Hack Gap

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Mark Kleiman points to a real problem, noting the contrast between the attention paid to "Markos Moulitsas's unpremeditated, quickly-retracted dismissal of the deaths of four contract fighters in Iraq" and Stu Bykofsky's publication of a column calling for the deaths of thousands of Americans in a massive terrorist attack in a "large-circulation big-city newspaper and then featured on Drudge and Fox News." Just like Mark, "I don't really wish that we behaved like our wingnut opponents, but their capacity to work up and sustain outrage has to be counted among their structural advantages."

This is what I've referred to as the "hack gap" and it seems to me that it's very important. The nature of two-party democracy is that elections are decided by the small minority of the public too confused or too ill-informed to realize that there are persistent, substantial differences between the two federal political parties. As a result, the issues (or, more likely, pseudo-issues) that are most important in deciding elections tend to be the issues that are least important in substantive terms.

As a writer, though, I'd rather spend my time writing about things that I think are important or at least interesting. Harping away on haircuts, Bykofsky's appalling column, the way George W. Bush lied to the American public about what kind of cheese he likes on his cheesesteak (really!), etc. doesn't seem like an appealing way to spend my time. But the fact that the right has an army of people willing to pretend that this sort of thing is the most important thing in the world is a massive, massive impediment to having sensible policies about national security, taxes, health care, global warming, etc.

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Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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