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October 31, 2005

Internet Killed The Video Star

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.


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posted by Ace at 02:35 PM

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