Welcome to Moonbats & Wingnuts

Okay, let’s be clear right from the start: This venture scores high on the scale of meta, and probably chutzpah too. Writing on a mainstream media site (hereafter lovingly abbreviated MSM), I’m tasked to shine some light on the 2008 presidential campaign by watching the political blogs as they watch the candidates and critique the MSM as it, in turn, watches the campaign. Three levels of watching. If that leaves you a bit dizzy, you’re not alone.

Why risk the vertigo?

Because in this bowling alone nation, where so many of our esteemed fellow citizens shun civic life to hide in the dark of their home theaters, bloggers are blowing ;mdash; and, yes, sometimes huffing and puffing — on the embers of American democracy. Some of them are mad as hell and aren’t going to take it any more. Some want to save the world. Some want to be saved from those who believe the world needs saving. Skeptics or true believers, right or left, all of them pound their keyboards, unbidden and with slim hope of fame or fortune, in the common if unspoken faith that someone apart from their mothers is, or ought to be, paying mind.

And pay mind we do. Let’s grant that, by the numbers, political bloggers are still media small fry. Take DailyKos, the progressive gaggle that’s the political blogosphere’s most linked-to site, according to Technorati. It drew only about a third as many visitors over the last three months as the website of the largest metro newspaper in the San Francisco Bay area, which DailyKos calls home.

But numbers aren’t everything. In less than a decade blogging has gone from pajamas to power-brokering. Remember how conservative bloggers in 2004 took apart Dan Rather and CBS News over their report on George Bush’s National Guard service. Remember how liberal bloggers last year helped oust Sen. Joe Lieberman from ..., well, not the Senate, but the Democratic party at least.

You knew bloggers and their audience had definitively arrived when earlier this month they abandoned their computer nooks and flew off by the hundreds to Chicago’s giant McCormick Place, tracing a path already worn by the floor tile dealers and the Lions, to rub shoulders at YearlyKos, the annual convention of liberal bloggers. They drank Time magazine’s booze, were poked, prodded, and sized up by the MSM horde, were briefed by Democratic party operatives, and even drew the fervid in-person attentions of the Democratic presidentialcandidates, both on and — holy press credentials, Batman! — off the record.

And when the spinning and wooing and canoodling were all done, Susan Gardner and Markos Moulitsas, co-founder and namesake of the blog and convention, declared victory over the Democratic party’s Clintonian “Third Way” past. “Even the Democratic presidential candidates have figured out where the heart of the party now lies: with the new, unashamedly progressive movement. ... The 'center' is where we stand now, promoting an engaged and active politics embraced by significant majorities of Americans.”

That triumph is in dispute, of course. On the right, John Hinderaker and Paul Mirengoff at Powerline predict the Netroots will obediently follow Sen. Clinton to the center when she wins the nomination. On the left, Marc Cooper, noting the appearance of the Democratic candidates at YearlyKos, is worried about becoming lapdogs. “Who's got who by the tail? ... Showing up to pander to the online activists ... does not in itself make a revolution,” he writes. Liberal blogs are going to have to be “something more than a liberal mirror of what they like to call the Republican Noise Machine.” For his part, going uptown and consorting with the evil MSM at YearlyKos left TeddySanFran at “feeling just icky. ... I want the revolutionary, angry, Establishment-challenging, rabble-rousing netroots back.” He adds: “On the plus side, I did get to shake John Edwards’ hand!”

Triumphant or not, in the next year the blogosphere will likely shake more than candidates’ hands, and I’ll be here to record the tremors. Moonbats & Wingnuts will be, inevitably, a subjective venture. As I write, my news reader lists 132 subscriptions bulging with 3,141 recent posts. I can’t read everything, so I’ll follow my biases: for fact over opinion, for reporting over ranting, for ideas over ideology, for news over flackery, for the loner who leaves the party-line wagon train to ride over the ridge and follow a trail of independent thought.

There are blogs everywhere today, but I will mostly trust you to find your own way to the blogs on candidates’ websitesthat excrete the message of the day, if you like that sort of thing. I will look for mischief, as when Kathryn Jean Lopez at The Corner plays back Rudy Giuliani’s old views on immigration. I will look for expertise, as when Dan Drezner reads Giuliani’s formal forayinto foreign policy and finds it an “unbelievablyunserious essay,” or when baby blogger Ezra Klein dissects Giuliani’s nonplan health plan. (Did I miss the memo declaring August Whacka-Rudy Month?)

And I will look for you to e-mail me with your comments, complaints, and suggestions about the moonbats and wingnuts, mugwumps and wonks, who are doing their mothers proud by making 2008 the first truly alt.campaign.