Monday, May 19, 2008

McCain Courts the Liberal Blogs...

Political pundits are scratching their heads once again. Republican presidential candidate John McCain has announced his intention to hold conference call briefings with both left-wing and issue-based bloggers.

What does it say about our supposedly hyper-partisan politics when McCain is courting the liberal blogs, while Barack Obama is angering them?

Let's divide up this new strategy into its two constituent parts - that is, appealing to left-wing blogs on the one hand, and issue-based blogs on the other.

First, as to McCain's appealing to left-wing blogs, there is some serious political calculus at play. Perhaps the move is intended to reinforce his "maverick" status; or perhaps it's meant to appeal to independents by showing his willingness to cross the party aisle; or maybe it's a simple step towards distancing himself from a Bush Administration notorious for its controlled media approach and lack of transparency.

Regardless of which of these happen to be his true motive, it's still highly questionable whether the approach will have any effect at all. One might recall President Bush's brief appeal several years ago to America's black community (overwhelmingly Democratic) to vote Republican - an eyebrow-raising move that, in the end, mattered very little on electoral outcomes.

Second, as to McCain's inclusion of issue-based blogs, the jury is still out on whether this is more a matter of politics or policy. Blogs that focus on health care and the environment have already been approached. It's possible that McCain is pandering to these issue-advocates in an effort to simply obtain good publicity, but that seems unlikely. After all, he's including them in his briefings without any guarantees that his ideas will be covered in a positive light. In fact, he must assume the exact opposite to be true in many cases. It's the very act of sitting them at the table that is significant.

And along that stream of thinking, it may be a good move. As John Edwards' blog outreach coordinator points out about the issue-based blogs, "They're not necessarily partisan all the time. They may have a progressive or conservative take, but they're not in the tank for the party, and if someone like McCain has a good energy idea they'll blog about it."

In other words, John McCain might be courting the left-wing blogs for political reasons, but it may be possible that he's encouraging a dialogue with the issue-based blogs in a practical attempt to brainstorm some intelligent, workable policy solutions. For that, he should be applauded. Politics is, after all, a war of ideas, and if we are to have the "free marketplace of ideas" that democracy requires, then encouraging more open access to that marketplace might just help win that battle.


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