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Blogotics As Usual 

Wannabe presidents flood cyber convention

Wednesday, Jun 14 2006
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LAS VEGAS — THE THOUSAND or so keyboard punchers who showed up last weekend for the first-ever YearlyKos convention of liberal bloggers talk about helping to invent a new politics. And maybe they are. But if the $75,000 Friday-night party tossed for them by former Virginia governor and pre–presidential candidate Mark Warner doesn’t qualify as the hoariest of Old Politics, then what does?

Warner rented the observation tower of the 1,100-foot Stratosphere at the top of the Strip and, along with the stunning views of greater Vegas, a live band, a set of Blues Brothers impersonators and free roller-coaster rides, offered up bottomless barrels of “blogaritas” and “Kos-mopolitans,” tables of prime rib and sushi, even a flowing fountain of milk chocolate and mounds of strawberries ready to be dunked. As Warner and his staff walked the circular room, hundreds of bloggers crowded around to shake his hand, snap his digital picture or write down his words, which would soon be blogged onto the Web.

Not that the governor had that much to say. When I asked him what he made of the blog boom, he used the same canned phrase he would use the next day in what was an undisguised stump speech–cum–campaign video on the convention floor. “This is the new public square,” he said. “It’s happening in real time. The way people think, act and do politics is changing right before our eyes.”

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The pugnacious, buggy-eyed, 34-year-old Markos Moulitzas Zuniga (a.k.a. “Kos” himself), who inspired this gathering and whose DailyKos Web site, with a half-million readers per day, is the biggest and most influential on the liberal side of the ’sphere, took pains to clarify that this was no early endorsement of Warner. After all, online support from Kos and his allies had as much as created the Howard Dean campaign of 2004. And Kos now wanted everyone to know that all this coziness with the centrist Warner didn’t mean he was already in the bag for him. That Jerome Armstrong, co-author of Kos’ new book, Crashing the Gate, and founder of the liberal Mydd.com übersite, was already on Warner’s payroll as an adviser didn’t help dispel that notion. “I’m undecided, really,” the Kos said as he introduced Warner for a brief speech at the party. “This is only a first date,” he assured. “But as a first date, this is pretty damn cool.”

All of which prompted my party pal and editor of the PersonalDemocracy.com Web site, Micah Sifry, to grumble in response, rather loudly, “Then you’re a cheap date.” That sort of skepticism coming from Sifry carries some real gravitas in the cyber world, for Sifry’s one of those prominent bloggers who do count themselves among those who believe the Web can revolutionize politics.

Kos had made an explicit vow the evening before, in his opening speech to the thousand convention goers in the aging Riviera Hotel. “The media elite has failed us. The political elite — from both parties — failed us. Republicans, because they can’t govern, and Democrats, because they can’t get elected,” he said to enthusiastic applause. “Technology allows each of us to be a leader, and allows us to support our new leaders wherever they emerge.”

To Kos’ credit, the convention drew not only an impressively large paying crowd of participants, but also a phalanx of that same media and political “elite” he had passionately thrashed. The presence of frontline political reporters from, among other outlets, the L.A. Times and The New York Times — including columnist Maureen Dowd — finally granted the blog world some long-sought legitimacy and overdue recognition (mind you that the Kos’ readership alone is greater than that of an average midmarket daily paper, in some cases by several multiples). “It showed the media we were not a bunch of people walking around with Che Guevara T-shirts and black ski masks looking for a Starbucks to trash,” Kos told me. “Blog readers are no different than anyone else. We’ve merely provided people a new way to connect and a new way to get involved.” Further validating the media’s new stamp of approval, Kos showed up as a commentator on last Sunday’s Meet the Press.

And the parade of Democratic pols, with their effusive offerings of tribute to the crowd, was also a first. You can now be sure that sometime before the 2008 election, Democratic hopefuls are going to be dragged before some yet-to-be-organized blogcentric beauty contest where they will be forced to please the judges tapping away on their Macs. It’s probably a good thing that Democratic pols like DNC chair Dr. Dean, Senator Barbara Boxer and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid felt compelled to show up this past weekend. As did four potential presidential candidates: New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, Wesley Clark (who threw his own lower-profile bash at the Hard Rock) and Warner.

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