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The Internet and Mobocracy
Tech Central Station ^ | 12/23/2003 | Arnold Kling

Posted on 12/23/2003 3:59:28 PM PST by Federalist 78

This was Coase's fundamental insight: "If a workman moves from department Y to department X, he does not go because of change in relative prices, but because he is ordered to do so." Accordingly, economic activity will be conducted within a firm when the costs of bargaining exceed those of command-and-control. From this perspective, Coase's argument doesn't look like a very good analogy for political parties does it?
-- Steve Bainbridge

Everett Ehrlich garnered fifteen minutes of blogosphere fame by mentioning Howard Dean, the Internet, and Nobel Prize-winning economist Ronald Coase together in the same article. It drew reactions from Clay Shirky, William Abraham Blaze, and others.

Professor Bainbridge is correct that the Coase theory of the firm is not a good analogy for Internet politics. I want to propose another analogy: Germany from 1928-1932.

Toward the end of the Weimar era, the German center collapsed, and politics degenerated into a battle between Communists and Nazis. It was literally a street fight, with beatings overtaking ballot boxes.

On the Internet, too, the center is relatively weak. Instead, the political Web sites that draw enthusiastic crowds include the left's MoveOn, whose name derives from the Clinton-era anti-impeachment mantra; and the right's Free Republic, once described by Jonah Goldberg of National Review Online as "knuckle-scrapers," suggesting a picture of ape-like creatures walking with one hand brushing the ground and the other holding up a political placard.

Replacing the Macarena

Ehrlich and other pundits argue that the Howard Dean phenomenon was caused by the candidate's discovery of how to use the Internet. I believe that it was the other way around. It was the militant leftwing movement on the Internet that created Dean. Members of the movement with whom I am familiar are actually rather lukewarm toward Dean -- many would prefer someone more radical.

Howard Dean emerged as a candidate of the left-wing militants the way that the Cha-Cha Slide emerged as a staple on the Bar Mitzvah circuit. It's not that the Cha-Cha Slide means something to Jewish culture. It's just that there is a Bar Mitzvah circuit that needs a silly dance. When the Macarena craze finally died out -- thank goodness -- something else came along to take its place -- unfortunately.

The political movement of affluent, college-educated, angry liberals needed a candidate for the same reason that Bar Mitzvah DJ's need a way to pull people onto the dance floor. Howard Dean is the left's Cha-Cha Slide. He did not create the parties that dance to his tune. He just replaced the Macarena.

The Missing Coalition

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Howard Dean phenomenon is the relative absence of the usual elements of the Democratic coalition. He has not energized labor, African-Americans, or other traditional party enthusiasts. Instead, while he has received a smattering of endorsements from some interest-group leaders, the expectation is that most of their funds and energy will go to other political races.

What explains the relative unimportance of the traditional Democratic coalition to the Dean campaign? Perhaps the Internet plays a role, by providing alternative channels for raising funds and mobilizing voters. Pretentious references to Coase aside, there is some truth to this.

However, my view is that the main factor that allowed Dean to emerge is that the Democratic interest groups have effectively decided that they are going to sit out the 2004 Presidential race, presumably because they see little hope for victory. My guess is that if the economy were a serious liability for President Bush, then Dick Gephardt would be a more formidable candidate. Labor unions, seeing an opportunity for victory, would back Gephardt more strongly.

Mobocracy?

The Dean movement likes to refer to itself as a Smart Mob. I believe that there is no such thing. If the future of politics in America is to swing back and forth between Freepers and MoveOn'ers, then I fear that we really will turn into Weimar Germany.

In my view, the genius of our nation's founders was not that they gave people the opportunity to vote. It was that they created a Constitution with limited government. If those Constitutional limitations still held, then we would be safe from whatever fads the Internet might facilitate. We would not have to fear what Alexis de Tocqueville called the "tyranny of the majority."

Instead, our Constitutional protections have largely broken down. A mass movement led by a popular demagogue would have the potential to curb individual freedom.

Some libertarians will argue that individual rights already are in tatters. I am not one of those pessimists who believe that freedom is on the decline in this country. As I see it, there have been many steps backward, but in other respects we have seen improvement. But that is a debate that falls outside the scope of this essay.

My concern here is the combination of weakened Constitutional protection and Internet-facilitated extremism. In my lifetime, I believe that what has protected our country from extremist demagogues has been the need for coalition-building in the two-party system. To build a winning coalition at the national level, each party must lean toward the center.

The Internet might change the dynamic. It appears that in 2004, the Democrats will be taken over by left-wing militants. My view is that this is because the centrist forces in the party are poorly motivated. The question is whether this could happen to both parties at the same time. If so, then some day we may see an election in which each party is captured by a narrow, rabid constituency. I hope that the Internet does not end up fostering such a mobocracy.


TOPICS: Editorial; News/Current Events; Politics/Elections
KEYWORDS: 2004; freerepublic; howarddean; internet; moveon

and the right's Free Republic, once described by Jonah Goldberg of National Review Online as "knuckle-scrapers," suggesting a picture of ape-like creatures walking with one hand brushing the ground and the other holding up a political placard.

each party must lean toward the center

If the future of politics in America is to swing back and forth between Freepers and MoveOn'ers, then I fear that we really will turn into Weimar Germany.

These goals would be opposed by Nazi goon squads, knuckleheads like the pseudo-conservative Goldberg and the author, Colonel Kling. Which goals would the 'center', according to Kling, find repugnant?

Free Republic

What is our mission? Free Republic is dedicated to reversing the trend of unconstitutional government expansion and is advocating a complete restoration of our constitutional republic. Listed below are some of the issues we feel strongly about.

Basically, we believe that the Founders designed our system of government in the form of a constitutionally limited republic, with maximum freedom intended for the people and minimum government control or interference into our personal lives and business affairs.

The united states of America was intended to be a federation of sovereign states, each with its own constitution and state government. Governments at all levels -- federal, state and local -- were to be controlled by the people. Our Constitution explicitly restricts the power of our federal government; and our Bill of Rights guarantees that NO government may infringe upon our God given unalienable rights. This is to ensure that the real power remains close to home, with the states, the local governments and always in the hands of the people.

We the People have granted our federal government limited powers to oversee certain things, such as national defense, interstate commerce, the postal service, the coining of money, and the operation of a court system. Most other powers now in the hands of the federal government were illegally usurped from the states and from the people.

Somehow, over the years, our guiding principles of law, as set forth in the Constitution, have been eroded to the point that the federal government now has total control -- leaving the states impotent and the people as captive servants to the federal government. This must be reversed if we are to survive as a free Republic and a free people.

We at Free Republic are determined to return the Constitution to its rightful place as the Supreme Law of the land as the Founders intended.

It is not necessary for everyone to hold the same views to be members of Free Republic, however, many of us do share many of the following as common beliefs and goals:

The preservation and complete restoration of our Constitution and Bill of Rights with special emphasis on the first, second, fourth, fifth, sixth, ninth and tenth amendments and, of course, our right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness -- free of government intervention.

We call for the repeal of the 17th amendment, which will reverse the independence of the Senate and reestablish the Senate as a representative of the State governments, as intended by the Founding Fathers. This arrangement was intended to be a critical check against illegal federal expansion over the States, and the people residing in the various States, and will act to return the powers not granted to the federal government, as enumerated in the Constitution, to the states.

We call for the repeal of the 16th amendment and to abolish the income tax and the IRS. Revenues to the federal government should come from excise taxes and tariffs.

We call for the repeal of the Emergency and War Powers Acts, an end to all national emergencies and a ban on the unilateral creation of law by Presidential edict. We are also working for the repeal all laws created by unconstitutional and extraconstitutional devices, such as Executive Order or Presidential Directive.

Repeal of the war and emergency powers acts and the various states of national emergencies will allow the abolishing of all unconstitutional federal law, agencies and departments. This will return us to a Federalist system of government and return many responsibilities to the States and personal rights to the citizens.

A return to a strictly Constitutional form of federal government will automatically repeal and abolish all unconstitutional federal involvement in states issues such as: crime, health, education, welfare and the environment. The Tenth Amendment will again be in effect, which will bar all federal attempts at legislating social issues. This will also require that social programs such as Social Security, welfare and Medicare be repealed. So too, will most federal subsidies.

We further call for the rescinding of all treaties and/or International Agreements which are not in perfect agreement with the federal government's Constitutionally mandated task of protecting the rights of the people.

We believe that the United States should disassociate itself from the U.N. and that the U.N. should be forced to leave the United States. Furthermore, we demand that the federal government refrain from meddling in the business and squabbles of foreign nations, unless there is an imminent threat to the people of the United States.

We also call for the strengthening of our military and defenses; the effective control over illegal immigration and smuggling; the paying down the national debt; and strict control over federal agencies like the CIA and the FBI.


NOTE: Free Republic does NOT condone bigotry or violence and does NOT advocate an overthrow of the government.

Instead, what has happened is, the government and the corporate media have created, through regulation and policy a liberal propaganda machine whose goal is to continue the expansion of a collective state and to control every aspect of our lives and fortunes. Dissenting views are stifled by selective interpretation of copyright law and unfair litigation leveled at whistleblowers and those who would attempt to use the news media's own copyrighted "news" stories to expose the lies, spin and half truths therein.

We, on Free Republic, are determined to speak out against this illegal alliance and to peaceably work toward reestablishing the Constitution as the supreme law of the land as our Founders intended, and to petition our representatives to force the government to operate within its Constitutional limits. We are determined to stand up for our Constitutional rights, for liberty, truth, justice, and the rule of law.

We, the People, are exercising our Constitutional right to freedom of speech and peaceable assembly to demand that our elected representatives fulfill their Constitutional duty. ~~ Jim Robinson, March 1999

1 posted on 12/23/2003 3:59:28 PM PST by Federalist 78
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Comment #2 Removed by Moderator

To: Federalist 78
Members of the movement with whom I am familiar are actually rather lukewarm toward Dean -- many would prefer someone more radical.

What happened, did they lose Ralph Nader's phone number?

3 posted on 12/23/2003 4:11:10 PM PST by John Jorsett
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Comment #4 Removed by Moderator

To: John Jorsett
I thought mobocracy was what you were charged with after being arrest fro exposing yourself to a blind person.
5 posted on 12/23/2003 4:19:04 PM PST by whereasandsoforth (tagged for migratory purposes only)
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Comment #6 Removed by Moderator

To: Federalist 78
I know it is obnoxious of me to even deign to comment on the brilliant Mr. Kling's musings, as I am but a knuckle-scraping extremist, but somebody has to point out that he's full of mad cow excrement.

The Internet serves one purpose in Howard Dean's campaign: Creating and maintaining a mailing list of useful idiots willing to hand over immense amounts of cash. Dean became the presumptive nominee (and let's not forget it's almost a month before the first primary, so he hasn't won yet) for one reason and one reason only: The war in Iraq. If it wasn't for Operation Iraqi Freedom and its overwhelming success, he would have had nowhere to focus his anger and rage, and would be about as popular today as Carol Moseley Braun.

7 posted on 12/23/2003 4:25:32 PM PST by Dont Mention the War
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To: Dont Mention the War
The Internet serves one purpose in Howard Dean's campaign: Creating and maintaining a mailing list of useful idiots willing to hand over immense amounts of cash.

I think the author is correct in ascertaining that the leftist online movement found Dean (for his anti-war comments - remember the other candidates had already voted for the war) and not the other way around (Dean building an internet following).

Oddly, Bush isn't the hard right candidate (nobody adds new, unconstitutional entitlements and signs spending increases that go through the roof can be considered hard right to me). I'd expect something more akin to Barry Goldwater being a better representation of the average Freeper. But most Americans don't want that. Liberty and independence aren't what they want from government. Checks are what they want from government.

8 posted on 12/23/2003 5:23:32 PM PST by Gunslingr3
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To: Federalist 78
bttfl
9 posted on 12/23/2003 5:28:27 PM PST by Cacique
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To: Federalist 78
My email to Kling:

The whole "knuckle-scrapers" slur against Free Republic is nonsense. The people engaged in political discourse on that website are by and large highly well informed, educated, and more than passably literate. Active participants at FR populate the vanguard of American politics, not some backwater. The same can probably be said for most of the folks at MoveOn.

It the sign of a weak argument (and often a weak mind) that a sweeping, way over-the-top generalization is needed to hold the argument up. In short, your fears of "mobocracy" generated in an Internet insurgency reflect your own discomfort with change, not with any inherent merit in the argument. U of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein wrote a book along the same lines a few years back called Republic.com. He was laughed out of court at the time. You deserve the same fate.

Kling can be reached here:

arnoldsk@us.net

10 posted on 12/23/2003 5:42:24 PM PST by beckett
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To: Federalist 78
so he linked everything except FR?/
11 posted on 12/23/2003 8:42:26 PM PST by GeronL (The Revolution should be televised! Imagine the ratings!)
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To: Federalist 78
Its hard to respond to this article since It doesn't define its terms. Where are the "extremists" in this country? I must be looking in the wrong places - I don't see any Nazis or commies anywhere. Who are the "mob"? Everyone except the writer and his buddies?

BTW, The tyranny of the majority is called democracy. It is better than the tyranny of the minority - which is what we have now. We are now under the rule of unelected judges, big media, and lobbyists. They are the threat because they have the power.
12 posted on 12/24/2003 11:08:46 AM PST by rcocean
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To: Federalist 78
Did I miss something, or did this author make a few good points, and then utterly fail in tieing them together? I think he had some good insight into Dean's candidacy, especially on how many liberals don't see him as nearly extreme enough.

As far as FreeRepublic and MoveOn destroying the American government, what is that all about? If FR and MoveOn replaced the Republicans and Democrats, we'd still have two parties. So what if there's less common ground for us to work from, it'll make the moves towards victory or defeat all the more obvious.

13 posted on 12/24/2003 11:18:14 AM PST by Steel Wolf (The Original One Man Crusading Jingoist Imperialist Capitalist Running Dog Paper Tiger himself)
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To: Federalist 78
I suppose we're supposed to think this is deep.

He does have a couple of interesting notions to get across, namely regarding how the Internet is being leveraged to bypass some of the convential intra-party checks on more extreme candidates.

But rather than explore these in a sober and rational manner, he goes for a historical analogy to Weimar (which he clearly doesn't understand), and insinuates that the Internet is as dominated by extremists as the streets of Berlin were in 1932. Even giving him a pass on his poor understanding of the Weimar Republic, that's just nonsense.

The Internet is a neutral medium available to the mainstream as much as the extreme, as evidenced by the fact that George W. Bush has quietly built an Internet presense considerably larger than Howard Dean's. Free Republic has an excellent track record of weeding out the extremists, and going with the party-building coalition formula Mr. Kling seems to feel we endanger. Despite heated primary debates in 2000, the vast majority of the site rallied behind George W. Bush once he captured the nomination. Not too different than the non-Internet portion of the electorate.

Mr. Kling is playing an intellectually lazy game of equivalence. The leftist coalition is splintering, and driving toward the extreme, so he ties to insert a parallel on the right. Problem is, there isn't one.

14 posted on 12/24/2003 11:52:05 AM PST by Snuffington
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To: Federalist 78
I've noticed what I think is a lean toward the left by many so called right wing web sites in the last year.

The 'I feel your pain types' seem to be growing in the Conservative groups as well.
15 posted on 12/24/2003 11:55:58 AM PST by vladog
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To: Gunslingr3

Oddly, Bush isn't the hard right candidate (nobody adds new, unconstitutional entitlements and signs spending increases that go through the roof can be considered hard right to me). I'd expect something more akin to Barry Goldwater being a better representation of the average Freeper. But most Americans don't want that. Liberty and independence aren't what they want from government. Checks are what they want from government.

You have described Kling's 'missing middle.' It is the present government of the middle, by the RNC and for the DNC.

Texas Straight Talk: An Interview With Ron Paul - Sierra Times. ...

Q. Sir, on May 6th, on the floor of the house you asked the question: "Are the American people determined they still wish to have a Constitutional Republic." How would you answer that question, Sir?
A. A growing number of Americans want it, but a minority, and that is why we are losing this fight in Washington at the moment. That isn't as discouraging as it sounds, because if you had asked me that in 1976 when I first came to Washington, I would have said there were a lot fewer who wanted it then. We have drifted along and, although we have still enjoyed a lot of prosperity in the last twenty-five years, we have further undermined the principles of the Constitution and private property market economy. Therefore, I think we have to continue to do what we are doing to get a larger number. But if we took a vote in this country and told them what it meant to live in a Constitutional Republic and what it would mean if you had a Congress dedicated to the Constitution they would probably reject it. It reminds me of a statement by Walter Williams when he said that if you had two candidates for office, one running on the programs of Stalin and the other running on the programs of Jefferson the American people would probably vote for the candidate who represented the programs of Stalin. If you didn't put the name on it and just looked at the programs, they would say, Oh yeah, we believe in national health care and we believe in free education for everybody and we believe we should have gun control. Therefore, the majority of the people would probably reject Thomas Jefferson. So that describes the difficulty, but then again, we have to look at some of the positive things which means that we just need more people dedicated to the rule of law. Otherwise, there will be nothing left here within a short time.

16 posted on 12/24/2003 12:04:22 PM PST by Federalist 78
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To: vladog

I've noticed what I think is a lean toward the left by many so called right wing web sites in the last year.

The 'I feel your pain types' seem to be growing in the Conservative groups as well.

The road to socialism is paved with "compassionate conservatism."

17 posted on 12/24/2003 12:07:04 PM PST by Federalist 78
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To: Federalist 78
I am not finding any piece where Jonah Goldberg once described us by "knuckle-scrapers,".
18 posted on 12/24/2003 12:17:17 PM PST by CyberCowboy777 (We are Storming the Battlements, Razing the Arguments, Writing the Installments.)
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To: CyberCowboy777
It may be fabricated… Townhall.com: Conservative News and Information - The ... occasionally posts links to political articles on Tech Central Station. If it is fabricated, they need to drop this guy.

Will Goldberg jonahnro@aol.com confirm or deny?

19 posted on 12/24/2003 12:29:50 PM PST by Federalist 78
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To: Federalist 78
My Email to Goldberg

In his latest piece The Internet and Mobocracy by Arnold Kling he references you writing - Free Republic, once described by Jonah Goldberg of National Review Online as "knuckle-scrapers,"

Say it ain't so!

As a member of FreeRepublic and loyal Goldberg reader I am surprised at both the generalization and the apparent disregard for the fact that many FReepers enjoy reading and agree with you (what does that make you?)

I did a little looking and could not find a piece where you had made that comment. So I cannot read the context or the humor (if that was the case).

I can only hope that you have spent some amount of time reading the often insightful and purposeful postings of many members of FreeRepublic. We have our extremes to the right and to the center (an extreme moderate! Where must I be?), but for the most part you find Reagan Republicans with a heavy dash of Goldwater thrown in.

Where I read the reference: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1045738/posts

Original publishing of The Internet and Mobocracy: http://www.techcentralstation.com/122303B.html

Best Regards,
Keath Huff
aka CyberCowboy777
http://www.freerepublic.com/~cybercowboy777/
20 posted on 12/24/2003 12:34:12 PM PST by CyberCowboy777 (We are Storming the Battlements, Razing the Arguments, Writing the Installments.)
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To: CyberCowboy777
Very Good! I hope you post his response. If Kling fabricated/out of context, I will e-mail http://www.townhall.com/about/contact.html Town Hall. They have an incentive https://secure.heritage.org/townhall/supportth.cfm?gold to listen, regardless of disclaimers about links to other sites.
21 posted on 12/24/2003 1:05:46 PM PST by Federalist 78
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To: Federalist 78
I will post his response if it happens.
22 posted on 12/24/2003 1:14:28 PM PST by CyberCowboy777 (We are Storming the Battlements, Razing the Arguments, Writing the Installments.)
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To: Federalist 78
Interesting post. Thanks.
23 posted on 12/24/2003 1:39:03 PM PST by PGalt
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To: Federalist 78
Toward the end of the Weimar era, the German center collapsed, and politics degenerated into a battle between Communists and Nazis. It was literally a street fight, with beatings overtaking ballot boxes.

Exceedingly oversimplified, as well as a woefully inadequate analogy. If he is saying that after the political center collapsed, 2 socialist groups fought for political control, what is the point?

A more accurate analogy would be to forecast the collapse of the American middle (unlikely), with MoveOn and DU fighting for control. Reductio ad absurdum.

That won't happen because of sites like FR. The Internet is dominated by livertarians and conservatives, pro-American and anti-government types. Leftist sites are a pitiable sub=segment of the on-line world.

24 posted on 12/24/2003 2:16:29 PM PST by fnord (Never ascribe to malice that which can adequately be explained by incompetence)
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To: vladog
Kling's more of a 'compassionate libertarian'.
25 posted on 12/24/2003 6:38:53 PM PST by StriperSniper (Sending the Ba'thist to the showers! ;-)
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To: CyberCowboy777
I was wondering where that quote came from myself. I figured if it was accurate, it was probably a tongue in cheek comment. Let's hope it gets cleared up.

Hey, maybe your inquiry will warrant an item in The Corner.

;-)

Merry Christmas!

26 posted on 12/24/2003 6:56:51 PM PST by StriperSniper (Sending the Ba'thist to the showers! ;-)
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To: StriperSniper
Merry Christmas to you!

I'll let you know when I hear back.
27 posted on 12/24/2003 10:51:43 PM PST by CyberCowboy777 (This Quiet Diplomacy was brought to you by BIG STICK foreign policy.)
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To: StriperSniper; Federalist 78
Here is the response from Mr. Goldberg:

Yeah, i'm not sure about that reference either. It's certainly pretty old if it's real and probably excludes the qualifiers, i.e. someething like "some of the knucklescrapers at..." or some such. Also, there was a time a while ago when the Freepers turned viciously against my mom and therefor me. It was a sad period, but much of the stuff written about me back then at FR was really, really nasty so I may have said it in a fit of pique. Though, again, I don't remember writing it. Anyway, i like many freepers, even if i don't feel to close to Free Republic itself anymore.

My apologies if you took offense.

Jonah

I was not aware of any attacks on his mother, though I am sure that some simply dislike and/or disagree with Jonah - as is the case when thousands discuss anything. It can become visceral for certain.

28 posted on 12/29/2003 9:19:55 AM PST by CyberCowboy777 (This Quiet Diplomacy was brought to you by BIG STICK foreign policy.)
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To: CyberCowboy777

Also, there was a time a while ago when the Freepers turned viciously against my mom and therefor me.

Arnold Kling may have been correct; but his quote is inadequately cited.

I'll not be posting anymore articles from Kling.

29 posted on 12/29/2003 9:36:33 AM PST by Federalist 78
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To: Federalist 78
Agreed.

For certain some nipping has gone on between Goldberg and some on FR - Kling should have cited that directly though.

Instead he makes it out to be a all or nothing comment about the "extreme" nature of online partisans.
30 posted on 12/29/2003 9:46:53 AM PST by CyberCowboy777 (This Quiet Diplomacy was brought to you by BIG STICK foreign policy.)
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To: Federalist 78
On the Internet, too, the center is relatively weak.

Political moderates could have an internet forum, but don't. That is because the muddled middle is politically apathetic. Where exactly outside the internet is the fount of centrist energy and strength? Aside from non-ideologic economic special interests, I can't think of any.

31 posted on 12/29/2003 9:53:01 AM PST by Plutarch
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