Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Opinionator: A blog at the NY Times by Tobin Harshaw & Chris Suellentrop

The New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg is blogging from the liberal netroots gathering known as YearlyKos. Ezra Klein fears for his carefully crafted blogosphere niche. (“So should the rest of us retire? Compared to Hertzberg, we’re largely illiterates.”) Hertzberg’s initial reaction to the Kos Krowd: “I admit that I was expecting this crowd to look weirder. Not hippie weirder, though I did expect a bit of that, but nerdy weirder. So I was surprised at how extraordinarily normal everyone looked.”

The equivalent of the blogosphere in the 1960s and 1970s, Hertzberg says, was the “underground press.” Hertzberg attended several of “the ramshackle underground-press convocations that took place from time to time.” The fashionable look there was decidedly not normal: “The stereotypical look then was rock roadie or medieval wizard for men, groupie or earth mother for women.” Hertzberg adds:

On my bathroom wall I have a photograph taken at one of these underground-press convocations. It shows a crowd of a hundred or so undergrounders in a discussion circle. I’m in the middle, in shaggy haircut, Lennonish eyeglasses, and turtleneck, earnestly making some point (probably about the need to avoid alienating the great mass of Americans). And, sure enough, if you make allowances for a certain number of extravagant mustaches and batik prints, the crowd does look kind of normal, most of it. Except that three of the young women listening (somewhat skeptically, I have to admit) are stark naked.

No one naked around here. No chaos at YearlyKos. No “sweet smell of marijuana,” as the straight papers used to refer to it. No demands for revolution. No denunciations of bourgeois democracy. The Democratic National Committee Chairman is listened to respectfully and cheered enthusiastically.

What explains the new bourgeois left? Hertzberg’s theory: Because Vietnam was, “as Bob Dole might say, a ‘Democrat war,’ ” there was only one way to protest it. “You had to go to the left of the Dems,” he writes, “and if you hadn’t happened to have already acquired a moral/political compass, you might keep going till you ended up at the feet of Chairman Mao. This war is an all-Republican affair. And this generation, thank God, is perfectly content to stick with Chairman Howard.”

Washington Monthly blogger Kevin Drum concedes that “there’s a lot” to Hertzberg’s interpretation, but he also thinks Hertzberg is missing something: “the netroots isn’t a bunch of kids. In fact, the age distribution is pretty normal.”

Drum adds, “What’s happening now isn’t a youth revolt, and it’s not powered by free love, free acid, or fear of being drafted. It’s powered by a lot of bog ordinary moderate liberals who have been radicalized by George Bush and the Newt Gingrichized Republican Party.”