Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Little Green Footballs vs. Daily Kos

These are my two favorite political blogs. I'm mostly liberal, so one would think I'd spend my time agreeing with whatever's on Daily Kos and getting pissed off at whatever's on Little Green Footballs. But over the last year, the opposite reaction has developed. I've accrued a great deal of grudging respect for Charles Johnson and his digital stomping ground.

The source of this respect can be characterized in one word: focus. There are tons of issues in politics, and there's a traditional conservative viewpoint on all of them, but LGF doesn't waste space banging the drum on each one. There are really only two issues that Johnson seems to care enough about to post about them repeatedly:

(1) Islamic fundamentalism is really bad and needs to be eradicated.
(2) Creationism is utter bullshit, and evolution is the way the (biological) world works.

Let's ignore the fact that (2) runs counter to the opinion of a significant portion of the conservative base, because it muddies the point I'm trying to make. The point is not the specific content of either of these agenda items -- the point is that there are only two of them. LGF exhibits focus.

Daily Kos, on the other hand, is a disorganized grab-bag of issues, all of them treated with equal importance by their various authors and advocates, regardless of how important they truly are ranked against all the other issues vying for our attention and action.

Nothing is more frustrating and eyeroll-inducing than the Daily Kos "Diary Rescue" posts. Here's a distillation of all the issues raised in the latest one:

(1) Media silence on Hurricane Gustav's aftermath
(2) Fate of German Jewry after the Holocaust
(3) A defense of the virtues of big-city living
(4) The ACLU urges a letter-writing campaign on behalf of a falsely convicted man on death row
(5) A rumination on the effect Bob Woodward's latest book will have on the careers of the current military brass
(6) The case for libertarian Democrats
(7) A snapshot of the current presidential race viewed through the lens of the electoral college
(8) A primer on how best to use Letters to the Editor as a tool of political proselytizing
(9) A mini-documentary on election fraud
(10) A rumination on the likelihood of government intervention in the future failures of large financial institutions, given the precedent set by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac
(11) A piece decrying the Republican attempt to co-opt the "change" campaign theme
(12) A list of suggested Obama campaign ads
(13) A series of videos revealing "the real John McCain"
(14) A piece claiming that Palin is worse than Cheney

Think about the contrast in scale between the two sites. On one site, dozens of posts over months tend to adhere to a list of themes two items long. On the other site, a single post adheres to a list of themes fourteen items long. (Actually fifteen items long -- there was one item whose description clashed with its title so strangely that I didn't know how to summarize it, so I left it off.)

Now, I understand both the theoretical intent and the practical cause of this discrepancy.
The practical cause is that, while Kos is the titular head of his site, he has delegated editorial authority to a panel of trusted associates who oversee and/or author what gets posted. LGF, on the other hand, is Charles Johnson's baby. He is the sole author and editor of everything that gets posted on the site. That difference in approach is naturally going to yield a difference in focus.

The theoretical intent of Daily Kos is to create sort of a clearinghouse of progressive thought, painting the left as a big tent inside which all different subspecies of liberal are welcome. Naturally the items that grab my attention will be different from those that grab the attention of, say, a fortysomething black mother who lives in New York City and works at a nonprofit mental health hospital for children, even though we might both proudly proclaim the title of liberal.

The problem with it is, the purpose of politics is not to preach to the choir. The purpose of politics is to focus one's rhetoric on the people who aren't already convinced by it -- to cast one's positions in terms of beliefs, values, and attitudes that one doesn't necessarily have.

When I looked at Daily Kos solely with liberal eyes (oh those halcyon days), I loved it. But when I look at it with nonliberal eyes, all I see is further evidence of a longstanding conservative talking point: that liberals just like to bitch about everything.

Conservatives like to paint themselves as fundamentally optimistic, happy people -- hey, things are pretty much fine the way they are, except for the following handful of problems. Conversely, they like to paint liberals as fundamentally pessimistic, unhappy people -- everything is falling apart, there's injustice everywhere, economic inequality, needless military aggression, etc. (It's an effective tactic, too -- if you're an undecided voter, or someone only vaguely aware of the daily back-and-forth of modern politics, which group would you rather be associated with?)

Even the most casual glance at these two extremes of the political blogosphere will serve to further this conservative talking point. The overall impression one gets from LGF is, things are pretty much fine the way they are, except for creationism and Islamic fundamentalism. The overall impression one gets from Daily Kos is, everything is falling apart, and here, we'll enlist fifty different equally impassioned people to prove different aspects of it to you.

LGF definitely has its problems -- I get the feeling Charles Johnson has a mild case of megalomania, and would be a rather irritating guy to hang around with. (A few months ago he posted an email exchange he had with a reporter that was presumably intended to make the reporter look bad, but to my eyes just made Johnson look like his namesake.) And a significant number of commenters in his "lizardoid army" seem to be prognathous knuckle-draggers (I won't use "mouth-breather" as a pejorative because I'm one too).

But, Daily Kos, there is a lesson to be learned from Charles Johnson: FOCUS. Focus, focus, focus. As painful as it may be to your delicate progressive sensibilities, you have to stop claiming to give a shit about everything. Prioritize. Make the tough decisions. Pick the right battles. And stop playing into the hands of conservative pseudo-psychologists.

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