Jon Henke's blog

Discretion is the better part of Moderation

TechPresident, writing about the Slate story reviewing moderation practices on Sarah Palin's Facebook page, says it is "less a cleaned-up open Facebook conversation than a some sort of curated narration to the life and times of Sarah Palin."

Dickerson and a colleague built a program that tracked comments on 10 Palin posts over the course of 12 days. Now, you might assume that team Palin took a hatchet to especially negative, anti-Palin commentary. And some of that, it seems, happened.

But that's not all that went down. The Palin enterprise also scrubbed from her feed comments where, found Dickerson, folks went after people who wrote mean things about her. Racial slurs were enough to get the boot, yes. So were suggestions that she shouldn't let her kids (Bristol, presumably) do reality TV or vaguely-worded notes about Barack Obama birth certificates. Also no good: excessive religious imagery and mild objections to Palin's picks of candidates to endorse.

So, the Big Story here is that Palin's staff tries to maintain a decent community by keeping things civil and focused, and weeding out the jerks?

Look, we've gotten too wrapped up in the idea of politicians and/or technology having clear, defined and consistent rules.  That just doesn't work in a social medium. If you create any kind of bright line "no racism/cursing/personal attacks" rule, then you have to make decisions about exactly what does and does not qualify as racism/cursing/personal attacks - and you will be attacked for your decisions no matter where you draw the line.

Social interactions are too fluid for that kind of strict rule-making.

So what is the answer?  I think there are two reasonable options: 

  • Safe Harbor: A couple years ago (I can't find it now), Patrick Ruffini pointed out that the more control you try to exert, the more responsible people will hold you for what you allow.  Moderation = Responsibility.  The Obama campaign went the other direction, largely allowing anybody to post anything and only exercising minimal oversight.  When you have a flood of content, nobody blames you for the idiots leaving drops on the carpet.
  • Discretion: As appears to be the case at Sarah Palin's Facebook page, discretion is the better part of moderation.  That makes sense.  We don't demand hard, fast, bright line rules in the offline world, because we couldn't possibly make rules to cover every social situation. We wing it.  We use discretion. We do the best we can and move on. 

Maybe that will be the best way for political organizations to manage their online communities, as well.  Politics is already complicated enough. The online world doesn't have to be much more complicated than the offline world.


Why Elizabeth Warren Should be Rejected

I have generally argued that the Senate should only withhold confirmation approval for manifestly corrupt or unqualified appointments. Otherwise, a President should get his nominees.

Megan McCardle makes a compelling case that Elizabeth Warren - a leadering candidate to run the new consumer financial protection agency - is an utterly incompetent academic.

I can understand why the Democrats would promote somebody who panders to their prejudices, but it is genuinely hard to understand how Harvard - or the academic journals that published her - could stand by while she has used their reputation to peddle propaganda as academic research.

If Elizabeth Warren is appointed, the Senate should not confirm her.

Bad Campaign Ideas 2010

Campaigning does strange things to people.  For instance, it makes some people think videos like these are a good idea....

This video from CAP's Campus Progress is....well, to paraphrase Douglas Adams: 10 out of 10 for trying something unusual. Minus a few million for execution.



On the other side of the aisle is the recent Mike Weinstein video....which, if you haven't seen it yet, go watch it right now.  And then curse me when you can't get it out of your head for the rest of the day.  They win on choreography, vocal talent and sheer enthusiasm (though, in fairness, it's not hard to out-enthuse zombies).



I can only assume that the new social media tactic in politics is camp. This may actually be an improvement over some of the previous social media tactics (send press releases about yesterday's news!)

Democrats on Health Care



Well played, House Republican Conference.

Fire Nancy Pelosi

Well done, RNC.  

Get the embed codes for more widgets here.

A modest proposal to the federal government

This is a bold idea from Utah Republicans.

We propose a modest experiment. As Utah state leaders, we are greatly concerned about the unprecedented expansion of the federal government over many years, and the enormous debt levels being left to our children and grandchildren. We believe the federal government is attempting to do far more than it has the capacity to execute well. [...]

We'd like to relieve some of their burden. We don't believe that 535 members of Congress and the president can educate our children, provide health care, pave our roads and protect our environment as well as the nation's 8,000 state legislators and tens of thousands of local officials.

So please, let us help. Let's select a few programs -- say, education, transportation and Medicaid -- that are managed mostly by Utah's government, but with significant federal dollars and a plethora of onerous federal interventions and regulations.

Let Utah take over these programs entirely. But let us keep in our state the portion of federal taxes Utah residents pay for these programs. The amount would not be difficult to determine. Rather than send this money through the federal bureaucracy, we would retain it and would take full responsibility for education, transportation and Medicaid -- minus all federal oversight and regulation. [...] [T]oday the federal government operates like an old-fashioned mainframe computer, pushing one-size-fits-all mandates out to the states. We believe there is value in intelligent decentralization.

This would be a great agenda for the Tea Party activists.  It combines limited federal government with increased State, local and personal responsibility.  For that matter, it should be a great experiment for the empiricists and policy wonks - both left and right - who want better data on which systems work and which do not.

Let's hope some Republicans will have the courage of their convictions to put political capital behind this idea.  This would be a good agenda item for Tea Party activists to demand of Republicans.

David Walker for...?

Here's a thought that arose from a conversation I just had with Jon Ward of the Daily Caller: David M. Walker - about whom Ward recently did a story - was "Comptroller General of the United States and head of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) for almost ten years", appointed by 3 different Presidents.  Since leaving that job, he has gone to the Peterson Foundation, where he has focused on the looming fiscal and debt crisis.  Beginning in 2005 (while he was at GAO), Walker began traveling across the country (alongside Brookings, Heritage and the Concord Coalition) on the Fiscal Wake-up Tour. So...

  • David Walker has been warning about the looming fiscal crisis for years now, so he is ahead of the issue that is driving US politics for the forseeable future.
  • He has worked across ideological and party lines, so he has independent credibility.
  • He has real ideas for how to address the problem.
  • He has traveled to 46 States selling the message.

I smell an incredibly compelling Vice Presidential pick.

Republican Health Care Reform Ideas

Newt Gingrich and John C. Goodman list Ten GOP Health Ideas for Obama.  There's really too much to excerpt, so you'll have to read the whole thing for yourself.

My initial take: Some of these are very good ideas, some are less appealing.  But whatever their individual merits, it's hard to see an overarching "vision thing" in the proposals. It is tinkering.  Perhaps good tinkering, but it lacks a structural narrative that makes it easier to sell these as a package.

The GOP needs a much more comprehensive approach to entitlements in general, not just health care.  At this point, I think we need to do one of two things: Either....

  • Government as a Last Resort - Government can insure everybody for any yearly expenses over 20% of annual income, which completely eliminates the problem of unbearable costs, both for consumers and for insurers (and which ought to dramatically lower insurance costs, since the potential risk is far smaller).   That shouldn't have a major distortive effect on the market, either, because most catastrophic costs tend to be things about which we can't/don't often make good cost/benefit calculations.  This would also eliminate the need for Medicare/Medicaid, since this would automatically cover people who have little/no income. While there are undoubtedly problems with this, it seems on the whole better than a system that gets government involved at much lower decision and cost levels.  Or...
  • Government as a Safety Net - Restructure our entitlement system along the lines of what (if I recall correctly) Milton Friedman and Charles Murray have recommended: expand the EITC to cover basic costs of living on a means-tested basis, so we can predicate entitlements upon actual need, rather than blanket distribution.

In either case, I think you have a pretty strong, compelling message: Government should provide a safety net, not a straitjacket.  We are not going to let people fail completely, but safety nets should not catch people who do not fall.

These options would allow Republicans to strengthen the safety net for people who genuinely need it, while making the program more sustainable by removing the "safety net" for people who don't actually need one.  Importantly, this would also eliminate the "third rail" problem of entitlements, and we could actually begin making better cost/benefit decisions about them.

Demand Question Time

 As a signatory to the Demand Question Time petition, I urge you all to sign up and spread the message.  It is being heard by the White House and Congress. Our politics would be healthier if politicians got to ask, and answer, questions with less mediation, less theatrics, less stagecraft and less sloganeering.  Sign the petition and ask them to do it.

Demand Question Time

Mindy Finn and David Corn discussing Demand Question Time on Hardball last night. 

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

UPDATE: Note which party is willing to have a more candid, public, unmediated debate.  And which is not.

Democrats were thrilled with President Barack Obama's performance at last week's question-and-answer session with the House GOP, but it's the Republicans — not the White House — who are embracing a call to make question time a regular part of American political life.


Technology is Tactics, not Strategy

Ross Douthat makes two crucial points.

#1 - Online success is less about the technology, and more about the ideas and motivation.

[T]here’s no necessary connection between online organizing and liberal politics. The Web is just like every pre-Internet political arena: ideology matters less than the level of anger at the incumbent party, and the level of enthusiasm an insurgent candidate can generate.

#2 - Unfortunately, Republican politicians still have very little in the way of real ideas...

If liberals are feeling disillusioned, though, their right-wing imitators may be ripe for an even greater letdown. The Obama administration has at least gone some distance toward enacting an agenda that the net-roots left supports. The “right roots” activists are rallying around politicians who are promising to shrink government without offering any plausible sketch of how to do it.

#1 is about winning the battles (elections) & #2 is about winning the war (better government).  Achieving #1 without addressing #2 is an establishment-protection racket.   Republicans need to insist on more than the usual tax and spending rhetoric.

Syndicate content