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Election Reflections

Yes, I'm still alive. I really wish I had been able to provide the same wall-to-wall coverage of the election that others provided, but I had an article whose deadline was Wednesday, which meant I had to spend much of Tuesday finishing it. So in between polishing and rewriting the thing, and then after I was done, I alternated between Steve's site, Glenn's site, PoliPundit, The Corner and Free Republic.com (not contributing--just reading the threads as the members updated the site as anything--and I mean anything--broke.) And I hit refresh on those sites like one of those lab rats in front of a machine that distributes cocaine-laced pellets at regular intervals. Or some other, more articulate analogy.

Oh, and I listened to a streaming Web broadcast of Hugh Hewitt's election night broadcast, he was on the air four about 9.5 hours, I think he said. (He was on just before I ate dinner, and ran until about 1:00 AM Pacific time.)

It felt like 95 hours, but that wasn't Hugh's fault. He did an incredible job. He wasn't a leather lunged former-DJ like Limbaugh. On the other hand, he wasn't Dan Rather having regular meltdowns, either, as each red state came in until the electoral count hit 266.

Which brings me to my point.

Notice what's missing from that equation? I didn't turn the TV on once last night, until my wife came in from her home office (where she was working and following the electoral votes herself, mostly on Yahoo) because she wanted to see Edwards' "fight goes on" speech. And then I turned it back off (and went to sleep once the president announced he wouldn't appear until today.)

By now, you've heard variations on what I'm about to say, but since it's my Weblog and I'm having fun typing this, I'll pile on: the real loser of the election wasn't the Democratic party. America is built on a two party system. Republicans reconstituted themselves into a more conservative party after Barry Goldwater took one for the team after JFK's assassination made LBJ's election all but inevitable in '64. There's no reason why the Democrats can't go through a bit--well, hopefully a lot--of analysis and see why they've lost the House and Senate for a decade (except during Jumpin' Jim Jeffords' 15 minutes of fame), and will be out of the White House for at least virtually all of this decade.

The Real Losers On Tuesday

No, the real losers are the legacy media: the TV networks and newspapers. Now, they're not going away anytime soon--there's a reason why there's a TV--and probably quite a big one--in your den. Who wants to read an Internet transcript of the Super Bowl or the World's Series? Who wants to watch Star Trek: Enterprise on a 15-inch computer monitor?

And also, they're still convenient methods for advertisers to reach their audiences. That's why Dan Rather is now an anachronism, but one who makes seven figures a year and dines on foie gras and steak tartare at the Four Seasons every night (OK, I'm projecting--that's what I had there for lunch the day I flew out of New York last week). From everything I've read, Rush Limbaugh makes a heck of a lot more than Captain Dan, and he works in the most antiquated of electronic media: AM radio.

I make most of my money from legacy media as well: magazines pay far more than the 'Net, at least if my experience is any guide. Again, the key is the advertising revenue. (Or what Rush, tongue-firmly-in-cheek, calls his "obscene profit center breaks".)

As I said, none of those media are going away anytime soon. But what is new is how the 'Net allows information to be rapidly disseminated, with no gatekeeper. As 527s go, the Swift Boat Vets had a meager budget for television ads. But it didn't matter: anybody who was interested could view all those ads on the 'Net.

Tabla Rasa

And that's a good thing, because once Kerry sowed the nomination up, and especially after his ultra-high-profile "John Kerry Reporting For Duty" debut at the DNC in early August, I don't think any major TV network asked him about his background, asked him what he did once he was back in the world after returning from 'Nam, asked him what he did in the Senate, asked him about Christmas in Cambodia, or really, asked him anything of substance.

Kerry was presented as Tabla Rasa: a good looking wealthy tanned "outdoorsperson" (geez...) upon whom anyone could project his or her fantasies of what a president should be. And like Bill Clinton in '92, Kerry's flip-flops only aided in those projections. He's for the war in Iraq. He's against the war! He's pro-gun! He's anti-gun! He's an effete windsurfer! He's a badass Harley man!

Fortunately, whereas Bill Clinton has personal magnetism and Southern Fried Good Ol' Boy charm to burn, John Kerry has all the magnetism of sheet of plywood. And his Boston Brahmin voice just doesn't sell the postmodern "I smoked but didn't inhale" treacle the same way Clinton's aw-shucks y'all Arkansas twang does.

More fortunately, the Web was a place where Kerry's past could be found. It's been fascinating to watch the legacy media throw vast portions of recent history down the memory hole when it's in their interests to do so: we should never have attacked Iraq! (But Bill Clinton did, with the blessings of the press, and the left, in 1998.) Saddam had no relations with Al-Qaeda! (Except also back in '98 the New York Times said he had.) Tax cuts bad! (Except when JFK passed them.) Recently deceased President Reagan good! (Unlike the 1980s, when Tom Brokaw and the rest of the media excoriated him nightly.)

The press knew that Kerry spoke in front of the Senate in 1971, and virtually single-handedly created the modern myth of the American soldier who:

personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.

It chose to sit on this information, because (A) most in the media hated the prospect of a free Vietnam and (B) knew that the American public hated the idea that a sailor could come back from Vietnam, and while still serving in the Navy Reserves, trash his fellow servicemen six ways to Sunday.

As I wrote back in late August, (something that Glenn Reynolds was nice enough to quote in his September 1st Wall Street Journal piece) Kerry--and surprisingly, the media itself--built an image that could easily survive a 1972-era mass media: whose audience's information was almost exclusively limited to three TV networks with a half hour of national news at night, a couple of local big city daily newspapers, and two or three weekly news magazines.

Given that sort of media monopoly, it's easy to shove information down the memory hole. It's easy to craft an image, especially when the media is in your pocket--and vice versa.

That doesn't fly today. I wrote in early August that:

This isn't Bill Clinton's shadowy Whitewater dealings and other murkiness from his salad days as an Arkansas governor. Then-Naval lieutenant Kerry led a remarkably well documented--and even audio and videotaped life in the early 1970s. Didn't he think this material would surface if he chose to run for the presidency? And if so, why did he choose to run so much on his four months in Vietnam, and only spend 26 seconds(!) on his 20 years in the Senate in his acceptance speech at the DNC?

Frankly, I'm surprised the Democrats didn't see the train wreck that could happen once that information leaks out and ala Bob Torricelli, swap out Kerry with Lieberman, Gephardt, or another of the candidates with less baggage before the convention.