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June 22, 2006

The Case Against La Kos-a Nostra

(Thanks to, I think, Random Birkel for that headline.)

I had an online friend who routinely made vague charges against Bush. When I would ask for specifics as to what it was, precisely, Bush was alleged to have done wrong, he would just say "it seems hinky." It seemed "hinky" to him that Bush had garnered so many campaign contributions; no concrete allegations of illegality, just "hinkiness."

If Bush, who is pro-energy production, received, surprisingly enough, donations from big energy companies, he thought that was "hinky" too.

Why? I would ask. "Why is it hinky for someone who already agrees with a policy position to get money from people who also agree with that policy position?"

"It's just hinky," he would say. Which would annoy me, because last time I checked the FEC does not have any sanction against "Premediated Hinkiness."

It pains me to say this, but a lot of the vague allegations of "badwrong" against Kos fall into the "Hinkiness in the First Degree" cateogry. There's no real specific allegations. To the extent specific allegations are being made, they seem unlikely at best.

So, just to be honest, I'll run through the possible charges against Kos, assigning them a probability of guilt and also a corruption rating.

I'm ignoring the charges against Jerome Armstrong, as the SEC seems to be handling them quite well. Besides, Armstrong is a little fish, a former blogger and now a minor political consultant. He's the equivalent of Ben "The Nech" Domench.

But Kos on the other hand... he's the Jeff Gannon of the Left, to the extent that any human being can be said to be "Gannonesque."


Pay for Play. In the most concrete charge against Kos, it is suggested that Armstrong gets hired by a politician, said politician agrees to advertise on Kos, in exchange for which Kos says nice things about the politician and, for example, invites them as a major speaker to the YearlyKos gathering. (Well, not quite; Mark Warner's party was supposedly independent of the YearlyKos moonbat party, but there were approved Kos/Warner t-shirts passed out and other suggestions that this is a man who should be listened to.)

This is the one we all hope is true, but it seems very unlikely. First of all, Kos makes crazy blog-money. Seriously crazy. Last time I checked, a one-week ad in the top position at Kos cost five thousand dollars or thereabouts. And he's got a lot of ad slots, costing less, but still in the same crazy blog-money ballpark.

So-- Kos doesn't really need the money. Even if, say, Mark Warner would agree to pay him for an ad slot in exchange for favorable treatment, it's not like Kos would be hurting for money without Warner's media-buy. He'd have other advertisers willing to pay. Maybe not quite as much, but basically in the same bracket. So, any money Kos could stand to make for corruptly selling favorable coverage would be only marginally more than he would make without the corruption.

Would that be worth the tradeoff? Maybe, but you'd have to be damn greedy, and damn stupid, to think so. To make a little extra money, you'd put at risk the legitimate, clean piles of cash you're making now.

On the other hand, Kos was hired by Dean in 2004, and did not immediately disclose this arrangement. He was always a Dean supporter, as he's a lunatic, but he didn't rush right out to tell people he was now on Dean's dime. He did disclose it, but not immediately.

Still: a pure pay-for-play theory seems pretty unlikely. Armstrong isn't making a lot of money, and isn't given an awful lot by his patrons with which to make blogger ad-buys; Kos, on the other hand, makes a shitload of money. Usually, to be corrupted by money, you have to be corrupted by someone making more money than you.

Likelihood of Charge's Accuracy: Very low.

Corruption Factor: Very high.

The theory that postulates the greatest Kos Korruption is also the one least likely to be true, alas.


Play For Play. In this theory, Kos isn't selling out for money. He's selling out just have his movement taken seriously by the Democratic establishment. Using Armstrong as his more establishment agent, Armstrong and Kos team up together to prove to the Democratic Party they're not just a bunch of wild-eyed lunatics.

This is a sort of common play by people. One can remain the ideologically-pure outsider-radical, or one can allow oneself to be co-opted by the establishment and hope to work a bit of change from inside the establishment. Armstrong and Kos, as a team, try to do an inside-outside job on the Democratic Party at the same time.

Is this corrupt? Not really. It's just adjusting one's tactics to better advance one's policies. The only "corruption" here would be Kos continuing to deceive his readers by clinging to the "Netroots Revolutionary" image while actually cozying up the establishment he one so despised, including the DLC-types he declared war on a year ago.

But it's hardly unusual for someone to maintain a dishonest pose in the interests of political appeal.

Likelihood of Charge's Accuracy: Moderately High to High

Corruption Level: Low or Very Low, depending on how you look at it; since Kos is a douchebag, I tend to look at it as merely "Low"


Play For Personal Aggrandizement: Armstrong may not be able to provide Kos with enough money to corrupt him, but he can help him get the sort of thing money can't buy-- respect, admiration, a seat at the table when Democrats discuss strategy. This is a little bit different from the last one, because in this scenario, Kos isn't making a deal with the estalblishment (through Armstrong) to advance "the netroots movement," but chiefly as a vehicle for increasing his own status and clout.

Kos is making oodles of money. But the brass ring is to be taken seriously, to be interviewed as a big muckety-muck on Inside Politics. He can achieve some of this on his own, by moderating his own intemperate leftist bile, but it sure helps to have a buddy with real politicians as clients to show that Kos Is All Grown Up Now And Ready For The Keys To The Car. When he was younger, he dated wilder, less respectable people -- Kucinich, etc. -- but now he's older and looking for a candidate he can take home to mom.

And in order to gain that personal status, he has to lead his minions to support candidates they otherwise would reject outright. Like, say, Mark Warner. He has to deliver if he's to be considered anything other than a gadfly, nuisance, and internet rage-monkey. So, to aggrandize his own power, he kinda-sorta disingenuously leads his minions to support Jerome Armstrong's clients.

The trouble here is that this is sort of understandable at a human level. It's more of a defect of character than true corruption.

Likelihood of Charge's Accuracy: Moderate to high

Corruption Level: Moderate, but largely subconscious and more about human weakness than knowing corruption


Doing Favors For A Friend. Mickey Kaus trotted this theory out on his recent Bloggingheads.tv "diablog" with Robert Wright. Kaus suggested that just "doing favors for a buddy" was, in a soft, vague way, somewhat corrupt, as it was just a case of old-school old-boy-network politics, which is precisely the opposite of what the "netroots revolution" is supposed to be about.

This seems silly to me. To the extent that "netroots revolutionaries" think they have somehow repealed the basic rules of human interaction -- if I like you, I'm more inclined to do favors for you; if I like you, I'm more likely to believe you when you tell me Sherrod Brown is a great guy I should get behind -- those revolutionaries are just saps and chumps. Kos might have suggested this sort of crap in his book, but that doesn't matter, because no one's read the stupid thing.

Kaus tried to conjure up a way this could be a scandal without anything scandalous actually happening, and while I support his efforts, they're quixotic. Sure, I'd love to pronounce Kos guilty of the crime of hypocrisy and overselling one's image, but hey, who isn't guilty of that?

I just can't buy any indictment that has "doing favors for a friend" as its central charge. Ann Coulter is Kaus' friend; surely part of his defense of her is based on that friendship. He wouldn't suggest that's a vaguely corrupt arrangement, would he?

Probability of Charge's Accuracy: Low to Moderate

Corruption Level: Very Low


No Corruption At All. The last, saddest theory is that there is no corruption at all going on here. It is not unbelievable that Armstrong and Kos just might be on the same political page most of the time. They're both, as far as I understand it from people who read them more than I do, rhetorically angry lefties but quite partisan and hack-ish when it comes to supporting the Democratic Party. Like many bloggers (including myself), they can rail all they like about sell-outs and the party deserving to lose but when push comes to shove, they want those W's in the Democratic column. As Hillary Clinton said in 2004, "You don't have to fall in love. You just have to fall in line."

The Ohio incident can be explained as simply a case of Armstrong convincing Kos that, whatever problems he had with Sherrod Brown, Brown was the candidate, and there was no point doing the GOP any favors by punching up Brown.

And as for Mark Warner-- well, certainly he's not the dream candidate from a hard-left perspective, but I imagine the dream candidate for many on the hard-left is anyone who can beat the Republicans. This sort of thinking makes him a hack, but that is not yet, fortunately, a crime.

Probability of Charge's Accuracy: Moderate

Corruption Level: None

So, there it is. The one truly corrupt charge is most likely untrue, the charges suggesting moderate corruption may or may not be true, and, alas, there's a decent chance there's no corruption at all here.

However.

As they say, it's not the crime, it's the cover-up. Even if Kos is found to have done nothing wrong in his dealings with Armstrong and his clients, there's still that matter of the La Kos-a Nostra oath of silence.

And there's still that matter of a previously-secret behind-the-scenes message-unifying email list. Liberal bloggers are coordinating with each other, outside the view of their readers, to agree upon a common message for the day.

Wonder why every lefty blogger decides, one day a week, to attack Jeff Goldstein as a "paste-eating drug addict housewife"? Well, wonder no more. What is held out as "independent" commentary and "spontaneous netroots response" is in fact at least partly a coordinated, pre-debated, top-down, here-are-your-marching-orders sham. The left of the blogosphere is employing the old tool of the political parties-- the blast-fax.

As they say, it's not so much "grassroots" as astroturf politics -- artificial "grass" made to look and feel like the real thing.

Nothing like that goes on in the right of the blogosphere. At least, nothing like that exists that I know about. It's possible that somewhere out there there is coordination, but I've never caught wind of it.

The most interesting thing about this scandal isn't what Kos might have agreed to do with Armstrong, but what many of the biggest leftist bloggers have agreed to do with eachother -- prescreen their postings with each other to arrive at a single focus-grouped message of the day.

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posted by Ace at 04:19 PM

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