Looking back on the Dean campaign, I was dead wrong about how effective the campaign was at turning online energy into real world results. Despite the number of people willing to go out and do things in the real world, Dean didn’t win. He did raise a whole lot of money, and blogs continue to prove effective as money-raising avenues. However, they do that by getting lots of Internet-savvy people to contribute. Even in fund-raising, nobody bridges the gap between the Internet and normal retail politics.
This matters because — back to Dean — you need good retail politics to win. This may change someday. It has not changed yet.
Until the gap is bridged, blog politics will remain an echo chamber. Sometimes it’ll be a left-wing echo chamber and sometimes it’ll be a right-wing echo chamber, but either way it’s not like anyone’s deciding to change their vote.
Counter-argument: the gap has been bridged already. Trent Lott! But Trent Lott was not taken down by bloggers, he was taken down by journalists who chose to pay attention to bloggers. Atrios did the heavy lifting; the Washington Post used the lever he provided.
This suggests that the whole concept of bloggers as pundits is flawed. Perhaps blogs are more useful as information gatherers. This whole adopt-a-journalist thing (which seems to have petered out) may well miss the effective path; perhaps the energies would be better spent feeding corrections back into the media rather than attempting to rebel against it.
The thing of it is, journalism as a field has spent quite some time establishing a reputation for reliability. A somewhat tattered reputation these days, but still. If you in the general sense want people beyond your immediate circle to believe the things you write simply because you said them or because they agree with them, you need that kind of institutional reputation.
Since there is no transitive principle of reputations — people will not trust the Internet more simply because they trust journalists less — it seems not unlikely that the best way to bridge the gap is to piggyback on the media. Kevin Drum going over to blog for the Washington Monthly is the sort of thing I’m thinking of, although that’s not so much piggybacking as it is being co-opted. What you really want is a major newspaper or TV news show identifying blogs as original sources of valid information.
Of course, this is just speculation and the gap is going to be bridged by complete accident. It’s not like Dean knew he was going to raise record amounts of money on the Internet until the wave hit him.