<em>Heartache</em>: MKH Acquaintance Resorts to Condescension to Refute YouTube Debate Argument

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Dec 03, 2007 3:45 PM
Yep, here we go again. More on the YouTube debate, but I'll try to let it lie after this. It's getting a bit late in the news cycle for this stuff.

A blogger at Ace's is taking me to task for a post I wrote about the debate on the Right about the YouTube debate.

I argued that, while the debate was flawed, the format has some merit and produced an interesting first half of debate before it veered into CNN-producer-picked "gotcha"-land. I argued that those on the Right who were engaging in schadenfreudic exultations over the poor execution of the format should concentrate on taking CNN to task for its question-vetting procedure instead of their fellow Righties for thinking the YouTube debate isn't the ultimate defiler of political debate.

I argued that, in the end, technology is an inescapable part of the political process and Republicans should not write off ever engaging in such experimental formats a) because it's counterproductive to spurn technology and b) it would solidify an unfortunate stereotype of Republicans as old, white, male fogies completely out-of-touch with anything newer than their 8-tracks.

In short, just because CNN screwed this up doesn't mean that Republican candidates would do well to willfully disengage from future experiments with technology and politics, spurning the "new-fangled" in favor of the old-fashioned forevermore simply because it is what has worked in the past.

Many people can disagree with these opinions maturely, as some of my colleagues have throughout the YouTube debate discussion. Unfortunately, Jack M. chose to address me in the second-person, lecture style, while expressing his deep, overwrought disappointment with my views:

Now, MKH titles her latest blog entry "Should We Republicans, Young and Old, Pretty Much Confirm the Old Fogey Republican Stereotype for all time by Torpedoing New Technology Experiments and Debates in Light of the Problems with this one?" She admits that she is intentionally tweaking folks with the title. And it is a rhetorically funny question.

Except that I'm here to answer "Yes."

Nice nuance.

I've never bought into the idea that YouTube debates were a revolutionary format-- different but not revolutionary--mostly because moderators still pick the questions, and technology's transformative only to an extent. I'm not a tech triumphalist.

Quite simply, they aren't a revolutionary format. There really isn't anything to buy into here.

Um, so he's agreeing with me.

They make for more engaging TV, perhaps, than watching folks stand up in the audience to ask their questions. And, they are more compelling than watching a spit-flecked Chris Matthews bark out 20 questions from a blue index card. But the notion of citizens directly addressing questions to candidates is nothing new. Go to a town hall meeting sometime to see it done the "old fashioned way."

The point is that many people aren't able to "go to a town hall meeting sometime to see it done the 'old fashioned (sic) way,' which is why the Republican CNN/ YouTube debate got more viewers than any debate ever in a primary season. People who don't normally get to ask questions at a New Hampshire town hall are able to do so through the beauty of the Internet.

If the town hall format is acceptable, then a virtual town hall shouldn't be anathema. The problem comes in the execution by CNN, which is a perfectly reasonable gripe, but don't blame the format itself. As we've seen in the past couple of weeks, the "old-fashioned" town hall ain't exactly incorruptible either. The idea that YouTube is what caused the problem is ridiculous.

For her next point is this, notice the "hipper than thou" snark contained within:

I've also never bought into the idea that YouTube debates debase politics, partly because they're already plenty debased, and partly because political YouTubers are-- to a great extent-- regular Americans who want to be engaged and get a chance to ask their own questions of a candidate that they wouldn't necessarily otherwise get. That's not debasement, that's democracy.

Did you see it? Sure, a little cynicism about politics never hurt anyone. It's part and parcel of the Conservative skepticism about government that most of us at this site share.

Well, hipper-than-thou's a damn sight better than holier-than-thou, which is where this went real fast.

But to basically state "hey, politics is so low, nothing that pops up on YouTube can hurt it anymore" is hardly a ringing endorsement. In fact, it's a rather destructive, dare I say, libertine view of the world. If politics is so debased, MKH, shouldn't we be more concerned about elevating discourse rather than rationalizing or justifying its descent to the lowest common denominator?

My point is, quite obviously, not that politics are so debased that we should just throw feces at the process since it can't get any worse. My point is that having folks ask questions through a virtual town-hall-style debate is not, on its face, debasing at all. And, even if one thinks the prospect is "debasing," that person should at least stop to consider how push-polling, untruthful attack ads, and other "old-fashioned" political staples might be a bit more damaging to the process than an animated debate question.

If one deems the idea "undignified," perhaps that person should rethink being involved in a political process that requires courting the endorsement of the--gasp!-- Butter Cow Lady, whose gift for making life-sized bovine sculptures using your favorite spreadable condiment at the Iowa State Fair apparently carries a not inconsiderable amount of political weight!

Oh, the humanity! Get off it. This is American politics. It has always been colorful, and many folks, particularly political junkies, take pride in the color. Sure, the YouTube debates inject that color into a new arena, and we can debate all day about the relative propriety, but to act as if animated video questions from American citizens are such a devastating blow to the Republic is just silly.

What you've done is set a standard that now justifies pretty much any negative ad anyone could ever desire to run. Who cares if Candidate A runs an ad falsely accusing Candidate B of necrophilia 3 days prior to the election? Politics are debased, and that commercial can't possibly make people more disgusted with the system, could it? Would you condemn that ad? If so, on what grounds? That's it's false? Well, so were the phonies pretending to be people that they are not, pushing issues that really don't concern them on YouTube. That it debases politics? Too bad, you don't apparently care. Which is a shame: such an ad should be condemned. We should not hesitate to call demeaning things demeaning for fear of risking street cred.
"I'm sorry, sir, but we're all sold out of straw men. Jack M. done came in here and cleaned us out. He can't seem to get enough of 'em."

He then takes issue with the argument that there was no good political way to decline the YouTube debate:

If you turn the debate down, you look not as if you’re lifting up the level of debate in American politics. You look like you’re afraid to face down an animated snowman, and you cement an unhelpful image of Republicans as irretrievably unhip and the right-wing web as irretrievably mired in its inferiority.

There was a fine political way to decline the YouTube debate, MKH. Romney (to his credit) should have stuck to his guns when he initially declined to appear. He was right then. You think GOP voters would punish Republicans for telling CNN to shove it? No more than Dem voters hold their FOX boycott against their candidates.

Wait, I'm confused. I thought it was YouTube that was the problem, not CNN. Anyway, when Democrats avoid Fox, we rightly excoriate them for being cowardly. I don't think it's bright for our candidates to act the same.

And, I'm sorry, but I don't think that protecting the "image of the right wing web" is particularly relevant to much of anything. Tell me, how "hip" was Ronald Reagan? How "hip" was Margaret Thatcher? How "hip" was Barry Goldwater?

If you ask me, "hipness" is a vastly overrated quality in a political candidate.

Republicans have trouble reaching out to black voters, Hispanic voters, women voters, young voters-- you name it-- despite having perfectly legitimate policies that would help all those demographics, because the Party has a reputation for being out-of-touch with everyone but, well, guys like Jack M., actually. I don't think it actually is as out-of-touch as it's portrayed, but in politics, perception is often reality.

Does this mean Republicans have to forego substance for style or change their principles to gain "cool" points? Absolutely not. But they also shouldn't willfully avoid new technologies and new opportunities in order to preserve a sense of superiority for all the Republican "guy(s) in a suit and tie, sitting at a desk" who think they are the only ones fit to "calmly ask thoughtful questions" at a debate, as Jack M. seems to suggest.

Hipness is not that important a quality in a political candidate. Adaptability in the face of a changing world that requires new tools to reach new voters is. Many of the "old-fashioned" ways are fine and necessary to the political process, but they shouldn't be used at the exclusion of new-fangled ones, just as new-fangled ones can't be used at the exclusion of old-fashioned.

It's not that outrageous a thesis, but attacking it sure made for deliciously self-righteous prose.