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December 24, 2005

Wonkery as a Base Activity

Posted by Nicholas Beaudrot of Electoral Math

I tend to side more with Duncan Black than Kevin Drum on the ability of public wonkery* to influence the political debate in the eyes of swing voters. There just aren't enough people who read blogs to make a difference. Only Kos, with its daily readership on par with the non-O'Reilly, non-Hannity programming on Fox News, and perhaps the other big hitters like Atrios and America blog, who have smaller audience roughly equivalent to the Boston Globe online or or MSNBC, reach enough people that they might make a difference.  Even then the value of wonkery is limited, since both parties appear to have ideas on major issues such as health care, education, taxes, etc. As I've pointed out before, this makes it very hard to figure out which side has better ideas.

Still, wonks have value in the public sphere. They provide a set of policies that help reinforce political identification, which gives partisans ideas to believe in beyond the rhetoric that stems from their preferred politicians. It's not an accident that Fox News frequently has guests that are "scholars" at places like the American Enterprise "Institute" and the Heritage "Foundation". Keeping the base happy without promising a specific policy benefit is a useful activity, because it's the partisan base that's going to knock on doors, make phone calls, lick stamps, and give political advice when their coworkers at the water cooler ask them a question. In addition, as Max points out, influencing the debate by pushing policy-based talking points towards news desks and Congressional spokespeople can help change the shape of public opinion. The press corps quickly understood that the White House hadn't really thought through the impact of its social security plan. So, wonks can play both offense and defense, but (to continue the sports analogy), they're really more "role players" useful in specific situations than they are every day starters who can have an impact on The Game at any time.

* Doesn't "public wonkery" sound like something that's illegal in Alabama?

December 24, 2005 | Permalink


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Posted by: BroD | Dec 24, 2005 5:07:41 PM

I think brother Beaudrot wanted to avoid the appearance of extending the Wonkathon too long, and decided to change the topic towards Oriental frying.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Dec 24, 2005 6:50:39 PM

Thanks for the save, Neil, but I just can't fucking type accurately.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Dec 24, 2005 6:53:59 PM

I suspect early adopters skew stats so that trends have a longer lead time than seems reasonable. What I'm talking about is readership in the (terrible word) blogosphere : as people realize the varied nature and quality of content on demand, wonkery should become more influential because of increased user base. Many are intimidated by net attacks and I know of people who quit surfing after taking damage. The place is going to need more taming of the idiot factor to truly realize its potential.

Posted by: opit | Dec 25, 2005 12:52:36 PM

Few would argue that blogs move stories on their own, but they may keep them alive until another shoe drops and someone in the MSM media is forced to take note.
Then too, blogs prevent the political and media overdogs from killing a story altogether.
Lots of stories, from Anita Hill to the sinking of the Liberty, might have turned out differently has they occurred in 2005-2006. In some ways the blogoshere is a way of data mining, a human ECHELON if you like.

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