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Edwards Gets Blogged Down

By Froma Harrop

Some of John Edwards' helpers have been busy, busy, busy insulting about 44 percent of the American electorate. The Democratic presidential candidate should have fired the two bloggers who trashed Christian conservatives in general and Catholics in particular, but didn't. Democrats have to get real tough with these people.

The former senator from North Carolina understandably wants a big presence on the blogs. They attract lots of young people who don't subscribe to Newsweek but would probably vote for Democrats, if they voted. So it seems good strategy to throw raucous online parties for this often politically disengaged group. The wise candidate will come as a guest, however, not the host.

Edwards seemed too smart to let loose-cannon bloggers muck up his campaign. But he hired as his Netroots coordinator Melissa McEwan, who thought it a good idea to tar Christian conservatives as "Christofascists" on her personal blog, Shakespeare's Sister. Another blogger on the payroll, Amanda Marcotte, wrote on the Pandagon Website that the Catholic Church opposed birth control "to force women to bear more tithing Catholics."

The Edwards campaign should have put McEwan and Marcotte on the next bus home. Instead, it issued on apology on their behalf and told them to soldier on. (Marcotte quit the campaign on Monday.) Perhaps Edwards feared dissing the youthful blogosphere community, which prides itself on uncensored discourse. Perhaps he figured that his ability to deliver a populist message in a Southern accent would cancel any offense. Still.

And Republicans have their blogging big mouths. John McCain's campaign employs Patrick J. Hynes, who insists on declaring that the United States is a "Christian nation." After the Arizona senator hired him, Hynes put a picture of Rep. Henry Waxman, Democrat of California, on his Website and asked readers to provide nicknames. Several responded with anti-Semitic slurs, which Hynes dutifully let pass.

To run a netroots campaign is to slog into a politically dangerous place. Many online communities are sealed worlds in which everyone uses the same expletives and shares the same radical thoughts. Some blogmasters may think that their large number of hits represents like-minded followers, when it's just tourists gawking at an outrageous show.

Like members of any self-contained group, the Website activists may start thinking they're the norm. In the past, their crazy talk would have stayed in the drunken confines of late-night partying. Now it can be examined by anyone with an Internet connection.

(There's also a lot of double-agentry going on. Bloggers intending harm sometimes pose as allies. They say awful things that sound supportive but actually make enemies in the outside world. So-called journalists find this stuff and quote it as representative of a politician's followers.)

Ned Lamont was very much a political moderate, but his message couldn't break free of the lefty bloggers who helped launch his campaign. Shortly after his stunning Connecticut primary victory over the Democratic incumbent, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Lamont ran ads that prominently showcased Markos Moulitsas, founder of DailyKos.

I asked Lamont whether he would put distance between himself and the leftist blogs, and he responded: "I think they're a great neighborhood to be in. It's like an enormous bulletin board." He also conceded that he was new to the blogosphere culture.

Lamont wasn't even paying Moulitsas, yet the Lieberman campaign managed to link him to the profane language and radical politics of DailyKos. That may partly account for Lamont's failure to pick up enough independent votes to win.

Once a campaign starts stroking checks to bloggers, they're sharing a bed. So while the blogs remain great hunting grounds for Democratic voters, candidates must choose their online partners with great care.

Copyright 2007 Creators Syndicate

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