Fame, Fortune, and Power

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.



Filed under Politics

14 responses to “Fame, Fortune, and Power

  1. This is wonderful. Enlightening, too. Helps keep it all in perspective. These people really are not worth the effort that is being expended on them. All complaining about them does is keep us from being those solid workers you mention. Thanks for this.

    • Thank you. 😀 I’ve done a series of “look at the numbers” blog posts over the past two years, and the harsh reality for them is that they – at best – fall into a group of <4% of the overall party. But they're very "useful idiots" for the right wing media.

  2. mjd55

    This is an insightful and great article Norbrook. I believe there were many bruised egos for not getting attention although it was honestly never earned. When looking at most of the “‘supposedly” professional left, they were never supporters of our administration throughout the primaries and showed marginal support and lots of criticism during the general election. (and I suspect many are still Republicans)

    • I found it telling that Markos really got full of himself when he was getting to be a regular guest on Countdown, and I think he was definitely expecting to be a major player in the political arena because of Daily Kos. When MSNBC slapped him down for getting into a fight with Joe Scarborough,(yes, Markos was out of line) along with not getting “consulted” by various politicians, you could see him leap onto the frustrati bandwagon. It probably didn’t help that his book didn’t sell that well, either.
      Jane, Glenn, and Adam Green have always been “it’s about me!” They really thought they were “major players” in the political arena, and to be bluntly honest, they aren’t. I’m looking now through Adam’s FEC filings, and two things stand out: First, there wasn’t much money spent on candidates; and second, that the candidates they did spend money on lost.

  3. LunarSea

    In a word…


  4. Very well put, Norbrook. You have described reality to a T here and it is that reality clashing with the fantasy world the frustrati inhabit that causes all the anger and “betrayal” diatribes they pen. They are not “the base” of the party. They are not representative of the base of the President’s support. They do not have any real influence over the base, the campaign volunteers, the major or minor donors to the party or anything else that really matters to politicians. They haven’t been noticed or listened to because they are a small, uninfluential and fringe group. If they want to be a force in Democratic politics they need to try getting out among the Democratic voters, working on the streets and in the campaign offices, showing up with boots on the ground, petitions in hand, leading voter registration drives, driving people to the polls, etc. Doing that can make them important because that is what sways opinions of masses of people and delivers actual votes. Until they realize that, they can spend all their screaming louder on their little websites and patting each other on the back for their holier than thouness and they will remain on the fringe talking only to each other and being overlooked every time.

    • It was easy for them to get sucked the idea of “the netroots,” and the belief that this was the new paradigm in politics, ignoring that the old paradigm is still there. 😉 It’s an addition, not a replacement. But when you have hundreds (or thousands) of people telling you how wonderful, influential, and powerful you are, it’s seductive to believe that.

      As you pointed out, there’s a way to be a ‘force’ in the Democratic Party, and they haven’t done it yet. Quite frankly, I don’t believe they have the patience. When I said I actually had power and influence in my hobby, it wasn’t something that I developed in a year or two. It was on the order of 18 years. Even then, I didn’t know I had it until something blew up… and let me tell you, the politics in hobby groups can be intense. I got dragged into it, and it was a shock for me to realize just how many people I knew, how many wanted my thoughts, and how many “owed me.”

      They’ve only been doing this for a few years. They’ve never demonstrated their ability to turn out the resources for a candidate they favor to win. Until they do that, and do it consistently, they’re not going to be “players.” The idea that “I write a popular blog” is enough is ridiculous. Yes, some of them are making money off their blogs, but that only means they’re making money off their blogs. Not that they’re influential.

  5. Nathan Katungi

    Norbrook, all I can say is WOW! This is the most incisive and astute commentary I’ve read that exposes the bloggers who overestimate their importance. I wish the MSM would read this article. If they did, they might realize the con games being played by the people they prominently feature who claim to be the base of the Democratic party. You are absolutely right: names like Adam Green, Jane Hamsher, Mrarkos Moultasis, Glenn Greenwald, and others, are really not household names when it comes to grassroots Democratic voters.

    • “…names like Adam Green, Jane Hamsher, Mrarkos Moultasis, Glenn Greenwald, and others, are really not household names when it comes to grassroots Democratic voters.”

      Exactly! And Greenwald still acts like he’s somehow more knowledgeable than President Obama, who was at the top of his class at Harvard Law School, for crying out loud.

  6. Excellent post, Norbrook. When national elections can be won with 1% of all the Democrats, then these folks will be listened to and respected. Except of course they are unable to find any candidate other than Dennis Kucinich who meets their purity tests.

    It is kind of hard for them to come back and claim that they swayed an election when the people they rail against win. They sound more like Republicans, claiming mandates where none exist.

  7. Norbrook, fantastic post. All too true.

    What these chumps fail to realize is that they are experiencing “virtual” fame, where, at best, there are still relatively few followers commenting on you articles, etc.

    Just look at Greenwald’s stuff at Salon. Yes, it seems like a lot of people, but on closer inspection, it’s still a small number of people who keep coming back and posting follow-ups.

    I’m a published writer and artist. I’ve working in animation and design. But I’m not famous. I’m no Syd Mead or Seth McFarlane. But the reason why I’m asked for my advice is not because I’ve got x-amount of followers on DeviantArt, it’s because I’ve been doing it for a long time, and so…well, that just means that I’ve got some idea about what I’m talking about, as opposed to a loudmouth who’s just into pulling nonsense out of their nether regions.

    • Exactly. While I was “famous” in my particular part of that hobby, I had a “reality check” – that is, my work, my friends, and my family. None of whom were particularly interested in my hobby, and had no idea that I was “famous.” 😆 I saw way too many people who mistook their “stature” in the hobby with what they were in real life, totally ignoring that most of the people they met didn’t have a clue about it. That’s what I keep getting reminded of when I watch these bloggers. Jane ran into that when she was detained at the Quantico gate, and had a conniption fit about it – it was a “conspiracy to prevent her from visiting PFC Manning.” That she was trying to drive onto a military base in a car with expired tags had nothing to do with it. 🙄

  8. Observerinvancouver

    Dang but I’m glad I checked in here today. This article just nails it. Great analysis. Heh.

    I still spend most of my internet time over at DKos (those addictive pootie diaries). Every once in a while I point out how the right wingers worked their way into the political woodwork from the bottom up – school boards, local government, etc. and I suggest that the progressives have to do the same. The response has generally been crickets. I wish that made me laugh but it doesn’t. I may post a link there to this article if I find the right spot for it.

    • Glad to see you here. This blog is in “semi-hiatus” for the summer. It was in hiatus, but as usually happens to me, I had a few ideas and a moment to spare. 😆 What’s struck me about the frustrati – and the major blog owners who are with them – is that they’re demanding influence, not earning it. Just like anything else, you have to start at the bottom -and if you expect “better” Democrats, you have to start them at the local level. They don’t just appear out of nowhere. Of course, that’s much harder to do than just sit at a keyboard and pound out a blog or a comment. 🙄