Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 27, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

WE ARE ALL INSIDERS NOW....Lee Gomes writes in the Wall Street Journal that the wide availability of insider political sites (The Note, The Page, First Read, etc.) has made us all into slaves of Beltway horserace analysis and MSM conventional wisdom. Plus this:

Finally, the sites make it easy to lose perspective. Seeing a story sweep through a site like memeorandum.com, it might be difficult to resist joining the herd and its conventional wisdom. Indeed, some Web authors say they shut down their computers to give themselves a chance to think. "There is a value in crafting your post without having read what the cognoscenti have already written about it," said Marc Ambinder, who is blogging the election for the Atlantic.

Amen. I think more reporters ought to screw up their courage and do that more often. In fact, I'd say that some of the worst posts I've written (this one, for example) have come when I noticed that a lot of other people were writing about something and I felt like that meant I had to weigh in too. But, really, it's just the opposite: if everybody else is already writing about something, what's the marginal value of one more opinion? Unless I have something genuinely new to say, pretty small.

Conversely, what's the value of a personal take on events that's not heavily colored by what everybody else has said? Potentially, at least, much larger. So if that's my comparative advantage, it's probably best to stick with it as much as possible.

Via James Joyner.

Kevin Drum 1:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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Comments

Amen, Kevin!

I started reading you back in CalPundit Times in 2003 and early 2004 when you were the only one talking about Bush's National Guard "service."

To your credit, I would say you do generally hold to this standard pretty well. It's always helpful to see it laid out so neatly, though. Best,

-- Joel

Posted by: Joel on February 27, 2008 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

But, really, it's just the opposite: if everybody else is already writing about something, what's the marginal value of one more opinion? Unless I have something genuinely new to say, pretty small.

I disagree. If the conventional wisdom about something important is really wrong, then it's important that at least a few people are saying the opposite thing, and even one more voice does a lot to challenge the impression that the conventional wisdom must be right. I won't bore you with it, but there are plenty of examples of how profoundly differently people view things when they have never been presented with options. In the situation I am talking about, you need to be able to build up a critical mass of challenges in order to be able to successfully challenge the conventional wisdom, and that takes voices, not cowardice.

Posted by: Swan on February 27, 2008 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

That's actually been my point about the voters as opposed to the echo chamber.

Who would think that Hillary has apparently won the Democrat vote thus far? Long after the media and bloggers crowned Obama, Democrats continued to vote for her--and thus far,still do.

Exit Polls--take the exit polls and apply the percentages, and it turns out that Clinon has won white Democrats, Hispanic Democrats, and all Democrats (including, to my surprise, caucus voters).

But everyone talks about how Clinton needs to "win the base".

Posted by: Cal on February 27, 2008 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

Or, gah-- maybe I just wrote basically what you were trying to say. You had a couple of unfortunate sentences in the paragraph I quoted from, that left you not-totally-clear.

Posted by: Swan on February 27, 2008 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

all Democrats (including, to my surprise, caucus voters).

Clarification: obviously, she hasn't won the caucus votes, but if you assume all caucus voters are Democrats (which they aren't) and add their numbers to primary votes, she is still ahead in terms of overall Democrat votes.

Posted by: Cal on February 27, 2008 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin--

Fair enough, but there's one other thing to consider. One reason I read this site is that you appear to be someone whose head is basically screwed on straight. In general you can be trusted to give a sane, reasonable response to current happenings. In the blogosphere common sense isn't always that common.

So when the other sites are hyperventilating about some issue it's helpful to hear if you agree. Your FISA post is a perfect example -- nothing revolutionary on the substance, but useful as an invitation for everyone to climb down a little bit.

The absence of a strong opinion on something can constitute useful information for those of us looking for help in deciding what is wheat and what is chaff.

Posted by: yorkist on February 27, 2008 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

I totally agree, Kevin. In my own blog, I struggle to write things that have some of my own take on things, rather than simply disgorging 500 words to say, "Me, too" (which is the most excruciating things about reading blog comments). That's the main reason I rarely write more than one post a day.

As for not reading what others have written, that's something I do with my book reviews. If I look at Amazon's or other reviews, I do so after I've written my post.

There is a difference, though. There are likely some people who come to your site looking for a summary of the news, so there is more pressure on you to put "important" things in, even if you don't have a novel take. I don't have readers like that.

Posted by: androcass on February 27, 2008 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

So Kevin, cough it up- why was your (horrid) obama in somalia garb one of your worst post. Maybe because you decided to run with a damned Drudge report?- which is pretty damned embarrassing. Just curious.

Posted by: DougMN on February 27, 2008 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

The fact you usually DON'T just post about what the hell everyone else is in the political blogosphere is exactly why I come here.

Few other sites are as focused on health care as you are (a HUGE issue for someone like me who has major health issues), make economic issues tolerable to follow and read about, and just generally cover issues that not everyone is covering.

On the meta side, this is exactly why I stopped blogging about news and politics -- there's just too much damned pressure to post 10 - 20 times a day while have something unique to add to an issue thousands have already discussed.

There's also the fact daddyblogging is much, much less stressful (warning: shameless blogwhoring).

:-)

Posted by: Mark D on February 27, 2008 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

Oddly-- I don't feel any more "in" now that this guy ahs said we're all insiders...

Posted by: Swan on February 27, 2008 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

Drum: ..if everybody else is already writing about something, what's the marginal value of one more opinion..

Hey, I very occasionally write about things, but I always seem to come across someone who has already made the same observation or point, so I mainly read and offer the odd comment or two.

That, and it takes time to write well, time which I just don't seem to have...

Posted by: grape_crush on February 27, 2008 at 3:46 PM | PERMALINK

kevin, of course you should continue to write about what you think is interesting; as i noted last week, i turn to blogs for what isn't being covered, not what is.

that said, i'm posting this one because i can't believe that marc ambinder really thinks that he can convince us that he turns off his computer and produces only what emerges in his own presumably non-cognoscenti head? do the ambinders of the world (and he's actually not bad) really and truly think that they can convince us of obvious non-truths like this? i mean, compared to political journalists, fashionistas are a wild bunch of free-thinkers: contemporary political journalism is all about the pack, ambinder not excluded....

Posted by: howard on February 27, 2008 at 4:29 PM | PERMALINK

If only the horserace and insidery coverage were any good.

Find me a Beltway Inbred who wasn't cowed by the "everyone knows Bush will win" confidence con in 2000 (he campaigned in California??? and New Jersey???).

Find me one of the Kewl Kidz who has noticed that Timmeh can't run a Dem debate without Republican talking points.

Find me a Serious People dismayed at Tweety's most approving coverage of Al Gore: The day after Gore declined to carry on the battle in 2001.

Posted by: ThresherK on February 27, 2008 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin wrote: "I'd say that some of the worst posts I've written ... have come when I noticed that a lot of other people were writing about something and I felt like that meant I had to weigh in too."

The worse problem is that some of the best posts you have not written have not come when you failed to write about things that a lot of other pundits are not writing about.

Human beings are rapidly destroying the capacity of the Earth to support life. Unless we quickly and radically alter the basic means by which we sustain our material existence as a civilization -- energy, water use, agriculture, fishing, forestry, mining, etc -- we are going to bring about global ecological catastrophe, mass extinctions, and the collapse of human civilization within the lifetimes of people now living.

The truth is not "inconvenient". The truth is terrifying.

Why is this relegated to a "fringe" issue on political blogs, where it receives at most cursory notice in brief comments from time to time, while thousands of words are devoted to minutiae of issues that are by comparison little more than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, and armchair-general discussions of how the US can most effectively conduct counter-insurgency campaigns in the countries that it has invaded and occupied in wars of imperialistic aggression?

Why aren't political bloggers leading the demand for major contenders for the most powerful office in the most powerful country in the world to make dealing with this issue the central organizing principle for all aspects of public policy?

The opposite of an "echo chamber" is a "sound absorbing chamber" where words and ideas are sucked out of the air and disappear.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on February 27, 2008 at 5:57 PM | PERMALINK

So why did you decide to write about this topic? It looks as if everyone else has already discussed it.

Posted by: aka on February 27, 2008 at 6:30 PM | PERMALINK

Obama took ex-terror bombers' campaign cash! says Globe, this week page 24

Posted by: Harry on February 27, 2008 at 6:32 PM | PERMALINK

That, and it takes time to write well, time which I just don't seem to have...

Too true. It also takes getting enough sleep every night, not having people looking over your shoulder while your in the draft stage, etc. When you can get out some good thoughts & observations even without having that perfect confluence of the environment around you, it's a great victory. Thanks for doing so much to keep us informed, Kevin!!

Thankfully, many of us expect only some worthwhile thoughts and observations, and don't read every blog post or blog comment on the Internet in search of "great writing." If I felt like I had to live up to my own standards of "great writing" every time I wrote on the Internet, I might produce less than half of the comments/posts I already do, and I think that would be worse than my present contribution.

Posted by: Swan on February 27, 2008 at 6:41 PM | PERMALINK

Anyway...

I definitely work synergistically with what I read on blogs to produce all my stuff, and I think it helps me. I think my independence from what other people are thinking also helps me, so I also experience something that at least sounds kind of like what Armbinder is referring to. So it's not like blogs are polluting me or anything but my own process depends a lot on my not having a lot invested in what other people are saying/thinking.

Posted by: Swan on February 27, 2008 at 6:47 PM | PERMALINK

Great writing also takes being able to be focused on what you're doing-- you have to be happy (or relatively so) too; you can't have lots of terrible problems that are distracting you, etc.

Posted by: Swan on February 27, 2008 at 7:19 PM | PERMALINK

May you find the courage to write something that isn't politically correct.

Posted by: Luther on February 27, 2008 at 7:31 PM | PERMALINK

That's what makes this site and TalkingPointsMemo so good. Individual journalism and a focus on less reported stuff. I'd never heard of "peak oil" until I started reading here.

Posted by: Expat Teacher on February 27, 2008 at 8:13 PM | PERMALINK

One of the issues is how we on the left love to eat our own. We can step out of line sometimes, but not too far, and not too often.

If you do step out too often as a blogger you are called out and tossed out as many people want to do to John Aravosis.

During the Duke Rape scandal, Jeralyn Merritt was attacked on many so called leftist, modern feminist websites for the crime of defending the students.

I recently discovered that it was Paul Krugman that gave Hillary Clinton the secret polonium she needed to kill Vince Foster.

It's even easier to take commenters you disagree with and call them out as trolls or concern trolls.

And we are all hobbled of course by our feminist blogger overlords that act to ensure groupthink and message control. If you even begin to type something like, we need to take false allegations of rape seriously, you are called a misogynist, and the cabal works to take you down. Hold on, there's someone at my door....

In conclusion I agree that it is really important to collect the morning fax, read it thoroughly and blog and comment according to what leader says.

Thank you.

Posted by: jerry on February 27, 2008 at 8:27 PM | PERMALINK

The ganf of English majors set on the Poli Sci major like a pack of desperate dogs...

Posted by: Deathless Prose on February 28, 2008 at 12:50 AM | PERMALINK

This is reminiscent of a George Will comment from the early 80's, that went something like, "Washington is a town in which reporters talk to reach other for 8 hours a day and then call it journalism." We now have the same echo chamber but on a massive scale.

Posted by: Don on February 28, 2008 at 8:35 AM | PERMALINK
... I might produce less [sic] than half of the comments/posts I already do ...

Posted by: Swan

You could easily produce fewer comments by getting all of your thoughts in on one post, rather than effectively spamming every blog you visit by responding to your own comments time and again (like you used to do over at the Carpetbagger ... and are apparently now doing here).

Note: If someone wants to respond to you, they will.

... and I think that would be worse than my present contribution.

Oh ... I doubt that.

Posted by: Mark D on February 28, 2008 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

Concerning the Obama in Muslim attire photos that are circulating and being blamed on the Clinton campaign;....is it possible that someone might finally be teaching them a lesson in dirty politics?
It's believable that they would do it, which is precisely what leads me to ask a stupid and probably naive question...could the Obama campaign have done it themselves ?

Posted by: MWAT on February 28, 2008 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

BOT Deficit of one trillion dollars....if we can't keep jobs here...what is the consensus ? Would we rather have them go to China or Mexico ? My vote is Mexico, but I'm looking for feedback

Posted by: MWAT on February 28, 2008 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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