November 03, 2003

The Smell Of Astroturf In The Morning

Numbers tell patterns and speak volumes, if you can understand their language. It was clear that Presidential candidate John Edwards guest-posting on Lessig blog today was going to draw an audience. Credit-starved beggar that I am, I was hoping that the crowd of people would also read Lessig's post a few items earlier, "thanks, Seth", about DMCA exemptions. And so I'd benefit via a reflection from that publicity.

Nope. As far as I can tell, the crowd went straight to either cheer or boo John Edwards. Almost nobody was reading anything else. No interest. Not that it's unexpected. But it's worthwhile to know, empirically, that was the case.

E-cheering and E-booing does not fill me with a great hope for the future of the web in changing political campaigns.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in politics , statistics | on November 03, 2003 04:19 PM (Infothought permalink) | Followups
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So one interesting phenomenon when people were
talking to presidential candidates on Lessig's
blog earlier (I think I remember Howard Dean) was
that the candidates didn't care to go on record
about issues that Lessig's readers particularly
cared about, like copyright questions. And
it didn't seem that they were particularly eager
to respond in concrete, specific ways to many
reader questions at all.

It's true that this falls far short of people's
participatory expectations and hopes for the
Internet. Or what separates blog-participation
from a stump speech, other than that it's in
writing (and hence a more reliable part of the
historical record and subject to more specific

This makes me think that presidential candidates
are being especially carefully coached to avoid
offending anybody. This is true of politicians
in power but seems even more evident among
candidates. Are they thinking "We can get funds
and primary votes from both sides of pretty much
everything and then worry about which way to call
it once we're in power"? Or something even more
cynical than that?

Have you seen the documentary Spin?
They showed it at the Illegal Art film festival
in San Francisco.

Posted by: Seth Schoen at November 3, 2003 11:02 PM

Hi other-Seth, do you recall the list-post I forwarded to you, a long time ago, regarding how the fundamental task of American politics is GET-A-MAJORITY? It's a structural issue. Geeks tend to think the most important thing is to work out an ideologically rigorous argument. But politicians get little advantage for being right, they get advantage for being popular.

As I put it "The information bit rate in political speeches is frustratingly low"

When candidate Kucinich was guest-posting, I talked about the old joke:

"Liquor - if you mean the demon drink that poisons the mind, pollutes the body, desecrates family life and inflames sinners, then I am against it.
If you mean the elixir of Christmas cheer, the shield against winter chill, the taxable portion that puts needed funds into the public coffers to comfort the under privileged, then I am for it."

And parodied, using phrases from Kucinich's statements:

"Security - if you mean the moral obtuseness, its inconscience on matters of civil liberties, and its craven attempts to demolish the Bill of Rights, then I am against it.
If you mean that where the traveling public deserves assurances that they and their loved ones will be safe in the air, then I am for it."

There's implications here though, beyond the standard politicians-say-nothing.

That is, the Internet/Web/blogs etc. etc. won't change anything. All it'll do is affect the ways of saying nothing.

[Haven't seen _Spin_, I'll look into it, thanks.]

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at November 4, 2003 12:03 AM