Political Blogs as Political Associations
“The most effective activism is a function of its times and is directly
related to the condition of the contemporary media.”
—Markos Moulitsas, Taking on the System1
It’s mid-July 2010 and over 2,000 progressive political activists are packed into the convention hall of the Rio hotel in Las Vegas, NV. The temperature outside is north of 100 degrees, but no one is particularly interested in stepping outdoors. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has just taken the stage, providing a lunchtime keynote address, to be followed by a moderated question-and-answer session. Reid begins with a wry aside to the assembled audience. “I’m told that I get on your nerves. And I’m here to tell you that you, at times, get on my nerves.” The audience laughs in appreciation, while hundreds of fingers flash in unison across smartphone and laptop keypads, sending the witticism out over Twitter. C-SPAN cameras capture the exchange, along with several other segments of the convention, providing fodder for broadcast and online media pundits in the following week. It’s the fifth annual Netroots Nation convention, and the attendees constitute an increasingly important, but often misunderstood, constituency within the Democratic Party network.
Across town, a parallel “Right Online” convention is under way, featuring half the attendees, fewer high-profile speakers, and far less media attention.2 The progressive netroots poke occasional fun at this geographic mimicry; no one knows why, but conservative bloggers have chosen every year to trail the progressive netroots, setting up their own convention in the same city, on the same weekend. The obvious numeric comparisons, based upon conference size and speaker prominence, are never favorable to the conservatives.3 This year in particular, they serve to emphasize that, even at the height of conservative fervor for the Internet-mediated “Tea Party” movement, the political left still holds a sizeable advantage in the blogosphere.
Reid joins over a dozen Democratic Party officials to grace the stage that weekend—House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also provides a keynote address, as do Senator Al Franken and Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer. President Barack