April 05, 2004

Roughly a year ago at this time, I wrote the following:

My first reaction to the news that Gary Hart has a blog was "Wow! It's so cool that a possible Presidential candidate can reach voters this way!"

My second reaction was that my first reaction was at least slightly nuts. For all of the boosting that folks like Jeralyn Merritt have given to a Hart 2004 candidacy, I think the fact that he's started blogging is a sure sign he won't run.

Why do I think this? Simple. It's not just that every word that he and his staffers write will be scrutinized by opponents for gotcha material, it's that everything he links to will also be tied to him. I guarantee that at some point someone will read a juicy quote from Hesiod or Atrios or someone like that to Candidate Hart and then ask him in a stern and moralistic tone if he "supports" such a thing, since after all his very own web page links to it. Heck, it wouldn't surprise me if they follow a link from one of those pages and try to tie that to Hart. There are enough dumbass blog-ignorant reporters, anchorpeople, and telepundits out there who wouldn't know or care enough to make any distinctions about that. You can't control anything that goes on outside your own blog's borders, and I think that's too big a liability for a serious candidate for national office. The potential for distraction and Wurlitzer-made scandal is too great. And, not to put too fine a point on it, Gary Hart will have enough of this sort of problem if he runs. He doesn't need to add to it.

Of course, not long after that we all became familiar with Howard Dean and his Blog For America, and now you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a dozen candidates who blog. Not to mention that Democrats in particular have plugged into the blog world with much success for raising funds, generating good publicity, and attracting volunteers. I've been a cheerleader for all of that. So on a certain level, this was a load of hooey.

On another level, sadly, this was dead on. We all know by now about what Kos said, and we all saw the feeding frenzy that followed. John Kerry's blog delinked Kos, several candidates who had BlogAds on his site pulled out, and there was even more bloviation than usual from such pristine guardians of the public morals as Charles Johnson and James Taranto. It would all be funny if it weren't so dreadfully tedious.

I'm not here to defend what Kos said. He's a big boy, and he can take care of himself. I've read his followup, and I accept his explanation. You are free to not accept it, or to think what you will of me for taking his explanation and moving on to other things. This is far from the first time that all of political blogging has gotten caught up in the game of Repudiate This, where one is deemed a prime example of moral rot if one does not condemn/delink/spit on/whatever a fellow partisan who's said or done something wrong. I've engaged in this pointless sport too many times already, and I refuse to do it any more. Every damn day more people than you and I can keep track of say things that are ugly, offensive, indefensible, racist, ignorant, genocidal, or worse - including, I might note, some people who do that sort of thing for a living. We can play this game all day every day, or we can accept the fact that some people really are ugly, offensive, ignorant racists, and some others, like Kos, are good people who've done a stupid thing. I trust that you are as capable as I of making these distinctions as needed for yourselves.

Matt Stoller's writeup on the incident is well worth reading, and it's spawned a tangential thought that I'll address in a subsequent post. I'm sorry to see (though obviously I totally understand) that Atrios feels the need to remove some of his fundraising links and to ask the Kerry campaign to delink him - Digby sums that up pretty well. I do think that by the next Presidential election, the mainstream will have moved to a place where people understand that linking to something is not the same as endorsing all or even most of it, since otherwise we could all accuse each other of being communists. For now, though, we're stuck with what we've got.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 05, 2004 to Election 2004 | TrackBack

The important message in all of this is that individual bloggers speak for themselves and are not (and should not) be arms of the Kerry campaign or anyone else.

Those advertising on a site or linking to it do demonstrate a general sympathy to the site's content but there must be no expectation that every comment or even every position will be compatible with their own.

In a way Iím glad this hysteria happened now. Maybe we can neuter the right and get sorted out the real role of commentators and the politicians supported: the commentators might and likely will put forward opinions contrary to the politicians.

In this I include I hope Air America. I expect individual on air personalities to tell Kerry when they think he is wrong and not be merely be shills for the party like say Fox News.

I do think that by the next Presidential election, the mainstream will have moved to a place where people understand that linking to something is not the same as endorsing all or even most of it, Ö

Frankly Iím not inclined to wait. If we let this go this time the right will twist comments and fake outrage as a tool to disrupt progressive blogs and knee cap the campaigns of democratic candidates. Its time for the left to grow a spine.

Posted by: Boelf on April 5, 2004 10:18 AM

I would never accuse you of being a Communist.
Harry the dog is not above suspicion, however.

Posted by: Laurence Simon on April 5, 2004 12:45 PM

All dogs are Communists, Lair. They believe in free love and free kibble for everyone.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on April 5, 2004 1:21 PM

Kerry's delinking of Kos could have been done silently, and mentioned to the media only if the subject came up. That would have left Kerry in the good graces of bloggers he needs for fundraising and "editorial" support, but inoculated him against charges of linking to sites that say unpleasant things.

But no. Kerry's blogger and/or campaign staff... not Kerry, mind you; I doubt he was in on this decision at all... made a big public ceremony of the delinking. Publicly slamming one of perhaps five people who have done more for the Democratic Party's ability to raise new funds than anyone else in America seems politically insane to me. If I were Kerry, I'd be firing my staff blogger today.

That said, Kos will survive just fine. And he still has his Kerry fundraising link up. I have redirected my Kerry link to Kos for a period of two weeks, and while I won't be giving money to Kerry during that two weeks... other Democratic candidates and org's will benefit instead from my huge donations :) for that short period of time... I do encourage those who think the Kerry blog handled this badly to donate to Kerry through Kos for a while. The campaign needs to be reminded who butters its bread.

And after that... let's put this behind us. Eyes on the prize, y'all!

Posted by: Steve Bates on April 5, 2004 3:14 PM

"...I do think that by the next Presidential election, the mainstream will have moved to a place where people understand that linking to something is not the same as endorsing all or even most of it..."

Sweet persimmons, what makes you think THAT?

Posted by: Frank Wilhoit on April 5, 2004 6:51 PM

Four years is an eternity in Internet time. I think blogs, blogging, and online fundraising will be much more common and mainstream by then, and as such people will be more used to the idea of what linking to some other site means. Do you think that won't be the case?

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on April 5, 2004 6:57 PM

Nice post, Kuff.

Posted by: Beldar on April 7, 2004 7:31 PM