Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Bob Kerrey: Not a Big Fan of the Blogosphere?

by Kyle Michaelis
Omaha World-Herald columnist Robert Nelson e-mailed Bob Kerrey for his response to the Nebraska Republican and Democratic Parties using their websites to attack potential candidates of the opposing party - himself and Mike Johanns, respectively.
Kerrey's reply to Nelson suggests he's not particularly fond of the effect blogs and the Internet have had on American politics.
"In the old days (before the Web)... a 'name-caller' had to get a newspaper, radio, or television to include their insult in a story. Today the parties publish their own stories and the blogs add to the mix.

"The fact that The World-Herald asks me to respond to a political Web site is evidence the world has changed. The tail is wagging the dog.

"Couple this...with a decline in the number of radio, television and print reporters who cover politics and you have a lethal mix. The public drinks this stuff and something good dies."

There's definitely a lot of truth to Kerrey's concerns. But, despite the polarization and raw partisanship with which Kerrey is right to take issue, it's unfortunate that he should fail to acknowledge the positive contributions to democratic discourse in our country made possible by the new media.
Also, it's worth noting that here we're talking about partisan attacks by political parties that are inherently - by definition - partisan. It's not very idealistic, but there's something to be said for this being their primary purpose. Either way, such attacks certainly didn't begin with the advent of the Internet - just one more outlet beyond the parties' traditional press releases, which have often tended towards ugliness and spitefulness over the years.

If anything, the Internet has made it possible for political parties to bypass the middle men in the press and take their message directly to the people. This certainly changes the dynamics of modern campaigning, but it also heightens the dangers for political parties that go too far and run the risk of shooting themselves in the foot with voters when left to pursue their worst impulses unchecked.

Such a system provides more information to the people and puts more power to hold politicians accountable directly in their hands. That can't be a bad thing - at least, not entirely.

At the same time, there are sites like New Nebraska Network - which I like to imagine being above the fray...even while admitting we don't always live up to that standard. Still - despite his understandable comments above - I hope Kerrey recognizes our potential to serve the good rather than simply snuffing it out.

As we look to 2008 and what is already shaping up to be a very contentious campaign season, I trust NNN will be a positive force in Nebraska politics - overcoming the cheap and the easy while still having fun in the process.

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