Andrew Olmsted is a Major in the United States Army Reserve serving on active duty at Fort Carson, Colorado. He has served fourteen years on active duty in Georgia, Kentucky, Texas, Cuba, Korea, Colorado and Kansas. He is currently deployed to Fort Riley, Kansas, where he is helping to train American forces preparing to deploy to Iraq to support the Iraqi Army and security forces. He began penning his eponymous blog in October, 2001 and includes commentary on the military, philosophy, politics, movies, major league baseball, and frequent diversions into current events.
Simon Owens: Do you think that the recent Republican attempts to fire up their base (Flag burning, gay-marriage, etc…) will work during this election year?
Andrew Olmsted: I suspect that the Republicans will hold onto Congress in November, but only due to the immense advantages our system currently grants incumbents. But I don’t think the base-rallying they’re up to of late will be much help to them. However much social conservatives care about issues like flag burning and gay marriage, they aren’t their only concerns, and the fact that the Republicans only bring them up when they’re desperate for votes doesn’t help, either. Social conservatives aren’t stupid; some of them will vote Republican anyhow, because they consider the Republicans better than the Democrats, but these gestures aren’t going to push social conservative turnout up, and therefore will end up doing the Republicans little, if any, good in the general election. I wouldn’t be surprised if it hurts them, actually, since libertarian-types who lean Republican could easily be turned off when the Republicans appear to be more interested in social conservatism than fiscal conservatism.
Simon Owens: As a military blogger, do you think that the Mainstream Media portrays the military in a positive light?
Andrew Olmsted: Tough question. I think the biggest problem the Mainstream Media has with the military is that so few of them actually understand it. In the 30+ years of the volunteer force, military service has gone from a shared experience to a relatively uncommon profession, and a profession that draws from a very different base than journalism schools. So you have reporters who not only have no military experience of their own, but who don’t know anyone else who has military experience, either, beyond what they see on the big screen. I’ve been in the military for 18 years and my own family often doesn’t fully understand military life; how much worse is it for someone whose sole experience with the military is whoever they happen to speak with when reporting on a military story? Back in the 1950s an anthropologist went to South America to study a local Indian tribe. He found them to be extraordinarily backwards, and his reports on their culture shaped how people thought about pre-Columbian America for decades. It wasn’t until someone went back and did more work that they found out that the culture he studied was the result of a plague that had wiped out the lion’s share of the people. Without context, it’s easy to make mistakes like that, and reporters rarely have much context for the military. So I think they tend to misrepresent us, but I don’t think there’s malice to it. I think they just don’t understand what they’re seeing.
Simon Owens: How effective are blogs at influencing politics? Do they tend to over-hype their power?
Andrew Olmsted: Blogs as a group probably have a small effect on politics, but I suspect 90%+ of the influence blogs have is found in the small group of A-list bloggers. Readership slopes off so quickly from the top blogs, it’s difficult for most blogs to even be noticed, let alone have any real influence. Guys like Markos Moulitsas have a pronounced influence on politics, but how many people are there like Kos? Not more than a handful. So I’d say that blogs that brag about their ability to have any significant influence on politics are probably fooling themselves. As a group we can have an effect, but that influence is more a result of serendipity than design. To use one of the more famous examples, while the blogosphere may well have had a marked effect on Dan Rather’s career, it was only able to do so because CBS acted rashly in using forged memos to backstop their case against the President. We can highlight things like that, but we can’t create anything that isn’t already there.
Simon Owens: How would you rate the spread of your readership? Are they mostly people in the military, or does your blog have a more mainstream appeal?
Andrew Olmsted: Greyhawk of The Mudville Gazette tells me that I may be the oldest of the milbloggers, as I’ve been blogging since October 2001, but the fact is I’ve never really seen my blog as a military blog as opposed to a blog written by someone who happens to be in the military, and my readership reflects that. People looking for military information are going to check out Mudville and Blackfive, and while I do touch on military subjects from time-to-time, it’s not really my focus. I’m not aware of any military personnel among my regular readers, although it’s quite possible there are a few who don’t comment.
Simon Owens: I’ve noticed a large number of Libertarian blogs out there. Do you think the blogosphere gives the Libertarian Party a voice it didn’t have before because of its third-party status?
Andrew Olmsted : I think the blogosphere gives libertarian ideas a bigger platform than they’ve enjoyed for decades, but I don’t think it’s doing much for the Libertarian Party. Looking around the blogosphere, you find lots of people with libertarian ideas, but I can’t name a single Libertarian among any of the blogs I read regularly. I’m sure there are some out there, but the Libertarian Party tends to be so rigid that I don’t think they attract nearly as much support as there is sympathy for libertarian ideas. That may be wishful thinking on my part, of course, as it seems that most of the U.S. population is quite happy with statism, but I think that libertarian ideas are at least getting some exposure these days because there are so many blogs that harbor certain libertarian sympathies.
Simon Owens: What are the five blogs you’d recommend to supplement the reading of your own?
Andrew Olmsted: No matter what I say, I’m leaving great names off the list, but I’ll go with the following in no particular order. Jim Henley’s Unqualified Offerings. Jim is probably as close to a true Libertarian as anyone I know in the blogosphere, and he’s a thoughtful and intelligent guy who provides a fascinating perspective on current events. Jim can be a little snide, as these days he’s frustrated about the Iraq war and the government in general, but he’s always worth reading. Radley Balko’s The Agitator. Radley works for the Cato Institute and he’s the go-to guy if you’re interested in learning just how egregiously the government is overstepping its bounds these days. Kevin Drum’s The Washington Monthly. Kevin and I probably don’t agree on much, but he’s an intelligent and articulate advocate of liberal policies, which makes his site an important one to visit; I may spend most of my time trying to tear down Kevin’s arguments, but he deserves a great deal of credit for trying to lay them out rather than simply preaching to the choir. Questions and Observations, a blog of neolibertarian persuasion that offers a great deal of valuable commentary about politics and current events from what you might call a pragmatic libertarian perspective. Obsidian Wings. Another group blog (in theory, although it’s mostly one person, now), ObWi is something of a liberal essay site now, and it’s a damn good one. Like Drum, I don’t always agree with them, but it’s another good reminder that the other side is made up of equally intelligent and dedicated people.