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Influence

It’s a story that truly deserves the term “meteoric” – a brief ball of heat streaking across the sky for just one moment, then crashing to the earth with a terrific thud.  The rise and fall of Michael Brodkorb is the biggest story in Minnesota politics this month, yet it begs caution on so many levels.  It is full of unsubstantiated rumors and personal tragedy that do not deserve much public scrutiny.  We cannot be sure exactly how it ends, given that some pieces are still playing out.

But there is one thing that we know about this story that is worth telling now – influence is fleeting when done for the sake of influence itself.   That cautionary tale has a deep meaning well beyond “politics”.

Brodborb rose to fame in the Minnesota Republican Party by starting a blog called MinnesotaDemocratsExposed (MDE) in February 2005.  Published anonymously at first, Brodkorb was “outed” as the author in 2006 by a defamation lawsuit.  The blog has featured some good opposition research on Democrats big and small, but generally is full of innuendo and simply taking everything about as badly as possible on the Democrat’s side.  Opinions are published as facts in breathless ALL CAPS red headlines.  Twitter feeds are often used totally out of context.  The main feature is that MDE and Brodkorb were angry B4 angry wuz kewl.

As a political career, however, Bordkorb’s rise and fall was amazingly quick, lasting not even seven years (and resulting in well paying positions for only two).

This blog became a staple of political reporting as early as 2006 because of its incendiary content.  There is always a story full of made-up controversy inflated to the point where it seemed important, the hyped stories easy fodder for other bloggers left and right – sometimes bubbling into the mainstream press.  It is a star vehicle with one very interesting feature:

Readership has always been low, even by blogging standards.

This is an “insider’s” blog, dedicated to the great concept of “influence” in social media primarily by preaching to the choir.  Brodkorb’s fame was tremendous in a small circle, but largely unread and unknown outside of that.  The mainstream public didn’t read the screeds and would never have known about them had they not been picked up by the mainstream, supposedly “liberal”, media.

Why was this blog so successful as a star vehicle?  In many ways the story of Michael Brodkorb could only have happened when it did, much as Matt Drudge briefly had a career at the same time.  The blogging world was full of early adopters who mystified those who were not “savvy”.  Many people and organizations with traditional amplifiers picked up on blogs and other social media trends without any critical analysis at all.  The flashing shiny object of the new medium made it possible to be an “influencer”, or someone with an outsized swaggering cool as they sauntered through the High School of a very new media concept.

This does not happen today and it will almost certainly not happen again.  Media outlets routinely integrate the chatter of Twitter into their reporting without critical analysis, still, but in these flurries thousands of voices are treated on the same level.  There is no one central “influencer” who rises to the top any longer.  The views of social media have matured substantially, even if they still lack usually lack the analysis necessary to make sense of the flood of information.  Very popular YouTube channels and bloggers still make it into mainstream media, but today they always have a large following that they cultivated themselves – they are popular, not influential, first.

It’s also worth contrasting the hyperventilating spin mechanics still practiced on many “political” blogs in the USofA with the raw feed at protest marches around the world.  Violent clashes may still lack context and still require analysis, but they are at least visually compelling and newsworthy.

Ultimately, Brodkorb had to be judged by other skills that he might have brought to his own party.  Either as a policy wonk or as a campaign manager, something had to be delivered.  What brought him down was that he was not successful in his chosen path, one of campaign manager – running upwards million bucks in debt and maybe more (we will learn this week just how much) as vice-chair of the Republican Party.  The influence that made his career – nasty and angry as it was – could never carry him more than a few years on its own.

The lesson is a simple one for those who parlay influence for influence’s sake in politics and in social media – there has to be something more behind it or your career will be very short. There is reason to believe that the daze of the influencer star vehicle are finished no matter what.  But even if you can do it and the concept suits you, grab a Kardashian-load of money while you can.  There is still no substitute for substance over the long haul.

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23 thoughts on “Influence

  1. You could just say he was a total jerk who got what was coming to him. But the comparison to Drudge was cool . Haven’t thought of that jerk in a long time either.
    BTW, read that MDE was first online in 2004, you say Feburary 2005. Which is right?

    • The site was first registered in Feb 2005 – I looked it up on Whois. I will go with that.
      Yes, I could have said he was a jerk, but that’s not what I want Barataria to be about. This is another angle, a larger lesson that hasn’t been written about yet. That’s my niche in the world.

  2. I don’t know how many people the republicans think they got to their side by being so nasty but I never thought of myself as a democrat until they started being so selfish and mean. For every person they won with mean I bet they lost at least one forever. That is why no one ever read that garbage and I wish that it never made it to the mainstream media because it has no place politics at all.

    • I do not believe that what is practiced in these games played out in blogs and sometimes the press can be called “politics” (hence the quotes). They are largely irrelevant and pointless. When the mainstream press covers them at all they are doing everyone a tremendous disservice and should be called out for doing so. I completely agree that people are turned off by this nonsense,but it is a strategy used to suppress voter turnout via disgust – and low turnout always favors Republicans. That’s why Democrats practicing the same strategy are idiots.

  3. I gave up on current events/politics altogether after the ’08 elections and completely switched to cyber-fiction/fantasy to differentiate my blog from blogs like Minnesota Democrats ExposedOh! Wait! Crap! 😐

  4. I dunno… Just because the guy has crashed and burnt at the moment doesn’t mean he’s over. A lot of evil ranters seem to be long-term fixtures of the political landscape, often moving from one outlet to another for their stuff: The small lizard-like creature, Hannity, Pete DuPont, Limbaugh….several current US Senators could be mentioned. I don’t know this Brodkorb but he might be a natural for talk radio. Somehow I doubt he’s gone. (Not meaning to imply that left-wing demagoguery can be equally disagreeable, but where are current examples….?)

  5. Correcting typo: Should read “Not meaning to imply that left-wing demagoguery CAN'[T be equally disagreeable….”

    • We will see, and there could be a new career for him. But I think the Age of Anger is falling apart generally – that’s something we’ll have to see, of course, but I think we have seen it run its course. The Tea Party is a bigger threat to the Republican establishment than anything on the left at this point, so the incredible purge of Brodkorb may signal a new direction.
      Think of Romney vs. (Not Romney, currently Gingrich) and how that will play out nationally, and we’ll see.
      As for examples of lefties who practice the same level of hate, you won’t find any that are are virulent. But there are some bloggers who play the game that they shouldn’t, although their numbers diminish all the time. MDE has incoming links (which help PageRank) that include many lefties who should have known better than to engage that fight in the first place.
      MDE was always better ignored – but the mainstream media could not leave it alone, nor could some lefties. That’s what made Brodkorb, and eventually the Republicans had to purge him. That bigger story is one I’m letting sit for a bit, but it does have Shakespeare all over it!

  6. That whole influence thing needs to be slammed for what it is – elitism. Its a bunch of spoiled brats who think they are better than everyone else just because they figured out how to use twitter and facebook before anyone else gave a damn. People like Brodkorb are angry only because they think the deserve more than they have but he showed his hand when he was never willing to actually work for a living. Spew and spit is all he ever did like the rest of the elitist brats. I hope the MSM never falls for this again but I fear that there is always another Kardashian around the corner. Brodkorb was never better than any other freeloader.

    • I don’t know that Brodkorb is the same as the other “freeloaders”, but you are right that an attitude of entitlement and elitism is at the heart of the “influence” model of social media. It has to be extinguished – but more importantly it IS being extinguished because it simply does not work. There are still those building sites around this concept, such as klout.com – but they are roundly and rightly being criticized by nearly everyone.
      The influence model is quite dead and the “freeloaders” are being kicked out. The internet is gradually becoming safe to be the open platform of equality that it needs to be. We’ll see where it goes from here.
      But the “influence” model is dying quickly. It’s a very good thing.

  7. Speaking for a lot of Minnesota Republicans, Brodkorb’s elevation was a bad idea from the start. The sooner we can put this behind us the sooner we can get on to regaining the trust of the voters with real Republican Values. Butting heads with Dayton was a stupid idea that only makes us look like we have no ideas. By tackling the bloated state bureaucracy and making some real reform we can keep the legislature in 2012.

    • Thank you. I think it’s too late for you to keep the Legislature, but I welcome your trying if the Republican party becomes a party of genuine reform. I’d like to see what those “Republican Values” are – as long as they take more words to describe than “No!” to everything Gov. Dayton says.

  8. Governor Rudy Perpich finished his last term in Januaury 1991. For a full twenty years afterward, the Democrats had a continual series of defeats for the Office of Governor until November 2010. To me this a poor record for political achievement for that office. Republican opposition to Governor Dayton should be expected. Democratic house and senate leaders never gave Governor Perpich an easy ride. There are sometimes legitimate policy differences. Perhaps Democrats will continue to be ascendant at the MN state level in 2012. Republicans have had a lot of achievements in Minnesota politics since at least 1978.

    • I do expect vigorous opposition, and the DFL has to do a much better job of meeting it. But there’s a big difference between a policy fight and a personal attack. A little bit of the personal stuff is to be expected, but there has to be some policy at the heart of it. I think the first party to stand clearly for a major reform program – of any kind – will do very well.

  9. You have an interesting post. However, no matter what people say, you cannot say he was unsuccessful. Think about Entenza’s investigation of Hatch that was exposed on MDE. We have an AG Swanson because Entenza dropped out and the first Republican Senate Majority since party designation. How many Republican Senators were elected because of Brodkorb – a bunch.

    • Good point, Ron. He has influenced the state government well as a muckraker, and he had some big scores on that front. If he had stayed in that job he might have had a brilliant career to this day. But attempting to run the party’s campaign as a muckraker just didn’t work out – there had to be more, and there wasn’t. It did work in 2010, but it didn’t seem to make permanent change for a lot of reasons.

  10. Say what you will, the Republicans now running the Legislature are basically stooges of the most toxic special interests–the more they get their way, the more the state will deteriorate socially and economically. There is absolutely no rational basis, in 2012, for voting Republican.

    But this also means that enviros, etc, have no place to go when Dayton sells them out…. We all have a stake in the revival of a sane and rational Republican party…..

    • Amen! A solid policy fight over who reforms what and how would be really good for the state overall, I agree. The more BOTH parties connect with people and deliver a relevant politics the better.
      I always quote Wellstone (actually quoting Eleanor Roosevelt!) by saying that politics isn’t about power or money or influence, it’s about improving people’s lives. Many Republicans scoff at that, largely because of the source. But if the responded to me by saying that “Sometimes, the best way to improve people’s lives is to get out of their way!” I think we’d have something.

  11. The Brodkorb story is fascinating to hear since I don’t live in Minnesota. What do Baratarians think about State Sen. Amy Koch. If she was a man wouldn’t we be making a joke of her name. It would be interesting to hear comments about her politics and how she is a meteor–without family values.
    A Star Tribune article pondered whether she was treated differently because of gender.

    I recall that State Senator Linda Berglin had a baby and for many years was unmarried and never said who the father was. I don’t have all the facts. It was a different time and I think it is interesting that those who worked at the State Capitol kept her secret or perhaps she never divulged. But staff usually know. Berglin’s staff included Lou Larson who was very powerful. Lobbyists naturally like to court the favor of staffers. Many of the state capitol stories I heard of Democrats were always interesting. There was Rep. Sandy Pappas vs. Sen. Don Moe. Personal politics. It often isn’t about major policy differences. Pappas challenged Moe for his Senate seat and won, as I recall. By luck, it was obvous had there been no Don Moe there would have been no Sen. Roger Moe, a very capabable and admired politician. Of course that doesn’t excuse any faults that Don Moe had in his political style.

  12. Pingback: Gingrich? Really? | Barataria – The work of Erik Hare

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