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OF BLOGS AND MEN….Dan Drezner poses a good question today: why did CNN news chief Eason Jordan resign following his inflammatory remarks at the Davos conference? Most of this debate is on whether Jordan’s blog-fueled exit is good or bad. For me, there’s another question — did the blogosphere really force him out?

I ask this after reading Ed Morrissey’s timeline of Jordangate in the Weekly Standard. Assuming that Morrissey’s account is accurate (see below), then the media heat on Jordan was never particularly strong — and it was dying down the day before he left CNN. By coincidence, I was chatting with a friend about this just a few hours ago. I went a bit further, though: just how influential is the blogosphere, anyway? Were we really responsible for Trent Lott’s downfall? Dan Rather’s resignation? Keeping the National Guard story alive? Sure, those stories got a ton of play in blogs, but the fact that blogs played them xxx up doesn’t mean they were responsible for what happened afterward.

I don’t have an answer to this, but I have some guesses. Based on several reports I’ve read, I suspect that blogs played a role in the Trent Lott affair, but not as big a role as we think. Blogs just didn’t have that much influence back then, and there were other things going on behind the scenes. Our role in Rathergate was definitely bigger, but in the end I doubt that things would have turned out differently if blogs didn’t exist. The facts were damning no matter where they came from, and other media outlets were all over the story within a few days. Finally, as Dan points out, Eason Jordan’s resignation looks suspiciously like it had nothing to do with the blog storm over his remarks. It’s not clear what really happened there.

I’m a little stumped about all this. It’s pretty obvious that blogs can kick up a big fuss over certain kinds of stories, and it’s also pretty obvious that blogs have a considerable indirect influence by virtue of getting read by a lot of (mostly younger) reporters and Hill staffers who themselves have influence. Beyond that, who knows? Certainly blogs act as a kind of distributed research service for other, more conventional, media outlets, and at times they can also produce pressure of their own.

But how much? I’m not even sure how to ask that question, let alone answer it. Maybe someone smarter than me will tackle it someday. —Kevin Drum 8:25 PM Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (41)
SURVIVOR BLOGGING….I’m temporarily in a nonpolitical mood, so let’s blog about Survivor instead. Everyone loves Survivor, right? First observation: these guys still can’t make fire? How many seasons does this show have to be on the air before the contestants figure out that they should track down a boy scout or something and learn how to do this before the taping starts? Sheesh.

But that’s just a quibble. The real problem is that Survivor is stale. It needs some real surprises, not the flim flammery on display last night. Their idea of a “surprise” on Thursday’s opening episode was the fact that (a) they started with 20 contestants instead of 18, and (b) those 20 contestants were all thrown together into a single tribe for the first day. What a shocker that was. I could hardly stay on my seat.

The primary appeal of Survivor is not the physical surroundings or the number of people on the show or the ethnic or gender makeup of the contestants. The appeal of the show is in the human interaction. How do you keep from being voted off? How do you make and break alliances? Who gets betrayed this week? That’s where they need to throw in a few curveballs. The contestants need to learn that the standard way of forming alliances and screwing competitors is subject to change.

Here’s an example. After the tribes were formed last night there were 18 people left. Suppose it then worked like this: one person wins immunity in a personal immunity challenge and the remaining 17 are then given the rest of the day to break themselves into four groups of four. Those groups are revealed at tribal council with a suitable set of rules that builds suspense and allows for lots of enjoyable last minute backstabbing. At the end, one person is left out and has to go home.

See what happens? Suddenly there’s a new and unexpected way in which alliances have to be formed. All you have to do is find three reliable buddies and you’re safe for the week. Next week, who knows? Maybe it’s three groups of five. Maybe it’s something completely different. Whatever it is, though, the way in which you interact with other tribe members is now entirely different than it has been in past seasons. If you think you have a strategy all worked out, think again. I’m not suggesting things should have worked exactly that way, just that the contestants ought to be surprised with a new twist on the old alliance game. Backstabbing and betrayal are the key to the show, and the producers need to find new ways to make the knife twisting ever bloodier and more traumatizing. The masses are getting restless.

—Kevin Drum 4:35 PM Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (72)
MY KIND OF GUY….Via Sam Heldman, Smithsonian Institution Secretary Lawrence Small is trying to negotiate a community service deal after being convicted of violating a provision of the Endangered Species Act. His proposal? That he spend the time learning more about the act and lobbying Congress to change it. You gotta give him points for originality. And chutzpah.

—Kevin Drum 12:53 PM Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (50)
TECHNOCRACY….This is a bit of an airy topic, but indulge me. Responding to a Jon Chait essay suggesting that liberalism is fundamentally nonideological, Matt Yglesias says: The brand of liberalism Jon is describing is committed to a technocratic version of consequentialism undergirded by some theory of the good. This poses some problems.

One simple problem is that technocratism has a pretty limited political appeal…. Actually, I don’t think that’s true. Local politics, for example, is famously concerned with fixing potholes and keeping the streets safe, issues that are usually framed as matters of competency, not ideology. Local constituents vote for mayors and city planners on this basis all the time.

More to the point, though, liberal technocratism was enormously popular in America for many decades starting with the New Deal. Sure, FDR offered up his own unique brand of liberal American ideology, but he mainly had a vision of government that worked — something that it manifestly didn’t do during the first few years of the Depression. By the time Republicans finally took over after 20 years of Democratic rule, technocratism reigned so supreme that Eisenhower accepted it almost without blinking. His “Modern Republicanism” of 1958 and beyond was explicitly dedicated to solving problems instead of waging ideological wars, and practically everyone fell into lockstep behind this vision. There was a widespread belief — barely remembered today by anyone who wasn’t alive at the time — that the old ideological battles were over, relegated forever to the ash heap of history.

In other words, technocratic liberalism can have enormous public appeal. But there’s a catch: it has to work, and the 60s and 70s were not kind to it. Robert McNamara was the very soul of an efficiency expert and he brought us nothing but the misery of Vietnam. Henry Kissinger was an international realist, but he couldn’t stop the Arabs from embargoing their oil. Jimmy Carter was the ultimate technocrat by both training and temperament, but by the end of his term in office the country suffered from high inflation, high unemployment, a second oil shock, a Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and a seemingly endless hostage crisis in Iran. Technocratic liberalism had been transformed into malaise.

So, yes, technocratism has pretty limited political appeal today, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to ever restore its luster. What it needs is someone like FDR, who had the delicate judgment necessary to balance technocratic idealism and experimental risk taking with a hardheaded understanding of American culture that produced programs that — mostly — worked. Bill Clinton almost (but not quite) managed the same trick on a smaller scale. Unfortunately, he had a penchant for risk taking of a different sort.

My guess is that common sense will make a comeback one of these days. The modern Republican party is dedicated to an economic program so wildly out of touch with reality that they really don’t have much choice except to eventually either compromise their ideology (which will cause them to lose elections) or else watch the economy come crashing down on their heads (which will cause them to lose elections). The only real question is: how long will it take?

—Kevin Drum 12:28 PM Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (72)
SOCIAL SECURITY BLUES….The LA Times reports today that Democrats are resolutely opposed to George Bush’s Social Security plans, conservatives are blowing their stacks over the possibility of raising the payroll tax cap, no one wants to talk about benefit cuts, and the public is slowly turning against private accounts. In other words, things aren’t looking good for the prez.

I guess they call it the third rail of American politics for a reason. I continue, though, to think that somewhere there’s a Plan B in the background. Bush has gained a reputation for resoluteness based on his unbending dedication to upper crust tax breaks and military action in Iraq, but as Marshall Wittman points out, he’s happily flip flopped on practically every other policy initiative he’s been associated with. He’s probably willing to do it this time too.