Mo’ better boots

Yesterday, I had the honor of speaking at the monthly luncheon of the Federalist Society’s Washington, D.C. chapter. I’ve been attending these luncheons off-and-on for almost a decade. The speakers almost always are either outstanding legal minds or high-level officeholders. Occasionally they are both. Yesterday’s speaker was neither, but the speech seemed to be well-received.

Usually, the highlight of the luncheon (not counting the Kung Pao Chicken) comes when the chapter president Doug Cox makes his opening remarks. Like his predecessor as president, Ted Olson, Doug delivers witty and incisive commentary that in many ways resembles blogging at its best. Yesterday, Doug’s comments included a tribute to Power Line that managed to be both moving and uproarious. It would have given me goose bumps had I not been laughing so much.

My speech included a discussion of the role of blogs in the judicial confirmation process. I tried to highlight two blogging developments that have affected the recent confirmation struggles. The first is the rise of the specialty blog. Unlike Power Line, Instapundit, and Captain’s Quarters, for example, these blogs are devoted to a narrow range of subjects about which the author has a high degree of expertise. Blogs like NRO’s Bench Memos and ConfirmThem play this role in the confirmation wars. They enable legal super-stars like Ed Whelan to shoot down bad arguments against nominees within hours. During the Roberts process, the MSM did a great job of finding primary documents, such as the memos Roberts wrote as a young Justice Department lawyer. But when it came to analyzing these memos and making arguments about them, specialty bloggers ran circles around even the best MSM legal affairs reporters. And when liberals tried to make more out of the memos than was reasonable (for example, trying to argue that Roberts’ opposition to the doctrine of “comparable worth” demonstrated that he was against equal treatment of women), bloggers shot down their arguments almost instantly. Thus, unlike with Judge Bork, bad arguments never got any traction.

The other key development is the blurring of the distinction between the blogger and the traditional political commentator. As John has pointed out, the Harriet Miers confirmation struggle was conducted largely on the internet, but the key players who brought about the demise of that nomination were not traditional bloggers. Rather they were print media types like David Frum and others associated with the National Review. Had they been confined to writing in the hard copy versions of the National Review or the Weekly Standard, they probably would not have been able to reach their audience frequently enough to have made a difference. But the internet left them unconstrained, and thus able to produce the steady drumbeat that helped sink Miers.

The MSM’s power is at its greatest when it has boots on the ground and bloggers don’t. Hurricane Katrina demonstrated this. When bloggers have boots on the ground, we tend to win. And bloggers are getting boots on more and more ground all the time.


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