Defining Moments (Updated)*

With the White House an open seat in 2008, you’d think the upcoming election would be about more than Gotcha!  Especially since we seem to be living in consequential times.  But if you thought that, you’d be naive.  Here’s what the most influential and most passionate netroots blogger thinks will win the election for the Democrats next year:

Videotape everything they do

Mon May 21, 2007 at 12:10:19 PM PDT

Every appearance by a top Republican official or candidate should be recorded. Every one of them.

All it takes is one “Macaca” incident to transform a race or create one where one didn’t exist. As the Montana incident blogged earlier today showed, a video can knock out prospective candidates before they even enter.

And this is no longer about finding one big blunder to put on a campaign commercial. It’s about using video and (free) technologies like YouTube to build narratives about opponents, using their own words, at their own events.

It’s never too early to start.

We’ve got a long, difficult slog ahead of us next year. The more material we amass today, the better we’ll able to use that video to support our efforts next year.

I mean, that’s fine.  And, coming from Markos Moulitsas, it’s hardly a surprise.  As he has said of himself: “They want to make me into the latest Jesse Jackson, but I’m not ideological at all.  I’m just all about winning.”

The problem with the politics of scandal, gaffes, embarassments and “macaca moments” is that, like umpire mistakes in a baseball game, candidate blunders tend to even out.  As a group, almost all politicians are weird.   Count on them to hide something that will be exposed, say something at odds with what they profess to believe, or think in their blind arrogance that they can get away with something that won’t stand the light of day.

Calling for an accumulation of “gotcha” moments is a strategy about nothing, to paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld.  It’s not about persuading or inspiring voters.  It merely reminds them that we are governed by two-faced narcissistic jerks.  That’s why negative campaigning’s most notable effect is to suppress voter turnout.  It doesn’t make voters say, “Aha! Now I prefer X over Y.”  It makes them say, “I was going to vote for Y, but now, ew.” 

Kos is right. If you turn off more Republicans than Democrats, you’ve improved your chances of winning.  But no matter how much video you capture, you can’t depend on coming out ahead in the gotcha race.  It only works if the other side lets its guard down and lets you off the hook when you make your own blunders.  In the YouTube era, that’s basically an assumption that your opponents will commit professional suicide.  Good luck with that.

But beyond the strategic limits of “gotcha” politics, I also question whether “macaca moments” are what voters will be asking for in 2008.  I won’t go as far as to say voters in 2008 will find gaffes to be trivial, and ignore them. I’m not Pollyanna.  But I hope the Democratic Party only half-listens to Kos.  Tactics will matter, but I predict ideas will matter more. 

*UPDATE, 5/24/07.  Todd Ziegler of the Bivings Report raises a related concern today.

In many ways, the story of the web (particularly video) in politics the last few years has been the story of “gotcha” moments. Bad jokes. Pretty hair. Southern accents. Screaming. Terror taxis. Macaca. No strings.The humiliating videos get a lot more play than the substitutive ones (admittedly nobody has done anything that interesting with video this cycle).

Some of the moments linked to above are unforgivable. But in some cases these “gotcha” moments are examples of candidates being real.

So we’re in a situation where we want candidates to be authentic but are quick to punish them when they are. And the constant presence of voters with cameras ensures that there will be plenty of these gotcha moments.

It seems to me that instead of creating a more open election, we may be creating one where the candidate that is the most on message and the most robotic is rewarded. It can be argued that it wasn’t YouTube that defeated George Allen, but his own lack of discipline on the stump. The candidate that makes the least mistakes wins.

Note to Kos:  Of the seven links embedded in Zeigler’s post, four embarass Democrats.  You’d really have to have partisan blinders firmly in place to think “macaca-moment” politics favors one party over the other.

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3 thoughts on “Defining Moments (Updated)*

  1. Pingback: Gotcha Moments » The Bivings Report

  2. Pingback: Gotcha! The Strategy! at Blog P.I.

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