Saturday, December 09, 2006

Having been away for a bit, I didn't have the opportunity to read the Washington Post, so, to make up for the absence, here is a blast at just a couple of things that jumped out at me today....

The editorial department is up to their usual antics in claiming that anti-tax Virginia Republicans contributed to Allen's loss in his Senate re-election race. According to the Post, Virginia voters are punishing Republicans, such as Allen and Jerry Kilgore, who lost his race for Governor last year, for Virginia Republicans not going along with tax hikes and major expansions of government spending.

According to this theory, Allen's campaign miscues, the slams against him for being a racist and voters wanting a change in Washington didn't matter. According to this theory, the voters liked Allen and really wanted him back in the Senate but voted for Webb because of their unhappiness with the VA GOP's refusal to support Democratic Governor Tim Kaine's proposal to spend hundreds of millions of dollars subsidizing preschool for middle and upper class kids.

But then how to explain Raul Fernandez's claim that all the viewings of Allen's maccaca moment and other videos cost him the election?

Actually, both the Post editorial department and Fernandez are wrong.

Allen lost because of a desire of voters to repudiate George Bush. Unable to vote against him again, enough voters did the next best thing and voted against those aligned with him. People didn't vote for Jim Webb because they liked Jim Webb or because they wanted their taxes raised... they were voting against Bush/Allen.

Liberals voted against Allen because they hate Republicans. Some number of conservatives voted against Allen because they were dissatisfied with both Bush and Congress' performance. And the moderates who voted against Allen did so because of one of those two reasons... and not because anti-tax Republicans in the Virginia legislature decided to oppose tax hikes.

And it wasn't the videos that hurt Allen. Like so many associated with the 'Internet Age', Fernandez, the former CEO of a technology company, likes to think the Internet, and, in particular, some new aspect of it, has more of an impact than it actually does. And, in this case, it is YouTube that he overvalues (as did Google, when they agreed to give up over a billion in stock to acquire it, but that's a different matter).

For all of the viewings, most people don't know what YouTube is, let alone use it on a regular basis... and they certainly don't decide who to vote for on the basis of what they're not watching on YouTube. I doubt Fernandez can find me a single voter who would have voted for Allen but switched after watching a YouTube video. And I doubt he can find me a single YouTube viewer who voted against Allen who wasn't already going to vote against Allen.

For all of its hype, YouTube in particular and the net in general don't change voting. As much as some people, such as Jon Henke, Allen's web coordinator, would have liked, it is unlikely that efforts such as his changed any minds.

The Internet certainly has changed the way people go about their day. But the Internet doesn't change what people think. For all the hype about blogs and videos and podcasts and so on, the fact is that these things don't reach beyond a relatively narrow band of true-believers. Repeat after me:

As much as bloggers would like to thing otherwise, their influence outside the blogging world is next to minimal. Heck, their influence within the blogging world is close to minimal as well... for the simple reason that most bloggers and those who read blogs have all pretty much long ago made up their minds. All bloggers do is reinforce the opinions of those who share their opinions and piss off those who fall on the other side of the political divide. People don't change their minds based on what bloggers write or based on some video posted on YouTube.

What the Post and Fernandez are doing is what those with an agenda usually do after an election: they attribute the win to whatever it is that they're in favor of. In the Post's case, they're in favor of higher taxes and more government spending, so this election was about punishing those opposed to those programs. In Fernandez's case, he is all about the Internet, so he is going to look at the Internet as having a big impact.

Now losers do the same thing, blaming the loss on their candidate's failure to espouse certain positions. And sometimes, the reasons cited by the winners and the losers are in conflict... such as now, where there's a whole bunch of reasons offered up to explain last month's results.

But let me ask you this: which of the conflicting views seems to make more sense? That Allen lost because of him and what he did... or because some limited number of people watched some videos? That Allen lost because of his closeness to Bush... or because downstate Republicans are opposed to tax hikes? That Allen lost because of increasing numbers of liberals moving into the state... or because voters want free pre-school?