Kreisky Forum: Politcal Blogging, Elections, and the End of the World As We Knew It


kreisky forum.jpg
Tonight, I spoke at a forum in Vienna at the Bruno Kreisky Forum for International Dialogue. The topic I was speaking on was “Electing the American President: Do New Media, Blogs and the Internet Make any Difference?”
About 200 people attended. The place was packed; a really terrific, impressive group of young people represented about half the audience. I had a great time, but I have to admit that somewhat like Barack Obama in the debate last Friday (from my perspective — which was not seemingly that of much of the debate viewing audience), I sort of choked and wandered in the first part of my talk and got better in the latter half. The Q&A moderated by the insightful Austrian journalist and blogger Robert Misik got me back on track and helped put the evening in positive territory.
But back to rambling for a moment.

At the beginning of my talk, I reflected on how I got into the new media space — and why wrestling with ideas in the public policy environment had become easier through blogging than in traditional forms of writing, communication, and general policy work. I told the folks about my days with the Nixon establishment and how that had empowered me in some ways in D.C. and made me worry less about fitting in to traditional roles. Policy programs, opeds, books, think tank work, hanging my hat on a Senate staff had now led to Facebook journalism, twitter reporting, political blogging and more. And to be honest, I had a hard time getting into the current election standoff in part because I find myself so distracted by the political drama over the financial crisis and because I can so easily find myself disappointed in both McCain and Obama — both of them.
When I got to the Kreisky Forum — which really is an impressive place with positive energy, loosely and historically affiliated with the Social Democrats here — I realized I wanted to focus on reaching the many young people in the diverse audience I was speaking to and encourage them to one way or another get into more active political participation through writing, blogging, video, and the like.
But lurking in the back of my mind while I was redrafting in my head what I had originally planned to say so as to inspire young potential Austrian bloggers — who are in the wake of right-wing swinging elections here yesterday — was the U.S. financial crisis and what it meant for how America is perceived in the world.
There are three pillars on which American power in the world has been based. The first of these was being the beacon on the hill, an example of justice, liberty, and moral commitment to self-determination, fairness and democratic principle. That pillar got knocked apart by the Iraq War of choice, Bagram and Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses, Guantanamo, torture, and more.
The second pillar was based on military capacity — the once seeming limitless ability the U.S. had to project force globally in ways that no other natoin could do. This infrastructure of bases and globally spread defense platforms still exists, but the military is stretched thin, worn down, and exhausted. Key limits to American power were exhibited in our stewardship of Iraq — and now allies don’t count on the U.S. as much as they used to and many foes and potential foes are moving their agendas.
The third pillar of America’s mystique and power was its economic innovation and dynamism, and the sheer size and depth of the American economy. Much of the world is now choking on U.S.-manufactured poisoned financial products that spread through the global financial system. When I think back to New York Times correspondent Tom Friedman’s assertions about the “golden straight jacket” that other nations had to don to get rich like America — and to the debates about America’s economic model vs. Japan’s and Europe’s — I am ashamed of the arrogance of that time.
This was going through my head tonight as I thought about new media, the elections, and American foreign policy. On the international circuit, it’s really hard to speak to any positive part of the U.S. portfolio without seeming disingenuous. We really have a huge amount of work to do to restore the nation and recreate America’s terms of engagement with friends and allies around the world.
I was impressed by the U.S. Ambassador to Austria who recently arrived here — David Girard-diCarlo who has been active in Republican circles for decades — but who gave a balanced and fair introduction of the political battle that is unfolding between Obama and McCain.
It’s useful to remember as he reminded the audience that Obama was not the likely winner in his party — and McCain’s campaign had once been pronounced dead.
In any case, it was an interesting night — and got me to thinking again about how hard it is for America to be American in the way many have grown used to.
Neither Obama nor McCain can say this kind of thing — and it’s going to be important to conceive a “work out plan” for America and the world soon after the election — in order to establish the terms of a new global social contract.
And that is where I hope a new class of constructive policy bloggers and practitioners — folks in the new media space — can make a difference in the direction the country goes after November.
— Steve Clemons


15 comments on “Kreisky Forum: Politcal Blogging, Elections, and the End of the World As We Knew It

  1. söve says:

    American leadership is indispensable; maybe the UN has to
    become more relevant; the EU needs to get its act together. Yet
    we can’t even agree on world trade talks anymore.


  2. Kathy P says:

    Hi Steve,
    Your talk was great! Thanks so much for coming to Vienna, and I hope you’ve enjoyed your time here!
    All the best,


  3. FaceOnMars says:

    I’ve always enjoyed reading your blog and find your take on things to be very interesting.
    As to the topic of “Electing the American President: Do New Media, Blogs and the Internet Make any Difference?”, I believe this issue is intimately intertwined with that of “net neutrality”.
    On one extreme imagine a single source of “news” (i.e. state run media), on the other extreme is what we are witnessing today in terms of an extremely wide spectrum of perspectives and alternative media outlets which are essentially on the same playing field to all who wish to seek out such information.
    As this pertains to electing the POTUS, I believe the latter extreme allows for a greater degree of grassroots movements to take shape and attain an entropy (i.e. independent of a limited discrete set of “channels” which would require such perspectives to “pay to play” in order to get their node on the internet seen and heard. The big players will be few and dominate these conduits; mostly likely being influenced significantly by special interests.
    I’ve only scratched the surface, but I recall you being cautious about embracing or rejecting net neutrality on the grounds of infrastructure development as a “litmus test”; however, I believe it’s the tail wagging the dog in terms of the political ramifications being much more pervasive on how the greater system is affected.


  4. Ivan C says:

    Much appreciated your candid reflections.
    A question about your hope for the emergence of a new global
    social contract, let me play devil’s advocate here:
    what makes you think there will be one? Or that one is
    reachable, given current developments around the world?
    After all that has been written about this topic recently–
    especially your colleague Khanna’s Second World, Zakaria’s Post-
    American World, Kagan’s Return of History, etc– I’d love to hear
    your perspective on the steps to take toward a GSC. I assume
    American leadership is indispensable; maybe the UN has to
    become more relevant; the EU needs to get its act together. Yet
    we can’t even agree on world trade talks anymore. More
    countries–as opposed to just the big ones– increasingly act in
    their own self interests or else act in a manner destructive to
    international cooperation . Two of the key global players are
    autocracies. And of course, the US is remarkably weak and has a
    lot of catching up to do.
    Call me a pessimist, but writing appears to be on the wall.
    I’d love to have your input here.
    enjoy Vienna! (try to hit Budapest!)


  5. American in Vienna says:

    Steve, My husband and I enjoyed chatting with you after your talk last night in Vienna. We thoroughly enjoyed your talk and we both found it very refreshing to hear about all you’ve been doing to positively affect critical decisions and outcomes over the years. I’ll definitely keep an eye on your blog in the future, and look forward to reading your commentary, especially in the weeks to come. Cheers! J.


  6. karl staudinger says:

    hi steve,
    loved your talk last night, especially your story about your blog-dispute about john bolton (see my blog
    it was funny to me you mentioned mccain not looking at obama in their debate: on tpm josh marshall viewed this quite differently and also quoted a reader-comment on his blog who referred to animal behaviour (low ranking monkeys don’t look at high ranking monkeys). still – of course – it´s possible to view it your way.
    have a good time in austria!


  7. Melissa Coulter says:

    Great to meet you last night and enjoyed your talk. I think the best piece of advice you had for young people was, “Learn to write; learn to communicate and show your ability to think critically about the world.” Your view of the blogosphere as a place to encourage critical thinking rather than sheep herding was good to hear.


  8. Mr.Murder says:

    The End of the World as we knew it was less relevant then. Orange Crush was more relevant.
    We are agents of the Free….


  9. Mr.Murder says:

    In Theory of Knowledge class I got the first C in my life. The paper was to address the difference between perception and reality.
    My paper dealt with Desert Storm and the Commander in Chief, and his son, whom an instructor that knew of him(Former Army Col. and Texas oil wildcat site assessor, knew lots of people in TX and DC) said that GHWB’s son was “technically a desertor” during the ‘Nam years.
    The difference between the perception of Republican leadership and reality.
    Fighting wars in the Mid East with business conflicts involved, personal examples of poor ethical credence, calling upon others to serve in capacities you shirked from, etc.
    The reality and the perception starkly differed. At the time few votes on the war were honest, one that turned out to be so was from Sen.Kerry, who was the only person I thought could lose in a race to GWB if he ever chose to run. That was in 1991/1992 and the assumption of my piece was that if things got to the level they were by then, the media was already fully co-opted to the point GWB would perhaps try and run one day if he got cover to the extent his father could send thousands of guard members to fight while his son was a chickenhawk. Who better to lose than a war protestor who actually served and actually made the right vote on Iraq war the first time? That was ironic.
    A fellow student knew of a girl who testified about baby incubators, she was also Kuwaiti, and alarmed at the invasion. Still she said the girl was “never pregnant” and explained the complex absurdity of even claiming have been pregnant out of wedlock, as was falesly asserted.
    She was on an exchange basis though so I didn’t ask her to make a statement of record.
    The thing that was differing was the ability to talk with people across the planet from a keyboard prompts at the computer lab. People would do so and share with each other the news as reported there and here.
    To counter this, in my paper, I asserted that the media would have to become enablers for the political establishment to a new level. The only way to overcome people getting better access to the truth was to lie constantly to the general public. No longer turning a blind eye to persons so cavalier in cowardice as the President’s son, they’d one day elevate such poor examples to levels comparable to a Profile in Courage.
    If they provide cover, they are in on the deal with you. The instructor(not a lecturer) in another subject, who could name names in the comments, was ready to go on the record at that time.
    It’s a shame the University Dean of Communications didn’t want the interview to be done on broadcast news. He feared “they’ll cut our funding” and saved the tradition of mealy mouthed news reading for entire generations of frat boys. Only much of the funding was cut anyways, then Sec.of Def. Cheney saw to that at the time.
    There’s some people who were wounded who might like to talk with him. He’s not really worth their time though, they are far better than he. A relative was in that same guard unit as those wounded and he got mail from a three star. Those times are far gone now.
    The dorms we stayed in were taken down by a demolition crew. The crew was in NYC on 9-11. Perhaps you’ve seen some of their other work, formerly known as WTC7.
    Our dorms were known, infamously and ironically, as the Twin Towers.
    Pray some spooks that still give a damn do something about the rogue elements in our own gov’t some day soon.


  10. Harvey says:

    Dear Steve,
    I was one of the oldsters in the audience in Vienna. I commend you for your passion, knowledge, even-handedness and enthusiasm. Traditional journalism often needs to be constantly goaded by people like you with no axe to grind who calls ’em as you see ’em.
    Thanks and see you in Beijing!


  11. Heinz says:

    Dear Mr. Clemons,
    I also want to thank you for giving us great two hours here in Vienna (Europe, not Virginia ;-). You are a great speaker, thus the audience easily follows your talk to any topic.
    Hav a great time here in Austria for the next days.
    Thank you.


  12. Tahoe Editor says:

    Obama’s latest contribution to the “new media space”:
    Gov. Blunt Statement on Obama Campaign’s Abusive Use of Missouri Law Enforcement

    Inside Blogotics: Free speech

    Readers want more on the Obama “truth squads”


  13. Eva says:

    Dear Mr. Clemons,
    Thank you for introducing us to your “blog” yesterday evening.
    Your talk was quite enlightening and exciting for us in the Kreisky Hall and we appreciate very much your enthusiasm for politics and for young people.
    I learned a lot and was very surprised by how much energy you have. I think America cannot be as tired as you say after hearing your presentation.


  14. Lurker says:

    LOL, Steve if you bombed, good for you for saying it. You are very self aware, and I bet that if you were choking in your talk, you changed course and gave those folks something to put in their pockets and think about. You always do.
    What do you think is going to happen now with the bailout package? Will it come back? Can Congress think of going out of session now? Are we going to enter a new Depression era?
    Would love to know your thinking.


  15. SassySuzy says:

    Your honesty and candor are so refreshing in this world of spin. I thought Barack Obama did pretty well in that debate with John McCain but your write-up made me think more about and I agree that it wasnt any kind of slam dunk for Obama.
    I have heard and watched you speak many times and you are so full of energy and passion that I cant imagine you being anything but terrific. But even if you did ramble on with all you know, which is a lot, the fact that you worked hard to connect with young bloggers is really admirable and would be obvious to everyone.
    I just like this blog and you so much and wanted to thank you for restoring hope in me and my friends who read you for something decent in Washington.
    We know that the house of cards is falling, but somehow we have faith that you and the people you know are going to get this situation moved out of the crap hole its in and pointed off to a much healthier place. So I don’t mind you getting depressed and distracted by what’s happening to America’s economy and what not.
    That’s just a sign to me that you are thinking it through and that you and your think tank pals are going to change the situation.
    Keep up the great work!


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