Monday, August 29, 2005

Pardon My Idealist Rant

by Kyle Michaelis
In this so-called "political blogosphere", we all have our individual identities. We are defined by what we choose to write about, what we choose not to write about, what we simply never get around to writing about (increasingly a problem of mine), and - finally - what we actually write.

While a proud Nebraska Democrat to the core, I have never and will never refrain from commenting when my party's actions fail to live up to my ideals. Hell, if I care about my party, I see it as my duty to speak-out specifically on those occasions. That's why I now must address a story that came out this weekend about two fellow Democrats buying potential domain names for websites Republican candidates are likely to desire for their own.

The Lincoln Journal-Star reports:
Everything is for sale in cyberspace, but Tony Ojeda, a candidate for the Legislature, figured there were some lines people wouldn’t cross. Then somebody bought a Web address he planned to use in his campaign: Ojeda got a little angry. Then he found out who bought it: Ryan Renner. And Ojeda’s lid blew off.

Renner is president of the University of Nebraska at Omaha College Democrats.

“This is very underhanded,” said Ojeda, a Republican running for the seat in District 30, which covers Gage County and the southern half of Lancaster County....

Renner confirmed he bought but declined to comment further.

But others in his party say Ojeda reeks of sour grapes. Snatching up name-based Web addresses has become a favorite game of political operatives with both major parties.

To date, though, Nebraska politicos haven’t used the trick much, if at all. Then a higher-up in the state Democratic Party added it to his regular battle arsenal.

Earlier this year, Heath Mello went on an Internet buying spree, picking up Web addresses containing the names of some of the state’s most well-known Republican politicians and candidates.

He is the owner of,,, and, referring to U.S. Senate candidate David Kramer, a Republican.

Mello, deputy director of the state Democratic Party, pocketed another Web address he thinks might come in handy:

That could someday lead surfers to a site criticizing U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, a Republican who represents the 1st District.

Mello says he, not the party, bought the addresses for about $10 each. But not as a “low-ball tactic,” he said.

“It’s a strategy to get the other side to think harder about marketing their Web sites,” Mello said.

“For tech-savvy operations around the country, it’s what people are doing — both Republicans and Democrats.”

Asked if he would sell some of the addresses to their namesakes, Mello said he’d be willing to negotiate.

Neither Mello nor Barry Rubin, executive director of the state Democratic Party, could recall instances where Nebraska Republicans bought addresses containing the names of Democrats.

Rubin said he has witnessed Republican name-snatching in other states. “Republicans started it,” he said.

Rubin’s counterpart in the state Republican Party, Jessica Moenning, scolded the Democrats and said she was confident nobody on her staff had used the tactic.

“It sounds like the Democrats are gearing up for a dirty campaign season,” she said.

Don't get me wrong - this isn't that big of a deal. Anyone who tries to make a big deal about buying up some domain names is pretty damn desperate to make a big deal about something, likely anything to get their name in the paper with a few partisan shots.

But, the guiding question when evaluating a strategy like this is: who does it serve? Does this really serve the interests of the public? Does this really help voters make informed decisions while reflecting the values we want to put forward?

No. I don't think so. A tactic such as this isn't so much under-handed as it is petty. I think it's beneath the Democratic Party I believe in. I don't like gimmicks. I don't like tricks. We are going to win or lose - live or die - on ISSUES ISSUES ISSUES. When you're running a campaign or building a party on issues, I think (I hope) you'll realize this isn't a game and shouldn't be played like one. We either uphold our values or they don't exist.

I don't mean to sit in judgment on Mello and Renner. They're just playing the game the way that it is played. From that perspective, they should probably be congratulated for their innovative strategy, but I'm bothered enough by this "innovation's" dragging us further down the road of making total mockery of true democracy and honest debate, playing into the worst cynicism of the American voter, that I can't condone it.

But I'm just one man - one man with an opinion. The Democratic Party has to do what it has to do. Yes, the Republicans would have engaged in this tactic. I'm certain that they soon will. Their actions in the Lincoln City Council races were far more despicable and repulsive. But, how can we make an issue of their tactics when we prove so willing to travel down the same road. Yes, we can continue to lower the bar in this sad game of the limbo that politics have become - Jack be nimble, Jack be quick - but remember this bit of advice from a little green man named Yoda: "Once you travel down the dark path, forever shall it control your destiny."

So long as we walk this road, we will lose (says a guy who just quoted Star Wars as a basis for his philosophy). John Kerry didn't take such a hit from the Swiftboat Veterans because he wasn't doing the same thing to Bush. He took such a hit because he couldn't stand up with integrity, look the American people in the eye, and denounce these stooges and their Republican masters for SINKING SO LOW because so many of his own people would have done the exact same thing.

In this world, you are either part of the solution or part of the problem. Yes, negative campaigning works, but it works because voters don't expect anything more and we have no credibility telling them they should.
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On a side note - Mello's bit about encouraging the other side to think harder about marketing - that's one of the most ridiculous and perhaps genius bits of positioning I've ever heard. If that doesn't bring a knowing smile to your face (with maybe just a hint of sadness), you must live a joyless existence.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the story, it is nice to know I am not the only one disgusted by his childish behavior.


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