Politicians Go Online
They can run, but can they blog?
BY JAMES TARANTO
The Wall Street Journal, Wednesday, August 6, 2003
South Dakota no doubt has its charms, but imagine spending a whole month driving through the state, making sure to visit every last one of its 66 counties. Now imagine doing the same thing vicariously, and you begin to understand why Tom Daschle's new blog is likely to generate about as much traffic as--well, as a rural South Dakota highway.
The Senate minority leader is writing an online diary ("blog" is short for "Web log") during his annual trek through his home state this month. "My staff told me a while back about a blog," Mr. Daschle tells the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. "This new blog concept appealed to me." He is asking voters to tell him their concerns about health care, and filing online reports at daschle.senate.gov/travels_with_tom.htm.
He's not the only pol to discover the joys of blogging. Howard Dean, who's Internet-savvy enough to make Al Gore look like a Flat Earther, has made BlogforAmerica.com a centerpiece of his campaign. Dr. Dean himself posts only occasionally--his supporters write most of the entries--but he was more prolific when he showed up last month as a "guest blogger" filling in for a vacationing Stanford law professor. Gary Hart, erstwhile senator and presidential candidate, is also blogging (garyhartnews.com/hart/blog), and others are sure to follow.
But do politicians have what it takes to succeed in the cutthroat world of blogging? Not likely. The best political bloggers--Mickey Kaus (Kausfiles.com), Glenn Reynolds (InstaPundit.com) and Andrew Sullivan (AndrewSullivan.com)--all have a contrarian outlook and irreverent humor. Best of the Web Today, my own bloglike daily column on OpinionJournal.com, is filled with snarky references to such favorite targets as Our Friends the Saudis, former Enron adviser Paul Krugman, and Sen. John Kerry, the haughty, French-looking Massachusetts Democrat, who by the way served in Vietnam.
Blogging, in short, thrives on sarcasm. Politics doesn't. So it's hardly surprising that Dr. Dean's blog is earnest to the point of sanctimony, all we-can-make-a-difference and let's-build-a-better-America. Last week it featured one Erica Derr of Greensboro, N.C., who was so appalled to get a tax rebate that she donated it to the Dean campaign. "I could have spent this money on material things," she wrote. "What would those things mean 15 or 20 years from now when my daughter is paying for the debt we accrued?"
Stop, mom, this is embarrassing!
Then again, at least Bob Graham hasn't started blogging. Sen. Graham, one of the more eccentric candidates in the field, keeps a diary on paper in which he records the most mundane details of his life. ("Awake . . . Apply scalp medication . . . Kitchen brew coffee prepare and drink breakfast.") The effect is similar to that of The Dullest Blog in the World (www.wibsite.com/wiblog/dull), which features entries like this: "As I was sitting down I became aware that the temperature was neither too hot nor too cold. This being the case I made no adjustments to the temperature control on the central heating."
Still, give Mr. Daschle, Dr. Dean and Mr. Hart credit for having the guts to try something new. The same can't be said of Sen. Kerry, whose staff "blacklisted" Iowa blogger Kevin Schmidt at a late-July event. Mr. Schmidt runs a blog called NineDwarfs.com, and he hopes to collect photos of himself with each of the Democratic candidates; he has six so far. (The joke is that at 6-foot-7, he dwarfs them all.)
Mr. Schmidt writes that a Kerry staffer told him the campaign had distributed a "Wanted poster" with his photo on it the night before the event. Although he was permitted in and got to shake the senator's hand, staffers were "shadowing me just about everywhere I went" lest he take a shot at the senator with his camera. In lieu of the usual photo, Mr. Schmidt now has on his site a picture of Mr. Kerry's head superimposed on the cartoon body of un poulet.
Imagine that: a man who served valiantly in Vietnam but is cowed by a humble online diarist. Maybe we bloggers are more powerful than we know.
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