Recently, in a post on the major issues facing New Zealand, Tony Milne lamented the inability of the blogosphere to seriously discuss them:
When I started my blog these are the kinds of debates that I was hoping to encourage. It's clear to me that such debates can't happen on blogs (maybe the ideas, but not the debate). I do hope that such debates can start to happen through the media (the better part of it), because our country needs debate on matters of substance.
It's a point echoed by Jordan Carter, who asks whether there is any hope for "issue based political discussion". While I am highly cynical about the blogosphere, my answer to that question is still unquestionably a "yes". While most of what we do is the bread and butter of daily spin and commentary on the news, its perfectly possible to expand on or rise above that to talk about the wider issues, engage in serious wonkery, educate people, and encourage public participation. And its perfectly possible to do this while having strong or even nakedly partisan political views.
It is however difficult to do any of this when your comments section is a sewer of partisan shitflinging which precludes any intelligent discussion - or worse, the target of a constant campaign of disruption (and I'm with Span in thinking that the abuse in certain blogs' comments sections is a conscious attempt to bully people into silence). There is of course a simple answer to this: moderate or disable comments. Readers who object can always start their own blogs and respond there.
Which brings me to my second point: the sphere of debate isn't confined to comments, but can be between blogs. I think that both Tony and Jordan are possibly overlooking this aspect, as well as the use of blogs to inform the wider community. Remember, not every reader delves into the comments (particularly where they are known to be a sewer), and its not necessary that they do if the aim is to get them to think about a particular aspect of policy.
Finally, to paraphrase Napoleon, if you want to debate policy, debate policy. The extent to which bloggers set the tone and direction of their blogs also seems to be being forgotten here. As I've said before, if we want the blogosphere to be more than a sewer, we need to lift our game. And nobody else is going to do that for us.