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September 27, 2006

The Pajamas Media Panel

Update: Substantive point finished. Worth reading, I think.

It was called "How Partisan Is Too Partisan?," which struck me as a kind of weak premise. However, it quickly elevated (or devolved) into the eternal dispute over whether the media (and academy) were 90% liberal and where the country's politics are right now.

Glenn Reynolds moderated. On the panel were a late-ish but welcome Michael Barone, Paul Mirengoff from Powerline, Mark Blumenthal aka Mystery Pollster, FoxNews Watch's Jane Hall (who packed the room with her students, some of whom were cute), Cliff May, and Claudia Rosett. Roger Simon introduced the panel, but I didn't recognize him, because he went sans fedora.

Before getting into the discussion, I'll mention I met several people for the first time, like Val Prieto of Balbau Blog, Matt Sheffield of NewsBusters, Conn Carrol of the The Hotline (well, I didn't meet him, so much we exchanged the Guy Nod of Recognition), David "Choose Life" Wiegel of Reason's Hit & Run, Sgt. Smash, Bill from INDC, and, yes, Jeff Gannon, who said he enjoyed the coverage of The Jeff Gannon Scandal (also known as The End of the World As We Knew It).

Glenn Reynolds wanted to shake the hand that shook the President's hand, and Bill From INDC went him one better, asking to smell the hand that shook the President's hand.

"It smells like freedom," he said, which is such a good line I'm positive he wrote it beforehand but either way, pretty funny.

I met a lot of people, so forgive me for forgetting some. I was loaded up on anti-anxiety and anti-epilepsy pills, plus I was trying to calm my brain with alcohol while simultaneously trying to wake up with lots of coffee, as I was pretty much fallling over from want of sleep.


Someone either loves or hates Jane Hall for continuing to invite her to these things. She basically replayed her weekly schick on FoxNews Watch in which she maintains, hysterically, that the media is not at all liberal, and kept accusing other panelists of painting with too broad a brush. She insisted it was dangerous and unfair to say all reporters were liberal, despite the fact that no one was saying "all" reporters were liberal. Just 90%, as that old survey found, and as Thomas Edsall recently confirmed again (as if it needed to be confirmed).

Claudia Rosett told a story of attending an election night party in 1980 in which only she and one other person were pro-Reagan. And, she says, she was kicked out of the party for it. Not sure if that was hyperbole; maybe she just meant she was made to feel very unwelcome.

Jane Hall also claimed to be unaware of various surveys putting the political affiliation of university professors at something like 9:1 Democrat to "other" (and that other includes greens, socialists, communists and anarchists as welll as Republicans).

Deny, deny, deny. Broken record, Jane. The media's reputation is based on its ability to tell the truth, and when it resorts to lying about something so fundamental, it's little wonder more and more people are tuning out.

Barrone and Rossett made a good couple of points, which, though made before, are nonetheless worth repeating, and work especially well (I think) in synthesis.

On the increasing partisanship in the country, Barrone remarked that you can have one or the other-- you can have political amity and low partisanship, or your can have high voter turnouts, but you can't have both. When people are very partisan, turnout rates go high -- he pointed out that recent turnout had reversed the long 1972-00 slide, and turnout rates were moving back to the relatively high levels of the postwar to '68 cycles. And, when there's a lack of partisanship, people tend to shrug over politics and not show up to vote.

Rosett noted that increasingly predictive and useful marketing was turning many elections into razor-thin affairs as marketing techniques --focus groups, constant polling, etc. -- were making most elections very competitive, as parties become increasingly sophisticated about getting the most possible voters.

I don't think she said this, but American techniques are infecting the globe -- American strategists have been summoned to Mexico City and Tel Aviv, among other places -- and we've had an awful lot of very close elections -- Spain. Mexico. Canada. Germany. And Sweden (I'm guessing). More and more, it's not a 50.5-49.5 America, but a 50.5-49.5 world.

Now, no one tied those two together, so let me try. As they say -- and "they" are always right -- there's no worse loss in sports than a heartbreakingly close loss. One would rather be blown out than lose by a single point. Getting blown out-- well what, really, could you have done to change the result? You'd have had to do a lot of things much better; you probably never had a chance. You feel bad about getting embarrassed, but the loss isn't really felt personally in the sense of "had I only stepped it up on this one play, the game might have been ours." In a close loss, everything counts, every mistake, every bad call by the officials, every dirty tactic the other team got away with, every dirty tactic you could have tried but chose not to.

Compare that to American politics. We had the Mother of All Heartbraaking Close Losses in 2000 (at least from the Democratic perspective), a kissing cousin of the hearbreaking close loss in 2002 (the Shocking Upset By A Big Underdog), and other heartbreaker in 2004.

I joked in 2004 that I actually enjoyed how Bush kept just barely beating the Democrats in 2000 and 2004, because those, I knew, hurt a lot more than, say, Reagan's 1984 avalanche or Bush the Elder's 1988 drubbing.

But I wonder if that's contributing to the increased, and unincreasingly unhinged, level of partisanship in this country, especially on the left. You can't make excuses about "stolen votes" and "intimidated voters" and the like when you get blown out. But in a close one, all of these become (somewhat) plausible conspiracy theories, because it would only take 1000 or 100,000 votes shifting here or there to reverse the outcome.

And there is no more powerful animating emotion in politics -- or, perhaps, in life itself -- as a sense of injustice, of being mistreated, of being poorly used. Of being cheated. The rightwing feeds off this feeling day in, day out because we know the MSM are as disinterested a group of referees as those who officiate Harlem Globetrotter games; they don't ever seem to call Medowlark Lemon for his obvious travelling or, for that matter, throwing a bucket of confetti in the face of a Washington General.

And the left is now feeding on that, but their sense of outrage seems to be four or five times as intense. They're not used to losing close ones. Getting blown out, sure. But in close contests, they're used to the local poltiical machinery, friendly media, and supportive judiciary sort of pushing elections towards the "correct" outcome, no matter what the initial vote counts may say.

A look to the south -- with the leftist party refusing to acknoweldge the victory of the conservative party -- shows the direction we may all be heading in. The more close elections we have, the angrier much of the country will be, perhaps to the point where the government is openly rejected by a large minority of the populace.

What we need is a big demoralizing win to stop this. It's dangerous, I think, to keep having such close and controversial contests. It breeds anger, resentment, and, in some, true lunacy and perhaps even the urge for violence.

But more effective political marketing techniques may be driving us, and the world, towards just such a future.

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posted by Ace at 12:31 PM

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