Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The potential for language generation on blogs

Over the holiday madness (an empire built on the backs of retail employees), I had an opportunity to reply to this very good guest post by poputonian over at Digby's Hullabaloo. Poputonian compares the liberal blogosphere to the social environment and pamphleteering in revolutionary era Boston.

Poputonian's rumination on the variety of groups working in loosely associated fashion during Paul Revere's time was apropos. The feeling of revolution is very much in the air out here on the blogs. The people of late 18th-c. New England, however, were involved citizens in a way that is vastly different from our contemporary info-polis. Today, there is little indication that Joe Biden, Ted Kennedy, John Kerry or any of their friends really know what a blog is.

Congressional leadership amongst the Democrats must very much feel the point of our semi-revolutionary fervor is directed at them as well as at the corrupt heart of Washington's halls of power. And they are right to feel this. I doubt that any of the prominent, socially climbing bloggers like Markos or Josh Marshall were happy when Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996. This is the sort of anti-democratic legislation that will haunt the United States for generations to come, and a lot of it came during the Clinton years.

I think I have written before about how happy I am that there is a thing called the Thirty-Something Dems Working Group in Congress. That is a good place to start. However, sooner or later we will need to address issues within the leadership of the party. The first ten minutes of Bulworth, where the senior Senator from California is hogtied by lobbyists and his own chief of staff, remain one of the most trenchant critiques of modern politics ever to see mainstream exposure. There has been no real change to this dynamic.

The locally prominent, reform minded Democrats that I talked to at a Howard Dean rally were all very cognizant of this problem. The closest any of them would get to a clear discussion of the problem, however, was to call out "special interests" and demand vague reforms. This abysmal abandoning of effective use of language was on prominent display throughout the Kerry campaign as well. Kerry was very good at talking in code words to try to indicate that he was far more liberal than he had ever really shown publicly. For my part I believe him. So what? Who knows it? Nobody. Even within the party, people are unable to speak plainly about the problems that this country faces.

Out here in flyover country, people outside of the political system are more able to talk to each other about politics than the Democrats are because the Dems realize at a subconscious level that in order to talk plainly about the systemic biases in this country they will have to explose their own indenture to the financial/insuance/medical, military/industrial/communications and marketing interests that have always had an overwhelming interest in the operation of this "democracy." The plain language that people want to hear from their politicians is difficult to manage when you are at risk of stepping on the toes of giants. Consequenty, voters are turned off by Democrats because it is clear that there are too many circuitous thought patterns and coded meanings going on when they talk.

Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are starting to wake up to the fact that they are fighting for their lives. They are also not from among the Beltway in-crowd who have far too much a penchant for the hierarchies of their own society. Nancy Pelosi in particular, with her recent proclamation that there will not be one party-wide position on Iraq is opening the door to the plain use of language by Democrats.

What needs to develop now is a sense that this variety of opinion and subsequent plain language is a basic principle of the party. The Repuglicans have, after all, been crazy good at promulgating very specific memes. The Democrats can differentiate themselves from this by using widely varied, but direct language. There is an army of think-tank language engineers working for them in this capacity right now. It's us, out here in the blogoshpere. The question is whether any will notice.

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