Today Blogland, tomorrow the Senate

Hesiod links to today’s New York Times story on media strategies for Democrats.

The Times story speculates on why Democratic-leaning talk shows have done so badly, focusing on the problem of excessive concern with detail among liberals and the viciousness deficit that makes liberal shows less entertaining. That may be right, though it raises the question why no organism has emerged to fill the open niche. An alternative view would be that there’s no niche open, because liberals have less appetite than conservatives for spending time listening to affirmations of what they already believe. We’re the non-church-going group, remember?

Hesiod thinks that blogging ought to be at the center of the campaign to take back the noosphere from the VRWC. Seems to be as good a notion as any right now. The problem is how to turn that notion into a plan, and the plan into a program. That means thinking hard about how to build a true mass audience. (My uninformed guess is that building an email/weblog version of a telephone chain, encouraging lots of only semi-politically-active folks to start personal weblogs that would occasionally link to key items on sites such as Eschaton, TPM, and Counterspin, is the best bet.)

It also means thinking about how whatever readership we do build can be converted into a money flow to campaigns and other causes we care about, recognizing that not all of us care about the same campaigns and causes. But the fundamental goal must be to wean the Democrats from their reliance on corporate money, which means building a mass base of individual donors. (Think half a million people at $1000/yr. each plus a couple of million at $100/yr. each.) The fact that the Democrats now split the over-$100,000-income vote about evenly means that there’s plently of Democratic money around, if it can be mobilized. Partly it’s the classic Mancur Olsen collective-action problem; it’s not as if my $1000 is going to make the difference, so why not let someone else contribute? But partly it’s that lots of potential donors don’t trust the DNC to use their money well and don’t know who will.

One thing to note: All of us make routine financial decisions that most of us don’t much care about. (Which long-distance carrier to subscribe to, which credit cards to use for everyday purchases.) There are also bigger-ticket decisions, such as the choice of a brokerage firm or mutual fund, that also get made rather casually. Many of us would be happy to delegate that decision-making to someone we trusted to have looked into all the options and made a reasonable choice, especially if that delegation could be turned into a flow of funds to causes we care about. If — and it’s still a huge “if” — we can build a mass readership for progressive weblogs, the next step would be to try to convert some of those routine decisions into a financial base for progressive politics.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com