Friday, June 13, 2008

Shills in Snipes' Feathers

John Dickerson, over at Slate, has penned an interesting article claiming that the disaffected Clinton supporters who are now planning to cross party lines aren't as powerful as they're being made out to be. He likens the search for them to a snipe hunt - albeit one in which your quarry seems to be everywhere rather than nowhere.

Personally, I suspect that the "I'm so pissed that Senator Clinton didn't get the nomination so I'm going to vote for McCain" voter isn't as numerous as they're made out to be. I'll bet they're actually a fairly rare bird, if for no other reason than many of them are really Republican voters in the first place.

Dickerson is likely correct - the anger and hurt feelings over Obama WILL fade. So someone needs to stoke the fire. And on the internet, no one knows that you're a Republican. Let's face it. If someone were to come across this weblog at random, as far they're concerned, I could be Howard Dean as easily as I could be Karl Rove. Or, for that matter, John Dickerson. Would you really know any more about some random person who sets up (No, it's not intended to be a real site. I made it up.)

As movements begin to shed members, a snowball effect begins. As it gets lonelier and lonelier, the exodus gets faster and faster. But if you have a number of people keeping the lights on, and making sure that there's always someone home, you can slow the rush for the exits.

This isn't to say that everyone who stomps around complaining about Hillary not getting the top spot or being chosen as VP is actually a Republican. I suspect that there really are some people who are so mad they can't see straight and are willing to open up a can of worms that will be very, VERY difficult to close later on. Just like I suspect that there really are people who see Senator Obama as hopelessly unqualified, and honestly believe that Senator McCain will do a better job for the nation. After all, despite all the flack that Nader took in 2000, it was Democrats for Bush that put him over the top in Florida - they outnumbered the Nader voters. And not all Democrats voted for Kerry/Edwards, either. Anyone willing to cross party lines in 2004 is likely to be perfectly willing to do so now.

But the GOP would be a bunch of idiots not to throw some resources towards ensuring that as many Clinton partisans remain disaffected as they can. It's what negative campaigning is all about. And here you have a ready-made negative campaign, and a constituency that is already receptive to it. They don't really need them to vote Republican in the fall; they'll likely be happy just to have them stay home, and hopefully browbeat family members into doing the same. Those that do actually cross over are a bonus. A few thousand votes in one or two battleground states could make all the difference. And the costs are minimal. It's not like Senator McCain is going to have to turn pro-choice as payment or anything. And if it works, it becomes the gift that keeps on giving. Clintonistas that think that after four more years of a GOP White House that all will be forgiven, and the feelings of betrayal will be submerged "for the good of the party" have half the sense Dog gave a cabbage. Many of the young people who went crazy for Obama are likely to have simply been turned off, and the Obama die hards will likely have no problem doing onto others.

In light of all that, just because it looks like a snipe, walks like a snipe and grouses like a snipe - I'd think twice before claiming to be sure that it's a snipe.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

About that vast media conspiracy...

I’m going to ask you to suspend disbelief for a few minutes. Read what I have to say, click on at least some of the links, and consider what I’m saying with a fresh mind.

We all know Jacob Weisberg - the outgoing editor of Slate (actually now promoted in the WaPo organization). Well, we also know Jake's dear friend from childhood, Malcolm Gladwell.

Malcolm Gladwell has made quite a name for himself. His mother was a social psychologist, presumably instilling in him an interest in social dynamics, because it's on the topic of social dynamics - more specifically attitude change - that he's had his greatest publishing success, writing best-selling books such as Blink and The Tipping Point. These days, he's a staff writer at The New Yorker.

In The Tipping Point, Gladwell discusses cultural memes at some length - a term I believe was originally coined by Richard Dawkins. Memes are cultural beliefs that one might consider contagious, and are modeled along the same lines and biological constructs. We transmit them to each other (and they tend to evolve), and we use to make a unified sense of the world in a social context. They are closely related to the concept of framing, which I suppose you might consider a special type of proto-meme. (This is not a specialty area of mine, so forgive me if I mash up some of the details.)

Framing is an issue with broad application in the field of politics - in fact, there was an attempt recently to develop a liberal think tank devoted to framing issues - something to counteract the work of conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute (click on that second link and you'll see an article authored by Ann Applebaum - a name that should sound familiar, and not the only Slate writer with links to the organization) - both conservative think tanks who've already been active in developing frames to be utilized in political discourse.

It goes without saying that politics is an avid interest for Weisberg, and judging by the relative slant in coverage on Slate (and there are perhaps other indications), it's reasonable to assume he is a fan of Barack Obama. The question is whether or not Weisberg, with the technical assistance of Gladwell, is also a political activist.

It's surprising, to an outside observer like myself, that Hillary Clinton did not pick up more steam as the American feminist's candidate of choice - there is certainly precedent. Also surprising has been the majority of the content of the XX-factor blog - a blog one might expect would cover issues from a feminist perspective, but whose coverage has been anything but - even from (previously, in my case) well-respected writers such as Dahlia Lithwick.

So the conspiracy is this: the XX-factor blog was created deliberately to counteract a cultural meme - that of Hillary, as the champion of women. If so, judging by a startling (for an ostensibly liberal site) number of posts on the XX-factor fray, I'd say it's been a very successful project. Remember - this was a very close race, and memes can be powerful agents of attitude change in a population.

So if I was correct, what kind of conspiracy is it? Is it the vast right-wing conspiracy previously alluded to by Clinton, and associated with the conservative groups we know are affiliated with some Slate contributors? Or would this be motivated by liberal concerns, perhaps associated with groups like the Center for American Progress, Media Matters, or

You've got me - this is as far as I can go. Well, except to note a couple of other puzzling things (perhaps to entertain Apollonius, if he happens to be around).

George Soros is a billionaire philanthropist who provided substantial funding for the Center for American Progress,, and who is rumored (though he denies it) to have funded Media Matters through the Democracy Alliance or The Progressive Media Project) as well. He has been one of the primary financial backers for Democratic candidates for a number of years. Though he's been a supporter of the Clintons in the past, this year he's backed Obama - and remember, he's cozy with - Howard Dean's grassroots organization, which represents the now-dominant faction in the Democratic party - victors in the philosophical dispute with the Clintonistas.

Did I happen to mention that, in addition to providing substantial funding for Obama, that Soros has been a chief contributor to McCain as well? Or that he was allegedly a prime mover in the passage of the McCain-Feingold act, which makes it easier for him to wield political influence relatively unimpeded, through his media organizations (and which apparently served to alienate McCain from conservative elements of the Republican party)?

Oh, and as a last aside, did I mention that Malcolm Gladwell is an opponent of nationalized health care? Just sayin'.

I feel a little like Homer Simpson; "Aliens, bio-duplication, nude conspiracies... Oh my God! Lyndon LaRouche was right!" It's a novel feeling - I've never been a fan of conspiracy theories.

However, the idea of a coordinated media campaign in support of a single candidate is not farfetched, and the implausible character of the XX-factor blog, on it's own, begs for rational explanation.

Well that’s it. If you find this argument compelling, feel free to repost elsewhere. Please. (Though attributed to me, if you would.) If not, I hope you found it entertaining reading. But if I am right, then the only antidote I know for such manipulation is inoculation. As sympathetic to a political cause as I might be, there is a world of difference between framing taxes as an expression of social responsibility, and using sexist language to undermine the credibility of the first female candidate with a legitimate chance of winning the Democratic nomination. I find such tactics reprehensible – regardless of who they are used against.

Cross-posted to Best of the Fray, Fraywatch, and the XX-factor blog.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Sex and the Committee

One of the things about living in Washington State, as opposed to Washington, D.C., is that we've reverted back to hearing about the primary campaign as if it were taking place on another planet (not that shipping this entire mess off to Neptune on the next NASA flight would be a bad idea). Catching the punditry that surrounds the election requires either getting up early on Sunday, or watching Fox News (or another cable news outlet), neither of which is really on my agenda these days. The net result of all of this is that most of the complaining that the Clinton crowd has been doing about the media's treatment of her gender has been largely abstract.

But I was reading today's papers online, and this caught my eye.

"One woman, wearing a blue 'Team Hillary' shirt, shoved a man in a suit and tie with a small Obama button on his lapel. 'We just blew the election!' another woman shouted. 'McCain in '08! McCain in '08!', a woman yelled from the back of the room. 'No-bama! No-bama!'"
"Dems seat delegates, but ignite new anger"
It doesn't take a hardcore feminist to get the feeling that someone has a problem with loud-mouthed, "uppity" women - or to get the idea that readers might wind up thinking that the only shouting was coming from female Clinton supporters. The idea that the meeting was such a one-sided affair didn't make any sense to me, even with the understanding of the culture of political entitlement that has grown up around Senator Clinton's candidacy. (Mainly because I find it hard to believe that there isn't a similar, if less vocal, culture around Senator Obama's candidacy.) So I jumped over the he Seattle Times crosstown rival, the Seattle Post Intelligencer, to see if they used the same story, or had a different perspective. It turns out they went with an Associated Press story instead.
"'We just blew the election!' a woman in the audience shouted. The crowd was divided between cheering Obama supporters and booing Clinton supporters."
"Florida, Michigan delegates will get half-votes"
Okay, that's a little better. At least you get the idea that the Obama supporters were something more than passive punching bags.

In addition to a photograph of one "Joh Winkleman of Sunnyside, N.Y.," with his fist in the air, both articles have this in common. You never see references to men shouting or being disruptve - it's either a "woman" or an "audience member." Mr. Winkleman was apparently the only man in attendance with something loud to say - although we aren't told what it was.

I have some difficulty believing that it was that difficult to pick disruptive/angry men out of the crowd. And it's not like this would be the first time that women have had something to say about something (which would somewhat justify the exclusive focus on them). I doubt that anyone in an editorial position (at the New York Times, Washington Post, Associated Press, Seattle Post-Intelligencer or the Seattle Times) would concede the presentation of the stories is, if not overtly sexist, easily mistaken for such. On the other hand, yes, I find the stories somewhat sexist - but I'm a guy. Perhaps women would look at these stories and say: "Sexism? Where?"