Block that kick

by Ted on February 14, 2006

Steve Benen at the Carpetbagger Report passes on a story about public financing of advertising and PR campaigns. In the past two and a half years, the federal government has spent $1.6 billion on it. While that’s a drop in the federal bucket, it’s enough money to get excited about.

It’s framed by Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman as if it the Bush Administration was spending over a billion dollars of public funds to promote his agenda. Steve is right to highlight cases in which this has, in fact, happened. But if you read the report (.pdf), it’s pretty hard to defend that characterization for the large majority of the money. Most of the money is spent by non-partisan government agencies- the military, the Census, the DEA, lots of things. Quite a lot of it is unobjectionable. The military really does need to buy advertisements to recruit soldiers. The NIH really should be promoting heart disease awareness. Some of these agencies exist just to create and promote public awareness campaigns about things like breastfeeding or child safety seats. And so on.

That doesn’t make it bulletproof, of course. Quite a lot of it is surely a waste of taxpayer’s money, like the $55 million the Bureau of Engraving and Printing spent promoting the new currency. It has the potential to be an enormous patronage machine. And, we’ve seen that some of it has been used inapproriately for partisan campaigning. But we’re not looking at $1.6 billion for An Army of Armstrongs. (ahem)

My first response was “This is why good people turn libertarian.” Upon reflection, that’s my second response, too.

P.S. I’ve spent a fair amount of time on government websites recently. Did you ever notice how many have a “For Kids” section? I really hope that there’s some teacher, somewhere, getting some use out of Energy Ant.

P.P.S. I’ve just defended the Bush Administration from a Democratic attack, and pushed for spending discipline. Why won’t the right reach out and engage a moderate like me? What I’ve noticed, over and over, is that the bloggers on the left link to you when they agree and ignore the disagreements, and the bloggers on the right link only for the things they disagree with, to denounce you with short posts saying you’re evil/stupid/crazy, and don’t even seem to notice all the times you’ve written posts that take their side. Why is this happening? I find it terribly, terribly sad, and in no way transparently self-serving.

WHAT’S MORE: The point of that last paragraph isn’t necessarily obvious if you don’t already live inside my head, which relatively few people do.

To be more straightforward, I’m not at all irritated with any lack of approving links from right-of-center bloggers. I think that’s just the way of the world. Rather, I’m poking fun at Professor Althouse and the alleluia chorus surrounding the post that I’ve linked to in the last sentence. It seems to me that Althouse is starting with the assumption that, since she is at the center of political discourse, any asymmetrical treatment that she recieves from the right and left blogosphere must be due to the personality and intellectual flaws of liberals. I think that the asymmetrical treatment is better explained by the perception that she’s a moderate conservative, and I’d point to her self-placement in the Conservative Blog Advertising Network and her pleasure at being named a Conservative Blog Diva, and her own asymmetrical concern about national security leaks, as evidence.

This is not to minimize the pleasure of the links from right-of-center blogs, which I do greatly appreciate.

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Tim Worstall
02.15.06 at 9:34 am



Brendan 02.14.06 at 5:43 pm

But the nastiest of all are those who were once of the Left and have now turned Right: Harry’s Place, Nick Cohen, Hitchens et al. They have all the moral self-righteousness of the left, with new, added, vicious belligerence and sneering intolerance courtesy of the Right.


Sven 02.14.06 at 5:54 pm

Most of the money is spent by non-partisan government agencies

True, that. On the other hand, some of that “non-partisan” messaging is quite political. Remember “I’m Karen Ryan reporting?”


Ted 02.14.06 at 6:06 pm


Sure, I remember that, and the Administration deserved to be embarassed about it. Similar, if less egregious, things happened when the Administration had the Social Security and Medicare administrations shilling for privitazation and the Republican Medicare drug bill. These are all very bad things, and they should be sharply criticized without insinuating that the Bush Administration is spending $1.6 billion on them.


lj 02.14.06 at 6:22 pm

Gotta See This:
A Birdshot Pellet Has Migrated to The Heart of The Man Shot by Dick Cheney,2933,184846,00.html


Sven 02.14.06 at 6:31 pm

No argument there; it’s rather ironic to use hyperbole in criticizing propaganda.

I’m just saying that the line can be blurry, and also that a lot of these things go under the radar.

There’s also something unusual going on when, for example, Ketchum Communications’ contract jumps from $1.7 million in 1999 to $59 million in ’04.


M. Gordon 02.14.06 at 6:34 pm

Quite a lot of it is surely a waste of taxpayer’s money, like the $55 million the Bureau of Engraving and Printing spent promoting the new currency.

Paper currency and coinage is only useful if people trust it and believe that it will be accepted universally, so introducing a new form of currency requires a lot of advertising, to make people accept it as a ‘brand name’. Witness the multiple attempts by the government to bring us up to standard with the rest of the free world by introducing dollar coins, only to have them essentially rejected by the public who was unfamiliar with them and didn’t like them, so didn’t use them. I think advertising new currencies is very important to getting them accepted. I don’t see how you could consider it a waste.


Barry 02.14.06 at 6:40 pm

Ted: “Why won’t the right reach out and engage a moderate like me?”

Ted, because once an American-Hating Dhimmicrat, always an American-Hating Dhimmicrat :)


KCinDC 02.14.06 at 6:41 pm

M. Gordon, I think the acceptance of new bills has more to do with not having a choice (that’s what the teller machine gives you now) than with marketing, though certainly there needs to be some effort to inform the public of the change. After all, despite the marketing of the Sacagawea dollar coin, it doesn’t seem to be doing much better than the Anthony dollar did.


radek 02.14.06 at 6:56 pm

“only to have them essentially rejected by the public who was unfamiliar with them and didn’t like them, so didn’t use them”

This has already been discussed and it was shown that the public’s reluctance to hold one dollar coins is not due to lack of familiarity but rather due to the inherent suckiness of coins and only no good Europeans would belittle themselves by carrying such clunky mediums of exchange of such a prestigious denomination. Might as well barter.


Anderson 02.14.06 at 7:16 pm

But Ted, spending discipline is a pre-9/11 worldview.


Stephen 02.14.06 at 7:17 pm

You know, I used to be a “far right” conservative, and have swung to the Libertarian side b/c I’m tired of paying taxes for it to be wasted. I thought the Republicans were supposed to be in favor of saving money and limiting government? It just makes me sad… then very angry!

Good post.


Jonathan 02.14.06 at 7:27 pm

Interestingly enough, Vodkapundit writes the same thing about the other side.

“Look. I know my readership skews Conservative/Republican in the same way that Hubert Humphrey was just slightly to the left of your average Bircher. Then again, it’s not like VodkaPundit is some Johnny-come-lately blog that no one has ever read. When I’ve attacked the Democrats (far worse than I’ve done tonight), those posts have been linked and ridiculed all over the Left side of the blogosphere. When I’ve attacked Republicans, including the linked posts above, then the Right blogosphere has taken my lunch money. But the Republicans have also been here when I was on their side.

Where have the Democrats been?”


md 02.14.06 at 7:31 pm

Clinton ordered all government agencies to have a kids’ section. There’s an article mentioning it at MIT’s Technology Review.


Tom Scudder 02.14.06 at 7:32 pm

I can’t believe you didn’t link to this government “for kids” site.


Tom T. 02.14.06 at 7:57 pm

An entire post on public money to advertising firms — without mentioning Canada? These expenditures have the potential to be a lot more than patronage.

As for kids’ sites, don’t miss the NSA’s CryptoKids. One can only imagine: “Hey, kids! Does Santa Claus see you when you’re sleeping and know when you’re awake? Well, here’s your chance to spy right back on him!”


Hei Lun Chan 02.14.06 at 8:50 pm

Why won’t the right reach out and engage a moderate like me?

Maybe because the right bloggers aren’t psychic and don’t know you posted this yet? Shouldn’t you wait at least a day first before condemning people for the lack of response, if there really is a lack of response?


Milhouse 02.14.06 at 9:00 pm

Oddly enough, Anne Althouse has had exactly the opposite experience


Tim R 02.14.06 at 9:18 pm

Christ, it’s no wonder that Democrats don’t controll this country. Seriopusly, don’t let the details get in the way of good politics. Pick the worst and most objectionable part of this, and run with it as if every last dime is as dirty. The Republicans are not honest people, they deserve to suffer under their own techniques


Matt Weiner 02.14.06 at 10:05 pm

16 etc.: Click the link in the last paragraph.


Jim Harper 02.14.06 at 10:23 pm

Please forgive the promotion of a Web site I run, but it might be interesting to people interested in tracking government spending: reports the cost of bills pending in Congress using government figures. A recent release points out the Fiscal Year 2007 Budget calls for spending enough to buy a new Buick for every family in the U.S.


topsecretk9 02.14.06 at 10:29 pm

Okay, so I am a rightwinger here to applaud and engage you.

You raise a very, very good point you know. However, I would point out that web-content on Gov’t sites is a far better way to spend gov’t ad dollars then more traditional…like big tv commercial budgets with big ad buys. Internet content? Once it’s done, it’s done…hosting for pennies.

In fact, I prefer the govt go to strictly collateral print –like brochures in medical offices etc. and primarily web-internet based.

And so the whole ad council “don’t drink and do drugs”? What a huge waste of money. Hello, here in CA we have red ribbon week in schools (I’m assuming state sponsored) and so then we’re all lectured to by our 6 years olds, how evil we are when we pop a beer at the end of the night.

Anyhow, I wish the govt, mostly at a state level would embrace some sort of citizen panel comprised of qualified specialized professionals that could start identifying waste, like a real dang business would, and implementing the recommendations.

The problem would be the implementation of course.


Justin 02.14.06 at 11:05 pm

Ann Althouse has had that experience because she’s a conservative, duh.


the cubist 02.14.06 at 11:12 pm

tim r, (re #18)
I know just how you feel. I’m a seriopuss myself, sometimes.


BadTux 02.15.06 at 1:13 am

Well, it’s not just liberals that the Bushbots always blast. It’s also “traditional” conservatives like Pat Buchanan, who they either ignore as best they can, or blast as “anti-Semitic”, “anti-Muslim” (???), “anti-Mexican”, heck, probably “anti-apple-pie”. And isolationist too, to boot! And probably a closet liberal!

Let’s face it, the Busheviks, with their Trotskyite roots in the neo-conservative movement, don’t care about facts. They care about winning at any cost. And if that requires getting together and holding a circle jerk to bury the truth under so much jizzum that people turn away in disgust before the truth can be seen through all the slime, well, that’s what they’ll do. They’ll circle jerk away, yanking each other’s knobs until those nasty “facts” are flooded away.

– Badtux the Nasty Penguin


JDC 02.15.06 at 1:44 am

Sheesh Ted. This little in joke seems to go over the heads of many commenters. Maybe you should have linked to Altmouse?


Synova 02.15.06 at 2:34 am

#24 You forgot to mention all the times the Bushbots blast Bush.

Besides which… are people not supposed to blast people on their “own” side? Is lock-step somehow required? We’re not allowed to notice that Buchanan is isolationist and protectionist?

Althouse, btw, isn’t all that conservative. Other than failing to hate Bush, how does she qualify as conservative?

How does Stephan Green qualify as conservative other than by his failure to hate Bush?

Maybe we’d all be better off if more people tried harder to promote links to positive posts like this one. Cross-polination can only be a *good* thing, right?


Synova 02.15.06 at 2:41 am

And, hey, look at that! Glenn Reynolds linked you too!


Sailorette 02.15.06 at 4:10 am

M. G.–

The main reason Americans don’t use our dollar coins is because they suck. (the coins, that is)
I’ve been in Japan for the past year and their 500 yen coins– about $5– is smaller than the Susan B or the Skj. coins. I’ve had better than twenty bucks worth of coins in my pocket without trouble.

Also, none of the US vending machines take dollar coins. Japan’s machines– I’m going to convert into US equivilants– take $10 bills, $5 coins and all the way down to 10 yen coins. (They also have vending machines for all sorts of stuff, but that’s neither here nor there.)

Why on earth would someone pack coins that are never given as change unless you ask, that don’t spend any better than paper and are heavy SOBs?


Robert 02.15.06 at 5:45 am

Well, I’m glad you took this principled stand. Consider yourself linked.


Tom Grey - Liberty Dad 02.15.06 at 5:52 am

Keep up the good work of defending Reps from bad Dem criticism — and maybe add some good criticism of the Reps. Like too many earmarks; not enough use of the Internet to have the full text of every bill submitted available to all voters.

Of course, to really the Reps on an issue, one must have some alternative in mind. No matter how bad the US is acting in Iraq, unless a better course of action is offered, it’s unlikely to be chosen. Offering alternatives has long been the Dem weakpoint.

Wait, I remember. Higher taxes! Punish the successful business folk, the ones creating private jobs — and then use the money as pork to create make-work jobs or other projects.

Yet I don’t see many “green” Dems calling for the Dem leadership to increase gas taxes.


Rene d' Cart 02.15.06 at 6:11 am

Johnathan (Comment 12)

Good call! I thought I’d just seen Crooked Timber’s same words elsewhere contrapunctually. Just couldn’t remember where, since at the time I was joining VodkaPundit in a adult beverage and things got out of hand.
Most independents, myself included, are really libs or conservatives, so the bias shines through, as in the (probably unintentional) rework of Vodkapundit’s words. What we can agree on is what the committed supporters of both Parties can’t (and Sieg Heil to both sides…) becuase their issue is who gets all the loot and F+++ the state of the union… so we who do care are ultimately repelled by the wretched, immoral, corrupt, abusive, stinking conduct of our former Parties. Did I mention corrupt?


Cybrludite 02.15.06 at 7:17 am


At least Badtux is bashing the Bolshies. (Oooh! Aliteration!) This croggles me as much as the right cutting Buchanan off at the knees does Badtux. ;-) I’m plenty willing to give Ted props for fairness on this issue. Of course, only so many hours in a day, and even fewer of them with internet access since the hurricane, so I wouldn’t have known about it to be able to comment had one of those Evil Neocons In Their Circle-Jerk(tm) (You kiss your momma with that mouth, boy?) not brought it to my attention.


edgr 02.15.06 at 7:50 am

In Australia, the state of Victoria has spent nearly $100 million on ads promoting its achievements (there is an election less than a year away). Whilst they aren’t pushing a political side, they are basically saying, “look how good the incumbent is, we’ve done all this great stuff.”

That’s $100 million in a state of around 4.5 million people, and its pure propaganda.


aaron 02.15.06 at 7:57 am

I think it’s a common political tactic to create a public partisan debate and then power broker away the money while were bickering.


MarkD 02.15.06 at 8:21 am

As a thinking human being, I don’t agree with all the positions of any political party. I vote for those who will harm me and mine least. I will listen to anyone’s ideas, critically. The attack/evade political discourse is a total turn off.


esposito 02.15.06 at 8:38 am

All I can say is that for 1.6 billion dollars, that Batman fights Al-Qaeda comic better be fucking awesome.


Matt Weiner 02.15.06 at 9:06 am

are people not supposed to blast people on their “own” side?

Ask Cheney.

(Yeah, that was like shooting fish in a barrel, or farm-raised quail in a private ranch, or…)


Michael Couvillion 02.15.06 at 9:08 am

I’ve come across links to your site many times in the largely libertarian and conservative bloglist I read every day, and only ever for positive reason. In fact I can remember ever seeing your site linked for negative reasons by anyone.


mikmik 02.15.06 at 9:27 am

It is more along the lines of integrity. There are no ‘teams’ if you are principled, and you don’t care about who links to you if you are worried about principles. You are focussed on what is right, not what it is called.

Conversely, if you are worried about names, labelling, lazy type thinking, impressing others is important to you, and you get worried about shallow crap like ‘why is everybody always picking on me.’

It’s like this: I sure as hell don’t notice or recall any ‘leftist’ sites ever worrying about if they are accepted by anyone, left or right, because it is morals that count, now what label you hide behind. No science sites, skeptical and critical thinking sites, philosophy sites, etc., ever worry about who links to them. It is meaningless because you are who you are, and people who ‘get it’ will recognize others who’ve ‘got it’. They don’t need labels.

It is getting beyond ludicrous with all this pigeonholing. No two people in the world agree 100% on everything, no one person always even agrees 100% with the same ideas from one day to the next.

People who understand this don’t need labels to figure out what is going on.


Huggy 02.15.06 at 9:37 am

Ann Althouse a conservative? Ha ha ha …
You have got to be kidding.
She’s a sweetheart but calling her a moderate is streching it.


Dwight in IL 02.15.06 at 12:01 pm

What I’ve noticed, over and over, is that the bloggers on the left link to you when they agree and ignore the disagreements, and the bloggers on the right link only for the things they disagree with, to denounce you with short posts saying you’re evil/stupid/crazy, and don’t even seem to notice all the times you’ve written posts that take their side. Why is this happening?

I suspect that a good deal of what you’re seeing is the result of a natural segregation. The sheer size of the “blogosphere” forces readers to limit themselves to a relatively small circle of blogs. This means you only “get to know” a relatively small group of writers. You might read other blogs now and then, but the bulk of your time simply has to be spent among a relative handful.

I suspect that you’re “classified” as a left-of-center blog (many of your normal readers read mostly left-blogs). I think it’s natural that the circles that know and read you often will tend to link to you supportively. The “opposition”, on the other hand, will only notice you when you say something irritating or interesting enough to attract their attention.

By human nature, it’s easier to attract negative attention than positive. Thus, much of the time, the “opposition” will be linking to disagree. Ann experiences this as right-blogs linking to support and left-blogs linking to argue, and you experience the opposite.

This can be true even if you and Ann are pretty close politically. For example, if you spend more time fairly and reasonably criticizing the Bush administration and she spends more time fairly criticizing unfair critics of the administration, then your audiences will diverge naturally. More Bush supporters will become frequent readers at her place and more Bush opponents at yours.

Sorry for a long post, but I thought you (and she) were raising an interesting post.


Tim 02.15.06 at 4:09 pm

There is no such thing as government spending that is not political, after all it does not need to be spent. It just may not be partisan if both parties agree to it.


alex 02.15.06 at 7:13 pm

hah! ted’s pps has been proven utter wrong through instapundit’s and jane galt’s links!

nice try slamming althouse, ted, but you just proved that she is exactly right!


digamma 02.15.06 at 9:54 pm

The DEA may be non-partisan, but that’s only because the blatant (and quite offensive) political advocacy on which it spends our money happens to agree with the position of both major parties.


Peg 02.16.06 at 1:12 pm

Add me in as one more right-of-center voice who does appreciate ya, Ted!

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