Yo! Check Out Our Navels!
That headline’s a little more snarky than I intended. If you’ve been paddling through the intertubes, you’ve probably seen mention of Jonathan Chait’s 8,000-word cover story about the progressive blogosphere and the netroots. I’ve read it and think on the whole it’s good, and makes some very perceptive points. It also suffers from some strange delusions and misconceptions, which Matt Yglesias does a good job of taking apart here.
That said, what’s interesting to me is the different reaction this piece is getting, in which it is Topic A on a whole host of blogs, and the reaction to a somewhat similar cover story my colleague Lakshmi Chaudhry wrote for In These Times last year. While Chait’s piece offers an analysis of someone situated just inside the mainstream, beltway, pundit establishment, Lakshmi’s piece was an analysis (and in places a critique) of the netroots from the perspecitve of the activist, progressive left. The piece was exhaustively reported and, I thought, really spot on in picking out some of the vanguardism, cliquishness, and meet-the-new-boss-same-as-the-old-bossism of the emerging netroots. (Qualifier to be distributed throughout this post: generalizations about the netroots can be a fool’s game and it is a remarkably unwieldy phenomenon, so anything anyone says about “the netroots” is going to necessarily incomplete or partially inaccurate.)
It’s not like Lakshmi’s piece was ignored, it certainly sparked some discussion, including a single sentence dismissive swipe by Kos, but it didn’t become the kind of central topic of the liberal blogs in the way Chait’s piece has. And I think the reason is this: Chait’s published was in the The New Republic and Lakshmi’s piece was published in In These Times. On the surface you might think the netroots would be more interested in a critique from one of their own than from a magazine that’s been more or less waging war against them for years. But that’s the opposite of the truth. The strange thing about the netroots, and something that was made very clear to me at YearlyKos, is that the prominent members of the blogosphere have a real deep complex about their relationship to the “mainstream.” Their feelings (again, generalizing) towards the mainstream pundits, TNR, Joe Klein, Tim Russert et al, is similar to the way a pimply, awkward 14-year-old-boy might feel about the hot, mean girl in his class. He judges her harshly, thinks she’s vapid and cruel, and desperately wants her attention.
From the perspective of power politics, I can understand this obsession with the MSM. A publication like TNR, dwindling circulation and all, has influence, and In These Times doesn’t. But that’s something of a self-perpetuating state of affairs now isn’t it? Exactly the sort of cycle of elite self-confirmation that the netroots is best situated to disrupt.
UPDATE: I was remiss in not offering a link where you can subscribe to ITT and support further reporting like Lakshmi’s excellent piece.