One of the interesting things about blogging is that it has undermined the importance of the punditocracy. In the pre-interenet, and certainly pre-blog era, you had a very different relationship to politics, even if you were aware and relatively active: you were a consumer.
By consumer, I mean that you used to have to wait around and hope that some columnist or editorial board would speak for you. There were some alternatives, such as writing letters to the editor, or in the early days of the internet, posting at electronic bulletin boards (remember those?). But now with blogging, it is possible to speak for yourself. That completely undermines the role of the punditocracy. There are a lot of smart people out there who never had a voice before, and now they do. Why listen to a pundit about the Middle East, when there are serious scholars who are quite familiar with the region who can offer commentary? Why listen to Gregg Easterbrook about science when you have these here ScienceBlogs with real, live, professional scientists?
But what’s really healthy about all of the online commentary is that it makes being a pundit far less profitable. If you don’t need people to speak for you, then professional pundits become irrelevant. This is a good thing, as pundits often seem to drive the political and cultural debate, even though no one elected them. Essentially, there is an elite that influences policy and is unaccountable to anyone. As Bob Bauer notes, politicians in both parties have always detested the ‘intermediary’ role that the punditocracy plays. However, the press can only see this effect via the camera obscura of the ‘unaccountable’ blogs. Hunter, at DailyKos, makes another good point about the pundit class–it is fundamentally corrupting for any political system (italics mine):
But punditry ain’t press. Punditry ain’t reporting, it shouldn’t be treated as such, and it is, as a “class”, deeply and profoundly broken. I’m not sure that it could ever not be broken, if it is designed as a mere outcropping of the political landscape itself, a place for political figures to winter over between government or partisan jobs. The notion of a pundit class, separate from the people but attached at the hip to the very class of power brokers that they cover — it is unsettling. It is corruptive from the get-go. I simply don’t see that as something even slightly worthy of the respect that we should give bona fide reporting…
I’m not an internet triumphalist by any stretch of the imagination, but I think blogging has been a good thing. You might agree or disagree with what I blog about, but I don’t pretend to be anything another than a guy with a blog. To the extent that I actually influence anyone, it’s by argument, not some weird parasitic relationship to the political system.