Friday, March 23, 2007

A Final Rant . . . For Now

Blogging has changed enormously in the four years since I started Notes on the Atrocities. In January 2003, the lefty political blogosphere was small enough that you could actually have a reasonable sense of everyone in it. I had regular conversations with Atrios, Kos, Kevin Drum and a host of other less-known or less-remembered bloggers. When the DNC started its blog, Notes scored recognition as one of about 30 blogs to be linked there. This was definitely cool, but also indicative of just how small the blogosphere was.

I traipse down memory lane not only for self-congratulatory reasons. The reason there were so few bloggers created the context for why bloggers were necessary in the first place. We were about to go to war and almost no one, from the leaders of the Democratic Party (remember kindly, compliant Tom Daschle?) to the editorial boards of the Times or Post, was willing to condemn the damn thing.

This is a remarkable fact. We were about to invade a country on a purely racist premise, having confused one group of brown non-Christians with another ("they attacked us first!"), led by a man whose father had been humiliated in this country and his group of insiders (Perle and Wolfie, where have you gone?) who had been agitating for a decade in the Weekly Standard before 9/11 to invade it. It is true that everyone assumed our erstwhile ally had WMD, but so what? Lots of countries had them, and they were, so far as anyone could tell, not "gathering threats."

So blogging seemed to be important. In any case, it provided an outlet for outrage, and for a certain segment of cranky lefties, that seemed like reason enough.

But outrage always seems to be competing with cynicism. So many of the really good independent bloggers either went pro and became party insiders (which was good for them and good for the party) or were crushed by cynicism. It's bad enough that Bush is corrupt and imperialistic and monarchal, but it's far worse that he and his GOP cohorts are stunning ideologues, who always--and I seriously mean always; it's the first play in a one-play GOP playbook--politicize decisions. Every decision is made with an eye toward how it will punish the Dems. The major scandal of the day, the prosecutorial firings, have emerged as a scandal because people can't believe that the White House would actually try to use the US prosecutors to exact revenge. But for those of us who watch, it's the least surprising thing about this scandal.

The media didn't really know how to handle this level of corruption and manipulation. It took them four years to tumble to the fact that this is SOP for the GOP, but it seems that they have finally tumbled. The Post is no-longer pro-war; Sean Hannity is no longer regarded as a journalist, and the he-said, she-said regurgitation of fake arguments for the GOP's benefit seems to be a vestige of a naive past.

Democrats finally seem to have their heads in the game. Or at least know what the game is, whether they have learned how to play it. I used to say that the Dems were in a back alley knife-fight with Karl Rove, and they thought it was a game of chess. At long last, Nancy Pelosi has handed out the Leathermans.

And bloggers? They are ubiquitous: not only are there literally thousands of good and hundreds of excellent political blogs, but now everyone has a blog--the MSM, magazines, Arianna Huffington. We even have the emergence of the blog-as-newspaper.

For the indie blogger with a readership of 50, it's far harder to imagine that you're saying anything important. Blogging has become a burden and an act of conspicuous vanity (whereas in 2003 it was virtuous vanity). Some blogs still have critical relevance--BlueOregon provides political news that would otherwise go missing--but some, like Hog, are pretty obviously redundant.

I wouldn't care so much if my outrage were greater than my cynicism, but at the moment, it's not. The scrum between the forces of truth and lightness and darkness and autocracy just makes me tired. I can't say that the outrage won't bubble up again--it always seems to--but for now it is swamped by cynicism. As a parting example, a coda, if you will, I will offer you one of the most cynical spectacles I have ever seen, courtesy of the crown prince of darkness and autocracy, Tom DeLay.

He has a new book out, the purpose of which is to give relevance to his struggle to inject ideology into all things Republican. As was the case throughout his career, nothing mattered except the supremacy of the GOP--certainly not little things like facts. In an act of mesmerizing idiocy, he tries to deny the words in his new book in an interview with Chris Matthews because they failed to suit his argument at the time.

And that's why I'm tired. Good night and good luck.


Steve said...

Low on the Hog was never redundant. I can't blame you, though, for wanting a break. Whether you pick back up or Low remains an outstanding companion archive to Notes, I have to think your muse would be proud to have inspired so much great material. Thanks, Jeff!

Sandra said...

your '...for now' seems key.

As a daily reader and somewhat distant friend, I'll certainly miss your redundancy.

You'd better keep writing about beer though, you cynical bastard!

One irony in all of this is that I sometimes would have to NOT read your blog in order to write my own because of how vain and silly mine seems next to yours. I remember our discussions about blogs prior to your co-creation of BlueOregon quite well - so, now that we're all bloggers what's to do?

Chuck Butcher said...

Nah, it isn't redundancy to kick back at the machine. If it reaches 3 people that counts for more than none and even then the very doing of it is the thing. "I will not be silent in the face of ..." matters, not the size of the audience.

FYI, I read Low on the Hog, I don't read Kos or Atrios. I know that I'm getting and why - here.

Thanks Jeff

susan said...

I also only read your blog now. There are too many others and I trust yours and enjoy your writing

Jeff Alworth said...

You all are very gracious. I suspect the site will lurch back into wakefulness eventually. I can't imagine I'll be able to keep quiet long. Anyway, your kind words mean a lot.

susan said...

Do I check back daily or weekly?

Zak J. said...

Sorry to read you're retiring. Hopefully it's just a sabbatical to recharge your batteries.

Your blogging hiatus still probably doesn't leave you with much free time, but if you have more opportunities to read I'd strongly recommend re-reading William James's writings about the effect of theater on one's emotions. James wrote well before TV, the Internet, or other media became so pervasive, but his arguments apply to them equally. Briefly, James notes that the more often you have an emotional reaction that is not tired to a physical response, the less likely you become in the long run to ever have a physical response triggered by your emotions. Applied to politics, the more we type without going into the streets, the less likely it is we ever will take direct action (to use Emma G.'s terminology) to back up our expressed indignation. I know enough about you to know you walk the walk not just blogging the blog, but perhaps a pause in writing to get back to the street barriers is just what the doctor ordered for you.

I have no doubt you'll be back and supercharged after a little more time in the sun.
Best regards,

Zak J. said...

...tied to a physical response...

Chuck Butcher said...

Oh damn, I didn't say something nice??

Mick said...

I know what you mean, but in my case it has less to do with being tired than it does with repeating myself. When I started 4 years ago (not long after you did), it was because - as you wrote - things needed to be said that weren't. Now, it seems, everybody is catching up and I find that I very often don't have anything substantial to add to what's already out there. Either that or I'm still hammering away at the same stuff I've been hammering at for 4 years, endlessly repeating myself. It's wearing.

I don't get paid to do this, it's time-consuming, and I'm not sure it has much value any more. When I was forced offline a year ago December, Trenches had almost 1000 hits a day. Its new incarnation gets 50 or so. Can't help but make me wonder why I keep on.

The cynicism I can live with. It has been a valuable tool. I was way ahead of the curve with the Bush Admin because I'd been following the right wing for years and watching it build to a crescendo. I knew exactly how single-minded and authoritarian the radical leaders of the GOP had become and I was as cynical as hell when it came to believing what they said or predicting what they were doing in the dark. I took stances that struck others as extreme at the time but are now turning into fairly mainstream positions.

Now that it's not a matter of outing secrets and putting a light on actual motivations as opposed to Rove-crafted illusions, I find myself in a blogging world that isn't just larger, its whole orientation is different. Instead of focusing on information that's been overlooked or ignored, it's now concentrated on calling to account, keeping the Dems honest, and building a consensus around what happens next.

Those aren't my strengths. If I can't re-focus and adjust to the new reality pretty soon, I may hang it up, too. There's a whole new generation of bloggers a whole lot better at what needs to be done now than I am. Maybe I should leave it to them until I find myself again turning over rocks nobody else is paying any attention to.

As somebody once said, if you're not adding anything, it's the same as subtracting.