The Perils of Palin Blogging:
I appreciate my co-blogger David P's post explaining why he won't be blogging about Sarah Palin. David suggests that the problem with Palin-blogging is that it's an unusual distraction. I disagree. Remember the topics in the blogospheric limelight back before the 2004 election? In September 2004, the blogosphere was in an absolute frenzy about the forged memos of W's military service that had misled Dan Rather in a 60 Minutes segment. Compared to that, blogging about Palin is tremendously substantive and important.

  Instead, I think the problem with a lot of Palin blogging is an aggravated version of the problem with blogging about political candidates more generally: There are many acceptable criteria for evaluating candidates and no real agreement as to which criteria are more important than the others. As a result, it's easy for commentary to focus on what many will perceive as minor points while ignoring what many perceive as bigger ones, and it's easy for commentary to speak to a very small slice of the ideological pie while ignoring or even alienating the rest. The result is that a lot of blogging about candidates ends up just running in circles.

  Let me explain what I mean. For any political candidate, there are dozens of possible criteria that you could use to assess a particular candidate. The criteria might include, to just pick 20 or so obvious ones: 1) the candidate's position on a particular issue, 2) the candidate's experience on a particular issue, 3) the candidate's perceived honesty, 4) the consistency of the candidate's views, 5) the candidate's articulateness, 6) the candidate's past connections to extreme groups, 7) the candidate's understanding of the lives of average Americans, 8) the candidate's leadership qualities, 8) the candidate's sense of fair play, 9) the ability and background of the candidate's current advisers, 10) the candidate's friends and associates, 11) the candidate's personal history, 12) the candidate's intelligence, 13) the candidate's charisma, 14) the candidate's judgment, 15) the candidate's generosity, 16) the candidate's ability to delegate, 17) the candidate's management skills, 18) the candidate's family life, 19) the candidate's willingness to work hard, and 20) the candidate's health.

  There are many other criteria, of course — these are just a few. But you get the idea.

  The key difficulty with blogging about political candidates -- and Sarah Palin in particular -- is that any one of these criteria can be an acceptable basis for commentary. A really predictable dynamic follows: One commentator picks one aspect of one criteria and focuses on it, while others will marvel at the commentator's focus on such a narrow issue while ignoring everything else. And that criticism will often be pretty fair. That is, often the commentator really will be more focused on some things and less focused on others based on their own biases and interests in a way that doesn't accurately reflect the merits of the candidate for a lot of people.

  You can see this in a lot of threads on Palin, both here and elsewhere. A blogger might make argument #2 about candidate A, and a commenter will respond my making (say) argument #6 and #7 about candidate B. Another commenter will respond to the first commenter with argument #12 about candidate A, which will then lead yet another commenter to pivot to argument #8 about candidate A with a left hook of argument #1 on candidate B. You end up running in circles, which everyone changing the topic to whatever ground they think puts their side in the most favorable light. The only conclusion anyone reaches is that everyone else is a political hack.

  Is there a way out of this dynamic? Maybe, maybe not. But I tend to think that it would improve the level of commentary for bloggers and commenters to explicitly acknowledge how limited their claims really are. Given how many criteria exist, narrow commentary about just one criteria is necessarily only a very small piece of the puzzle about the merits of voting for a particular candidate. I think it would help us if we all acknowledged that, and didn't pretend that any one point was determinative. Perhaps it won't make any difference. But possibly, just possibly, it will be a fairer way of discussing the candidates and won't send us running in circles quite as much.