In connection with his upcoming appearance at the Yearly Kos convention, Tom Tomorrow "sat down" for an exclusive interview with Daily Kos community member, Political Cortex contributor and Yearly Kos organizer, "pontificator":
1. pontificator: Today, everybody and their sister has a blog. But you were one of the first. I remember first finding out about blogs in the Spring of 2002, and you were already well established and famous for having a blog THEN! How did you get started with this "blog" thing ahead of so many others?
Tom Tomorrow: Purely by accident. I had already been posting essays on a semi-regular basis since 9/11 -- I just didn't know about blog software. I'd write something and email it to the people who were handling the web stuff for me at the time and they'd post it as a standalone page, usually when they got around to it a day or two later. The time lag was aggravating, but I didn't know enough html at the time to do it myself. The first time I ran across a blog -- Wil Wheaton's site, oddly enough -- I immediately realized that this was what I needed, in order to cut out the middleman. It was purely a practical decision, in the way that you'd choose any software appropriate to a task at hand. I had no idea I was at the forefront of an online revolution.
2. pontificator: Blogs have certainly changed since their humble beginnings, when there seemed to be just you, Glenn Reynolds, and Josh Marshall out there. What have you observed about the changing face of blogs over the past four years?
Tom Tomorrow: Well, at the beginning there were actually a lot more bloggers than you suggest, and they were almost all right-wing. Liberals were a little slower to get started, but hatred and anger are always quicker out of the gate -- rational, reflective discourse, by its very nature, takes a little longer to gear up. Gradually, of course, more and more leftie sites started springing up, and our side started to develop a few heavy hitters, like Kos and Atrios, to counter the powerhouses of the right. I think I was probably able to help that process out a bit, at the start. Now, of course, their traffic outstrips mine by some huge measure, but that's as it should be. I never had the time or the desire to be a full time blogger. There were even a few times when the blog monster would start to take over my life, with its constant demands to be fed, and I'd just shut the damn thing down for awhile. These days, I've got a few friends who help out a bit, putting up posts of their own, and that makes it more manageable. My first priority is always as an artist, and I just can't afford to let the blog drain too much energy.
3. pontificator: There has been a lot of hope in some corners of blogtopia (I'm informed that Skippy the Bush Kangaroo coined that term), that bloggers will help change the American Public's views on important public policy issues, such as, say, whether it is a good thing that the President can wiretap any person's phone conversations at will. What is your view on whether blogs can affect the political debate in this country?
Tom Tomorrow: Well, you do have to keep in mind that you can lose perspective pretty easily if you spend a lot of time reading the blogs. You can assume that people are following certain news stories as closely as you are, or even that they're aware of basic facts about a given situation, and that's just not always the case. But to answer the question more specifically, blogs are clearly here to stay, and for our side, at least, I think this is a huge step in the right direction. There are a lot of things I've been trying writing about in the cartoon for a very long time -- like the need for a rational, preferably single payer, health care system, say, or the fact that the myth of the "liberal" media is, in fact, a myth. Issues that would be discussed in the alternative press, but pretty much ignored by mainstream media outlets. The blogs have made it possible to short-circuit that process to some degree, and that trend's only going to continue. Most of the American public is probably still not spending a lot of time on the blogs, but the blogs can drive issues out into larger media where they will get noticed. Of course, we must use this technology for good and not evil -- blogs also made it possible for rightwingers to swiftboat Kerry.
4. pontificator: Yearlykos attendees WANT to change the political debate in this country, and want to leverage on-line tools such as blogs to help do that. Do you have any thoughts as to how Yearlykos attendees can leverage blogs and other on-line tools to shape the American political debate?
Tom Tomorrow: What I think you've already done is force a debate about the future of the Democratic party, and what you need to do is more of the same. For too long the Democrats have internalized Republican talking points, and acted as if they are ashamed of their progressive roots. They've spent way too much time trying to shore up their God & Guns cred, with some imaginary voter in mind who might be persuaded to switch sides if only Democrats were more like Republicans (which is how you end up with a Joe Lieberman). The netroots force Democrats to confront the fact that liberals are not some crazy "other" -- liberals are the base, the heart and soul of the party. I think if you want to leverage that influence, you keep doing what you're doing -- at this point it feels like something that can only get bigger.
5. pontificator: Daily Kos is obviously the king of all blogs in terms of sheer popularity, with hit counts that dwarf those of all other competitor blogs out there -- both on the left and on the right. Why do you think Daily Kos is so uniquely popular in blogtopia?
Tom Tomorrow: The answer is pretty clearly the community that Markos was able to foster. Even now, looking back on it from this perspective, I don't really understand how he had the foresight to imagine this thing, and put the tools in place to make it possible. The genius of Daily Kos is that anyone can participate, yet there are enough self-enforcing community standards to keep the wingnuts and trolls from destroying it.
6. pontificator: What are your favorite blogs, and why do you like them?
Tom Tomorrow: If you don't mind, I'm going to duck this question -- I'll just end up hurting somebody's feelings by unintentional omission.
7. pontificator: What are you looking forward to at Yearlykos?
Tom Tomorrow: Spending time with some friends who I know primarily -- and in some cases, entirely -- via pixels and pseudonyms.
8. pontificator: The cover of your current book "Hell in a Handbasket, shows Dick Cheney, Karl Rove and George Bush with red horns on their forehead. Dick Cheney and Karl Rove are also holding red tridents. The obvious implication is that the three of them are "devilish" in some way. Is this fair?
Tom Tomorrow: Well, let's see -- they've done their best to destroy the country, I drew a somewhat unflattering picture of them. You be the judge.
9. pontificator: Have you lined up a lawyer to help when you get shipped off to Guantanamo?
Tom Tomorrow: Why bother? Lawyers are no help to those who disappear into the American gulag. And that, unfortunately, is no joke.
Yearly Kos: only 39 days away!