The Rube at YouTube

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The other night when I watched the Democratic presidential candidates participate in what they presumed to call a "debate," I wondered anew about the failure of one of my political coinages to catch on. The debate was sponsored by CNN and what is called YouTube, which is essentially an agglutination of home videos filmed for and by that preposterous mass of shut-ins who sit in their underwear day and night glued to the Internet. More than a dozen of these sad sacks filmed their mainly ignorant questions, and a CNN talking head then directed the inquiries to those Democrats who aspire to the responsibilities of a Roosevelt or a Kennedy. The questions bespoke the questioners’ gloom or indignation or narcissism or infantile stupidity, and occasionally all of the above. Not one of the questioners struck me as a normal American.

The "debate" brought to mind the 2004 presidential race, when the Democrats catered mainly to the kind of patheticos that now apparently gravitate to YouTube. Obviously, the Democrats will cater to them again. Now I am sure that there are millions of Democrats who are normal Americans: hardworking, cheerful, can-do types. When one of their greatest political leaders intoned his famous line about America only having "to fear fear itself," such Democrats  — and Republicans, too  — took heart and rolled up their sleeves, even in an economic depression.

Today we are living through almost three decades of hardly broken economic boom. The products we buy and often rely on would be considered by earlier Americans luxuries or miracles or both. Our health has never been better. Racism and intolerance are in decline. What was lamented 30 years ago as "the urban crisis" has been replaced by peaceful prosperous cities.

Yet there are still these sullen, angry, self-absorbed citizens carping with their Democratic presidential candidates, as though they were living in 1968. Not one candidate corrected them. Every one attempted to propitiate them. Some, for instance Sen. Hillary Clinton, just riled them up. Who are these misfits?

That brings me to my coinage of a few years back. In 2004, the Democratic presidential candidates were courting the same bellyachers. They seemed to comprise a core component of the Democratic electorate. I called them the "moron vote." For some reason the term did not catch on. Maybe it will this time.

The night of the Democratic "debate" one YouTubist appeared on-screen asking the following question (she was fully dressed): "If I can go out into any state and get the same triple-grande, nonfat, no-foam vanilla latte from Starbucks, why can’t I go to any state and vote the same way?" Now this YouTubist obviously is a sophisticate when it comes to ordering coffee. Yet I submit that when she votes, or for that matter when she pronounces on politics, she is a moron.

Another YouTubist appeared on his home video strumming a guitar and singing about the tax code. No hint of alcohol or prohibited substances was detectable. Then he asked the aspiring presidents whether "one of y’all" would arrange a pardon for his recent speeding violation. Another misfit asked whether the candidates would support paying reparations to the heirs of American slaves. All the candidates handled this question gingerly, and one actually agreed that his Treasury Department would pony up. Sen. Clinton was asked about her womanliness, and Sen. Barack Obama was asked whether he is "authentically black."

Recently in a Wall Street Journal symposium on blogging, Tom Wolfe observed that "one by one, Marshall McLuhan’s wackiest-seeming predictions come true. Forty years ago, he said that modern communications technology would turn the young into tribal primitives who pay attention not to objective ‘news’ reports but only to what the drums say."

"And there you have blogs," Wolfe continued. "The universe of blogs is a universe of rumors, and the tribe likes it that way."

With YouTube we have more than a universe of rumors. It is a universe of fears, angers, threats and megalomaniacal fantasies — and the tribe likes it that way. Or I should say the Democratic candidates like it that way. Not one objected to the indignity of the CNN-YouTube "debate." All hope to lead America in time of war.