A is for Angry ~ B is for Bush ~ C is for Clueless.
Let me explain. In recent months, several prominent media and political figures have had run-ins with left-leaning bloggers (examples here, here, here, here, and here). Their reactions have been eerily similar. Greg Sargent describes it accurately: "In recent weeks, one member after another of the D.C. media establishment has gone out of his way to depict bloggers as hysterical, angry and destructive. To hear them tell it, bloggers sitting at their computers are akin to squalling brats in high-chairs chucking baby food at their sober, serious elders -- i.e., major figures at the established news organizations."
This attempt to demonize and belittle the online community is old news, but lately it's taken on new urgency... and it's getting really tiresome. Yes, it's a predictable reaction to the rapid rise of a new political power center, but really, how clueless can people like Richard Cohen be? Here's what every blogger's favorite "liberal" columnist writes in today's WaPo: "The e-mails pulse in my queue, emanating raw hatred. This spells trouble -- not for Bush or, in 2008, the next GOP presidential candidate, but for Democrats. The anger festering on the Democratic left will be taken out on the Democratic middle. (Watch out, Hillary!) I have seen this anger before -- back in the Vietnam War era. That's when the antiwar wing of the Democratic Party helped elect Richard Nixon. In this way, they managed to prolong the very war they so hated.... The hatred is back. I know it's only words now appearing on my computer screen, but the words are so angry, so roiled with rage, that they are the functional equivalent of rocks once so furiously hurled during antiwar demonstrations."
As I sat down to craft a thoughtful post about Cohen's latest outburst, I got a call from a conservative blogger with whom I'm appearing at a blog workshop. He'd just read the Cohen piece and much as he said he enjoyed watching liberal bloggers get criticized, he articulated a response to Cohen that was far less polite (and shorter) than the one I intended to post: "Tough sh*t! So after thirty years of writing this stuff in a bubble, you're finally getting feedback from people who are pissed off. Deal with it."
I could easily leave it at that, but there's a larger point here. As more power and influence accrues to the netroots, entrenched political forces will resist mightily, ceding no turf without a bitter fight. It's getting ugly in some quarters, but don't be distracted by the clueless Cohens and Kleins who lash out blindly, embarrassing themselves rather than the objects of their wrath. There are also those who play a more subtle game -- established media and political operatives who mock and marginalize and ignore the netroots and the 'angry' left. The response to Stephen Colbert's skewering of Bush and the media is a good example.
The 'angry' bloggers, the so-called Bush-haters, have played a pivotal and (dare I say) historic role during the Bush presidency. They've fought tooth and nail to protect the Constitution from an unprecedented power grab and they've stepped in and spoken the truth while so many in the media and the political establishment have abandoned any semblance of integrity and rolled over for this White House.
Months ago I wrote about the risks of scandal fatigue: "This half-decade tsunami of scandals has had the intended effect: overload the senses, short circuit the outrage, dizzy the opposition. How many times have Bush's opponents simply thrown their hands up in disgust, overwhelmed by the enormity of the administration's over-reach? How many times have bloggers railed against reporters for going about the business of burying scandals and muddying waters? How many times have Americans watched in amazement as a missing girl in Aruba receives weeks of blanket coverage while lies that led to war and law-breaking at the highest levels of government get a yawn from the media?
From a purely sensory perspective, it's natural to chase the flak. We're conditioned to respond to incoming fire. It's reflexive. But when the fire is coming from all sides, and coming relentlessly, the urge is to stop defending and curl up and give up."
Maintaining a healthy conscience, allowing ourselves to react with appropriate emotion (whether anger or frustration or relief) is an essential trait in the face of the apathy we've seen the past six years. With all their dripping disdain for bloggers, folks like Richard Cohen and his ilk owe the netroots a debt of gratitude for helping to preserve some shred of the America we all love -- their children and grandchildren will certainly appreciate it.