Home > Metablogging, Oz Politics > Where is the grown-up right ?

Where is the grown-up right ?

August 31st, 2004

In thinking about the likely role of bloggers in the forthcoming election, I thought I’d start by looking at the listing of Oz political bloggers put up by Ken Parish, which is about the most comprehensive there is. What’s immediately apparent is the almost complete absence of any serious contribution from supporters of the Liberals.

Ken divides his ‘right-of-centre’ bloggers into two groups, “moderate” and “right-wing death beasts[1]“. The distinction isn’t so much in terms of views on policy issues, but in terms of style and focus. The RWDBs adopt a consciously over-the-top style, in imitation of overseas models like Mark Steyn, and seem more attached to George Bush and the US Republican Party than to Howard and the Liberals. Even with an Australian election campaign under way, many of them are still more concerned with the US than with Australian issues. More importantly, they focus remorselessly on trivial political talking points (did Kerry really deserve his Purple Heart, making fun of Latham’s health problems ) than on anything likely to concern the Australian electorate.

Turning to Ken’s “moderate right” category, he has only ten names, and most of these are either inactive or misclassified. In looking at his list, and others, the only serious bloggers I could think of on the political right were c8to , Andrew Norton of Catallaxy and John Humphreys, all of whom are more libertarian than Liberal[2].

It wasn’t always so. When I started this blog in 2002, about half of the bloggers I linked to regularly were members of the moderate right, including David Morgan, Gareth Parker, Scott Wickstein and Jason Soon. Even Tim Blair wasn’t as stereotypically an RWDB as he is now. But Morgan and Parker have given up blogging, Wickstein now sticks almost exclusively to football and Soon has moved to the political centre. Meanwhile, RWDB sites have proliferated, as is indicated by Ken’s blogroll. There seems to something in the medium that’s not conducive to the politics of the centre-right.

This is quite different from the mainstream media. Of course, radio is full of shock jocks and print has its McGuinnesses and Akermans, but there are also lots of serious supporters of the Liberals and the political right more broadly, including Alan Wood, Christopher Pearson, Gerard Henderson and Miranda Devine, to name only a few.

Overall, to the extent that the blogosphere has any impact, this situation has to be bad for the Liberals. I can’t imagine that many undecided voters are going to be swayed by the offerings of the RWDB brigade, except in the opposite direction. Meanwhile, with the blog audience growing rapidly, the left of Ozplogistan may have an influence, if mainly an indirect one.

Now, I’m sure that commenters can point to some serious contributors overlooked, or misclassified, in Ken’s listing. I’ll concede in advance that some members of the RWDB group are less cartoonish than others. I haven’t waded through all the sites in the list. In addition, it’s true that some leftwing blogs adopt a mirror image of the RWDB style. Still, I can’t see the blogosphere doing much to advance the Liberal cause.

fn1. This isn’t a term of abuse from Ken, but an ironic self-description used by the RWDBs themselves.

fn2. I should also mention Bargarz, listed by Ken as a moderate, but who hasn’t posted on Australian politics for some time. Bernard Slattery teeters on the edge. He was part of the moderate right when I started out, but it is now classed by Ken with the RWDB group.

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  1. August 31st, 2004 at 10:36 | #1

    …to the extent that the blogosphere has any impact

    That is the crux of the problem, because I don’t think it has any effect whatsoever. Few people actually care about reading political opinions and even fewer resort to blogs to do so. Thus, John’s observation is an interesting piece of trivia but nothing else.

  2. tim
    August 31st, 2004 at 10:38 | #2

    Here’s a way us unserious, cartoonish right-wing bloggers very often assist the conservative cause: we find stories and issues and subjects that are followed up by mainstream media.

    So, although the effect upon a broader audience isn’t direct, it’s certainly there. As an example, I’d offer the case of Peter Garrett’s appearance on The Today Show several weeks ago.

  3. August 31st, 2004 at 10:58 | #3

    Steve Edwards as a serious Liberal supporter? A lot resting on his young shoulders then… :) And he’ll be a libertarian once Jason and I am finished with him. Bwahahahaha

  4. August 31st, 2004 at 11:15 | #4

    I think many of us would take the view that the Liberal Party is big enough and ugly enough to take care of itself. The bloggers in the ‘libertarian’ category generally avoid narrow party political partisanship, myself included, because we think the battle of ideas is ultimately much more important than electoral outcomes.

    While blogs are very important in agenda setting, I don’t think this translates directly or reliably into electoral outcomes for particular parties.

  5. Steve
    August 31st, 2004 at 11:24 | #5

    I’d support Tim’s comments there. I think a lot of stories appear on blogs prior to the news.

    In particular, i seem to remember reading the Green-Nazi’s comparision on blogs and web mags before it was made by Brandis, or appeared in Andrew Bolt’s column.

    And a lot of both TimB’s and JQ’s web posts and discussion are of course great material for the articles they write – a recent example is JQ’s article on the economic policies of the Greens.

    On another note: JQ you classified Miranda Devine as serious. You sure about that?

  6. snuh
    August 31st, 2004 at 11:41 | #6

    i’d just like to agree with steve on miranda devine’s alleged “seriousness”. i’d just as soon call blair a wit.

  7. August 31st, 2004 at 11:43 | #7

    I think the chances of blogs having any influence on an election outcome is fantasy; most of the people in the outer-suburb marginals wouldn’t know what one was, unless they mistakenly visited one surfing for porn. My own view is that the two mainstram parties are virtually identical fabian socialists, with a touch of semantics thrown in. The party I would vote for doesn’t exist, and is unlikely to- I can’t see a prty being created to pretty much put itself out of business. The choice is big-spending big taxing social democrats who are marginally influenced by business, or big spending big taxing social democrats who are marginally influenced by the ACTU, with the Greens hovering aroud the fringes to pick up the moody loner/disaffected dingbat vote. Big choice.

  8. John Quiggin
    August 31st, 2004 at 11:45 | #8

    I had my doubts on Devine, and meant to include something along the lines “Some more serious than others”.

    Also, although he’s too polite to point it out directly, Stephen Kirchner is an obvious omission from my list.

  9. Mork
    August 31st, 2004 at 11:51 | #9

    I’ve noticed that Miranda Devine frequently picks up themes and column ideas from the rabid-right blogmire. I’m not sure whether that observation supports Tim’s contention that the rabid-right blogs feed stories into the serious media, or Steve’s that she is not a serious commentator!

  10. John Quiggin
    August 31st, 2004 at 11:54 | #10

    “we find stories and issues and subjects that are followed up by mainstream media … As an example, I’d offer the case of Peter Garrett’s appearance on The Today Show several weeks ago.”

    Tim, as a general point this is right. You and other bloggers have done this on quite a few occasions.

    I’m not convinced by this particular example, though. The interviewer picked up the backflip, the government has plenty of people watching the Sunday program, and Downer was quick off the mark to respond.

  11. Mark Bahnisch
    August 31st, 2004 at 12:40 | #11

    I agree with Tim and Steve – and also the commenters who don’t think the general populace are glued to blogs. But I’d add two caveats. The first is that it’s possible political strategists from the parties might read blogs and the second is that one of the earliest quantitative studies on voting behaviour – Lazarfeld (1947) found that people are very guided in their decisions by “opinion formers” – that is to say people they know or meet who seem well informed on politics. The political parties know this, and encourage their members to talk up their party to friends, work colleagues and the proverbial taxi drivers. It may be that those who inhabit the blogosphere play this sort of role – I’ve certainly drawn particular discussions to the attention of friends and colleagues. Sending links to people now seems to be a very common activity – there could be some (minor) effect this way.

  12. August 31st, 2004 at 12:53 | #12

    Oh, I’m still doing political blogging. I’m writing at Samizdata.net, and I will be the token ‘Right-winger in Residence’ at Troppo Armadillo for a while.

    My output is down, true, but that is because I’ve got a lot on my plate just now. Hoping to be churning out material on a fairly regular basis by polling day though.

  13. Dave Ricardo
    August 31st, 2004 at 13:07 | #13

    Currency Lad is a reasonably grown up right winger, as these things go.

  14. August 31st, 2004 at 14:34 | #14

    I agree with Stephen Kirchner that there is little value in partisan blogging – it is therapy/entertainment for the converted. While I am a member of the Liberal Party, I have written many posts on Catallaxy critical of Liberal policies, from their over-interventionist stance on higher education to their misguided view on gay marriage. Good policy is more important than who implements it.

  15. August 31st, 2004 at 14:59 | #15

    Where are the grown up scientists and moralists?
    Surely, an intellectual investigator should try to Discover the Truth about the World, irrespective of the implications for ones own ideology?
    Similarly, a moral agent should try to Do Good for Other Individuals, irrespective of the implications for ones own special (!), racial, gender, class or sectarian interests?
    Or did Kant, and the rest of the Enlightenment, all labour in vain?

  16. August 31st, 2004 at 15:12 | #16

    “In particular, i seem to remember reading the Green-Nazi’s comparision on blogs and web mags before it was made by Brandis, or appeared in Andrew Bolt’s column.”

    Green-Nazi link first from the RWDBs? I’ll break it to you Steve, but I first encountered this idea at University, you know in one of those leftist intellectual politically-correct type post-colonial history courses. In the early 1990. See also Simon Schama’s “Land and Memory”.

  17. Peter Murphy
    August 31st, 2004 at 16:10 | #17

    The RWDBs adopt a consciously over-the-top style, in imitation of overseas models like Mark Steyn, and seem more attached to George Bush and the US Republican Party than to Howard and the Liberals. Even with an Australian election campaign under way, many of them are still more concerned with the US than with Australian issues.

    It sounds a little odd to me. I think many people in Australia would have no or little problem with Howard (or have a lot of problems with Latham) – but at the same time think Bush is a joke. His campaign style is offputting to say the least, his religious-right base brings out the anti-wowserism, and I suspect quite a lot of farmers know the FTA is a crock. So which bloggers fall into this important demographic?

    I think many RWDB are “anti-Left” by instinct, which then moves them into the “Right” by default. Then some of these make the mistake of lumping the Left sides and Right sides from both teams together. (They are not.) A few even jump on any piece of faeces coming from Karl Rove/Town Hall/Free Republic with abandon – like the swift boat fiasco.

  18. Paul Norton
    August 31st, 2004 at 16:50 | #18

    I broadly agree with Jack’s defence of Enlightenment rationality and his lament at its absence in much contemporary debate. I would also agree that some elements of the newer left and new social movements have tended to throw the baby out with the bathwater on this score.

    At the same time, there is nothing essentially anti-Enlightenment or anti-rational about either (a) acknowledging the value of other paradigms or sources of knowledge (especially from other cultures) or (b) acknowledging that Enlightenment rationality had its own blind spots and potential for hubris to tempt nemesis, especially vis-a-vis the “crooked timber of humanity” and the natural world. To deny the rational kernel of recent “Left” anti-Enlightenmentism is also to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    Jack also writes:

    “a moral agent should try to Do Good for Other Individuals, irrespective of the implications for ones own special (!), racial, gender, class or sectarian interests”

    I don’t see any contradiction between doing good for other individuals and also being concerned to redress injustices of race, gender or class. I can see a contradiction between doing good for other individuals and seeking to protect unjustified privileges of race, gender or class. We need to be careful not to conflate dissimilar (indeed, opposing) goals under the rubric of “special interests”.

    Perhaps Jack is arguing that in acting as moral agents, we should be principally guided by considerations of common humanity rather than those of class, race or gender identities. This would be unproblematic were it not for the fact that inequalities based on these identities do exist, largely through a combination of pre-Enlightenment and irrational superstitions about race and gender difference, and plain unenlightened defence of privilege through fraud, force, and undemocratic concentrations of power and resources.

    If we are genuinely committed to the Enlightenment principle of the equal worth and equality of rights of all human beings, we need to take account of the consequences of the historical and continuing denial of this principle, and seek to overcome them.

  19. August 31st, 2004 at 17:06 | #19

    Paul.
    Although I am not in principle opposed to the use of force, to change criminal regimes or to deter/detain unauthorised aliens, I am alot less comfortable with these ideas now than when I was two years ago.
    Kants theories of universal political agency and universal moral obligation look to me to be the best way of achieving political order whilst maintaing moral decency.
    The only problem with Kant theories is the transition to putting them into practice ie escaping the prisoners dilemma of others players distrust and ignorance of your motives.
    I have suggested that a machiavellian political individual, eg Howard, has been able to advance these good ends using bad means. But one cannot, pace Bismark, rely on clever individuals forever. They make mistakes or retire.
    The need is to build Kantian institutions, rather than rely on Machiavellian indviduals. I do not see how this can be brought about very easily.

  20. Peter Murphy
    August 31st, 2004 at 17:30 | #20

    Speaking of grown-up people from the Right: here’s a “nyaah-nyaah-nya-nya-nyaah” moment from the RNC: Republicans mock Kerry with purple heart bandages. It’s a bad time to make fun of that medal when the American bodycount in Iraq is closing on the milestone figure of 1000. I cannot imagine Howard would ever go there. Another reason why the “anti-Latham but anti-Bush right” is curiously absent.

  21. observa
    August 31st, 2004 at 18:35 | #21

    There are a couple of threads here that I’d pick up on. Jack has touched on this with a bit of an historical look at the Howard years, some of which are no doubt a reaction to what I might describe as a natural tendency of policymaking to ‘overboarding” (no pun intended).

    Essentially, you have an initial stirring of awareness to some perceived problem/injustice and then a vanguard of what might be described as the new frontiersmen, making the community more aware. If they have a sustainable argument they are absorbed by the mainstream and become the new civilisers and the civilised. With the passing of time and with moderate success at resolving their particular issue, they often lapse into seeking to apply their crusading foresight, increasingly into more marginal fields. This is inevitable, given their original missionary zeal. They become overboarders and inevitably have to be dealt with as such. Welcome to the new maligned group, cut down by the jackboots of the new troglodytes, when really they have become too obsessed to appreciate their own success and concomitant waning of need.

    This process would explain the bipartisan demise of bodies like ATSIC, just as we will expect the eventual amnesty for remaining detainees. The need for overboarding subsides as policy response reaches a successful mature phase, or new realities prevail. It’s why we notice a closeness of policy choice between the major parties at present. Some see this as a lack of choice of course, but they often ignore the annexures of past successes in this choice.

  22. Steve Edwards
    August 31st, 2004 at 21:26 | #22

    Whatever did I do to deserve the RWDB label?

  23. Jill Rush
    August 31st, 2004 at 22:47 | #23

    The right intelligentsia may not feel the need to blog as they are so well represented in the mainstream press – see the Advertiser headlines for the past couple of days.

    It may also be that as they engage with issues they see evidence which means that it is harder to maintain a rigid right position – life is rarely that black and white.

    A common feature of those on the right is that they blame individuals for their own misfortune. How uncomfortable this must feel when those unfortunates pop up at a later time as have those children brought up in children’s homes in the fifties when the Liberal/National coalition was at its zenith.

    One can only imagine how in a few years time those who have howled for “illegal immigrants” to be detained in terrible conditions and treated as the equivalent to dogs and cats by Liberal lawmakers will consider what has happened.

    However those on the right seem to lack imagination as to what might transpire if their preconceived notions and assumptions are incorrect. Lacking imagination and being too busy making money they will never visit the blogosphere except for those reporters looking for copy for the right wing rags they work for.

    The right doesn’t like people who have ideas as they essentially wish to divide the world into the good “us” and the bad “them”. This means that you are either with us or against us rather than waiting for evidence to prove a point of view.
    This makes for poor blogging as rants are rarely convincing to an enquiring mind.

    The blogospere has grown enormously fuelled by the inability of readers with differing views to engage with and develop ideas in the mainstream media.

    So perhaps the reason that there are few right wing blogs is for the same reason some people don’t hold parties – because nobody will come to their dreary affairs.

  24. Peter Murphy
    August 31st, 2004 at 23:22 | #24

    Jill,

    So perhaps the reason that there are few right wing blogs is for the same reason some people don’t hold parties – because nobody will come to their dreary affairs.

    I think you are missing John’s point. There are lots of right-wing blog, as a quick perusal of Troppo Armadillo’s blogroll would show. (Look on the right-hand side.) His point is that there aren’t many who are making much of a case for Howard or against Latham. Actually, Steve has been getting stuck into the Greens a lot. As the party is an importance source of preferences for Labor, I think that counts for John’s criteria.

    As for the “RWDB” tag: Troppo’s blogroll seems to be the authoritative one at the moment. If you don’t like it, you might have to talk to Ken about it.

  25. Peter Murphy
    August 31st, 2004 at 23:23 | #25

    Last sentence was for Steve, not Jill.

  26. September 1st, 2004 at 01:58 | #26

    It doesn’t matter if blogs are not read by most people. It could be interesting if blogs are read by journalists.

    Would, for instance, the Swift Boat crap have been picked over so thoroughly in the press if the bloggers hadn’t hadn’t smacked it about in much greater detail than any op-ed piece?

    Perhaps we could say the same about the children overboard fiasco?

    All it needs is smart journos (and policy wonks as Mark points out) to recognise they can get a good angle on something from a blogger, and our influence is disproportionate.

    The role of comments is crucial here because they offer an increasing opportunity for the relevant experts (perhaps the people in the next cubicle when the deal went down) to pop a position under cover of a nom-de-whatsit.. but I am not sure this is growing. And so far only a small part of the academic community has twigged to the possibilities, probably because they are overworked.

    People don’t tell lies if they are going to get caught. And I think the blogosphere makes that more likely.

  27. Stan
    September 1st, 2004 at 16:49 | #27

    I might also suggest that the RWDB tag is a useful rhetorical device for the left much in the way that MOONBAT is used by those on the right. Having been aligned with those of the former by Ken and JQ who “dress to the left” themselves, I’m not too worried by it.

    Ken’s list is useful but the classifications are very subjective.

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