The Blawgosphere Turns a Page (Finally!)

I’ve been consuming lots of analysis of Tuesday’s happenings. Thousands (tens of thousands) of words on implications of the election for the parties, the economy, corporate law; some amazing journalism (reminding you of the value of professional reporters) peeking behind the scenes of the campaign; and a bit about the Emanuel brothers. (Imagine the strength of the mother that handled that trio.)

The brilliance of the political blogosphere throws a harsh and unflattering light on the law professor blogosphere. I don’t mean to harp, but it is striking to me that almost all political commentary you’ve seen on law professor blogs this last 6 or 12 or 18 months has been ill-informed, or vapid, contentless, and much, much too meta. (Yes, I get the irony. Indulge me.)

I originally wrote a long post trying to make sense of why law professors, who aren’t stupid, have time on their hands, and are selected professionally for their ability to write, have done such a bad job adding value as political commentators. But then I recalled that silence is often the best thing to say.* Still, I’ve spent too much time not to boil down my conclusions, with the personal stuff left out: [1] innumeracy leading to fetishizing statistical significance; [2] a failure to adopt Web 2.0 technologies; [3] silo-ing expertise;** [4] not enough conservative law professors bloggers to argue with and learn from;*** and, most importantly, [5] bloggers drawing the wrong lesson from their students’ willingness to write down every word they say.

I’ll expand a bit on [5]. Not everything a professor says is interesting. When 40, 60, 100, or more students laugh at your jokes, I guess it becomes easy to forget. Generally, people add value by writing and talking about things they know something about. Thus, I agree with Leiter that Bill Henderson is one of the country’s best law professor bloggers. Most law professors have no personal experience with the innards of a modern political campaign (serving as an consultant on a committee about a substantive legal issue isn’t the same at all). We aren’t well positioned to know what commercial will appeal to lower-middle-class voters, or what song will inspire youth turnout. But we’ve blogged about it anyway.

In any event, as I’ve made clear in the past, I been pretty disappointed by the blawgosphere’s last six months. I hope that it’s behind us, and smell change is in the air. (The scent mixes the gravity of pounded sand and a freshness of a mountain glade.)

So . . . what’s next?


* Geek alert.

*** An example: Rick Hasen is tremendous, and it is great he’s on HuffPo, but it isolates him a bit from conservative law professors who believe that the right F/V ratio is <1. Those professors, in my view, are operating under a normatively undesirable assumption that lower, "better-informed" turnout is superior to higher turnout. They've mistakenly discounted the social utility of perceived legitimacy in ill-served subpopulations.

*** Notable exceptions include Kerr, Bainbridge, Volokh, and Garnett. I want to single out Orin for a second here in particular because Greenwald has libeled him. Orin has ably defended himself on the merits. And maybe Greenwald hasn’t really been reading Orin all that carefully, because I don’t see how you could conclude that OK is anything other than lucid, open-minded, and very pragmatic. Greenwald, by contrast, seems to be interested in maximizing his audience by slashing at people who disagree with him on the merits of a hard policy question. I guess it’s a living.

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10 Responses

  1. Orin Kerr says:

    Thanks for the ***, Dave.

    (That is, star footnote #3, not unprintable-word-with-three-letters.)

  2. Brett Bellmore says:

    That’s probably the clearest expression I’ve ever seen of the fundamental divide in attitudes towards voting: Voting as a decision making procedure, where uninformed voters are undesirable noise in the process, vs voting as a form of social validation, where it doesn’t matter if you walk in and fill out the ballot blindfolded.

    Put me on the first side of that divide.

  3. Scott Moss says:

    Durn… that’s a good cautionary note for those of us (like me) prone to spouting off on any old topic. Supporting what you say: when I wrote some op-eds in the past year on quasi-political legal topics, I ended up surprised how much research I had to do, even on topics I knew pretty wellm if I wanted to say anything that would be informed and 100% accurate. I might not have been as careful were it a blog post rather than an op-ed for print publication, though, which might say something about how we have to start treating blog posts we write more seriously as writing.

  4. Paul Horwitz says:

    Orin, what unprintable word has only three letters?

  5. Carol Cross says:

    The fundamental divide on the attitude toward voting was tested, huh! —so many voting for policies and change that they perceive to be their best interests! Even those “lower middle class citizens who are influenced by commercials” and beautiful rhetoric, but who were uninformed about the real issues as defined by the highly educated special interests, got out to vote! What a surprise! What a great noise they made!

    Congratulations to President Obama. “To each his own” and “to each his own knowledge of what serves his best interests.” This election was a demonstration that representative government in democratic republics may be possible when the populace is brought to understand how important it is to exercise the right to vote.

    I was shocked and pleasantly surprised to see the turnout on election day of young voters and people of color whom I had never seen before at our local Poll location.

    Where have these people been hiding? Did they just become of age to cast their votes or did they recently move into the neighborhood? Of course not! Millions of new voters were inspired by a message of hope and a vision of a better world — AND the opportunity to protest the ugly status quo of so much that is wrong in this country.

    So much of what is wrong has, unfortunately, been supported and made possible by the leadership of The American Bar Association. The ABA so often treats the law as “product” to be sold to the highest bidders –the corporate powers of our nation who increasingly encroach on the individual rights of citizens in the interests of greater profits and control for the corporations.

    It is my observation that law professors who live safely in the academic world always support the status quo of the law in the real world because they perceive this to be in their best interests. Law professors sell their academic expertise in the commercial world and thus even “opinion” becomes product that is sold in the market place.

    At least the law professors who blog share their expertise and knowledge and opinions for nothing and this is a public service.

  6. Carol Cross says:

    The fundamental divide on the attitude toward voting was tested, huh! —so many voting for policies and change that they perceive to be their best interests! Even those “lower middle class citizens who are influenced by commercials” and beautiful rhetoric, but who were uninformed about the real issues as defined by the highly educated special interests, got out to vote! What a surprise! What a great noise they made!

    Congratulations to President Obama. “To each his own” and “to each his own knowledge of what serves his best interests.” This election was a demonstration that representative government in democratic republics may be possible when the populace is brought to understand how important it is to exercise the right to vote.

    I was shocked and pleasantly surprised to see the turnout on election day of young voters and people of color whom I had never seen before at our local Poll location.

    Where have these people been hiding? Did they just become of age to cast their votes or did they recently move into the neighborhood? Of course not! Millions of new voters were inspired by a message of hope and a vision of a better world — AND the opportunity to protest the ugly status quo of so much that is wrong in this country.

    So much of what is wrong has, unfortunately, been supported and made possible by the leadership of The American Bar Association. The ABA so often treats the law as “product” to be sold to the highest bidders –the corporate powers of our nation who increasingly encroach on the individual rights of citizens in the interests of greater profits and control for the corporations.

    It is my observation that law professors who live safely in the academic world always support the status quo of the law in the real world because they perceive this to be in their best interests. Law professors sell their academic expertise in the commercial world and thus even “opinion” becomes product that is sold in the market place.

    At least the law professors who blog share their expertise and knowledge and opinions for nothing and this is a public service.

  7. Kevin says:

    I think this post makes two contestable assumptions:

    1) Blogging by law profs should be about subjects they have expertise on.

    2) If a more political dialogue begins, it can only be a “contribution” if both Democrats and Republicans are in dialogue.

    As for 1–law profs and academics in general read a lot and enjoy thinking about tough issues. Let their opinions be given free rein!

    As for 2–a lot of fruitful discussion happens within a community with shared norms. Let the liberal law profs support each other and refine their ideas among themselves. There’s a lot of work to be done within each “side” of cultural and economic issues in politics in talking within a common framework–rather than engaging with people of radically different values.

    Finally, it’s a bit ironic that a post criticizing the lack of substance in law prof political blogging fails to cite particular examples of that lack of substance. Reminds me a bit of the horrible law prof political blogger who fails to back up opinions on facts. . . . or gets too meta.

  8. dave hoffman says:

    Kevin,

    Yes, I acknowledge that point in the post. I value civility more than you, I guess, and that makes me just as vague as some of what I’m commenting about. Also, tactics matter. My goal was to provoke self-examination, and I think that being specific about particularly bad blogging might not be the best approach.

  9. I read posts from about 300 different blogs several times a week to cull material for Law.com’s Legal Blogwatch (www.legalblogwatch.typepad.com) To be honest, many law professor blogs are nothing more than referrer sources that pick out a piece of information with no value added commentary. The bloggers you identified (I would add Professor Bainbridge and Professor Berman) constantly offer great substance all the time. There may be a larger quantity of blogs these days, but the commentary is still wanting in quality.

  10. Quidpro says:

    Bravo, Professor Hoffman. As one who comes from a more conservative orientation, I recognize the benefits from visiting liberal blogs. Conversation with one’s political adversaries creates space for agreement and understanding and sharpens one’s own analysis.