Blogless Down Under
Given as how I'm sporadically writing about my recent trip to Australia here on this blog, I guess it is incumbent upon me to report that blogs don't seem to be terribly central to progressive politics in Australia or New Zealand. It's not that they don't exist; one site I've run across that provides a database of blogs around the world (though it's not clear how many are political) lists 3,701 in Australia and 569 in New Zealand (as compared with 69,167 in the U.S.). And it's certainly not the case that Aussies and Kiwis are not "wired;" their internet penetration levels are actually higher than ours; New Zealand ranks second only to Iceland in that respect, and Australia ranks fifth.
Still, no one I talked to in Sydney thought of political blogs--much less any sort of broader web-based "netroots" movement, as something to think seriously about. And despite a very high awareness level of U.S. politics, they seemed surprised and skeptical when I mentioned the significance and self-consciousness of the "netroots" as a major faction in the Democratic Party.
It's possible that there's just a lag-time factor here, but I doubt it. In no small part because money is not so ever-present in their politics, political organizing Down Under is very old-school and labor-intensive. "People-powered politics" is pretty much a given, even though, or perhaps even because, there's less dependence on technology. New Zealand's Labour Party recently conducted a very successful voter mobilization effort at a cost that would represent a rounding error in the monthly billing of any U.S. political consultant. Australia's compulsory voting system obviously makes voter mobilization a less pressing concern altogether.
But perhaps an even more important factor is the strong and grassroots-oriented party system. For all the talk among progressive bloggers about the oppressive D.C. Democratic Establishment, the truth is that our parties are far weaker and more decentralized than those in the rest of the English-speaking world. The "netroots" are scratching an itch for organization and bottom-up influence that isn't that strong in places like Australia and New Zealand, where parties devote a lot of time to grassroots and interest-group constituencies, and where party discipline is high once decisions are made.
I heard nothing in Sydney that would indicate that blogging and other internet-based political organizing and communications vehicles are about to sweep the world Down Under. Given how rapidly the "netroots" blossomed here, it could still happen there, but I wouldn't bet my modem on it. --