If you can’t debate, don’t blog

Congressional press secretaries in Washington recently attended a conference on the impact of blogs on politics.

The questions asked by the press secretaries were the most enlightening part of the conversation. My favorite was this: Is there an expectation of engaging in debate if lawmakers start blogging?

The question is telling both because it shows how disinterested that too many people within Congress, the heart of American democracy, are in the very idea of debate and because it shows how clueless they are about the blogosphere years into its development. The answer is “yes,” folks, and shame on you for not realizing that your bosses should always have an expectation of engaging in debate, whether in the blogosphere, at town halls or within the halls of Congress.

Which is kind of scary in a way, but not too surprising.  It’s a problem which I predict will affect the blogging of British politicians too, particulary government minister David Miliband’s forthcoming blog.
The problem is that the second biggest fear of lawmakers and politicians everywhere is entering into discussion over policy.  Because, to actually enter into an honest debate means to risk losing that debate, which of course risks leading to the politicians number one fear – public defeat.

In an ideal world, politicians would far rather others engage in the often vicous cut and thrust of real debate, leaving them the opportunity to sneak in at the finishing post and champion the winning policy position.

But the world of the blogs is one that holds debate at it’s very core (some honest, some not), and there is no way that politicians can ever really enter fully into the blogosphere unless they are prepared to actually take other bloggers on over political issues, express their opinion, listen to counter-arguments and risk ‘losing’ to the better argument.
Which is why so few politicians have blogs worthy of the name.