A good while back I made a resolution not to blog about blogging more than once in a blue moon, and I’ve kept the resolution well enough that I literally can’t find my last post on the subject, after googling and scanning the site for about an hour. I do recall that this long-lost post explained why I don’t provide comment threads–which some folks consider essential for any legitimate progressive blog–mainly because I literally don’t have the time to read, much less manage, a significant number of comments. But at present, there’s quite a bit of buzz about comment threads in the blogosphere. Much of it is devoted to the recent incident over at The New Republic, which shut down a “culture blog” written by Lee Siegel after he got caught pseudonymously doing self-hagiographical posts in his own comment threads. And there’s continuing discussion (most recently by my colleague The Moose) about anti-semitic comments on progressive blog sites and whether their managers are sufficiently policing them. Siegel’s stunt struck me as reflecting more of a psychological disorder than some sort of massive violation of blogospheric ethics; you have to wonder how many other bloggers have succumbed to the temptation to stuff their own ballot box with self-praise. But it does raise obvious questions about the function of comment threads. Their ostensible purpose is to allow readers to “comment” on primary posts. But as anyone knows who slogs through comment threads, particularly at high-traffic sites, threads typically drift into collateral and then non-collateral topics. And there is clearly a hardy band of frequent commenters who drift from site to site; who know each other’s views; and who often conduct long-running debates that have little or nothing to do with the posts on which they are “commenting.” I have no inherent objection to this practice, but would observe that comment threads in many cases simply offer a way for non-bloggers to blog without the muss and fuss of running a site or creating diaries on the sites that offer them. The topic of objectionable content on comment threads is more important and troublesome. I agree with Kevin Drum that it’s fundamentally unfair to tar whole sites, much less whole categories of bloggers, with occasional disgusting views as expressed in comment threads. The Moose is making the somewhat different claim that blog proprietors aren’t doing enough to rid their sites of anti-semitic comments. I dunno about that. Most of the big progressive sites have an elaborate (and to me largely incomprehensible) machinery of policies and technological tools to police comments threads, and do regularly “ban” posters who violate the policies chronically. But they don’t, and probably can’t, instantly expunge comments that express objectionable prejudices, in part because it’s not always easy to draw the line between, say, objections to the U.S. alliance with Israel, and genuine anti-semitic utterances, even though they may often overlap.As it happens, I once (successfully) urged Josh Marshall to ban a guy from comments at TPMCafe who was constantly popping up (not just there, but all over the blogosphere) to claim that anyone he disagreed with on virtually any topic was, in fact, acting as an agent of AIPAC, a.k.a. “the Israel Lobby.” I contacted Josh after about the fifth time this jerk breezily announced that the DLC existed purely and simply as an AIPAC front. My objection was not exactly that he was expressing anti-semitic opinions, though he likely holds them; it was that his comments weren’t expressions of opinion at all, but completely unsupported statements of “fact” that were actually lies, and had to be either conscious lies or products of a deep delusion, since he had no idea what he was talking about. Seems to me this might not be a bad rule of thumb for the general treatment of possibly anti-semitic content on blog sites. After all, the diseased heart of all classic anti-semitism is the stubborn claim that Jews exercise shadowy and disproportionate influence by way of a conspiracy that has ensnared or corrupted the gentiles who ostensibly are in charge of governments and opinion-leading media. If, God forbid, I were in charge of a comment thread, I wouldn’t have a beef with people who wanted to argue that America’s alliance with Israel is not in our national interest. But there are dozens of reasons for the strong pro-Israeli tradition in U.S. foreign policy–reasons that range from coldly rational analysis to all sorts of ideological and cultural affinities. It would exist if there were no AIPAC, and no high-profile Jews writing about the Middle East. So I’d bounce anybody from a comment thread that resorted to the “Jewish cabal” kind of argument. It’s a short distance from there to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. And quite frankly, that point of view has been aired more than enough over the centuries, with horrific consequences.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
I ran across a story on faulty focus group memories of Trump, and I wrote about the implications at New York.
As an unpopular president facing a sour electorate, Joe Biden really needs to make 2024 a comparative election rather than a straight referendum on his presidency. Luckily for him, his likely general-election opponent, Donald Trump, is equally unpopular for reasons that are quite vivid. He’s as well known as Biden, and he works very hard to reinforce the traits that might make an undecided voter (even one unhappy with Biden) reluctant to put him back in the White House. So half of Biden’s work in drawing contrasts is done for him, and part of the other half is made easy for him by Trump’s strongest supporters, the “deplorables” (to use the Hillary Clinton term that has become a MAGA badge of honor) who enjoy shocking the world by advertising their hero’s most questionable characteristics.
It is becoming apparent, however, that Trump’s potential coalition is being augmented by low-information voters with a hazy understanding of the Trumpier features of the 45th president’s record, character, and agenda. By that I do not mean the non-college-educated voters who make up so large a part of the Trump base. Many if not most of them are pretty educated about their candidate. But there’s evidence that disengaged and/or deeply alienated folks who may nonetheless vote in a presidential election (if not any others) don’t know as much about Trump as you might assume, as the New York Times’ Patrick Healey has observed:
“Our latest Times Opinion focus group discussion with 13 undecided independent voters included a striking result: 11 of the 13 said they would vote for Donald Trump if the election were held now, and only two said they would vote for President Biden. The reason: overwhelming concern about the economy.
“But I was less surprised by the big vote for Trump than by this: The group didn’t blame Trump for things he was responsible or accountable for.
“For instance, several people linked their economic troubles to COVID, but they didn’t put any blame on Trump for that. Some were upset with the end of abortion rights nationally, but they didn’t tie that to Trump’s Supreme Court appointments. Several wanted bipartisanship, but they didn’t blame Trump for his hand in sinking the recent bipartisan border deal. One person, a Latina, blamed Trump for worsening racism in the country and recounted a searing incident that happened to her — but she was among the 11 who would vote for him anyway.”
Healey concludes that “a lot of our focus-group participants — and many voters — see Trump as an acceptable option in November, yet they don’t know or remember a lot about him.” This makes them, of course, highly susceptible to Trump campaign messaging asserting that the economy during his presidency was the greatest ever; that he’s a natural peacemaker who inspired respect for the United States everywhere; and that he’s a decent, law-abiding businessman (and family man!) whose near-constant forced court appearances are uniformly the product of his persecution by the other party.
Democrats, of course, will have opportunities (and increasingly, an obligation) to set the record straight about Trump and his presidency. But the difficult thing is that low-information voters also tend to be low-trust voters, which means they don’t tend to believe traditional arbiters of objective reality like the mainstream news media, and may not grant more truthful politicians superior credibility. Further distorting understanding of the Trump administration (and thus its possible return) is the huge trauma associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, which gives everything that immediately preceded the disaster an undeserved glow, while immolating memories of less powerful traumas associated with the former president’s tenure.
In other words, low-information voters who dislike politics so much that they are not inclined to dig into facts and evidence touching on political topics are highly vulnerable to the kind of disinformation that benefits Donald Trump. And if they are in a bad mood in November, they could help turn the election into a negative referendum on Joe Biden even if they are inviting something — and someone — far worse. Democrats will have to work hard to break through with the truth.