THE STREET WHERE NATE NANCE lives in McGregor, a town of 4,700 west of Waco, is two short blocks from Texas Highway 317; you can see cars whizzing by from his driveway. That makes it noisy enough, but the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe railroad tracks sit just outside the fence of his backyard, so you can only imagine how hard it is for him to sleep in every morning or watch the History Channel in peace. Actually, to be more accurate, the driveway and the backyard are his mother’s, not his, seeing as how he still lives with her, which explains the very un-22-year-old-male-like display of crafts on the front porch. On one side, next to an American flag, is an iron stand painted with pictures of birdhouses and butterflies. On the other is a flat stone engraved with the words “Welcome to the Nut House.”
When I visited Nate in late May, he greeted me at the door in an undershirt, khakis, and bare feet; the family dachshund, known variously as Saint Nicholas and The Jesus, jumped and yapped. The house is small and squat and made of brick, with a one-car garage recently converted into what Nate calls a family room but is really a computer room, as are most rooms in the house. Three people share the place—Nate, who works 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. as a sports clerk at a newspaper; his mom, Brenda “Candy” Lewallen, who drives a forklift at Smead Manufacturing, her employer for 32 years; and his stepfather, William Lewallen Sr., who retired as an assembly line worker in the chiller department at Trane, the air conditioner maker, in 2004—and each has a computer. “We’re computer hogs,” Nate told me as he led me into his bedroom, where, if you believe the hype, the future of the media resides.
Nate is a blogger. From a single bed that only recently replaced the futon he’d slept on since he was 13, usually clad in his pajama bottoms, on a Dell laptop he’s paying off at a rate of $50 a month, often using dial-up Internet service—yes, you techies read that last part right—he holds forth several times a day on his Web site, Common Sense ( commonsenseblog.typepad.com). Typical of the form, the blog is part op-ed page and part diary. He concerns himself with the subjects that interest him the most, including sports (he’s a big Baylor fan), girls (they’re “hot”), and getting drunk (hey, he’s 22), but mainly he writes, passionately, about politics.
Over the course of three days in May, for instance, he offered his take on the stem cell debate (“Linking this to the abortion issue is just stupid”), Kinky Friedman’s campaign for governor (“I think Kinky is running a little too seriously”), Priscilla Owen’s nomination to a federal judgeship (“She’s not really going to make the 5th Circuit in New Orleans appreciatively [ sic ] worse, so I’m not going to bitch about it”), and Social Security reform (“I’m pissed that any Democrat is even thinking of moving a centimeter”). These and other of Nate’s posts appeal to me not because they’re particularly profound but because they exist. He has a point of view—it may be right or wrong, but it’s his—and he’s willing to put it out there for the world to think about, damn the consequences. The traditional media, by contrast, is so big and so bloated and so afraid of offending anyone for fear of being attacked as biased that blandness and timidity rule the day and issues and ideas are often dumbed down to the point of being unrecognizable. Donald Graham, the CEO of the Washington Post Company, compares bloggers to Ben Franklin; I’d say simply that the small- d democracy of blogging is a good thing for those of us who want to see a larger conversation about things that count take place.
And so it doesn’t really matter that Nate is eighty miles from Austin. Or that he wasn’t inside the Capitol during the entire legislative session. Or that he doesn’t interview elected officials. Or that he sometimes comes off as immature (“[S]tate Rep. Al Edwards, who some might call a douche…”). Or that he’s a community college dropout who earns less than $10,000 a year and mooches gas money from his family. Or that his blog averages only 130 visitors a day—he thinks, since tracking Web traffic is an inexact science. In a postage-stamp-size room with posters of the Three Stooges and a blonde in a bikini on the walls, surrounded by piles of clothes and books and movie ticket stubs, Nate has transformed himself into a political commentator I look forward to reading (albeit for very different reasons) as much as, say, Paul Burka.
Yes, that Paul Burka, the old-media stalwart who chided bloggers for their amateurishness and lack of professional standards in the course of fretting about his obsolescence in this very column in our March issue (“That Blog Won’t Hunt”). In fairness to Texas Monthly ’s senior executive editor, whose thirty-plus years in the game can’t really be compared to the riffing of an enthusiast on the sidelines, March was four whole months ago, a lifetime in the online world. Anyway, even as recently as a few weeks into the session, it wasn’t clear that political bloggers would announce their presence on the scene so engagingly. But now Paul admits that “everybody reads them,” and by “everybody” he means some of the most powerful people at the Capitol.
I read them too. This spring I spent a lot of time tied to my desk, so I followed the goings-on at the Lege over the Internet, which meant poking around on blogs. As with print publications, after a while I knew where to go to get what I was in the mood for. Straight-ahead political reportage flavored with Vanity Fair —style bitchiness? In the Pink Texas (inthepinktexas.com). A protein-laden dose of big thinking on criminal justice reform? Grits for Breakfast