Kaus & Effect

Blogging hits the ballot in California.

On Tuesday, voters in the Golden State will chose nominees for the state’s U.S. Senate general election.  And while most of the media oxygen for the race (already fighting for air against the uber-expensive GOP gubernatorial primary) has been sucked up by the Republican electoral 3-way, Democrats must thin their herd as well.  Only two Democrats are saying “no ma’am” to another term for incumbent Barbara Boxer: a disheveled, quixotic blogger and a vainglorious Hollywood “producer” whose campaign seems to be an excuse to post pictures of him with famous people.

Guess which of the three scored a profile by the New York Times:

No, this is not your typical Senate campaign command center; but then again, [Mickey] Kaus is not your typical Senate hopeful. His lair speaks more to his career of the last 10 years — prolific blogger and professional curmudgeon — than the one he’s currently aspiring to. As the one-man show behind Kausfiles on Slate, Mr. Kaus was one of the first political bloggers, after a print career that included stops at publications like Newsweek and Harper’s…

“If you’d asked me is he ever going to run for Senate, I’d say, ‘Are you crazy?’ ” says Michael Kinsley, editor at large of The Atlantic Wire and a longtime friend. “He seems like a classic blogger — someone who is happier in front of his computer than he is out kissing babies.”

But Mr. Kaus has thrown himself into his quixotic campaign with surprising earnestness, undeterred by his prospects (grim) and general diagnosis (insane). He is the first person to admit that he has absolutely no chance of becoming California’s next Senator, but contends that this is not really the point. He says he is running as a protest candidate in order to draw attention to his pet issues.

California has often been viewed as political laboratory – from recall elections and an ever-expanding list of constitutional propositions – even if most of their creations have taken on a Frankensteinesque quality in recent decades.  So it might as well be that the strengthes and limitations of the first fully blog-based candidate be demonstrated on a West Coast ballot.

Much like the blog, Kaus Files, that launched him into prominence within the punditry, Mickey Kaus’ candidacy has been rife with political paradoxes.  Instead of focusing on areas where he agrees with the Democratic base, Kaus is solidly running to Boxer’s right on unions and immigration.  Attacked as a closet Republican, Kaus invokes Paul Wellstone is his campaign’s sole TV advertisement.  Treating his campaign as a Dave Barry/Gore Vidal joke candidacy one minute, the next Kaus is writing serious political manifestos.

Yet it’s hard to escape the feeling that had Kaus taken himself – or his campaign – more seriously, his spoiler candidacy might have done more than simply garner a few memorable press clippings for his scrapebook. 

If the mood of the electorate is hostile across the country, California voters appear ready to find the nearest Bastille.  Every single major party candidate has their approval/disapproval numbers upside-down, including Boxer at 37/46 – and that’s relatively healthy compared to most of the other statewide candidates.  And whether California Democrats wish to acknowledge it or not, Kaus’ pet issues of unions and immigration are two big parts of the mosaic of problems that have painted the state forever in the red.

When even the LA Times refuses to endorse the incumbent, you know the political climate has turned stormy.  But the limitations of Kaus’ own personality precluded him turning the non-endorsement to his advantage.  Or as the paper put it: “But we can’t endorse him, because he gives no indication that he would step up to the job and away from his Democratic-gadfly persona.”

Blogging has certainly give Kaus an leg-up otherwise undeserved by his campaign.  What other forum would allow a candidate with a $36,000 budget, no visible support and with such blunt honesty about his chances that he was deined a speaking slot at the Democratic convention, as much media fanfare as Kaus has enjoyed?

But persuading an electorate is world’s away from simply unleasing opinions into the ether of the internet. Even recognized as one of the Founding Fathers of internet journalism and blogging, the height of Kaus’ popularity was 40,000 unique visitors each day – a tremendous audience in blog terms but a pittance in political value.

“The Kaus blog speaks to a very smart and important influential niche, but it’s still just a niche,” says the conservative blogger Jonah Goldberg, who has supported Mr. Kaus’s campaign in the National Review Online. “The universe of bloggers is a hell of a lot smaller than a lot of bloggers like to think.”

UPDATE: So much for the New York Times. Kaus was demolished, as expected, but surprisingly finished in 3rd – 55,000 votes behind Hollywoodd hanger-on Brian Quintana for 5.2%.

3 thoughts on “Kaus & Effect

  1. I hope the compliment from Goldberg is correct.

    I look at the California race, and am more struck by the fact this is California which has a history of promoting some pretty crazy candidates on occasion who are not likely to be competitive, serious candidates.

  2. Can I say that I view Kaus much as DG/Peev/Flash viewed McCain?

    In other words, Kaus is the only Democrat I’d ever vote for — unless he runs against a Republican.

    (Only slightly sarcastically injected.)

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