind-sets, positions, and head-spaces of their audiences, insofar as all these things can be known. Minimally, this means we don’t insult our audiences — generally, it means that we write as if we know their preferences. I am not suggesting that political bloggers should merely cater to their audiences — but rather that political bloggers should attempt to RECOGNIZE the subject-positions of their readers, and to attempt to present something useful to those subject-positions in the spirit of generosity.
This is a principle that I myself have a difficult time following. My main problem with it is that my own writings tend to a high level of abstraction, and I am not always sure when writing if I am going to be understood, or if my readers just simply don’t have time to absorb my message. I need to be reminded now and then to simplify what I say so that it reaches a larger readership.
- Good political bloggers recognize the diversity of opinion which exists in society. We make constructive criticisms of others because we want them to have the benefit of our different ways of thinking. When we all think differently, we expand our collective repertoire of thought.
This “different ways of thinking,” as I’m suggesting it, is not a proposal that we all hold hands and sing “Kumbaya.” In the political blogosphere, respect for difference is not about social harmony. Rather, I am suggesting a guideline for carrying on cooperative debate. Allowing ideas to compete for legitimacy in an open forum, FAIRLY, benefits us all.
- Good political bloggers do more than just knock down straw men. Sure, Glenn Beck sucks. There are, however, plenty of other people out there who are better than Glenn Beck but who are still inadequate to our needs. If you can evaluate them with the appropriate nuance, then you’re a good political blogger.
The competition between ideas is not completed by a competition between junk ideas. The competition between idea occurs when you compare the best possible options.
- Good political bloggers research their conclusions. And by research I mean that they find multiple pieces of evidence to back up what they believe. Don’t just quote one source and imagine that your readers are going to trust you and believe that your source is the final word on your topic.
That’s good for now. My knowledge about good political blogs is limited by the fact that I’m an academic specialist. If you want more practical advice, ask a veteran activist or consult Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. For writing tips, consult George Orwell.