Overrated?

This afternoon, I participated on a panel at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) about blogging and politics. The other participants were Joe Trippi, Stuart Rothenberg, and Amy Walter. It was an honor to appear before this group for the first time, and a pleasure to meet some devoted Power Line readers.
I found myself arguing that the influence of blogs is overrated. Ever since 2004, when Trippi used blogs to breathe life into Howard Dean’s campaign, the sense has been that blogs can give rise to successful political insurgencies, notwithstanding Dean’s ultimate and nearly total failure. But this view probably gets the causation wrong — blogs don’t create or drive insurgencies, issues create insurgencies which then drive blogs.
Insurgent presidential campaigns certainly are nothing new. Wendell Wilkie ran one to capture the Republican nomination in 1940. This was before television, never mind blogs. Wilkie’s troops — mostly young Wall Street lawyers and bankers — used the mail and the telephone. In 1968, Eugene McCarthy’s troops consisted mainly of college students (the “clean for Gene” crowd) who went door-to-door, and were instrumental in bringing down Lyndon Johnson. The list of other notable insurgents includes George Wallace and Ross Perot. Wilkie, Wallace, and McCarthy all had an issue — internationalism in the face of Hitler’s rise, race relations, and the Vietnam War. Perot had the widespread dissatisfaction caused by a recession.
Today we have the war in Iraq, and it would be quite surprising if this issue did not produce an insurgency regardless of the available technology. Given the available technology, this particular insurgency tends to manifest itself on the internet. Yet even in 2007, the candidate who thus far has come the longest way in the shortest period of time didn’t accomplish this through the internet. Barack Obama came out of obscurity the old fashioned way — a great speech at a convention, appearances on the cover of major magazines, and the publication and republication of books.
This doesn’t mean that the campaigns should fire their blog coordinators or that candidates should ignore us. In an election, one should assume that everything matters, including blogs. But the ability of bloggers to influence directly the outcome of primary races or the general election is probably minuscule. In the unlikely event that someone who operates on the internet ends up playing an important role in the 2008 outcome, it’s most likely to be because he or she found a key piece of information or captured a key moment on video, not because of his or her endorsement or organizing activity.

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