A little over 20 years ago I wrote a monthly column for a magazine, one of the prestigious ones in that field, which had subscribers around the world. My name was at the top of the page, along with my picture, and I even got paid for it. That sounds impressive, doesn’t it? I was famous! World-wide recognition, money, etc., etc., etc. The reality was that maybe (being extremely generous) 6000 people read my column, and what I got paid amounted to about an hour’s pay at my real job. The magazine was a hobby magazine, covering a sub-specialty in the hobby. All that really meant was that people who read it knew who I was, but in terms of the much larger hobby, let alone the rest of the world, I was unknown. In looking around at various “progressive” blogs, and in particular their owners, I get the impression that their perception doesn’t match reality. That is, much of their “rage” about the “lack of purity” on the part of Democrats (and particularly the President) is more due to the fact that the fame, fortune and influence they expected didn’t come to them.
There have been a number of times when the attitude they have seems to be “Don’t you know who I am?” That is, they act as if politicians should instantly “snap to” because of their fame. They run X blog site, which has Y thousands of readers every day! They are a major force in the blogosphere, someone whose site is an opinion leader! They raised tens of thousands of dollars, they even have their very own PAC. How could the Party ignore them, when they represent the base of the Party?
They looked at their site traffic, they read the glowing comments they got from their readers and other bloggers, at the money their PACs were pulling in, and what the donation tallies for what they endorsed. All of which led these blog owners to fool themselves. They knew that if Democrats took over the White House and Congress, they were major players who were responsible for it. They were going to get a seat at the table for sure. Members of Congress and the Administration would be contacting them on a regular basis, to get their opinions, support and blessings. Any legislation they wanted was going to be fast-tracked through. They were going to be regular guests on all the news shows, interviewed for their opinion by newspapers and magazines, their books would be selling like hot-cakes, and they’d be in demand as speakers. Life was going to be good for them.
The reality is something quite different. Fame in the blog world does not mean fame in the real world. Just as I was “famous” in a very limited circle, which didn’t mean much beyond that, so it is with them. I’ve been to Party functions. The number of people there who have heard of them turns out to be … not many. Mentioning their names or their web sites just draws a blank look from the person you mention it to, far more often than not. I know that because I’ve had that experience on a number of occasions. It’s actually easy to understand if you look at the math.
Let’s say that this blog was drawing 700,000 unique visitors a day, who return each day to see what I’ve written. That number would put me in the upper levels of most web site rankings. Obviously I’d be “famous,” and that many readers would make me a “force to be reckoned with” in the Democratic Party, right? Well, that actually amounts to about 1 % of all Democrats, assuming that all my readers are Democrats. That means that even if I had one of the most popular blogs on the Internet, 99% of the people in my own political party would have absolutely no idea of who I was. I happen to know that the “big names” in the blog world don’t have anywhere near that number of readers. So many of the “famous” blog owners fame is limited to a small group of people. It’s like being the top-selling recording artist in Zambia. It means that in Zambia, you’re a big deal, but to the rest of the world you’re an unknown.
What about the political action committees they run, and the fundraising they did? Wouldn’t that make them someone to take into account? It might, except that you have to look at what they’re actually raising, and what those PAC’s are doing. Compare their fundraising as a percentage of the total funds that politicians raise, and it turns out to be … a fairly small percentage. Their PAC’s, in the overall scheme of things, turn out to be very minor players, and looking at the FEC reports they’re required to file, it turns out that most of the money they raise gets spent on … themselves. If you’re talking the ability to run major advertising campaigns, someone who politicians know can swing major funding and campaign workers into a race, they’ve never demonstrated they’re able to do that. That doesn’t stop them from claiming credit for any time something like that happens if they’re in the vicinity. It’s like bragging about the national championship your school won when you were a 5′th string wide receiver. Yes, you were on the team, but your actual contribution to that record was that you … were on the team.
Well, what about voting blocks? If there are tens of thousands of readers who are voting a certain way because of what they say, that counts, right? Not really. First off, “tens of thousands,” spread over a country amounts to miniscule fractions. Secondly, many of their readers are concentrated in various solidly blue areas. If I hold a gathering of them in those areas, I might attract a few hundred people. If I were to do the same thing around here, I’d get … maybe … 5 people. In terms of mobilizing voters, doing the “grunt work” of campaigns, funding and helping local parties, they’re not much in evidence. For all their posturing about voting, and making various politicians “pay a price” for crossing them, they’ve been unable to deliver on that.
Their picture of their own standing wasn’t reality. Politicians of all stripes are very good at counting, and knowing who matters. In real terms, the blog site owners are minor players at best. Hence, the reason that what they expected to happen didn’t. Rather than accept that, and look at what they’d need to do to get to a point where have real influence, they decided that the politicians didn’t “get it,” and proceeded to attack them. Frustration (thus getting them called “the frustrati”) and anger about not getting “their due respect,” and not being admitted into the inner circles they thought they deserved led to their lashing out. Which only served to drive away not just the politicians they wanted to influence, but many of their previous supporters.
Now here’s the funny thing about my tale of being “famous.” I actually did have a lot of influence and power in the hobby, but it had nothing to do with my being a columnist. I wasn’t trying to gain influence, or demanding it. It just naturally flowed from from spending years doing something. I raised money for various charities the hobby supported. I organized and worked at the shows. I belonged to clubs, served as an officer of some of them, put on educational programs, edited newsletters, lent a hand whenever needed, and even provided transportation to those who needed it. I developed the reputation as one of those “solid workers” that every group wants, the person who would always pitch in and help. Over time, I made a lot of connections, of people I could call on. No one was more surprised than I was to find out that made me a very influential person.
The lesson is that fame does not give you influence or power. That’s just as true in a politics as it is in a hobby. Being the person who can be relied on to “get things done,” who shows up and works, helps out, and can deliver on their promises does. The “big name” bloggers who are solidly on the purity kick are complaining because they’re being ignored? That’s because they’re not really that famous, they haven’t done the work it takes on the ground – and no, blogging isn’t it – and they most certainly haven’t demonstrated any capability of delivering on their threats or promises. They can scream all they want about it, but it doesn’t change it. You see, the answer to their question “don’t you know who I am?” is “No, not a clue. Never heard of you.” And it drives them nuts.