This is the third in a series of posts in which I am featuring a blogger, who they are, where they came from and what they believe. Today, I have the pleasure of bringing Jerome Armstrong to the Huffington Post. Known as "the Blogfather," Jerome started www.mydd.com in 2001 - essentially the beginning of online Democratic history.
One of his early bloggers on MyDD was Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, aka Kos and on the eve of YearlyKos, a convention this coming Thursday to Sunday in Las Vegas, it seemed like the perfect time to trade some emails and thoughts with Jerome.
Let's start with the facts.
Jerome is 42 years old, meaning he is the 'oldest' blogger profiled so far (Peter Daou and I are relative babies at 41.) Prior to his start in the online world, Jerome also brings a remarkably diverse background to his work.
He served the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone and Costa Rica, and even spent a year and a half meditating in Buddhist monasteries. (For anyone worried about bloggers morphing into old-fashioned DC consultants, can anyone see the average DC consultant being silent for 14 hours at a time?)
Jerome, originally from Los Angeles, went to school abroad before graduating with a couple of masters from Portland State in Oregon, and currently lives in Alexandria, Virginia.
Welcome to the Huffington Post, Jerome.
Thanks James, America's a great place to have many different experiences because we're a country that allows anyone from any background to chart their own path and the opportunity to succeed. The Bush's of the nation are not the sort of leaders that care to keep this an integral part of the nation's character.
So now that you're here, I thought of a few questions - you're the third blogger profiled in this series, you're the third person in his early forties who had another life and career before you went online, what was the draw for you to start www.mydd.com?
I doubt you could say I ever had a career, and only recently have I become engaged with politics at the working level. I was finishing up grad school ready to go onto get a PhD and begin teaching. In 2001, after becoming shell-shocked with the Republican election shenanigans in Florida, I turned to political blogging about the Republican political train wreck, mostly focusing on campaigns and elections.
How big was the online community back then do you think?
Back in late 2001, the big blogs were the War Blogs. In early 2002, MyDD was one of blogs to take off as partisanship grew, and was the earliest blog of record for Howard Dean's netroots rise. But still, the traffic wasn't that huge for even the biggest blogs, being around 2000- 4000 readers per day up till the midterm elections, when traffic began to spike. CNN covered MyDD on Election Day, 2002, bringing in 40,000 visitors. I slowed down my blogging thereafter, sending the readers to DailyKos, and went to work on Howard Dean's campaign in Vermont.
And what about now? Have you seen any estimates that you think might be right? Some say there are a million people out there - some say more, others less? What's it like being a blogger in this sort of landscape?
A recent Gallup poll showed that nearly 30% of people that go onto the internet have read blogs. So blogging is becoming more of a part of society. In the past year, at least as concerns politics, there's been tremendous growth of blog readers at the local level. I don't know the exact number, I'd estimate that there's about 3-5 million in the blog community on the progressive side, and we've got an agenda to change the direction of this country, so hopefully we'll be able to grow that number a few fold this decade.
With the increased growth, there's been more exposure and legitimacy to individual bloggers, blogads have helped pay a bit for the work, and some bloggers have been able to work on campaigns. However, the political establishment in power wants to stop things like transparency and accountability from happening, so it's not going to be easy to change the system. I'm just a voice among the millions that realizes the direction of this nation must change. I don't always get it right, and certainly have made my mistakes, but I'm willing to listen, learn, and change. And God knows there's always a critic out there willing to step up to that task.
That dynamic feedback is loop one of the great things about the open blogosphere that makes the community authentic. One of the things that you find as a blogger is that not everyone is going to like every move you make, and there will be those that are always looking for an opportunity to criticize--you get thick skin in this world.
And now you've got another set of critics, bloggers, at least partially because you went to work for Mark Warner's PAC, how did you meet Governor Warner, and why did you decide to work for him?
I didn't meet Governor Warner till the Spring of '05, when he brought me onto the PAC. I did cover his Virginia Governor campaign while blogging in '01 that he won rather easily, and I was impressed by his ability to campaign in areas throughout the state, and bring voters to his side that hadn't voted Democratic in a long time. If the Democratic Party is going to become a national party, and progressives are going to bring about a change in direction for this nation, that's the sort of candidates we have to get behind. Given the extremely successful term in office Governor Warner had in Virginia www.forwardtogetherpac.com/pages/virginia, the choice of getting behind Mark Warner early was easy to make.
I would think that Howard Dean and Mark Warner are very different people, coming from a different place and running or beginning to run very, very different campaigns, does your support of Warner show a change in thinking on your part? A more pragmatic approach perhaps?
Well, I've always been pragmatic, because Governors are who win Presidential elections, and the early Howard Dean was quite different than Iowa's Howard Dean, in the sense of his demeanor. I still believe though that Howard Dean would have won in 2004 had he gotten the nomination, because the main issue was Iraq, and certainly the move to invade and occupy Iraq was not a pragmatic choice.
The movement around Dean's candidacy within the Democratic Party was a key component to the revitalization of the progressive agenda. It brought into politics a whole new generation (not by age but by activism) of political involvement. And now that vanguard has grown from a notable opposition (for example, to the Iraq policy) within the Democratic Party to the current Republican policies to becoming the position of strong majority. There's no choice but to change the course of what we are doing in Iraq, and that's not an issue of debate among Democrats.
But if we are going to really change the direction of this nation, it's going to be through winning over many of those that have been voting Independent and Republican this decade. I want a proven turn-around artist in this regard, and Mark Warner stands out among the other potential '08 contenders. He's someone that's not only changed the map and won with the backing of those types of voters, but he's turned that mandate into progressive solutions for the problems that Virginia faced.
What if Howard Dean gets tired of taking the Metro to the DNC and decides to run in 2008? What do you do then when the Deaniacs call?
The line will be busy.
As one of the most prominent online leaders, I'm interested in what you see as the online community's opinions of some of the other potential 08 candidates - not your personal opinions so much, as what you see out there in terms of comments and thoughts about potential nominees - let's start with Al Gore.
Gore is very popular among the netroots because he's been drawing authentic distinctions between his agenda and the current Republican fiasco. Among a wider group of Democrats, he's seen as holding too much baggage and that would be his biggest liability. Amongst those that are political junkies, they view Al as having been transformed, but most take his statements of not running at face value.
Another former nominee, John Kerry.
Kerry's seen as doing a terrific job of using his email list to help '06 candidates. Most feel that he's come around too late on the issues that should have been stark differences in the '04 campaign--that he stopped listening to Bob Shrum too late.
Everyone's favorite talking point: Hillary Clinton.
I guess the CW among the base has difficulty seeing how she changes either the map or the division this country has right now. She's not particularly well liked among the netroots, but ahem, she did just hire an Internet Director.
Evan Bayh, Chris Dodd, Joe Biden
It's tough for a Senator to get traction, ask any of these three. There's not much appetite for anyone that's had a career in DC among the netroots. Bayh does have Indiana to point toward, having been a Governor, and has a core of regional supporters.
Wesley Clark and John Edwards
Like John Kerry, they know the ropes, and are going to benefit from that experience. Both of these potential candidates have strong communities from '03, but the question though, is whether they can build any momentum if they decide to run again.
He's got that maverick position going, and he's really broken out with some support on the netroots because of his stance against Bush. It will be interesting to see if he's able to sustain that with some sort of movement-based campaign that's not about Bush.
He looks good on paper, but doesn't have a lot of recognition. Many wonder, if Hillary runs, how he gets out from under her fundraising wings.
So now that you're heading down the road of your second Presidential experience, what is it like trying to work directly with the other Warner PAC staff members, people who might not have ever been on a blog?
I've found the experience great, we are not a campaign yet, but it's by far the best of a campaign-like environment that I've experienced. We've got a great internet team started up, and it's well integrated with the other departments.
If someone at the PAC came to you and said 'okay, what 3 blogs should I read - where would you send them?"
I would send them to technorati and tell them to key in the words you want to know something about and follow the links. I've never been one to visit a handful of sites with daily precision. Instead, I skip all over the place, mostly through technorati searches and then following links to other blogs. My ideal day has me doing that for about 4 hours to get a real good lay of the land in the blogosphere. Most of my favorites are listed in the MyDD blogrolls.
Which do you believe is more organized, the Democratic online community, or the Republican online community?
It's not even close. I'm beginning to think that the Republicans are going to have to head into the wilderness to get their act together online. I think we will see an internet-based movement to stop John McCain on the Republican side in the coming Presidential cycle, and I wouldn't be surprised to see someone with an evangelical-bent catch hold of small donors through the net. Now that broadband is reaching the masses, it'll be just like those 700 Club telethons online.
As you know, the MEET THE BLOGGER series is an attempt to debunk the myths that bloggers are young nutcases who rant from their basement in their pajamas? Do you swear that you never did this?
I've lived in single-story houses my entire blogging career. Seriously though, there are a lot of misperceptions out there about who the bloggers are. In reality, most of us are 30-50, and involved in trying to make the world a better place, and the net allows us to get involved with politics in a way that wasn't possible before the interactiveness of the internet.
How do you compare mainstream media with the news and commentary you get on the blogs?
I'm one of those odd people that don't own a TV, so I guess I'm not so mainstream. I'll read them for their reporting of the news, but for views and commentary, I'm much more interested in reading blogs. I like the authenticity that comes with the blogs.
You wrote "Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots and the Rise of People-Powered Politics" with Markos Moulitsas, how's the book tour going?
We are on a break, after signing maybe upwards to ten thousand copies of the book nationwide. March to May was a whirlwind. At one point we were in a different city for 15 straight days. We hit the road again in September for the College tour. It's been a fantastic experience, with so many personal interactions and learning experiences that were very valuable. In many ways, the book tour was like writing the book all over again. But this time, instead of having to arrange all of our travels and try to get others to talk about the problems and solutions surrounding the Democratic Party, we just talked about what we learned while writing the book. It was really heartening to see all the people out there that are working to transform our political system. The last three days of the tour in May, I got a nasty bug and am only just now recovering, but it's off to YearlyKos we go.
To learn more about YearlyKos, please visit www.yearlykos.org