TCS Daily

A Political Cyber-Coalition

By Pejman Yousefzadeh - October 16, 2002 12:00 AM

Blogging has been celebrated by various supporters and boosters as a way to gain access to information that is not filtered through Big Media, or perhaps does not carry the ideological biases that many people (both on the Right and the Left) attribute to certain media sources.

For example, a conservative reader can get news from a source other than traditional media outlets like, say, the New York Times, which some conservatives view as being hopelessly skewed to the left. Similarly, a liberal can get news from a liberal blog, without having to resort to checking news outlets like FoxNews, which many liberals view as being hopelessly skewed to the right. One can fault these various perceptions of Big Media, but the point is that blogging gives the consumer a vastly expanded universe of information and insights from which to form views, and with which to stay informed.

But is blogging merely a tool for gathering information? Or can it become a vehicle for much more?

Observers of what has come to be known as "the Blogosphere" (coined by Bill Quick, of DailyPundit) have remarked upon the fact that the vast majority of bloggers appear to be right-of-center in their politics. Many of these bloggers, such as this writer, are generally conservative (or neo-conservative) in their political orientation. Well-known examples of a conservative blogger are Andrew Sullivan and the folks at National Review's Corner.

However, a great many bloggers are libertarians. While right-of-center, they have certain disagreements with conservatives on various issues. And their ranks are well represented in the Blogosphere. Glenn Reynolds, perhaps the most famous blogger around (next to Sullivan), is a libertarian. So is another superb blogger: Stephen Green. The formidable Virginia Postrel classifies herself as a libertarian as well. And needless to say, the list does not stop there. Indeed, there exist more libertarian bloggers typing away than one can possibly keep track of.

Now, as anyone familiar with the machinations of right-of-center politics can tell you, there have at times been rather strained relationships between conservatives and libertarians. Sometimes that relationship has devolved into outright hostility. Jonah Goldberg, a conservative columnist for National Review, is rather famous for articles such as this one, where he takes shots at libertarians. Libertarians, in turn, have been famous for sites such as this one, where they fire back with undisguised fury at what they perceive to be conservative and neo-conservative hypocrisy on issues affecting the free market, and American interventionism abroad.

At times, the ideological gulf between the two camps looked so large as to seem unbridgeable. And that, of course, presents serious problems for right-of-center political movements, such as those in the Republican Party, who fear that libertarian minor party candidates (whether or not they are officially members of the Libertarian Party-which does not represent all libertarians) could very well take away votes from a Republican candidate in a crucial election, thus causing the candidate to lose that election.

One of the palliative effects of blogging and the Blogosphere in general, however, is that it has fomented greater (and more civil) interaction among conservative bloggers and blog readers, and their libertarian counterparts. Indeed, blogging may very well cause conservatives and libertarians to realize that their mutual interests may outweigh whatever specific policy differences exist between them.

This would not be a development without precedent. During the Cold War, many conservatives and libertarians put aside their differences and rallied around a common enemy, that total threat to freedom, Soviet communism. But in the wake of the Cold War, the differences between conservatives and libertarians have become more pronounced, prompting many to forget their mutual interests. But the blogging phenomenon is, in no small measure, reminding conservatives and libertarians of their mutual interests. And these mutual interests - coupled with the interaction between conservative and libertarian bloggers and readers - may help reaffirm a political consensus on certain issues in America, along with a right-of-center political coalition to back that consensus up, and seek to translate it into official policy.

Consider several issues on which a consensus is beginning to develop between conservative bloggers and readers, and their libertarian counterparts:

  1. The War On Terrorism. conservatives and libertarians generally favor aggressive intervention in conducting the war on terrorism. Indeed, much of the reason for the strong and sudden rise in the popularity of blogs was September 11th. A glance at the archives of Glenn Reynolds for the week of September 10th, 2001, indicates that on September 11th, his web traffic soared, as people sought information on the terrorist attacks. By and large, libertarian bloggers have been strong supporters of the war on terrorism, and believe that the fight against terrorism must be decisively taken to the enemy, as Reynolds reveals in this (not atypical) post. They have, of course, joined conservative bloggers-who tend to be strongly supportive of President George W. Bush-on this issue. While libertarian and conservative bloggers certainly do quibble from time to time with certain specific tactics in the war, they both believe that military action against terrorist groups is called for. In general, libertarian and conservative bloggers favored the military action in Afghanistan, and they favor it in Iraq as well.

  2. Opposition to Oppressive Legal Restrictions Regarding Media and the Internet. A strong consensus has developed between many conservative and libertarian bloggers against restrictions affecting media and the use of the Internet. Reynolds is famous both on his blog, and in TCS articles like this one for denouncing strict and rigid intellectual property restrictions that hamper artistic and technological creativity, and prevent its open and free enjoyment by consumers. Similarly, Stephen Green is known for taking humorous, yet revealing shots at mechanisms such as the RIAA. Blogger and open source guru Eric Raymond, who is a self described "libertarian anarchist," also writes a great deal about the need for increased freedom and liberty in technological issues. The libertarian complaint against these legal restrictions, as enunciated by Reynolds, Green, and Raymond, finds sympathy with conservatives like Asparagirl, who object to these intellectual property restrictions, as well as to certain Internet filtering devices that some argue constitutes censorship on the Internet. This, and other issues regarding personal liberty, could serve as rallying points for conservatives and libertarians to make common cause.

  3. Firearms. Another issue that could potentially serve as a coalition builder between conservatives and libertarians. Professor Eugene Volokh is an outspoken and informed defender of the right to bear arms, as is Eric Raymond. These positions, of course, find strong favor in the conservative camp, which is well known for its advocacy and support of Second Amendment rights. Indeed, given the strong feelings of Second Amendment activists and supporters, and given the fact that many Second Amendment supporters are single-issue voters and advocates, this particular coalition building issue seems rather powerful and potent.

  4. The Economy. Needless to say, libertarians and conservatives generally favor a capitalist, free-market economic system, with low taxes, and little government regulation. There may be differences in degrees, but there certainly are not differences in general goals.

  5. Gay Rights. This may seem, at first blush, to be a coalition non-starter. But surprisingly, the ideological chasm on this issue is not as wide as it once might have been. Reynolds, Green and contributors on Volokh's site (including, I believe, Eugene Volokh himself), have expressed strong support for gay rights. On this issue, they find common cause with Andrew Sullivan, the foremost conservative advocate for gay rights, and Asparagirl, who describes herself as both "bisexual" and a "conservative Republican," and who writes about gay rights issues with eloquence and informed insight. While many conservatives express opposition to what they perceive to be "special" status for gays, lesbians and bisexuals by supporting a rights bill for them, these bloggers may help change minds on this issue by their continued writing and advocacy.

Given the fact that bloggers like Glenn Reynolds, Asparagirl Eugene Volokh, and Andrew Sullivan reach tens of thousands of visitors per day, a great many people are being reached by blogging. Is it inconceivable that these readers-the vast majority of whom can be assumed to be well-educated, well-off, and politically motivated to go to the polls-will take the conservative and libertarian message they read on these blogs to the ballot box in significant numbers?

Blogging will not achieve any sort of monopoly on public opinion-not by a long shot. And it is entirely possible that the blogging phenomenon will eventually fizzle. No one should be blind to that possibility. However, the most famous and popular conservative and libertarian blogs may yet serve as arbiters of public opinion in our computerized age. In doing so, they may help alter the political landscape in the United States. It may not happen in the short term. But if blogging continues to grow as an activity, and if conservative and libertarian blogs continue to see their already considerable prominence and popularity increase, the prospect of a reborn conservative/libertarian alliance - fostered by members of Blogosphere and congealing around new issues in a post Cold War world - may not be so easy to dismiss.



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