Saturday, September 25, 2004

No Debates?

Perhaps I spoke too soon. From the note:

A senior Republican official tells ABC News' Jonathan Karl that the first presidential debate, scheduled for Thursday in Miami, could be canceled unless there is a breakthrough soon in negotiations between the two campaigns and the Commission on Presidential Debates.

The only remaining sticking point, Karl reports, is the reluctance of the Commission on Presidential Debates to sign the agreement negotiated by the Bush and Kerry campaigns.

The commission and the campaigns have been negotiating a side letter the commission (and moderators) would sign instead of the agreement, but the Bush campaign finds the current draft of the letter too weakly worded.

....A senior official with the Commission on Presidential Debates says the debates are in jeopardy and puts the blame squarely on the Bush campaign, Karl reports. "If they don't want to debate, that's fine. They can tell the world why the don't want to debate," the official told ABC News. "If they decide to pull out, it's on them."

I'm not sure what effect this would have... the Bush campaign would probably get a decent reaction if it decided to blame the media, but I don't know whether or not swing and undecided voters would bite. (Base Democrats would blame him, base Republicans would blame the media, so they wouldn't enter into this.)

The trip through the looking glass that is the 2004 presidential election continues.

What's Coming

With the president's advantage coming out of the RNC dwindling (even with the weird polling variances we've been getting lately), there are two key factors remaining that are going to affect the success (or failure) of the candidates.

The first is the debates, and what'll happen there is hard to guess. The media is either going to be petrified of the right (due to the CBS scandal) or actively backing them (Fox 'n Co) and thus will likely break in Bush's favor, to the extent that that's possible. I just can't see how successful the president can be with the facts on the ground, however, as he's not skilled enough to win on sophistry and certainly can't argue his successes. The "flip flop" meme would work if Kerry was debating, say, Richard Novak, but Bush would look foolish.

(Not that he needs to avoid looking foolish.. he just needs to seem like "the nice guy". In 2000 that might have been possible... nowadays he gets far too flustered when challenged.)

The second, the Get Out The Vote effort, is the subject of an interesting New York Times piece that was linked from a post by "bruhrabbit" in the comment thread of this Donkey Rising post. (The implications of getting it from a commentary section are something I'll leave for another post.)

Here's the meat:
A sweeping voter registration campaign in heavily Democratic areas has added tens of thousands of new voters to the rolls in the swing states of Ohio and Florida, a surge that has far exceeded the efforts of Republicans in both states, a review of registration data shows.
The analysis by The New York Times of county-by-county data shows that in Democratic areas of Ohio - primarily low-income and minority neighborhoods - new registrations since January have risen 250 percent over the same period in 2000. In comparison, new registrations have increased just 25 percent in Republican areas. A similar pattern is apparent in Florida: in the strongest Democratic areas, the pace of new registration is 60 percent higher than in 2000, while it has risen just 12 percent in the heaviest Republican areas.

This may have a critical effect, and it's what one could call the "delayed action" of the rise of 527 groups under McCain-Feingold. While their advertising role is easy enough to understand, another effect is that both they and other "soft-money" organizations can (and pretty much must) spend their money on things like, say, GOTV efforts. An absolute TON of money has been earmarked for GOTV, $300 million by the Dems alone, and it's already having an effect- even if not everybody who registers votes, it's doubtlessly true that the more registered voters you have, the more votes you get on Nov. 2.

On the other hand, if the polling continues to get massaged in Bush's favor (as it has), Dems may be disheartened by the perceived futility of it. Then again, considering how badly most Democrats want Bush out, maybe even a faint hope will be enough to get them out to the polls. After all, life for Democrats under a Bush administration that doesn't care about re-election isn't something that I like to think about.

Of course, this is assuming that the election is decided by the voting machines anyway.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Dan Rather and MyDD

Well, according to Killian's secretary, the memos that have aroused so much controversy were apparently not written by him (through her), but roughly correspond with other memos that probably did exist in Killian's "Cover His Ass" file.

I had attempted to write another piece about my take on this whole situation, but hadn't figured out how to approach it, until I read this by MyDD:

Over the past few days, southpaws spent a lot of time countering the "forged" charges made by freepers, but you never saw any of our charges showing up in national stories on the subject. Instead, defense of the memos was left entirely to CBS news. Our successes with Trent Lott, Howard Dean and Wesley Clark were remarkable, but of late I feel that the right-wingers are outstripping us in our ability to push a big news story into the national media. The right-wing blogosphere has become integrated into the Mighty Wurlitzer, while we remain a loose confederation of outrage, analysis and action.
This is something I had been worried about for a little while. Throughout much of the year the right-wing bloggers have been pretty aimless and doctrinaire; Glenn Reynolds and Co. have been been harder-and-harder pressed to actually defend Bush's record, and when they have they've been pretty weak at it.

Thing is, that isn't really what the conservative machine has ever been good at. What it's good at is attacking and obfuscating. DD's concerns capture the essential imbalance both online and off: that while liberal arguments and analysis tend to be loosely grouped around various issues and outrages, conservative arguments and analysis are fundamentally about supporting conservativism itself- everything else is secondary.

(Y'know, the whole "movement consciousness" thing that everybody's been aware of for years. )
The defense has been difficult because the subject is indefensible, but attacking the other guy is perfectly doable... so that's what they're doing. Whether that "other guy" is CBS or Kerry, the dictum "the best defense is a good offense" dominates the strategy. This is not to say that the right is monolithic, but that the vaunted "message discipline" is a much more important issue that it's been given credit for.

How to deal with it? Well, quite a bit of the problem is addressed earlier in the post:
-The lower the stickiness of a blog, the higher the relative traffic value of a link from that blog to the blog being linked. In other words, a blog where there isn't much to do besides visit (no comments, few or no special pages, short articles), will cause a higher percentage of its traffic base to visit a blog that it links than will a blog with high stickiness (diaries, long articles, polls, comments, arguments, many special pages, etc).

-High traffic right-wing blogs, such as Andrew Sullivan, Hugh Hewitt, Real Clear Politics, Powerline and especially Instapundit (among the top seven right-wing blogs, only Captain's Quarters and Little Green Footballs have comments), tend to be less sticky than high traffic left wing blogs. Among the top seven left-wing blogs in terms of traffic, Dailykos, Atrios, Political Animal, Wonkette, Smirking Chimp, Political Wire and Talking Points Memo, four of the seven have comments, and Dailykos, twice as trafficked as any other blog according to some measurements, is perhaps the stickiest blog of them all. In fact Dailykos is so sticky, I can tell you right now without equivocation that being linked by in a post by Atrios does a lot more for MyDD's traffic than being linked on a front-page story by Dailykos, despite the enormous traffic gap between the two sites. (The two huge spikes in the link were on days when Atrios linked us,. By contrast, we were linked five times on front page Dailykos articles over the last month, but you can't tell what days those are, can you? Further, as I write this, we are experiencing a third major upsurge in traffic, once again courtesy of Atrios).

-The lower stickiness of top right-wing sites, especially Instapundit, can lead to a complete domination of the right-wing blogosphere by the "one big story" if the top bloggers are all pushing one story. Glenn Reynolds in particular, who does not have comments or special pages and who rarely comments on a subject beyond "xxx has the goods on this one," or "indeed," can send the traffic of any blog he links skyrocketing to a degree no left-wing blog can even come close to matching (and he links other blogs a lot). Right-wing blog traffic, and the articles people tend to read on any individual right-wing blog, has a remarkable correlation to the interests of the top-right wing bloggers, and Glenn Reynolds in particular. That is why, in the title of this article, I called the right-wing blogosphere a top-down operation.
This is a niche that Reynolds owns on the right and that nobody else really does on the left... although Atrios comes close, the incredible popularity and value of his comments threads means that many Atrios readers likely don't click through to the source link, but to the comments links... and like many, many left bloggers, he tends to link to news sources more than other bloggers.

(This doesn't mean that Atrios is doing anything wrong. Far from it. Tt means that Eschaton is objectively a better website than Glenn's, except as a means of reiterating talking points and providing a vehicle for other bloggers. It's just that nobody else does it either.)

To make a long story short, the lower stickiness of top right-wing blogs compared to top left-wing blogs leads to greater message consistency in their half of the political blogosphere than in ours (I can show anyone extensive site meter statistics to prove this). This consistency helps stories from the right-wing blogosphere reach the national media more often than those from the left-wing blogosphere. This seems to mirror the left and the right in other mediums as well.
Again, this partially stems from the varied goals of the two: the left seeks to highlight, explain and analyze (the vast majority of the time), whereas the right seeks to aid "their side" in gaining or maintaining power in a Manachean struggle against their left-liberal "enemies" (the vast majority of the time) .

So, the solution seems pretty simple, actually, although difficult: left-wing bloggers need to link to each other more, and do what they can to ensure that they grab hold of a story and don't let it go. I've fallen into the habit of only reading a few key blogs and their comment sections, which is something I need to change (as well as posting, but as you can see that's improving somewhat)... but the larger goal must be to ensure that the simple bloggers' duty of letting people know what others think about the issues (and keeping them alive) gets done by those with the power to make issues "happen". We may not have talk radio or Fox News to repeat our arguments, but at least the top-tier blogs do get read. That's power, and for all the uselessness of his commentary, Glenn does use that power pretty well.

(And, yes, I'm aware that I'm high-stickiness due to the length of the entries and the presense of a comments thread. In my defense, however, I'll just point out that I hardly have Kos' traffic. It's a catch-22. That's why I said "difficult".)

Edit: An additional thought. While I like commentary threads, I think they may be the key to the problem. When someone reads a blog entry and wishes to respond, they have two options: writing a response in their own blog (starting one if necessary) or writing in the comments thread. (You can do both, but it's pretty rare, and often awkward.) There is some great discussion in the thread for this story, no doubt, but this sort of thing saps the back-and-forth linking and discussion that is the lifeblood of the so-called "blogosphere". if someone comments on their blog, MyDD will write a counter-argument (or someone else), which will be followed by another counter-argument, and another, and another... and while the length of each post may be short, the volume will be much higher, and much harder for casual readers to miss.

Hiding the discussion away in the discussion threads may be tidier and stickier, but the more I think about it, the more I wonder whether it leads to steadily increasing over-concentration.

Sunday, September 12, 2004


One other thing: the media perception that Kerry is way behind is actually not a bad thing for him at the moment. Later it would be, because of bandwagoneering, but right now it's Kerry that's being "misunderestimated", just as he was when Dean was leading the pack.

Plus, if Ruy is right, those polls are highly deceptive, implying that the current "Bush lead" has more to do with the problem of identifying "likely voters" than anything substantial. The "come from behind" position married with reasonably good polling numbers?

That's not a bad place to be.

Distractions and the Wurlitzer

Both the blogosphere and the media have been obsessed with the question of whether or not some memos purporting to show Bush shirking duties are forgeries. The claim is that the documents use both justified text and a superscripted "th", which typewriters couldn't handle at the time but modern word processors can. Unfortunately, none of this is true.

I haven't got involved or commented for the same reason that I avoided the equally spurious "Swift Boaters" controversy: both are really silly distractions thrown up by the Bush campaign to try to muddy the waters. The attacks are and were almost ludicrously flawed: one capitalizes on people's ignorance of past typewriter technology; the other on the vast difference between patriotically serving one's country and knee-jerk McCarthyite nationalism.

(Yes, one can be a soldier and yet understand that your leaders messed up in going there and do whatever one can to ensure that others don't go through what you did. Former firemen are allowed to speak out against unnecessary fires; why not former soldiers and unnecessary wars?)

In the end, though, the biggest reason why I have trouble summoned up the energy to pick through all this, well, crap is explained well by the poorman:

Let me save everyone a whole lot of time. They are genuine. How do I know? Because the internet is currently awash in wingnuts claiming the memos are fakes. Ergo, they are for real. Q.E.D.
Some people may feel that I'm just being flip here. Is that so, some people? Tell me: how rich would you be right now if, every time something was posted on a right-wing message board, or everytime Drudge had an exclusive, or any time Rush Limbaugh revealed a secret truth that the liberal media won't tell you, you called up your bookie and put down $20 even money on "bullshit"? The correct answer is: "pretty fucking rich".
For decades, almost every supposed "scandal" hauled out by the right has turned out to be a steaming load--just ask Bill Clinton and his barber-- so why on earth should we pay attention to it now?

Lets be honest. The only reason this river of faeces exists is because Scaife 'n Co. figured out that you can flood the media with appalling lies to get them to believe moderate ones. Say that Kerry sacrifices puppies to Set, and the media will triangulate between that lie and the truth to conclude that he only kicks them for fun. Sure, you'll eventually get discovered, but if the river keeps flowing, they'll be too caught up in the next scandal to care, and the whole thing will wash over any of the real issues that should have been the subject of discussion in the first place.

Of course, this wouldn't be necessary if they could actually claim a coherent and defensible position on said issues, but you know what Khrushchev said: if you don't have either the facts or the law on your side, bang your shoe on the table and make as much noise as you can.

Fortunately, Wurlitzers and typewriters are pretty good at that.