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Blogger Bush off the pitch

Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan shows us how political power in the United States lies with bloggers.


By Henning André Søgaard, New York

[blogging] Cindy Sheehan became world famous after she sat outside President Bush's ranch in Texas last summer demanding answers as to why her son was killed in Iraq. Her message was first presented by bloggers and then picked up by political journalists who brought the issue to the newspapers' front pages.

"All of these bloggers, who are not necessarily hard-core Democrats, agree on one thing: The people must regain power by mobilizing public opinion," claims Washington-based activist and lobbyist Ellen Miller. "This method of communication is probably the only thing that can challenge money and strong interest groups that still play on the president's team."

George W. Bush's support is set at a historic low, following revelations about evidence-making in Iraq, secret surveillance of US citizens and the torture of terror suspects. Only a third of voters are satisfied with the president.

Fundamental reorganization

Following the 2001 terrorist attacks, Washington DC lawmakers accepted restrictions on American civil rights that were unthinkable even during the Cold War. One political scandal after another has shaken the country, and now it seems that the president has used up the last remnant of his political capital.

What is behind this radical change of opinion? As the reelection of Bush in 2004 indicated, it takes more than scandals to get the American people to change their minds.

But observers in Washington DC still believe the president's low turnout and the scale of recent countless scandals point in the direction of the population being ready for a shift. So do the estimated four million American anti-Bush blogs.

"In my opinion, we are witnessing the start of a fundamental reorganization of democratic energy and political influence in the world's most powerful democracy," says former New York Times columnist Christopher Lydon.

According to Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, two of America's most influential political bloggers, much of the explanation lies in the new use of the Internet. They claim a growing group of political bloggers are slowly but surely spreading the message of government incompetence.

This is how they generate an engagement the country has not seen since the Vietnam War. Armstrong and Zuniga believe this is an example of how American democracy has survived the government's "political assaults" and come out strengthened by it all.

Media strategy

The objective of the political anti-Bush bloggers is clear: to uncover all the wrongs committed by the incumbent government and set aside "the same forces that have betrayed the constitution and the nation as such". It was bloggers who started the campaign to dismiss former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott after indirectly praising a former party colleague's racial divide. There are also bloggers behind MoveOn, an internet-based movement with two million members, which has played a key role in recent revelations of torture and surveillance, including through aggressive anti-Bush campaigns on the big broadcasters.

"If concrete results are expected at the fall elections, the Democratic Party must be better at using this tool," Armstrong and Zuniga nonetheless emphasize.

While Republicans have built up an impressive infrastructure of media, right-wing think tanks, financially powerful sponsors and strategic "get-out-the-vote" campaigns over the past few decades, the Democratic Party has suffered from a fragmented structure and fundamental lack of media strategies.

Blogging can take back a lot of this advantage, not only by mediating contact between progressive political forces, but also by bridging different interest groups with common goals. The US Human Rights Network is a coalition of fifty very different interest groups that have joined forces in the fight against the government's "disrespectful attitude" to human rights in the fight against international terrorism.

The network, which includes representatives of immigrants, ethnic minorities, social welfare recipients and people with disabilities, "found each other" via blogs, demanding in its political manifesto that the UN Declaration of Human Rights must also be a cornerstone of Bush's fight against terrorism. They have launched a nationwide campaign against Bush ahead of this fall's congressional and Senate elections 7. November.

million Movement

According to Jeff Jarvis, US media entrepreneur, the key to bloggers' increasing influence is not necessarily in the number of readers, but rather who follows them; namely politicians and journalists.

This means that almost anyone can reach these influential professional groups and indirectly contribute to putting matters on the political agenda.

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