Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Blogs and the Intellect of the American Public

I'm no genius, and would never pretend to be. I would never claim to produce profound insights in the comments on this blog. Nor would I hope, much less expect my comments to influence the minds of anyone else. I blog simply to express some of the things that I am thinking at the moment. For these reasons, and many more, I never expect this blog to be widely read. Yet, I can only gasp with amazement when I read some of the blogs that are. Take, for example, two of the most widely-read blogs in the blogosophere, Atrios and Instapundit. The two represent the extremes of partisan punditry - Atrios being blindly pro-Democrat, and Instapundit blindly pro-Republican (despite Reynold's laughable assertion that he is a "non-partisan libertarian"1). I cannot for the life of me think of any good reason why these two blogs should be read by anyone.

The one possible good reason for reading these blogs is that they do a fairly good job of presenting stories that many of us may not have read in the mainstream media, and which those with similar political bents will find interesting. However, their commentary on these stories is rarely, if ever, interesting or insightful. In fact, they tend to be sloppy and, more often than not, downright silly. For an example from Atrios, take this recent post on a Washington Post story. In it, Atrios writes:

So, it’s pretty much the case that we went into Fallujah because some warbloggers got excited about the video of the desecration of the dead civilian contractors.

This statement sparked heated discussion at Crooked Timber, with many commentors defending Atrios' position. However, even if this sentence contains a kernel of truth(though not an original one), his wording is at best hyperbolic, and at worst careless. It's unlikely that the Bush administration's actions in Fallujah were directly influenced by "warbloggers" at all, and while bloggers do have some (currently minimal, but certainly growing) influence on public perception, the mainstream media's presentation of the events leading up to military action in Fallujah were certainly no better. Pictures of the defiled bodies of dead Americans will incite outrage, no matter what, and Bush has consistently shown himself to be easily swayed by public opionion (do the patients' bill of rights, the Department of Homeland Security, the 9/11 commission, and the Federal Marriage Amendment ring a bell?).

Reynold's, better known as Instapundit, is no better. His constant assertions that the media has, and will continue to blatantly support John Kerry (see here for a recent example, in an article at Tech Central Station, the world's foremost source of uninformed opinions) indicate a profound disconnect from reality. So, too, does his belief that, for all intents and purposes, Bush and Kerry have the same position on gay marriage, with the only difference being Bush's support for the doomed FMA. As Scott Lemieux observes, this is almost nonsensical. He writes:

Even if this were an accurate characterization, the argument is ridiculous on its face. Apart from having diametrically opposed positions on the central relevant issue, their position is exactly the same! Similarly, Barry Bonds and I have similar baseball skills, except that he is the best player in major league history and I can't hit a 50 MPH fastball. But other than that, our baseball abilities are exactly the same.

Why, if their commentary is unoriginal, uninsightful, and often sloppy or downright delusional, are these blogs and others like them read? It is not for a lack of interesting and insightful blogs. There are plenty (personally, I like the ones in my "blogroll"). Yet the readership of these blogs is usually substantially lower than that of blogs like Atrios and Instapundit. The only explanation I can think for this fact is that people prefer delusional and hyperbolic rants that are consistent with their own beliefs to objective reporting and insightful opinion. I think this says a lot about the American public, and why we so easily get stuck with a president like George Bush, and cannot come up with a challenger better than John Kerry. I wish I had any hope that things were likely to change.

1 As Scott Lemieux of Lawyers, Guns, and Money notes, Reynold's unflinching support for President Bush, whose increases in government spending rival FDR's, and whose statist, anti-civil rights policies have led true libertarians to support a lunatic like Michael Badnerik, makes the claim that he is a "libertarian" seem patently absurd.

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