An unwelcome thought

by on August 19, 2009 at 1:18 pm in Political Science | Permalink

Are blogger attacks on the Republicans counterproductive at this point, at least from a "left" point of view?  Is not the relevant signal telling Obama he can safely move to the center without losing much support?  The blogger voices are in essence signaling that a broader public must stand behind these attacks, or that a broader public is being convinced by these attacks, and therefore that Obama need not fear defections and he can continue to ignore campaign promises.

An alternative scenario is that the attacks turn some of the still-undecideds against the Republicans and bring them into the Democratic camp.  Is that a relevant margin?

At this point, how many people say the following: "You know what honey, I was just reading those blogs this morning.  I used to like Sarah Palin but this time she has really gone over the edge.  I don't know about her any more.  Maybe we should think about voting Democratic."

How about: "Honey, they've called off the death panels.  We can support the mandates now."?

The funny thing is, a lot of people do think like that, I'm just not sure they are the ones reading blogs.

The general point is that if you are not a pivotal voter, announcing your true preferences and views does not necessarily help you get what you want.

Those who blog about primary challenges to Democrats from the left, or the need to deliver concrete results before the next election, may be serving up better rhetorical strategies.  But of course that is also less fun.

1 Adam August 19, 2009 at 1:36 pm

I’d suggest reading this post by Clay Shirky on the subject of politics in new media. In short, people don’t really tend to express their political views online because they really want to make converts; they do it because they want to get attention for themselves. So you get a lot of preaching to the choir and provoking the other side into linking them, etc.

2 Andrew August 19, 2009 at 1:40 pm

Jon Stewart was miffed at Obama for nixing the public option but took some solace that at least they will still get to kill old people. Well poohsticks.

3 kharris August 19, 2009 at 2:22 pm

The mechanism you have in mind may be too direct, missing the possibility of indirect influence. Same goes for Shirky.

The assumption seems to be that if a blog post is not read by someone who is not of the same mind as the writer, but who is then convinced and adopts the thinking of the writer, then the blog post will have no real political influence.

What if groups think together, develop and refine arguments and share information, through conversation? What if groups overlap, so that an idea that is developed and refined in one group can spread to others? It is possible, in this way, for strong ideas to spread. The idea that Obama is Kenyan by birth started with a single person, and somehow managed to infect more people that swine flu has done. The notion that Obama wants to kill grandma if her pills get too expensive started in the shadows of a single sick mind. It didn’t stay in the shadows, now did it?

We associate with people and share ideas with people, beyond the confines of groups of like-minded thinkers on single issues. The smarty-pants way of looking at web commentary is that we all narrow our field of view progressively until we never have to read anything with which we disagree. If that were true, how would critiques across the political spectrum every get done? How would lefty know what righty said? Even if it were true, we don’t live our lives on the web. (We just think we do.) We go to the grocery and the office and the gym, and the smart ones among us go to a congenial bar where some idiot is spouting stuff he read on a blog-for-idiots, and we offer dissent.

Arguing that people who care about facts do no good talking about those facts seems to me slightly defeatist. After all, people who deal in lies seem perfectly capable of getting others to listen. We just have to figure out how they do it.

4 Buzzcut August 19, 2009 at 2:26 pm

In short, people don’t really tend to express their political views online because they really want to make converts; they do it because they want to get attention for themselves. So you get a lot of preaching to the choir and provoking the other side into linking them, etc

That’s my blog!

I really don’t think political bloggers welcome critical comments. Flame wars are the most likely result, not an effort to convert in a constructive way.

To the original subject, the media in general is hammering away at Republicans, when it is really Blue Dog Democrats that have stalled this thing. The left could possibly challenge Blue Dogs in primaries, but wouldn’t the most likely result just be that Republicans take these seats? Almost by definition, Blue Dogs represent rather conservative areas.

5 holmegm August 19, 2009 at 2:51 pm

I think the lefty blogger attacks are *very* productive … the more people start to wonder “hmm; what really *is* in that bill?” the better.

But then, that’s because I don’t want increased government control of health care.

6 Right Wing-nut August 19, 2009 at 3:50 pm

Dave: Interesting factoid. Read up on the flow of power within and between the various parts of our government. Implicit criticism of the structure of one part of our government in isolation adds nothing of substance to the discussion.

7 William August 19, 2009 at 4:04 pm

You’re suggesting that attacking Republicans for propagating insane BS is counterproductive??!!


Though I suppose no matter what tactics you use, no one is ever going to convince the “keep the goverment’s hands off my Medicare” crowd of anything anyway. But I can still hope that they are a minority…

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9 Kent Guida August 19, 2009 at 4:21 pm

Well, let’s see now. The supposedly brilliant Obama managed to lose the argument with the supposedly ignorant Palin. This indicates Tyler is on to something when he questions the effectiveness of the left’s rhetorical strategy. But of course the left never thought it would ever have to win an actual argument on these issues, and it shows.

Obama still doesn’t think he needs to convince anyone of anything — not just on heath, but on anything. Is he capable of changing his rhetorical approach? Somehow, I doubt it.

10 dearieme August 19, 2009 at 4:34 pm

But “death panels” may well be what you need to get a grip on the costs of Medicare.

11 Bob Murphy August 19, 2009 at 4:54 pm

Not being a wiseguy here, I am sincere: Why did Tyler title this post, “An unwelcome thought”? If Yglesias had written the exact same post (and title), it would have been obvious: Yglesias is a leftist who wants the government to have an expanded role in health care, and he’s worried that he and his fellow bloggers are actually hurting the good cause of bigger government.

So what does Tyler mean by it?

12 anon August 19, 2009 at 5:38 pm

I see Obama as FOR something, while the opponents in the 90s and today are AGAINST everything and for the status quo.

Obama is (and most of “our leaders” of either major party are) for less liberty, regardless of how it is spun.

Part of the problem is that being AGAINST something (or everything) is characterized as “that means you are ONLY for the status quo.” However, it might also be the case that one is concerned about any change resulting in less liberty, not more, so thus settle for no change with no further reduction in liberty.

Many people, like me, are getting rather tired of being told how stupid or how racist or how backwards or how redneck or how right wing or how religious or how troglodyte or how insane or how crazy or how well dressed or how badly dressed or how conservative we are because we want more liberty, not less liberty.

I’m not interested in the approval of or mandates from philosopher kings, queens, princes, or princesses.

Keep up the ad hominem and nasty attacks. Spin away. You aren’t persuading me.

13 David C August 19, 2009 at 7:50 pm

Tyler, we can all go to a place like YouTube, pick out any clip of any cable news show, and look at the ignorance of the comments there. There are people as misguided as you mention, and they do read blogs. Also, several members of the mainstream media (Paul Krugman, for instance) read blogs regularly, and if there weren’t people out there spreading this information as widely as possible, it would be much more difficult for these individuals to pick up on these stories, and get them out there to people who don’t get their information through the blogosphere. And really if telling people about Sarah Palin lying about death panels, Tom Coburn saying death threats against the President are earned, or Jim Demint trying to pass a $3 trillion stimulus package doesn’t change people’s minds about Republicans, then what will? So long story short, stay out of advertising.

14 stephan August 20, 2009 at 3:47 am

“I see Obama as FOR something, while the opponents in the 90s and today are AGAINST everything and for the status quo.”

At least Lenin was FOR something, while his constitutional monarchist opponents were AGAINST everything and for the status quo.

15 Jessica Griffin August 20, 2009 at 6:31 am

Obama is proving to be a rank outsider in a Government that is FOR the people. He even went so far as to say that the opinion of the common man is irrelevant when it comes to matters of Healthcare. I can only feel sorry for those pitiful few who still believe him to be the Messiah of all good things.

16 Laserlight August 20, 2009 at 12:01 pm

“should we stop attacking Republicans for spouting insane BS?”

That depends. If you hope to persuade a Republican that your position is correct, perhaps you should:
a. find out what his concerns are;
b. understand that those concerns are emotionally legitimate, even if you don’t agree with them; and
c. show that in some cases, his concern is based on a misunderstanding or miscommunication of the facts; in other cases, that his concern is entirely legitimate and you’re willing to change your proposal.

Or you can be a typical Democrat who’s spouting insane BS and attacking Republicans.

Speaking as someone who’s neutral (ie hostile to both political parties), I know which approach I’d find more persuasive, but do whatever you think is fun.

17 MlR August 20, 2009 at 9:24 pm

Furthermore, the deficits then were a fraction of those now.

18 Freedom Voice August 24, 2009 at 8:30 pm

Many of you need to wake up.

Find that DHS report (leaked) that is online, the recent one about “right wing” extremism.

With a VERY broad brush, people concerned about states’ rights, sound money, Ron Paul supporters, and more — WERE labeled as extremists!

It turns out, the report was (mostly) based on the work of the SPLC (Southern Poverty Law Center).

Guess who they have recently labeled as a troubling “militia”? The OathKeepers organization. OathKeepers is devoted to exploring what the oath to protect and defend the constitution means — for soldiers and law enforcement.
NOW, this is potentially terrorist!? THE SAND IS SHIFTING BENEATH YOUR FEET.

Who is controlling the dialogue?

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