A bit over sixteen years ago a popular right-wing milblogger said a few mildly critical things about the war in Iraq. As you could guess his comments section blew sixteen gaskets, but they gave him a little slack since he was a big name in the right-o-sphere and a founding editor at RedState. He could have taken the hint and dialed it down a notch, but of course being a typical ‘eers fan he told his whole readership and his web-ring of friends and colleagues to shove it up their tail pipe. Then he brought on a raving liberal co-blogger to piss them off all over again.
And like that I went from writing not great diaries at Daily Kos to being the #2 guy on a pretty popular Republican blog. What’s it like to be a socialist writing for people who mostly thought I was Hitler’s grandkid? My second post (after “hi”) wasn’t exactly a fig leaf. Honestly, we all got along fine. It turns out John cultivates an interesting group of readers worth engaging even back then.
Believe me, interesting readers wasn’t something you took for granted. I’m old enough to remember the free-thinking ideals that chat rooms like the Atlantic used to cultivate, but even in 2005 that was mostly seen as quaint and outdated, especially in right-blogs. A place like RedState or or Gateway or Powerline saw (see) themselves more as propaganda amplifiers. Management took a toddlerish pride in deleting anything in the comments that stepped on the day’s message. Of course doing that empowers the true-believingest, knee-jerkingest commenters, and like that every blog became Parler. Honestly I don’t even know what the commenters got out of that, aside from some animalistic thrill in seeing who can me-too the loudest.
I want to emphasize this point because even as a right-wing blogger John stood out for having this old-timey faith that readers can defend their own ideas without management’s help. Liberals like me could drop in, say our piece, and win or lose an argument with the local crowd (I did both). True believers screamed bloody murder of course, but as far as I could tell he thought those guys were insecure and boring anyway. It takes a lot of confidence to run a joint where anyone can say anything that doesn’t cross the red line (racism/sexism/abuse, then as now), and it takes serious balls to listen to those arguments and publicly change your mind.
Since I joined pretty early on, I got to see that slow growing horror when converts from the dark side start to realize that they’re rooting for a party who’d lose a game of horse to the Washington Generals. It is tough to leave the side that’s backed by media megacorps and bottomless funding for comms training, and join people who mean well but bring a banana split to the OK Corral. It was honestly an incredible moment when we discovered the one-secret-trick that powers a surprising amount of the right’s success (call your Reps!), and then it was dispiriting again when the hack got patched by electing a couple swing votes from WV and AZ who sincerely don’t care what constituents think. The lord giveth and taketh away.
The one lasting thing I still feel great about is inviting on a couple of frighteningly smart writers in David and Tom who’ve made this place one of the better informed spots on the internet. These guys are sincerely amazing.
Anhow, I know you all have one really important question.
He’s doing ok! Dogs the size of Max don’t chase balls much at twelve years old, but he plays a mean game of tug. Max has a good appetite and most things still work the way they should, except that his hips have gotten pretty weak. So these days the neighborhood knows Max as that big Doberman who still politely checks everyone for treats but he moves just a hair faster than the tectonic plate that Pittsburgh sits on. When the weather allows he still holds down our little patch of lawn grass for as long as the sun shines on it.
We love him, and he patiently puts up with us.
As long as I’m getting sentimental about my big goofball dog, this four sentence open thread might be my favorite thing I’ve ever written.