Thursday, March 09, 2006

Blogosphere: The League of Extraordinary Gentle…persons

The blogosphere has an enormous relative concentration of the people willing to be persuaded by superior argument. While most sites feature the highly opinionated, and comments sections are chock-a-block full of the intractable, those who wish to examine an issue from several sides have quickly learned that the internet in general, and the blogosphere in specific, is the most efficient place to go. A willingness to be persuaded requires a mind capable of holding contradictory ideas in attentive suspense, often indefinitely. This suspense is uncomfortable however, and creates its own internal pressure toward resolution. (No, I am not going to spring Hegel on you here. Hegelianism is the misinterpretation of the above phenomenon.)

The combination of public relations coups and fiascos of George W. Bush has accentuated, even fostered, this characteristic of internet debate. The complaint is often found on the center-right of the internet: “It appears that Bush may be right on this one. But why do we have to be the ones to point it out? Shouldn’t someone from the White House be making this argument?” I have read that many times over the last few years, from Tigerhawk, from Glenn Reynolds and Roger Simon, Tom Maguire and sites I can no longer recall.But the opposite is also true. The significance of Bush going to India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, of keeping good relations with John Howard and sending Condi Rice to Germany and the Middle East – these were news for only a day or two in the MSM. We didn’t sign Kyoto but are ahead of its schedule... Rumsfeld’s use of the phrase “Old Europe” has vanished from the NYTRB and the Sunday morning talk shows... The blogosphere keeps discussing these, left, right, and center.

Best example yet: Dubai Ports

Contradictory leaders unintentionally inspire others to study and think on their own. In particular, contrasts of arrogance and humility inspire this intensity. While this is most obvious with religious figures, it occurs in the political leader as well. Jesus can forbid witnesses of his miracles to reveal what they have seen yet ride into Jerusalem before a cheering mob. The Baal Shem Tov and St. Francis were alarming mixtures of self-promotion and self-effacement. Their followers were known for study. Winston Churchill may have been one of the most arrogant men of British history, yet none doubt that the humility of his wartime speeches was sincere. This cannot be done as a technique – we can smell that at fifty meters and recognize it as hypocrisy. It can only spring from the tension of genuine self-confidence and humility. People read and study the contradictory Martin Luther King, Jr. Gandhi, whose humility was an affectation, is merely invoked.

Bill Clinton was the crowning achievement of the Old Media politician. George Bush is the rough draft of the New Media paradigm. The Clinton administration manipulated the available media in the 1990’s brilliantly, burying bad news late on Fridays, creating multiple photo-ops and good news announcements from single events, and expertly defusing potential landmines with charm and doublespeak. Clinton would have gone out to meet with Cindy Sheehan and shed a tear. Clinton would have humiliated Nagin and Blanco with effusive praise, turning Katrina into a PR victory for himself. George Bush could not have been re-elected, and probably not originally elected, in the 1990’s atmosphere. His margins of victory were too slim, so that any public relations disadvantage from his current environment would have pushed him under those waters. The development of the new media had a minor influence in 2000, and not much more in 2004, but that little was all that was needed.

Thus, Bush and the blogosphere have been a boon to each other, though neither has intended this.
The odd successes and odder failures of this administration have forced us to examine issues in a way that old-media administrations never did. Where did Clinton visit again? Normandy, and Martha’s Vineyard, and… hmm, I’m drawing a blank here.

This is the beginning of the new politics, happening in front of you.

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