Richard Poe notes that in the 1980s the American Left wondered why talk radio was dominated by conservatives, in the 1990s they wondered why the Internet was dominated by conservatives, and now they're starting to wonder why the most popular political blogs are all conservative.
Of course these are vast overgeneralizations that are often the result of selection bias. Yes, on a national basis talk radio was dominated by conservatives, but there were plenty of local left-liberal talk radio shows and stations. Leftists seemed to think the Internet was dominated by conservatives, but I never understood that argument (I attended a speech by a woman in the mid-1990s who was appalled that a conservative group had been able to register the TownHall.Com domain name). Same thing with right wing weblogs -- I read plenty of liberal/left weblogs, so I know they're out there.
Still, writer James Crabtree has a point when he writes,
Two bloggers in particular have astonishing influence: the journalist Andrew Sullivan with his eponymous site; and a formerly obscure Tennessee law professor called Glenn Reynolds, who runs Instapundit. There are no equivalents on the left; indeed, there are precious few left-wing blogs at all. Both Reynolds and Sullivan are libertarian, rather than conservative. And both despite [British newspaper] the Guardian. As Wyeth Ruthven, publisher of a rare centre-left American blog, says: "no one here had even heard of the Guardian until Sullivan began his personal jihad." In a country with no recognizable left of its own, blogger have made a British newspaper the pantomine villain of the right.
First, if I were Wyeth Ruthven I'd be a bit embarrassed to have Crabtree letting the world know that he'd never heard of or read The Guardian prior to Reynolds or Sullivan writing about it. Yeah it's a rag, but come on -- is it Reynolds' fault he reads more widely than does Ruthven?
Second, notice that while Sullivan and Reynolds are on the right, this is not your father's conservatism. For example, I often get tagged as a conservative, but I'm anti-death penalty, pro-abortion, pro-gay rights, and an atheist -- oh yeah, Orrin Hatch is just waiting with open arms to welcome me into the Republican Party.
In many respects the conservatism of many political webloggers is simply good old fashioned American liberalism minus the socialist/progressive baggage (which, in Crabtree's European frame of reference, is a far right viewpoint).
Most of the left-liberal logs I run across, on the other hand, are either Democratic Party apologias or warmed-over New Left doctrinaire sites. Booorrriinng.
Even luminaries such as Paul Krugman (who is leftist by US standards) can't escape blog wrath. Sullivan and his acolytes glory in highlighting the small inconsistences in Krugman's popular New York Times.
Luminaries? Where did that come from? For all of its egalitarian sentiments, the Left is afflicted by a persistent cult of celebrity. Leave it to the decidedly non-egalitarian right wing webloggers to treat Krugman as if he is just another person with an opinion (which he is in his New York Times op-eds). In fact, as Krugman's recent problems with poorly sourced e-mail reveals, Krugman is actually deficient compared to many of the webloggers criticizing him in their spare time.
Same thing with right wingers. As I've made clear on this site, I don't have much use for Sullivan and could care less that he thinks he's some bigshot journalist.
These blogs do not have large direct readerships: Instapundit clocks only 40,000 readers a day. But many readers run their own blogs; others are political or media professionals. So a growing community is aware of whatever most irritated Sullivan today.
Instapundit has only 1.2 million readers a month? That puts it head and shoulders above most of the leading left and right wing magazines in the United States. Is suspect more people read Instapundit every month than read the Weekly Standard, National Review, The Nation and Mother Jones combined. And all without a budget or major donor to be accountable to.
This in turn creates what the legal theorist Cass Sunstein calls "cybercascades," reaching millions of readers with ideas, in this case associated almost exclusively with the right. They are democratic dynamite: private networks of information, unchecked by sensible debate. The aftermath of 11 September increased the cascades. Blogging became warblogging; the community became indignant cheerleaders for any madcap Bush anti-terrorism scheme. Attempts to question were given a vigorous fisking.
Sunstein is a moron who actually wrote as an example that when pro-gun rights folks debate online that they never link or provide information about their opponents' position. In fact pro-gun rights folk incessantly link to essays and studies by their opponents, unlike Sunstein who seems to have walled himself off in left-liberal land and shielded himself from any other ideas.
The interesting thing about this claim about "democratic dynamite" is how the Left argument about the press keeps evolving. The claim used to be that the United States did not have genuine free speech since the right to a free press was limited to those who could afford them. But beginning in the early-1980s, the costs of publishing and disseminating ideas has fallen through the floor. Now everybody and their brother can start a blog at no expense, and all of a sudden the problem is that too many people are speaking their mind without proper supervision.