Thursday, June 21, 2007

Figuring the Bloomberg Factor

Bloomberg, good for the Democrats? First Read, the blog of the NBC News political unit, speculates that a Michael Bloomberg presidential candidacy would help the Democratic nominee in November 2008: “Why? It’s simple — the South. The irony of a Bloomberg candidacy is that it could make the Democrats more competitive in the South because their 35 percent base vote in the South is made up of die-hard Democrats.”

The Bloomberg-helps-the-Dems argument presumes that Bloomberg’s appeal will resemble Ross Perot’s in 1992, notes The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder. “Perot managed to sap as many liberal independents from Democrats as he did conservative independents from Republicans,” Ambinder writes. “But Bill Clinton’s base was solid enough in the South; more solid than the Republican base. Perot’s other demographic strongholds included younger voters, unmarried Midwesterners, rural voters, evangelicals and protestants.”

But Bloomberg’s appeal is not very similar to Perot’s, as Ambinder explains. He writes:

Perot appealed to downscale Reagan Democrats, to economic populists, to opponents of NAFTA and free trade. He tapped into a vein of populist discontent with both parties, but particularly those branches than ran through Republican arteries once Bush abandoned his no-tax pledge. His technocratic appeal — “I’ll do what works; I’ll balance the budget” — stole a page from the G.O.P. The foreign policy debate was mostly about the peace dividend; it did not, as it does now, overshadow the domestic political environment.

Bloomberg wants something different. He’s hinted at broad, programmatic solutions to intractable problems. He is, at the same time, a cultural liberal with an anti-libertarian streak; ask any New Yorker who smokes, or who enjoyed their trans-fats [cheeseburgers] whether Bloomberg left them alone. Health care, education, the environment — Democrats have an enormous edge right in attracting voters who care about these issues. If Bloomberg somehow offers an alternative, it’s not hard to suppose that many Dem-leaning independents will be attracted to his candidacy.

Point two: independents are overcommitted to Democrats right now, giving them as much as 70 percent of their generic presidential support in certain surveys. A conservative Republican candidate wouldn’t attract too many independents anyway, in theory, and Democrats have many independents to spare, and lose. Why assume that Bloomberg wouldn’t take more votes from the Democratic candidate?

Chris Suellentrop


The Revolution Will Be Monopolized

This is still CNN: Joshua Levy, co-founder of the blog techPresident, which tracks the role of the Web in the 2008 campaign, is disappointed by the rules for the two presidential debates co-sponsored by CNN and YouTube (the first one will feature the Democratic candidates next month in Charleston, S.C.). Because all of the questions will come from YouTube videos created by Internet users, the debate is being advertised as “a revolution in citizen participation in presidential politics,” Levy notes.

“But there’s a glaring omission,” he objects. “CNN will be the sole arbiters of what videos are shown and questions are asked. This format is contrary to what YouTube’s community of users — and other online communities like it at Digg, Facebook, MySpace, and elsewhere — are used to.” Levy continues:

Members of the YouTube community upload a video hoping that it will be seen, commented on, responded to, and virally spread by their peers. This behavior functions as a kind of distributed voting mechanism, in which those videos the community likes most float to the top (though as Micah [Sifry, the blog’s other founder] suggested earlier today, it doesn’t always work that way).

But if CNN has total editorial control over what videos are shown to the candidates, it’s pulling the rug out from under the so-called “user-generated content” revolution. This stuff is much less fascinating if a third-party gatekeeper comes in and tells us what is interesting and what is fluff. Instead, YouTube and CNN should let YouTube users decide what the best questions are, and then use those questions in the debate.

Chris Suellentrop

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