October 31, 2005

Internet Killed The Video Star
— Ace

John Fund's column is a bit of a muddle, skipping from this topic to that, but he notes the power of the Internet (and mainstream punditry, amplified by being disseminated by the Internet) played an important role in the Miers debate:

Establishment figures on both sides tend to focus on the symptom of rancorous nomination fights rather than the underlying cause: a judiciary that too often short-circuits democratic debate and directs ideological heat on itself. Sen. John Warner of Virginia, a Republican, huffs that Ms. Miers was "denied due process." Former Attorney General Richard Thornburgh, a Republican, laments that the Miers controversy empowered "the bloggers and pundits far beyond the president and the Senate, which should be the ones that decide on the suitability" of a nominee.

While only a small minority of Americans read political blogs, they tend to attract high-profile readers in media and politics with nonstop access to a computer. Such people influence the influencers. "The Internet processed all the arguments for Miers in record time and rejected them," says Rich Lowry, editor of National Review. "A few days before the Miers withdrawal her supporters had nothing left to say."

Liberals, who were largely bystanders during the conservative family feud over Ms. Miers, are now stepping forward to tar her critics as Grand Inquisitors. "The radical right wing of the Republican Party drove this woman's nomination right out of town," thundered Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. Juan Williams, a National Public Radio and Fox News analyst, compared her critics to "a far-right Donner party. They're eating their own."


While the power of the technological forces that helped doom the Miers nomination may give cheer to both liberals and conservatives seeking to head off ideological drift by Washington political leaders, the intensity they can generate also carries the danger of blowing up legislative compromises on such matters as Social Security and stem-cell research.

"The moral hazard of the new media is clear," says columnist Jim Pinkerton, an aide to President George H.W. Bush. "They can turn any discussion into a donnybrook, and any nomination into Armageddon." Such a development isn't inevitable — witness the civilized debate over John Roberts's appointment. But President Bush will have to consider that risk in picking a new nominee for the high court, just as Democratic senators will have to weigh how much they respond to Internet sites pressuring them to mount a filibuster against that nominee

Two quick points:

As I've said before, the power of the Internet isn't that there are bunch of scary-smart analysts telling you things you don't already think and persuading you of them. That happens from time to time, but mostly the Internet is useful for channelling political energy that already exists. Most blog-readers already agree with 80% of what their bookmarked bloggers write; the power of the blogospher comes from marshalling inchoate political energies into a drive that can't easily be ignored. Before those displeased with the Miers nomination had to simply mutter to their TV's in frustration, or attempt to get on the line with Rush Limbaugh (no easy task); now they can comment and offer their own opinions online. It's a small venue, to be sure, but the accumulation of single voices in small venues adds up to something nontrivial.

Second, I'm a little embarassed for both Sen. Warner and Jim Pinkerton. The underlying assumption -- I'm sure they'd reject it if it were put to them nakedly, but it seems to undergird their complaints just the same -- is that democracy is too damn important to be left to the voters. Senators, journalists, Officially Licensed Pundits and party hacks -- these are the people whose opinions should be read and believed. The rest of us -- well, we're just not credentialed enough to offer opinions. Sure, we're registered to vote, but hell, you can register a dog to vote. Or a corpse, in Chicago and New Orleans.

There's a lot of politics that goes on before voting, or before official hearings, or before formal bills are proposed. The presidential candidates offered up every four years are already, to a large degree, pre-selected by less-than-democratic processes. There's the money primary-- which candidates can attract the big donors and big donation-solicitors and thus prove they have a chance in hell of getting the nominaton. The media primary-- which candidates do the media take a cotton to (McCain) and which do they plainly despise (George Bush). And the pre-official party primary-- which candidates have the backing of the party's establishment, its spokesmen for grassroots constituencies, its biggest operatives and advisors.

The voters have the ultimate say, of course, in the primaries and in the general election, but many candidates are warned away from running, crippled in their efforts to run, or simply dismissed as nons-serious candidates over the course of a long period of not-truly-democratic winnowing by elites.

With regard to political controversies, the parties, the politicians, the activists, and of course the Old Media were the ones with all the power in the early stages of argumentation and debate. Why is border security not taken seriously by at least one of the parties, despite the fact that a clear majority of Americans favor increasing security at our borders? Well, because that issue has been mooted by the elites before it can ever reach the critical mass needed to actually be put the people in a plebiscite of one form or another (an actual bill, etc.)

So there is already an awful lot of candidate and issue screening going on by elites, championing some causes and rejecting others before American voters get their say, usually very late in the game.

Why should the New Media not be among those weighing in early, when a lot of the decisions are actually made? Especially because, of all the various factions seeking to advance or scuttle a candidate or cause, the New Media is arguably the most democratic of all? The New Media isn't pure democracy, but it's more democratic than, say, pro-business lobbyists meeting with Republican Senators seeking to scuttle a bill proposing stronger penalties for hiring undocumented workers.

Only elected politicans can claim to be more representative of true democracy... trouble is, many of them view the voters as problems to be finessed rather than what they are -- the Board of Directors for their corporation on governance.

Much of the animus directed towards the New Media seems to be self-interested. Those who have thusfar enjoyed an awful lot of power seem none to happy to cede a little bit of it the barbarians at the Gates.

Posted by: Ace at 09:35 AM | Comments (14)
Post contains 1111 words, total size 7 kb.

1 Excellent analysis Ace. I believe the blogosphere has made it more difficult for the politicians to ignore the will of their constituents. The web has allowed politicians a realtime look at what the masses are thinking and to some extent, the thought process behind those ideas. I realize that they do not want to cede power to the barbarians, but they may end up with no choice. They have seen what happened to Meirs and may come to know that the same could happen to them at any election, things are no longer lost down the memory hole.

Posted by: Brass at October 31, 2005 10:04 AM (6TLEO)

2 Very well written. The Wall Street Journal should reprint that verbatim as one of their editorials.

Posted by: DB at October 31, 2005 10:13 AM (sPm0c)

3 There's another key thing about blogs which is kind of implied by your analysis: SPEED. It's not just the number of opinions that coalesce into a given polical view, but the speed at which they do. So much faster than a network can do or any politician's staff can do, they are always playing catch up.

Just watch how much faster the internet/blog community will review Ilito's opinoins and come up with pros and cons

Posted by: JFH at October 31, 2005 10:14 AM (arxyn)

4 JFH is exactly right. I use to write to the editor of newspapers and then they would call to verify and then maybe the next week my letter would be printed.

Now my "letter" is printed at the exact moment I write it because of my blog. I love it!

I also love what he said about how we "influence the influencers." I think that is exactly what bloggers do.

Bloggers immediately let the journalist and paid pundits know how we feel about a subject or policy that they might not have seen as too important right away.

Posted by: Rightwingsparkle at October 31, 2005 10:30 AM (CtDzx)

5 It's odd that people who are supposedly in the democracy business are so dismayed when encountering the real thing. Voting for a presidential candidate does not mean we swore an oath of fealty. It solely indicated a preference over other candidates, not an unwavering loyaltyand acceptance of any strange things the officeholder might propose.

Sure, there have been SCOTUS judges with no previous judicial experience but those are mostly in the distant past. The argument simply carries no weight in the modern setting. Today, for a person to reach the age of 60 with no experience in a role to be catapulted to the highest possible version of that role is just not acceptable when that position affects the entire nation. It may fly in the private sector but not in the public.

Posted by: epobirs at October 31, 2005 10:32 AM (+uM/q)

6 Excellent analysis, Ace!

I don't know if it has any bearing, but a few days ago when CNN was discussing Libby's idictment, they went to blogs to see what the blogosphere's reaction was. (And one of those blogs was yours!)

Posted by: Muslihoon at October 31, 2005 10:45 AM (Q8UK2)

7 Mushihoon,

Really?? How exciting for Ace. I hope it wasn't the day he had bbecks boobs on display?


Posted by: Rightwingsparkle at October 31, 2005 11:05 AM (CtDzx)

8 Great piece, Ace. The Internet is a great tool for democracy since it adds more voices into the issues, instead of having to wait on talking points from the political parties, lobbyists, or media.

However, I'm from the Chicago area and I resent the reference that corpses are able to register...oh yeah, they do...here...Never mind.

Posted by: Steve at October 31, 2005 11:38 AM (WTqRP)

9 ACE: I think your analysis leaves out the most important part--the relatively higher level of expertise in the blogosphere. The reporters are mere scribes with very little understanding of their own. For the most part the center/right blogs are dominated by lawyers, professors and private sector experts who end up overwhelming the "journalists" intellectually. There is an IQ gap and an education gap and an expertise gap that the MSM are unable to close.

Posted by: john at October 31, 2005 11:51 AM (j1qgJ)

10 -- As I've said before, the power of the Internet isn't that there are bunch of scary-smart analysts telling you things you don't already think and persuading you of them. --

Indeed not. There are actually very few of us!

Posted by: Francis W. Porretto at October 31, 2005 12:07 PM (PzL/5)

11 Juan Williams, a National Public Radio and Fox News analyst, compared her critics to "a far-right Donner party. They're eating their own."

I saw him say that on Fox News.
After I finished laughing, I wondered how long it took him to come up with that little turd-jewel, and how long he's been sitting on it, waiting for the right moment.

Posted by: lauraw at October 31, 2005 12:32 PM (Xlt4S)

12 Ace, I agree with you 100%. But if you don't loosen up the serious shit and lighten up (at least once in a while), you're going to lose us to the snores. C'mon dude, if I wanted serious all the time, I'd read Powerline.

Posted by: The Black Republican at October 31, 2005 03:05 PM (2lA70)

13 Ahhh.... I just got to today's Top Ten.


Posted by: The Black Republican at October 31, 2005 03:22 PM (2lA70)

14 Now that is insightful stuff.

A glaring example of the gulf between the old and new media was Wolf Blitzer's agonizing ignorance of the facts of Valerie Plame's involvement in the Wilson/Plame affair - absolutely flabbergasting, but exactly the sort of thing that will only change through the work of bloggers.

Posted by: Yr. Fthfl. Svnt. at October 31, 2005 09:15 PM (SkmHD)

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