The First High-Def Election?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

There is an interesting article posted over at Slate that touches on John McCain's role in forcing television manufacturers to plunge into digital technology before the market warranted and how this might lead to his own political undoing.

For all I know, McCain is in fine physical condition. If he appears older than his chronological age, that probably has something to do with the torture he endured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam; nine years ago the Arizona Republic reported that he continued to experience "orthopedic limitations" related to his imprisonment, including pain in his shoulders and right knee. But TV is unfair, as Richard Nixon learned when his perspiration and five o'clock shadow helped give John F. Kennedy the edge in the first-ever televised presidential debates. Had HDTV been available eight years later, I'm not sure Nixon could have won the Republican nomination, let alone the presidency.


The prevailing cliche about 2008 is that it's the first YouTube election. But it may turn out to be, more saliently, the first high-definition election. If that's the case, then McCain -- more precisely, McCain's political ambition -- may play the unfortunate role of Dr. Frankenstein, whose lifeless body at the end of Mary Shelley's novel is wept over by the demon he created. ... But doesn't Obama look fabulous? [links dropped]
Only Hillary Clinton prevailing over Obama might keep us from the cold comfort of seeing, perhaps, McCain being killed by the monster he helped create. The man who so despises freedom of speech as to hinder it during elections would lose in part on appearances (not that his ideas have any merit or substantive difference from Obama's). The man who could not leave the world's most innovative and productive economy alone would succumb due to the very results of his meddling. The man who so likes giving out orders would be foiled by an army of too-obedient machines.

This would be mere poetic justice -- the only kind available in this year's elections. This result cannot head off tyranny, for these candidates are fundamentally the same despite appearances. But in terms of America's long-term future, perhaps technology and McCain's inopportune power lust might be the kind of break we can take advantage of.

It will only be by using every break we get to make the case for individual rights -- and yet not depending on dumb luck -- that we who value freedom can stop the advance of tyranny.

-- CAV


Anonymous said...

It will only be by using every break we get to make the case for individual rights -- and yet not depending on dumb luck -- that we who value freedom can stop the advance of tyranny.

This is why I believe two things:

1. We should manufacture as many such "breaks" as possible.

2. We should exploit and encourage such breaks as we do manage to get from the mainstream culture.

So now I have a question for you, Gus.

Consider "Porkbusters". You've expressed some disdain for that effort a few times, on the grounds that in the long run, quibbling over such a small slice of the government budget while ignoring the larger moral issue at stake, does us absolutely no good.

Glenn Reynolds' answer to that, posted sometime within the last few weeks, was that he understood fully that earmarks are a tiny part of the problem. His answer is that incremental steps were the most viable steps to take: if Porkbusters were successful in its small goal, it would serve as a springboard for the next such goal etc.

So here's my take on it: in the long view, you are right: tiny steps like PB will achieve nothing.

But by the same definition, nothing that falls under my concept of "culture blocking" achieves anything either, by that standard. They were never meant to do that. "Blocking" activities, by definition, are meant solely to interfere, to misdirect, to slow down the opponent, to buy time -- not to win in and of themselves. That's the quarterback's job.

I have always wondered about "Porkbusters" and the like as potentially valuable interference in government growth. I suggest that everything that has a net effect of hindering the growth of what we oppose in the world, is a good thing from the "blocking" standpoint.


Gus Van Horn said...

That's a very interesting question. I haven't given it much thought, but as usual, I will not allow that to prevent me from shooting from the hip.

I think an activity like Porkbusters can serve the purpose of "culture blocking", but supporting it even on an ad hoc basis is a dicey proposition.

I haven't really followed Porkbusters in great detail, but let's suppose, for the sake of argument, that they support the President having a line-item veto (as I think they might, anyway), and let's suppose further that that is actually a good idea, independent of who the President is.

Then qualified support of that part of the Porkbusters' effort -- meaning that you make clear that you have major differences with most of the rest of the "Porkbuster agenda" and (when appropriate) that you see this (mainly) as a sort of holding action -- is fine.

The danger of not being very careful, of course, is that you cause people to equate trimming pork with real progress towards capitalism, that you sow confusion, and that in addition, you and others end up wasting your efforts on that instead of something that will pay off much more handsomely.

Not that buying time isn't a good idea.

Kyle Haight said...

My own shoot-from-the-hip thought is that activities like Porkbusters provide a good opportunity to explain a broader moral point. So one might take a Porkbusters campaign against a particular example of egregious pork, like the infamous "bridge to nowhere", and explain how:

1) It's wrong because it violates the proper moral purpose of government, viz. the protection of individual rights; and

2) How any government not restricted to protecting individual rights will inevitably produce a never-ending stream of similar egregious waste.

In other words, one uses the existing opposition to a particular concrete government action to cast it as an example and consequence of the violation of a general principle.

I've written before about the way Objectivism allows us to draw connections between concretes and abstract principles that otherwise don't get identified due to the concrete-bound mentalities of most contemporary pundits. I think this is a key element of the "Objectivist value-add" in political activism, and doing this is a big part of what exploiting breaks in the culture is about.

Gus Van Horn said...

This is distinct from "culture blocking" in that you can do this whether or not you decide to engage in culture blocking, although making such connections would seem to me to be integral to any culture blocking.

Anonymous said...

Your thoughts and Kyle's together sum up to a position I've held almost since I first became an Objectivist, but have never really been able to articulate to other Objectivists: the idea that it is possible and desireable to exploit a wide range of cultural phenomena to our benefit by slowing down the opposition, even if they cannot and do not serve our long term goals in and of themselves.

These phenomenon become identifiable when the standard of evaluation is changed from the question of "what can we do to win?" to "what can we do to slow down the opposition?" The first question is for the quarterback; the second, is for the blockers.

Now I can approach the next difficult question, one that you touched closely upon: that of moral sanction.

There will be many things we observe in the culture which could slow things down -- but the people in the driver's seat might not be someone whose overall agenda we wish to sanction. This is where Kyle's piggybacking approach might pay off -- I think that this is how we can leverage movements or individuals whom we would not otherwise care to be seen with.

An example would be a campaign by the Libertarians in some particular political issue where they happen to be in the right -- and their success in this particular battle would be good for us too, in terms of slowing the enemy down.

It should be OK for Objectivists to speak out on the issue and to state what is the sound position. At this point we've agreed with the Libertarians.

But then we proceed to correct whatever errors they make, and identify whatever facts they leave out. We piggyback in that fashion, taking advantage of whatever publicity and discourse the Libertarians initiate, to inject the reasoning they leave out.

Do you see a question of sanction here? If it's done as I describe, I don't.

This approach can be taken with nearly any activism by anyone in the mainstream, anytime they happen to get something right. Follow behind, and apply "patches" as necessary -- reinforce the good.

The ones we follow might not like it -- but we shouldn't care. So long as speech remains free, they can't stop us. And who knows, some of them might actually welcome the support if they happen to find our ideas more effective than theirs at making the particular case.

That's just some of the ideas I have on this topic. But the gist of it is that I think there are ways to leverage "less than perfect" cultural movements, including just about everybody from the Libertarians to the more sensible types found here and there in the mainstream. Even the Left qualifies, when the issue is abortion ;)

Gus Van Horn said...

"At this point we've agreed with the Libertarians.

But then we proceed to correct whatever errors they make, and identify whatever facts they leave out. We piggyback in that fashion, taking advantage of whatever publicity and discourse the Libertarians initiate, to inject the reasoning they leave out.

Do you see a question of sanction here? If it's done as I describe, I don't."

Perhaps, although it could just be wording.

In reply to the first sentence I quoted: No. We haven't agreed with the Libertarians (or whomever). We agree with some isolated concrete they support, and for reasons that differ entirely at root.

To the degree that you allow people to think that agreement on a concrete is the same as agreement on principles, you are failing at culture blocking.

I am sure that you already appreciate this point, but this shows how careful one must be....

Perhaps a better example of the difficulties of culture blocking might be school vouchers, something I once supported as an intermediary step towards privatizing education.

Given how that ultimately turned out -- as an excuse to give public money to religious schools -- I urge extreme caution in choosing to participate in culture blocking.

A mixed economy frequently causes unintended consequences and provides Christian theocrats and other charlatans with ample opportunity to "game the system". Culture blocking can be valuable, but caveat clausor, to coin a phrase.

Anonymous said...

Yes, culture blocking can be a tricky game, by its nature. Even Ayn Rand's idea of a "Fairness Doctrine for Education", if implemented today, might have had similar consequences in conservatives using it to get their people into the universities.

Ironically, our small numbers serve to reduce the chances of that -- there are many more opportunities for blocking, than we'll ever be able to try out -- which means we *have* to be careful in our choices, to maximize results.