THE NOISE MACHINE….Jon Chait has a long article in the New Republic today about the netroots and how it’s changing liberal politics. It’s not a bad piece, though Chait obviously struggles to come to a firm conclusion about what the netroots is really all about. This is a predicament I can sympathize with, since I’ve been blogging for five years myself and I still have a hard time putting my finger on it. Is it about ideology? Sort of, but not really. Party loyalty? Yes, though not for everyone. Iron-fisted organizational discipline? Sure, except when it’s not. In some way, the netroots is all about defining what it means to be a “good Democrat,” but beyond that it’s a helluva slippery phenomenon, one of those “I know it when I see it” kind of things.

So, bloggerlike, I’ll skip the whole question for now and instead highlight this passage about the creation of the right-wing noise machine in the 90s:

Liberals made several attempts to recreate the conservative message machine — Jim Hightower, Mario Cuomo, and countless others attempted and failed to create talk-radio programs. Most people concluded from these failures that liberals simply didn’t want partisan vitriol of the sort offered up by Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. They wanted high-minded discussions of the sort found on National Public Radio. Nonconservatives, wrote The New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg in 2003, “wouldn’t think it was fun to listen to expressions of raw contempt for conservatives.”

This analysis, shared by nearly all observers just a few years ago, turns out to be completely wrong. Maybe an audience for raw partisan liberal attacks existed all along but was ill-served by piecemeal forays into talk radio. Or maybe the audience was born suddenly by the shock of the Bush years. In any case, it is obvious that a sizeable liberal audience was not being served the red meat it craved. “People were hungry for strong, unapologetic liberals, and those were completely absent from the media landscape,” Moulitsas writes. “I mean, who did progressive [sic] have supposedly representing their side? Joe Frickin’ Klein. Is it any wonder blogs grew in response?”

I’ve heard variations on this theme too many times to count, but is it really true? Daily Kos, which is unique in the political blogosphere, gets about 500,000 readers a day, and after that there’s a huge gap to the next most popular liberal blogs, which average 100-150,000 readers. By national radio and TV standards, that’s not “sizeable” at all. It’s puny — and it’s not growing much either. So it seems to me that Hertzberg was basically right: in the context of what it takes to support mass media, there just aren’t very many liberals who are interested in listening to hour upon hour of seething resentment and raw contempt. That seems to still be a mostly conservative vice.

But it’s still early days, I suppose. It took movement conservatives a couple of decades to build up their audience, and maybe it’ll take liberals that long too. Or maybe not. Olbermann is doing pretty well these days, isn’t he?

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