Politics on the web

The internet is full of weblogs like this one, with most of the more popular ones devoted to politics. Because it costs little or nothing to run a weblog, anybody can start one. You don't have to have advertisers, you don't have to have editors, you don't have to have a printing press, and you don't even have to have readers.

Needless to say, the range of opinion expressed on the internet is much wider than what is found in the old-media magazines or television shows. However, that does not necessarily mean that people actually read a wider variety of opinions. For, on the internet today, whatever your interest, or your world view, you will find somebody who shares it. They will lead you to others with the same ideas, and soon you will have a little gang (or a big gang) that scratches each other's back, quotes each other, and congratulates each other on saying the right thing.

And if you, or your group, are the type that thrives on having enemies, the internet will provide plenty of them, too. For example, the right-of-center pro-war webloggers have made great sport out of digging up quotes from loony leftwingers who pull for the USA to get its clocked cleaned in Iraq and everywhere. There are plenty of them, especially at universities. A Howard Dean supporter with no official position in the campaign complains on a campaign message board that Saddam's capture ends any hope of a Democrat taking the White House. Some student at a university somewhere calls George Bush a Nazi. A correspondent admits to feeling sorry for the scruffy, bewildered Saddam.

These quotes are predictable and come from people writing in an unguarded, spontaneous fashion to a group of people they think are sympathetic. They forget that the whole world has access to what you post on the web. I am sure some of these people are puzzled when they suddenly get hundreds of angry emails in response to something they dashed off in a hurry, without thought.

In this week's US News and World Report, columnist John Leo, who is known for pointing out absurdities committed by the politically correct on campuses, digs deep into weblogs on the internet to find his targets--people who have referred to Bush as a Nazi. There are many, most of them academic wing-nuts. They get more notoriety than they deserve when Leo tears them apart in his column in a national magazine.

Many of these people are paper tigers. They have no audience until somebody discovers that they said something stupid. Suddenly, they are deluged with criticism far disproportionate to their position or their influence. Why? Because they are providing an enemy for a group of people who thrives on having enemies.

What is different today? The internet allows a lot more people--many of them naive, some of them stupid--the freedom to make their opinions available to the world. Most of those opinions lie dormant on a server somewhere, and deservedly so. But who knows when one sentence, one phrase, might be discovered because it serves somebody's interest. Suddenly it will be broadcast to the millions--within a few hours after it was plunked out on the keyboard in some dorm room!