Fear & Loathing on a YouTube Debate

Matt Lewis
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Posted: Jul 28, 2007 7:39 AM

Sometimes I fear some ardent advocates of e-campaigns are more excited about doing cool and innovative things on the web, than they are about winning.

This is not one of those cases...

The reason Patrick Ruffini and others are passionately pushing this YouTube debate is that they firmly believe rejecting it is a symbolic gesture that Republicans don't care about embracing technology.

And I share their fear that Republicans are in danger of falling behind for the next several years (if not a generation).

This has both a tangible and a symbolic significance. On on hand, there are tangible things that Republicans can gain from running smart tech campaigns. Whether it's FDR's fireside chats, JFK's use of TV, direct mail, or talk radio, history proves the side that embraces a new technology has a dramatic advantage in the future.

But there are also image/brand issues at play here. Some already view Republicans as being hidebound. Perception is reality. Can we allow "progressives" to also "own" the image of being technologically progressive?

This controversy has sparked a debate in the "rightosphere," and fundamentally, I think the dichotomy comes down to whether you have a long-term or a short-term view of things.

Patrick is right when he says this could have huge negative implications for years to come, but he has the luxury of taking a long-term approach.

Conversely, today's GOP presidential candidates are most concerned about surviving ... today. Sure -- they'd like to make sure Republicans use technology in the future -- but that's a secondary concern. Their decisions about whether or not to participate should be based on one criterion: Will it help them win?

Hugh has stated some compelling reasons why the answer to that question may be, "no." Of course, you could make a good argument that everybody would benefit from participating, but history has shown us that sometimes debates have victims (see Ford, Mondale, Quayle, Dukakis -- just to name a few).

So while I am hopeful and supportive of a YouTube debate, I sympathize with political candidates who have the unfortunate burden of actually having to worry about winning a political race. And, I think Hugh is right when he says Romney and Rudy probably have the most to lose. Frankly, if I were advising a frontrunner on whether or not to do this -- and I had his interest (not mine) in mind -- I'm not sure what I would say ... Is the risk worth the reward?

So the question ultimately is whether or not those priorities (winning today vs. winning tomorrow) turn out to be mutually exclusive.