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October 06, 2004

Urine-Aid!

Like Band-Aid, except with no money or music.

A short and snappy criticism of blogger partisanship in search of people to be applied to.

Not only is he drinking the Kool-Aid, he's the person who pissed in the pitcher to begin with.

We are now taking nominations for sites the above can be applied to, both left and right. Switch out gender and singular/plural noun verb agreements as you see fit. If we get enough, I'll put them up in a poll where we can vote for the blog most likely to imbibe its own Urine-aid.

The proximate cause of our little contest, though the idea has been developing in my mind for some time now, has been a lot of the reaction to last night's vice presidential debates--one that Jonah Goldberg explains, so I don't have to.

I think the disparity between pro-Bush and anti-Bush pundits (there are so few pro-Kerry pundits it's silly to create a category for them) might be partially explained by an interesting dynamic. Principled conservatives and principled liberals like their Veeps better than their presidents. I don't think there's a writer at Slate, Tapped, TNR or the Washington Monthly who wouldn't prefer Edwards as the presidential nominee (and I think their debate analysis reflects this). In fact, I think many of them have said so. Similarly, I don't think there are that many conservatives who don't feel the same way about Bush-Cheney.

I watched the debates last night with a retired neighbor of mine after he and his wife had the family over for dinner. We're fundamentally different people, in that he drinks bourbon and macro-lagers and I drink scotch and ales, but we manage to get along none the less.

Despite our fundamental differences, we both pretty much agreed that both Cheney and Edwards did well, with the hardest punch of the night being thrown by Cheney when he talked about Edwards' Senate record. In our humble, and after an hour and half, somewhat lubricated opinions, the country would have been better off had the parties chosen these two men as their respective standard bearers, but there was no clear winner of the debate.

Contrast that to Andrew Sullivan's opinion.

If last Thursday night's debate was an assisted suicide for president Bush, this debate - just concluded - was a car wreck. And Cheney was road-kill. There were times when it was so overwhelming a debate victory for Edwards that I had to look away.

Now, as Andrew said later on, this was obviously his personal opinion, but he was surprised by the sheer number of readers that disagreed with his take.

Obviously, I'm as bewildered as you are by this response. I'm in a tiny minority. But I wrote what I thought I saw. Can't do anything else. Some of this - most of it, actually - has to be subjective.

William Saletan had much the same reaction

Now are you sorry you didn't nominate this guy for president?

That's what I wanted to ask Democrats as I watched John Edwards knock Dick Cheney around the ring tonight.

Saletan at least has been blinded by his partisanship before. He thought Kerry's historic no-post-convention-bounce acceptance speech was wonderful, as I recall, and in 2000 he penned the now-infamous ""Bush is Toast" article for Slate.

I think the vast majority of partisan response to the debate last night can be explained by the Self Reinforcing Beliefs Cycle, where person starts out believing in the cause, reads literature written by the promoters of the cause, then becomes further convinced in the rightness of his beliefs.

One problem for bloggers, and others--producers at CBS News spring to mind--is that they not only read the literature written by the promoters of the cause, they produce much of it themselves--making their own Kool-Aid, so to speak.

Another difficulty is that the Law of Affinity is strong in the blogosphere. Like is attracted to like. For the most part, lefty bloggers attract lefty readers, and blogs that lean to the right attract conservatives--skewing the feedback that a site gets to one side of the political equation or the other. What do you think happens to participatory journalism when all the vast majority of participants share a single political worldview? I would suggest that the editorial relationship between the reader and blogger--seen as the most important part of the new journalism;

True dialogue has the power to shape that conversation, possibly to frame issues differently than professional journalists would.

--is lost.

The best bloggers realize this, and struggle to maintain some sort of balance, but the more like minded readers they attract, the harder this is, as the readership feedback when a blogger wanders off the politically-correct plantation can be overwhelmingly vicious. Witness the reaction from Kevin Drum's readership to his post on the forged National Guard memos.

• "What goddamn good are you, Kevin, if you fuck up this bad?"

• "What a joke! You are a sorry excuse for a liberal blogger."

• "you sure as hell aren't going to make any of us on the left happy with your regurgitation of Rove's talking points"

• "Kevin, you ought to delete this post, or retract your conclusion. You want to screw Kerry, fine. Go collect your money from the RNC."

• "you have damaged your credibility with this reader"

• "Kevin likes that Whitehouse Koolaid"

• "what can I say for someone with lunches with a one-party fascist like Hugh Hewitt."

• "GOd, you're a tool Kevin"

Now, I'm not suggesting that the negative response to this post has affected Kevin's later postings in any way, shape or form, but "Once burned, twice shy" is an integral part of human nature. It takes courage, not to mention a certain bull-headed stubbornness, to keep reaching for the flame instead of preaching to the faithful, and many bloggers simply stop doing so after a time--which is why a great number of them will get the shock of their lives on November 2nd.

Here's your chance to point them out.*

*For purposes of argument, I will accept the assertion that we here at Hraka are among the most purblind of partisan pee partakers and producers, so save your breath.

Posted by Bigwig at October 6, 2004 12:51 PM | TrackBack
Postscript:
First time visitor to House Hraka? Wondering if everything we produce could possibly be as brilliant/stupid/evil/pedantic/insipid/inspired as the post you just read? Check out the Hraka Essentials, the (mostly) reader-selected guide to Hraka's best posts, and decide for yourself.
Comments

In an e-mail to Ann Althouse (for her collection of comments on "the vices of bloggers") I referred to the "self-reinforcing beliefs cycle" phenomenon as "opinion incest" (closely related to another vice of bloggers, "sneering").

Posted by: amba at October 6, 2004 02:30 PM

I nominate Michelle Malkin. Well, she's young.

Ann Althouse was collecting "vices of bloggers." I sent her two closely related ones, "opinion incest" (aka the Self Reinforcing Beliefs Cycle) and "sneering." MM makes forceful, articulate, informed arguments, but she also does a lot of sneering, especially when all else fails (like after the first presidential debate). I think the bloggers, like the partisan authors (Ann Coulter, Al Franken), picked this tone up from talk radio, originally from Rush Limbaugh. The left has jumped on the sneering bandwagon with both feet, but Rush started it rolling.

Posted by: amba at October 6, 2004 02:59 PM

Oops, sorry for repeating myself, I thought that first comment got lost in the ether. :(

Posted by: amba at October 6, 2004 03:00 PM

Well done, Bigwig. Great example of a keen-eyed Bigwig post. There are several shining virtues of the blogosphere as a political forum. You just put your finger on a vice.

Why is the vice peculiar to the blogosphere? Perhaps because the personal distance created by cyberspace encourages stridency. Stridency alienates those who disagree, who then leave. What remains is an echo chamber. Insanity can follow, especially if we're talking about a leftist site, because leftism's goal is domination, not truth.

Posted by: Jim at October 6, 2004 05:42 PM

Actually, the phrase for this phenom is "confirmation bias," that is, the tendency to interpret new facts to support a decision already made.

Posted by: Kai Jones at October 7, 2004 03:57 PM
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