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Are blogs taking over politics?

At the Yearly Kos, bloggers flex some muscle as politicians and bloggers try to understand how the Internet is changing the political landscape.

When considering IT in government, one also has to consider how technology is transforming politics. For that particular angle,we turn to the blogosphere and the Yearly Kos, where liberal bloggers rubbed shoulders and butted heads with mainstream Democratic leaders. How does bloggers changing the political equations? How is the medium – interconnected, two-way debate and communication – changing the role of the press in politics? And most importantly, how is political fundraising being transformed?

The Yearly Kos marks the high-water point of blogger impact. As Slate's John Dickerson notes:

There's no question that bloggers are becoming influential in the political process, at least on the Democratic side. Yearly Kos showed all the signs of the arrival of an important new constituency—politicians courting support, big media interviews, and mountainous self-referential coverage in the blogsosphere itself. It looks like a big movement to me.

Of course, the Democratic Party has never really liked grass-roots movements, at least not since labor in the 1930s. They resisted the Civil Rights Movement because the party depended on Southern Democrats. They resisted the anti-War movement because LBJ was responsible for the Vietnam War. They resisted the Deaniac movement because, well, because they didn't like Dean and they were afraid of being pushed too far left.

So what is the Democratic Party to do with the Kos revolution? They are seeing real money, serious money coming in through the 'sphere, but they are still worried about hangin' with the ultra left. The Washington Post reports:

Many Democrats see this emerging community as a source of innovation, energy and ideas that will change the way politics and journalism are practiced, and one that will provide a new army of activists for a party badly in need of help.

But the arrival of the blogosphere as a political force has produced tensions within the Democratic coalition, including battles with party centrists over the direction of the party, which have led to questions about whether the often-angry rhetoric and uncompromising positions of the bloggers will drive the party too far left and endanger its chances of winning national elections.

No wonder they're worried. Markos (Kos) Moulitsas called for the net-roots activists to take over the party. And serious politicians – Harry Reid, Barbara Boxer, Mark Warner, and Wesley Clark – all showed up to pay obeisance to the bloggers. Former Va. Gov. Mark Warner is looking like he's ready to engage the bloggers. "I think it's evolving," he said of the net-roots community. "I think these guys and gals are potentially creating a new public square for democracy. And they are an unorganized, unorthodox jumble. What started as occasional voices venting is now turning into what could be a major force in American politics."

"I think the Internet and the blogs are helping to renew our democracy," said Simon Rosenberg of the centrist NDN, the successor organization of the New Democrat Network. "There are many more people involved in the debate about our country than a few years ago."

The blogosphere is a subculture all its own – and not unlike the clash between the radicals and the Hubert Humphreys in the 60s, there is a very real culture clash between political bloggers and Party leaders. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) gave it to the bloggers straight when they pushed on the idea of impeaching Bush. "We do not control the House of Representatives," she said. "It's an impossibility. . . . I say censure the president and move on."

Tom Mattzie, Washington director of MoveOn.org, called the struggle inside the Democratic Party a "clash of civilizations" between an old order and a new order, but he also discounted those who view it purely in ideological terms. His group, he said, had polled the net-roots activist community. "What they want is not an ideological litmus test," he said. "They want Democrats to stand up and fight. They don't want Neville Chamberlain Democrats; they want Muhammad Ali Democrats."

Kos might be a little out in left field about blogger influence, though.

Moulitsas said he expects the power of the blogosphere to grow. He predicted that it will play as significant a role in shaping the field of Democratic presidential candidates as in who raises the most money and who signs up the best consultants. "I think there's clearly going to be a blogosphere primary [in the 2008 race]," he said.