The Gang of 14, Blogged Down In the Middle

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 29, 2005

It was the perfect storm for the blogosphere, an issue on which both right-wingers and left-wingers could rise up in rare unison and smite the craven offenders.

Both sides hated, castigated and otherwise took a dim view of the last-minute deal this week that averted a nuclear showdown over Senate filibusters.

Let the mainstream media praise as bipartisan statesmen the mushy moderates who cobbled together the compromise. Many bloggers were infuriated, castigating the so-called Gang of 14 (and especially John McCain) as knaves and turncoats.

It was another reminder, as if one were needed, of the yawning gap between the establishment press, which loves moderates and moderation, and the cyberworld, which tends to be driven by partisan passions.

"What a hideous deal!" declared John Hinderaker of the conservative blog Power Line . "The Democrats have agreed to cloture on only three nominees, and they have made no commitment not to filibuster in the future, if there are 'extraordinary circumstances.' Of course, the Dems think any nominee who is a Republican is 'extraordinary.' "

The Anchoress pulled up her anchor: "It's gonna be a long cold day before the [GOP] sees a dime of my money. A long. Cold. Day." The Republican majority, she wrote, is "spineless."

Joe Dougherty, aka Attaboy , announced: "I will now do everything in my power to see that John McCain's chances at the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 are non-existent. . . . This man is not a Republican or a conservative. He is a curse on the party and the movement and he must be removed from the political landscape." By nonviolent means, hopefully. (Liberal blogger Lawrence O'Donnell , a television writer with no fear of hyperbole, hailed McCain for "the bravest political act of the century.")

But almost no one was popping champagne corks on the left. Michael Spires at Musing's Musings was bereft: "I never expected this kind of lily-livered nonsense. Three of the most extreme Republican radicals (Janice Rogers Brown, William Pryor and Priscilla Owen) get a pass to lifetime appointments on the federal bench."

And Yuval Rubinstein at Left Coaster was bummed: "While it's entertaining to watch the caterwauling from the wingnuts who were baying for blood, let's keep things in perspective: under the compromise agreement, Janice Rogers Brown and Priscilla Owen -- the worst of an already odious lot -- are well on their way to receiving lifetime appointments on the federal bench. No matter how you slice it, this prospect is disheartening."

Quite a contrast to the paeans of the press about "a striking reassertion of the power of the political center" (Los Angeles Times) by "the 14 moderate senators [who] seized control of the Senate agenda in a coup" (Boston Globe) after showing "the courage to risk the wrath of partisans on both sides" (Washington Post). There are moderates online, too, but they are largely drowned out by the high-decibel posters on both sides.

Before conservative bloggers began slapping McCain, their chief target was Howard Dean. The new Democratic chairman aroused their ire by saying that Tom DeLay was headed for a Texas jail cell -- despite the inconvenient fact that the House majority leader hasn't been charged with anything. Which prompted some Dean critics to recall his comment, while running for president, that Osama bin Laden was entitled to a fair trial.

"In the World According to Howard Dean," said Ed Morrissey of Captain's Quarters, "we must not presume the guilt of bin Laden for mass murder -- but Tom DeLay, as an eeeeevil Republican, deserves no presumption of innocence for campaign-finance and ethics violations." But lefty blogger Kevin Fisher praised Dean's "tough (but accurate comments) on House Majority Leader Tom Delay, who is the poster child for the morally bankrupt Republican Congress and proof positive of the abuse of power that comes of one party rule." Clearly, faint-hearted commentators need not apply.

The debate over Newsweek's retracted Koran-in-a-toilet piece, which had been dominated by the right, came roaring back late in the week. This time it was liberals seizing on the release of FBI documents showing that detainees have alleged numerous instances of Koran desecration, including a flushing, over three years.

Marc Perkel wondered "if all those corporate media apologists are going to apologize to Newsweek for being right all along? Have you noticed that the corporate news media is barely mentioning it?" Um, isn't The Washington Post Co.'s Newsweek part of the corporate media?

Former New Republic editor Andrew Sullivan zinged the Bushies for their assault on Newsweek: "We can be grateful for Scott McClellan for one thing: he dared the press to provide substantiation for the Newsweek claim. We've now got it. Will administration defenders finally concede we have a problem?"

But Penraker remained skeptical of the detainees' charges. "These were people who were willing to kill hundreds or thousands of people at the drop of a hat, or to hack the head off a living innocent -- are we supposed to believe everything they say? . . . This is terrible journalism."

Fortunately for Net surfers, the blogosphere isn't just about politics. There's also . . . sex. The most eye-catching comment -- about Medicaid reimbursement policies, no less -- was offered by Arianna Huffington, she of the new Huffington Post celebrity blog.

" I've Got Nothing Against Four-Hour Erections, But . . . ," said the headline. "Viagra for rapists and child molesters? It's your federal government at work!"

© 2005 The Washington Post Company