The Polarizing Nature of Blogs
I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, technologically gifted. I have no idea how to speak into a Sidekick, for instance. I use my computer to work, blitz and absorb as much as I can from ESPN.com. Lately, however, I began checking out these newfangled (circa 2003) things called blogs. Behind the times, I know, but I am proud of it.
Everyone seems to have one, aside from myself. Dartmouth students have them. NFL players have them, albeit no player of any consequence. Every talking head has one. However uncharacteristic this may seem, coming from a staunch conservative technophobe, I applaud this democratization of the media, especially in light of the increasing distrust of network news and national news magazines.
The two most frequent criticisms of the individual blogger, at least when it comes to those who opine about politics, are the unabashed partisan nature of most blogs and the fact that they could not survive without the more traditional media sources, such as print and television, providing the information about which they write. To me, this second criticism is particularly damning in its accuracy. Very little is said online that is not found in some other media outlet; the differences are the ease of access and the overtly partisan flavor.
But are such obviously partisan tones necessarily a bad thing? I like them, to be perfectly honest. More traditional news media over the course of the 1990s and 2000s gradually lost their veneer of objectivity. All the Internet has done is provide an outlet for those who are partisans to report and opine openly without making a condescending statement of objectivity. I know better than to watch CNN, just as any Democrat knows better than to read the Christian Science Monitor. All the Internet has done is expedite the formation of a partisan media that began way back in the Nixon years and was resurrected while we were in elementary and middle school.
This development reminds me of the golden age of party politics at the close of the 19th century. Republicans read Republican newspapers; Democrats read Democrat ones. Parties provided all sorts of minutiae including even the ballots themselves. The parties were split evenly and both were strong; not so coincidentally, voter turnout was at levels never to be equaled in the subsequent 100-plus years. The difference between the parties then and now, though, was ideological cohesion, which brings me to the second benefit of this new media.
The increasing accessibility of the Internet allows more people to find blogs online. By being so freely and fiercely partisan, those who have a liberal bent are able to identify more clearly and more quickly with the Democratic Party of today, and conservatives with the Republicans, upon reading a blog of either party. If you take exception to Al Franken's blog you know you are a Republican.
Thus, with the advent of a more broadly based media option that is openly partisan, more and more voters will know exactly where they stand in the political spectrum of the two-party system. Theoretically, this growth in public awareness should lead to a higher voter turnout, at least in presidential elections, but it should also reinforce ideological cohesion within each party.
That last benefit -- yes, benefit -- often gets jeered or demonized as some sort of "culture war" between right and left, red and blue. With ideologically cohesive parties, voters can more accurately reward or punish parties based on past performance. It was much more difficult in the past to elect or to reject a party and its values when an individual candidate's views were not necessarily representative of the party in the polity as a whole. Now, if a politician succeeds or fails, he or she is really much more representative of the party platform than, say, half a century ago, and voters can act accordingly in the next election. By helping to reinforce conservatism in the GOP and liberalism in the Democratic Party, perhaps bloggers can find satisfaction in knowing they are helping to create a responsive two-party system. As for myself, I'll just keep watching Fox News.