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December 23, 2005

On Wonkery

This argument over whether online wonkery is useful has been pretty interesting. Check Duncan (and again) for the pessimistic take (generally no, Democrats can't do anything, but policy knowledge can help defensively ) and Max, Henry, and Kevin for the optimistic view (wonkery is awesome!). A few thoughts:

• Is anything we do useful? Does it need to be? The internets boast more blogs than Limbaugh has prescriptions (bam!), and only a small handful can be thought of as politically effective, and they're neither reliably nor predictably powerful. Add in that the marginal cost of reading another blog is miniscule, and a couple sites chewing over GAO numbers can't, at any rate, hurt things.

• The political effectiveness of wonkery is a little tricky to evaluate. As Max and Kevin note, it sure did the trick during the Social Security fight, but, as Duncan argues, that was a rearguard action. So are arguments over potential policy choices worthwhile? Maybe. The image of wonkishness can prove politically effective, particularly in the media. Pundits love to sadly sniff that Republicans are corrupt plutocrats bent on destroying the country, but at least they have ideas, while all those dullard Democrats offer is more empiricism and responsible stewardship. They're so 1997. A vibrant and noticeable policy community can potentially combat that meme, and if it emerged soonish, fit snugly into a neo-gingrichian narrative (corrupt incumbents plus vibrant opposition party=turnover).

• Who are we writing for, anyway? Assuming that knowing policy is a good in and of itself, isn't there an inherent utility in using our blogs to better inform our readers? I mean, most of my visitors already don't like Republicans. My work there is done. But now, they don't only dislike Republicans, but they know a lot of boring facts about health care. That's value for ya.

• A couple media folks, political operatives, and otherwise influential entities read my site, but even so, claiming as much as an infinitesimal political impact vastly overstates my effectiveness. This may be different for some of the bigger boys, but given the societal benefit of pushing politically-useful memes or informing folks, I'm probably doing more good through the latter. And hopefully, I can do both.

• Plus, wonkery gets you chicks (or dudes). I'd have thought that'd be obvious.

Update: Digby has more, and says it better. Damn Digby.

December 23, 2005 | Permalink


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Tracked on Dec 23, 2005 7:41:00 PM


Digby had the final word on this subject here.

(Get it? Blogs? "Final word"? Ha ha!)

Posted by: Realish | Dec 23, 2005 6:06:48 PM

Is there anyone besides Atrios arguing that "there's little point in having public debates about detailed policies which can't possibly pass"?

At the federal level, it is conceivable that Atrios has a point. But in the real world, there is far more than just the U.S. Congress.

To take just one example, note the seven-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative formally announced earlier this week.

Atrios should just admit that it isn't his cup of tea. There is definitely a point to public debate about the merits of various policies, even if they won't see light of day in our current congress in the foreseeable future.

Posted by: P.M.Bryant | Dec 23, 2005 6:08:17 PM

Marc Schmidt is the biggest process-wonk of all -- and if any blogger were going to be really influential, surely it would be him.

Basically, though, isn't blogging just a way of sharing ideas and opinion and information? If so, those who enjoy wonkery should offer it up. Those who don't can write and read other things.

Posted by: Laura | Dec 23, 2005 7:29:15 PM

You say 'empricism and responsible stewardship' like it's a bad thing.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina | Dec 23, 2005 8:33:10 PM

No, they do ;)

Posted by: Ezra | Dec 23, 2005 9:24:51 PM

Also if the left or even the center side of the spectrum is ever going to win, it is going to have offer proposals to convince people they have solutions. Yeah, those solutions will have to phrased in soundbytes, but you will need some sort of actual content behind those soundbytes.

Posted by: Gar Lipow | Dec 24, 2005 1:16:24 AM

In the end, there's the good and the bad.

Without it, we'd be leaving too much to the MSM. As an example, however you feel on the subject, the CBS Bush forgeries were first discovered by a Wonk.

On the other hand, this format sometimes generates buzz over nonsense, which then, due to it's seeming popularity, moves to the 'outside' world, wasting all our time.

My opinion is that the benefits outweigh the costs, and we have to rely (probably too much) on people to exercise self-control in either babbling about nonsense or repeating it.

Posted by: Pvarjak | Dec 24, 2005 2:08:21 AM

My thoughts are here.

Posted by: Shakespeare's Sister | Dec 24, 2005 2:23:13 PM

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