THE NETROOTS CONT’D….Last night I was mulling over Jon Chait’s piece about the netroots in TNR, trying to figure out why it rubbed me the wrong way even though I agree with an awful lot of what he said. In the end, I think the answer turns out to have almost nothing to do with substance and almost everything to do with tone.

Here’s what I mean. In the last third of his piece, Chait makes an obvious point: netroots bloggers are advocates. Their goal isn’t to tell both sides of the story or to engage in dispassionate inquiry. Contrarianism isn’t seen as a virtue for its own sake. They have a point of view, and their goal is to marshal the best arguments they can come up with to advocate for that point of view. Political calculation is part of the game.

This is unremarkable. In fact, it’s so unremarkable that Chait could have simply said this in a paragraph or two and then moved on. It’s not as if anyone would argue the point. But instead of doing that, he spins this idea out to nearly 3,000 words using language that seems deliberately designed to be as loaded as possible:

Like any political community, the netroots have developed distinctive linguistic tics that hold special meaning to adherents, and these reveal something about the way the movement thinks….establishing the truth about an idea matters less than phrasing the idea in the most politically effective way….intellectual honesty is deeply alien to the netroots….the netroots critique is [] that the conception of fairness itself is folly….slight whiff of anti-intellectualism in some quarters of the netroots….The netroots consider the notion of pursuing truth for its own sake nonsensical….There is a term for this sort of political discourse: propaganda….the netroots take part in a great deal of demagoguery, name-calling, and dishonesty.

Now, there’s no reason Chait should pull his punches just because he’s writing about the blogosphere. And God knows bloggers are just about the touchiest people on the planet when somebody throws some criticism their way. But writers generally choose their words and their tone with some care, and the tone here is not merely a clinical description of how advocacy works. Rather, it seems deliberately designed to make netroots bloggers out as unusually dishonest, hackish, and wild-eyed, even though they’re doing the same thing that millions of advocates before them have been doing for thousands of years.

And that’s what rubbed me the wrong way.

UPDATE: Armando has a pretty good summary of the blogospheric reaction to Chait’s piece here. I agree with nearly all of his comments.

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