Dear Political Bloggers,Did you know that some political campaigns have a tactic called “the shiny object theory” to manage their critics in the blogosphere? That theory presumes that opponents of a campaign can be distracted from large, important issues (like war, taxes and the ins-and-outs of the federal deficit) by smaller, salacious items that are easy to understand and fast to spread. Sometimes campaigns bring out shiny objects to distract you. Sometimes, you get distracted on your own. Either way, the campaigns get to deal with little issues that annoy their staffs instead of big issues that could destroy their chances. It does not matter if the critics are liberal or conservative, it just matters that they sweat the small stuff. Did you know some of you are getting hoodwinked right now? The shiny object of the moment is the defunct Fox News/ Nevada Democratic Party debate. Liberal bloggers, offended that the first Democratic debate would partner with Fox, beat Democratic consultants down until they called off the show entirely. Last month’s shiny objects were the bloggers who resigned from John Edwards’ campaign after conservative bloggers pounced on their earlier, offensive posts. Again, unrelenting pressure from the new media forced the Edwards campaign to surrender. Both events probably made the bloggers involved feel powerful, that they had their voices heard and that they got their way in the end, which they certainly did. But what else happened while those controversies burned? Edwards announced he would pay for universal health care with a tax increase, something small-government conservatives typically balk at. On the day that the Fox debate controversy spilled over, the President announced he would send 4,000 additional troops to Iraq to support the surge that the Senate still had not (symbolically) opposed because they couldn’t get the votes to do it. But why was there more virtual anger on the left over Harry Reid’s involvement in the Nevada debate than his involvement in the Iraq debate? The beauty of the blogoshere is its ability to empower a single person. Finally, anyone with an opinion can be heard without a campaign contribution or special interest influence. But the emerging tragedy of the blogospere is that many of its leading activist voices are so ready to be distracted and their intellectual cohorts are so willing to be used. Outrage and volume are the tools of the trade for political bloggers on all sides, but outrage and volume are diminished when they’re deployed too often. They get tuned out entirely after they’ve been used in the service of matters that don’t, well, matter.
That’s what the Shiny Object Theory is all about. Our country is at war, the Concord Coalition says we’re headed for fiscal ruin, some people in the E.P.A. still don’t believe in global warming and the VA’s health care system is broken at the very time it needs to be the best in the world. We have issues to discuss that don’t include Rudy Giuliani’s second cousin or Barak Obama’s back yard. Bloggers, we’re telling you about the Shiny Object Theory because we care. It’s being used against you. Now you are in charge of what you use against it. All the best, Your Friend at The American Interest