[S]ome Dems fear that Moulitsas's popularity will pull the party so far to the left that it won't be able to win the general election in 2008. "It's a little bit like 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' with these guys," said an aide to a Democratic presidential candidate who asked not to be identified while the boss was angling for Moulitsas's support. "You like what they're saying when they're coming in, but you don't know what they're going to do once you let them into your house." Newt Gingrich, who wins points even from liberal bloggers for his political acumen, marvels at the Democrats' embrace of the blogosphere: "Candidates out there run a risk of resembling the people they're trying to appeal to," he tells NEWSWEEK. "I think the Republican Party has few allies more effective than the Daily Kos."
Online liberal activists like Kos often compare the function of their blogs to the way Republicans use talk radio: to inspire the troops, do rapid reaction, spread an ideological message, etc. But there's a key difference that the two quotes above highlight perfectly.
Talk radio largely exists in a media vacuum. Reporters ignore it and few transcripts are made of what is said (for instance, Spinsanity basically had a monopoly on the Rush Limbaugh beat until Media Matters was founded). So Republicans can push a more extreme, base-inspiring message to their supporters through talk radio, while appearing relatively moderate to the general public. And they rarely get punished for what their talk radio supporters say on the air.
By contrast, blogs live forever in Google and are read by journalists, so Democratic politicians can’t push a more extreme message effectively. In addition, the transparency of blogs means that bloggers’ extremist statements are frequently made into political issues. This forces Democratic politicians into a dilemma: repudiate their blog supporters (as John Kerry did when Kos attacked the military contractors who were killed in Fallujah), or stand behind the blog and look like an extremist. That's what the Democratic aide is referring to when he says that "you don't know what they're going to do once you let them into your house."
The model that underlies this argument is spatial voting, which portrays voters as choosing the candidate who is closest to them ideologically. As political scientists have made such models more complex, they have explored how politicians might present different ideological locations to different audiences, suggesting that they are more extreme to activists and more moderate to the general public. But this tactic only works if the general public does not find out about what the politicians say to the activist audience. Otherwise, the candidate may be punished for deception or extremism. Similarly, if the politician associates with extremist activists, the public may view the politician herself as more extreme.
Unlike talk radio, blogs don't allow Democrats to push two separate messages effectively, and they make it easy for Republicans and journalists to make Democrats look extreme. In short, they're too transparent to be an effective political weapon. That's why Newt Gingrich likes Daily Kos. How long until Democratic politicians figure this out?