I'm betting that, by now, most of you have already heard of Maryscott O'Connor, the fulminating Left wing blogger profiled in the Washington Post a few days ago. This is one seriously angry lady:
In the angry life of Maryscott O'Connor, the rage begins as soon as she opens her eyes and realizes that her president is still George W. Bush. The sun has yet to rise and her family is asleep, but no matter; as soon as the realization kicks in, O'Connor, 37, is out of bed and heading toward her computer.
Out there, awaiting her building fury: the Angry Left, where O'Connor's reputation is as one of the angriest of all. "One long, sustained scream" is how she describes the writing she does for various Web logs, as she wonders what she should scream about this day.
She smokes a cigarette. Should it be about Bush, whom she considers "malevolent," a "sociopath" and "the Antichrist"? She smokes another cigarette. Should it be about Vice President Cheney, whom she thinks of as "Satan," or about Karl Rove, "the devil"? Should it be about the "evil" Republican Party, or the "weaselly, capitulating, self-aggrandizing, self-serving" Democrats, or the Catholic Church, for which she says "I have a special place in my heart . . . a burning, sizzling, putrescent place where the guilty suffer the tortures of the damned"?
It's actually a very sad article, in that one can only feel pity for O'Connor, who has to live bathed in that anger. I'm also seriously concerned for her six year old son. What kind of life awaits a child whose mother is in perpetual explosion mode? It's probably a very good thing that she can get that anger out on the blog, rather than take it out an her child. O'Connor's personal brand of anger has made her very popular amongst the generally angry on the Left:
Since its debut last July, My Left Wing has had some 450,000 visits and is now averaging about 3,000 visits and 14,000 page views a day. At any given moment, several dozen people are looking at the site, and user data shows that they are all over the world — mostly from the United States, occasionally from overseas and often from Washington, D.C., where the log-on addresses sometimes end in senate.gov or house.gov.
Frankly, I'm jealous. I'd love numbers like that. But I'd love them because they'd stroke my ego, not because I think they'd effect any real change in the world. And it's this last point that I really want to talk about in this post.
I adore blogging. I love the chance to develop thoughts that swirl about in my head and that I can't normally voice (a) because they'd be inappropriate in the context of neighborhood block parties, school meetings, and business meetings or (b) because people within a ten foot radius of my voice would be bored out of their minds if forced to act as an audience to my opinings.
The great thing about the blog is freedom: I have the freedom to write; you have the freedom to read. And if I'm boring, you have the freedom to walk out, something you couldn't do during ordinary, polite face-to-face interactions. Likewise, if you disagree with me, you feel free to state so in comments or in posts at your own blog. Again, no matter how polite you are (and you, my dear blogfriends, are always polite), it's unlikely that, in face-to-face conversations, you'd take such adversarial (albeit civilized) stands. Instead, you'd probably waffle and shuffle, and sort of slough off the whole conversational point.
So I believe blogs are a very important forum for those who care. What I wonder, though, is whether those of us who care enough to blog — and to read blogs — matter in the political process. I have a core group of about 350 readers (bless you all) who show up regularly to read what I have to say. O'Connor, angrier but luckier in the numbers, has a core group about ten times mine. Her numbers sound marvelous until you start thinking about the bigger numbers. We have approximately 142 million registered voters in the United States (or, to spell it out with all its impressive zeroes, 142,000,000). This means that, even assuming O'Connor's readers are all registered voters, her readership is equal to only a minute percentage of American voters.
Also, just as I move primarily in circles of people who agree with my neo-conservative thinking, I'd be willing to bet that the majority of O'Connor's readers are hardcore angry Leftists. Indeed, the WaPo article certainly supports that supposition. That means that O'Connor's anger doesn't inform the uninformed. Nor does it convert those who originally differed with her. It merely reinforces thinking amongst those already committed to her angry world view.
Lest you think I'm simply fantasizing here about the echo chamber in which O'Connor operates, or that I'm extrapolating from my own limited experience, it's worthwhile to look at the effect that Markos Moulitsas Zúniga's Daily Kos has had on elections. (There are, actually, two Daily Koses — one a diary format and one its flagship State of the Nation site, to which I've linked).
The Kos sites are amongst the best read blogs in America and they're very, very angry. They're also deeply involved in Democratic politics — which turns out to be a blessing for Republicans, since the candidates Daily Kos supports routinely lose. Indeed, the only successful candidate the Daily Kos has supported has been Matt Santos — the fictional candidate on the West Wing (a show that whispered Markos's name and blog with reverential and bated breath a few episodes ago). It shows, therefore, that despite its cyberspace popularity, the Daily Kos is not having a real world effect — or, perhaps, it's having one that favors Republicans, as real world people recoil from cyberspace anger.
I'm going to continue blogging. I do think bloggers chip away at the monolithic MSM, especially in terms of pointing out its biases and errors. That change is going to be infinitely more important than any one blog affecting any one election. This means, I guess, that the answer to my title question — Do we make a difference? — is yes, we do. Conservative bloggers, by forcing changes on the American press, will end up being more influential than angry Left wing bloggers who change nothing at all.