Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Medium the Message?

O.K., presidential politics entered the YouTube era last night, and everybody has an opinion — ­ not about the candidates, of course, but about the format.

John Aravosis at Americablog was impressed:

The video thing worked, and Anderson did a good job, especially at going after the candidates for not answering the questions. It’s one thing to simply say “you didn’t answer the question,” and quite another to do it in a way that’s actually forceful and might just get them to say something more. Cooper did the latter.

Mustang Bobby at Bark Bark Woof Woof disagrees, saying it “was pretty much the same as all the other previous events — a joint press conference between the eight Democratic candidates on a stage.” Still, he says, “while it had the distinct odor of gimmickry, most of the questions were worth asking and occasionally pointed. The candidates showed their ability to take an unrehearsed question and turn it into one of their standard stump speeches without too much effort, so if you want to give them points for that, I suppose that’s to their credit.”

“A significant number of questioners were people of color and/or addressed issues of race and class, and I was pleasantly surprised,” writes Spencer Overton. “Perhaps because of the digital divide, one might have assumed that this debate would have overlooked issues critical to people of color. That was not the case.”

Andrew Sullivan, in a surprising populist mode, says that “if you’re sick of people like me on television, or worse, then the direct questions from regular voters and non-voters must have been a breath of extremely fresh air (there’s another asthmatic metaphor). I was fearing it would be lame. It wasn’t.”

For Steve M. at No More Mr. Nice Blog, it simply whetted the appetite for the Republican version of the debate in the fall: “The YouTube Democratic debate didn’t do much for me, but it did whet my appetite for the GOP YouTube debate that’ll happen on September 17 — if only because many of the questioners last night struck me as precisely the sort of disgruntled outsiders Rudy Giuliani used to have arrested when he was mayor of New York, when he wasn’t denouncing them as mentally disturbed.”

Ann Althouse is also looking ahead, with advice on getting your clip in to the Republican field in September:

Now that people have seen the videos — and which videos CNN chooses — it should have an effect on the quality of the next set of videos. What are the lessons? You can do humor and you can speak through animation or puppetry as long as you ask a dead serious question, like that snowman did. It helps to personify the question, like those lesbians or the man with dead soldiers in his his family. And it seems to work to sound a little inept or too casual in the first second and a half, but then quickly get out a clear question. They also obviously want questions in the same basic areas they’d hit if they were writing their own questions, so you might choose something boring — like Social Security — that not too many other people will do but that CNN will think has to get in. Good luck.

So, the key to becoming an official inquisitor in an Internet debate is to imitate the “boring” network reporters? Hmmm, so much for the YouTube revolution.

Tobin Harshaw


The (Relatively) Kindly Kings

Yesterday we were told that Mohammad Zahir Shah, the last (so far as we know) king of Afghanistan, died in Kabul, and most obituaries paint him as a well-meaning if ineffectual old man. James S. Robbins at National Review Online sees him as something altogether different — a model, of the Platonic sort:

How many people now captive in Middle Eastern dictatorships would rather be living under the enlightened rule of someone like King Abdullah II of Jordan, or Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the emir of Dubai? Or King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain, or Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, emir of Qatar? These countries enjoy relative peace and sometimes dazzling prosperity, Dubai in particular. Their societies are comparatively tolerant, and Western-oriented. Of course not all monarchies are so praiseworthy, but when stacked up against post-Pahlavi Iran or Syria under the Assads, we really have to reconsider the traditional definition of political development. Zahir Shah may not have been the most dynamic king, but a gentle, kindly monarch and his mildly corrupt relatives are better guardians of liberty than nationalistic dictators or stern-eyed mullahs, each with interchangeable secret police and mechanisms of oppression.

Tobin Harshaw

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