One of the best books of the 1990s was Scott Shane's Dismantling Utopia: How Information Ended the Soviet Union. Shane, who was the Moscow Bureau Chief for the Baltimore Sun for the crucial years from 1988 to 1991, argued that information--via crudely rigged cable TV systems and fax machines--undercut the central bureaucracy because decentralized information providers moved more quickly than a lumbering bureaucracy. His book is very Hayekian. I asked him once whether he had ever read Hayek. He hadn't.
I think we saw a little of the same thing--centralizing forces vs. decentralized forces where the centralizers were undercut--at the Republican convention last week, with the more advanced technology of cell phones and Twitter. The Republican bureaucracy tried to change the rules so that the Romney forces could have more central control over who the delegates would be. But to change the rules, they had to have a vote on the floor. When you call a vote and it's not clear whether the Ayes or Nos have it, then, as I understand it, any member can request a roll call vote and is entitled to it. Here's how Mytheus Holt reported it:
Permanent convention Chairman John Boehner called for a voice vote on the rules. Those voting "Aye" screamed their approval. Boehner called for those opposing to yell. The response was arguably indistinguishable from that of the supporters. Nevertheless, Boehner ruled that "The Ayes have it" and all the rules went through. Despite early reports that minority reports had been sent to the Chair that would have offered an alternate vision of the rules, no minority reports were voted on. It was as though no opposition had ever existed.
"I think the Republican establishment is struggling with how to manage this very decentralized world we live in, and you saw signs of their acknowledgement on the stage like last night," Kibbe said. "It wasn't remotely about Mitt Romney, it was about giving various voices and agendas and constituencies a voice at the convention.
"The opposite of that is coming in late Friday afternoon and dropping a dramatic rules change on the table, and thinking that it won't get Tweeted out immediately and that people wouldn't notice. And I think that's a fascinating clash-they're trying to figure out how to deal with the Ron Paul guys, they're trying to figure out how to deal with the Tea Partiers, all of whom have become part of the process. They're delegates now, they're playing by the rules, and really I think fundamentally transforming the party, and I think the Establishment's freaking out a little about that. [...] Literally in every delegation I've spoken to, formally or informally and just walking around, there are Tea Party delegates all over the place; they've really embedded themselves into the process."
The last time I saw something this rank happening was at the 1980 Democratic convention when chairman Tip O'Neill called for a voice vote on the Ted Kennedy proposals for the platform [which were awful, by the way, including wage and price controls] and the Ayes and Nos seemed about even. O'Neill said "In the opinion of the chair, the Nos [the Carter forces] had it." I can't remember which of the Big 3 networks I was watching but what I will never forget is their laughter as they both saw that it seemed even and were not at all disturbed that the rules were being broken. What's the difference today? The videos showing how rank things got in 2012 will likely always be there.
Also, isn't it interesting that the convention speech that got the most attention was the one that was pretty clearly not cleared in advance? When Ann Romney said it was "unique," she used the word correctly. I think it was the only speech of the whole convention that was not cleared with Romney. And isn't it interesting the extent to which he went after Republicans as well as Democrats? Like the following:
But you [talking to an imaginary Obama] thought the war in Afghanistan was OK. You know, I mean--you thought that was something worth doing. We didn't check with the Russians to see how did it--they did there for 10 years.
Clint Eastwood is no dummy. He knows, as well as he knows what three words follow "Go ahead," who started the war in Afghanistan.
And how about this from Clint?
We--we own it. It is not you owning it, and not politicians owning it. Politicians are employees of ours. And so they are just going to come around and beg for votes every few years. It is the same old deal. But I just think it is important that you realize, that you're the best in the world. Whether you are a Democrat or Republican or whether you're libertarian or whatever, you are the best. And we should not ever forget that. And when somebody does not do the job, we got to let them go.
No wonder Dave Weigel noticed that Romney's people "looked increasingly fed up as Eastwood kept talking." By the way, I think Weigel totally missed the brilliance of Clint's speech, with his statement:
You've been to weddings, right, where the best man starts getting too real, and less funny than he thinks, but everyone's instinct is to root for him and try to find humor? That was what happened.
Maybe I'm weird--no, correct that, I'm sure I'm weird--but on Friday, whenever I thought of Clint's speech, I found myself beaming. My mother taught me manners and among those manners was not to go up and hassle a celebrity. A few years ago, when I pulled into a parking lot at Pebble Beach to give a speech, Clint was the passenger in the SUV that pulled up beside me. We got out at the same time and I nodded and said hi. Ditto him. But next time I see him, I'm going to break my mother's rules and tell him what a great speech he gave. I know this is a low bar, but I think it competes with the best of the campaign speeches I've seen since regularly watching the Rep and Dem conventions from 1976 on.
Check the video that Robert Fellner links to below. Specifically, look at how Boehner scripted his opinion that the Ayes have it even before the vote was taken. It's at the 3:10 to 3:35 segment. I had seen this on the Web before writing the post but when I did a search, I couldn't find it again. Thanks to Robert Fellner.