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Good reads: Freedom of speech, YouTube cats, and campaign strategy

This week's good reads include deciphering what our forefathers meant by protection for free speech, one man's quest to find a feline Internet sensation, and the 'invention' of political consulting.

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How modern political campaigns began

A little trivia for the 2012 election season: The first political consulting firm in the world was Campaigns, Inc., founded by former journalists (and eventually husband and wife) Clem Whitaker and Leone Baxter in 1933. And the influence of Mr. Whitaker and Ms. Baxter, Jill Lepore writes in the New Yorker, is still being felt today.

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Europe Editor

Arthur Bright is the Europe Editor at The Christian Science Monitor.  He has worked for the Monitor in various capacities since 2004, including as the Online News Editor and a regular contributor to the Monitor's Terrorism & Security blog.  He is also a licensed Massachusetts attorney.

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“No single development has altered the workings of American democracy in the last century so much as political consulting, an industry unknown before Campaigns, Inc. In the middle decades of the twentieth century, political consultants replaced party bosses as the wielders of political power gained not by votes but by money. Whitaker and Baxter were the first people to make politics a business. ‘Every voter, a consumer’ was the mantra of a latter-day consulting firm, but that idea came from Campaigns, Inc.“

“Whitaker and Baxter weren’t just inventing new techniques; they were writing a rule book. Never lobby; woo voters instead. ‘Our conception of practical politics is that if you have a sound enough case to convince the folks back home, you don’t have to buttonhole the Senator,’ Baxter explained. Make it personal: candidates are easier to sell than issues. If your position doesn’t have an opposition, or if your candidate doesn’t have an opponent, invent one.”

Epicenter of those online felines

If the Internet has an animal mascot, it is the cat.  And of the many, many cats prowling the web – in videos, in photos, even on Twitter – the most famous is almost certainly Maru, a box-loving Scottish Fold who lives somewhere in Japan.  Unfortunately, as Gideon Lewis-Kraus discovered when trying to schedule an interview with the feline YouTube star for Wired Magazine, Maru is also a recluse.

“I will never get to pet Maru, and neither will you,” Mr. Lewis-Kraus writes. “Maru’s supervisory documentarian is named Mugumogu, but beyond that fact, hardly anything is known about her. When I write Maru’s US book publicist—you read that right—it turns out that she knows no more than you or I. The publicist loops in Maru’s US book editor, who offers to pass along some interview questions to Mugumogu’s Japanese agent, who could have them translated, answered, and sent back. But I have no questions for the human being called Mugumogu. My interest lies entirely with the cat.”

Though the writer is unable to meet Maru, who has more than 168 million views on YouTube, he still provides an entertaining tour of the “Online Cat-Industrial Complex,” a phenomenon based largely in Japan. And while Maru goes uninterviewed, Lewis-Kraus talks to a satisfactory substitute: the Musashis, “once one of the most important cat bands on the Internet.” 

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