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May 29, 2006

The Coming Internet Revolution in American Politics

Is the Internet going to select the next President?  Bob Schieffer noted on the "Charlie Rose Show" that successful presidents have all skillfully made use of the dominant medium of their times.  He cites the Founders who were eloquent writers in the age of pamphleteering, FDR using radio masterfully during the Great Depression, and JFK's use of television during his campaign and after his election.  So, Schieffer suggests that the 2008 election will be won by whichever candidate catches fire on the Internet.  Jonathan Alter, writing about Schieffer's point in Newsweek says,

Last time, Howard Dean and later John Kerry showed that the whole idea of "early money" is now obsolete in presidential politics. The Internet lets candidates who catch fire raise millions in small donations practically overnight. That's why all the talk of Hillary Clinton's "war chest" making her the front runner for 2008 is the most hackneyed punditry around. Money from wealthy donors remains the essential ingredient in most state and local campaigns, but "free media" shapes the outcome of presidential races, and the Internet is the freest media of all.   

Alter goes on to suggest a few other changes the rise of the Internet is likely to bring.  He thinks "the longtime stranglehold of media consultants may be over" since candidates have the ability to allow anyone who has an idea to get it out on the Internet and then see which ones work. Hey, that's what MoveOn did prior to the last election when they had us all reviewing and voting on the best ads to put out there and the last few ads were stupendous.  Alter also notes that the Internet may redesign even how candidates are selected.  He calls this open-source politics and cites a new bipartisan group which is opening shop at Unity08.com this week.  These folks, three former campaign consultants and media experts, are looking to establish an "American Idol"-type bipartisan nomination process.  He has more:

The Unity08 plan is for an online third-party convention in mid-2008, following the early primaries. Any registered voter could be a delegate; their identities would be confirmed by cross-referencing with voter registration rolls (which would also prevent people from casting more than one ballot). That would likely include a much larger number than the few thousand primary voters who all but nominate the major party candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire. This virtual process will vote on a centrist platform and nominate a bipartisan ticket. The idea is that even if the third-party nominee didn't win, he would wield serious power in the '08 election, which will likely be close.

Now, I'm pretty wedded to the Democratic Party and have staked my energy and efforts into dragging the Party into the modern age so I'm a bit dubious about a third party.  But perhaps a kick in the shins would be useful.  Here's how he ends:

But funny things happen in election years. With an issue as eye-glazing as the deficit, a wacky, jug-eared Texan named Ross Perot received 19 percent of the vote in 1992 and 7 percent in 1996. He did it with "Larry King Live" and an 800 number. In a country where more than 40 percent of voters now self-identify as independents, it's no longer a question of whether the Internet will revolutionize American politics, but when.

Hat tip to Howie Martin.

Posted by Lynn Allen on May 29, 2006 at 11:01 AM in Media | Permalink


The only thing I don't like about the idea is the use of the American Idol reference, but all in all, it is pretty sound. With more Americans either not voting, not participating in the process by volunteering or working on campaings, and not identifying with either party, this is a really good idea.

Posted by: Emmett O'Connell | May 29, 2006 2:52:19 PM


Yes, I totally understand. And, of course, I was thinking about you and your plan for citizen writing of legislation as I wrote this.

When one realizes that regional blogs have really only been around in any significant number for the last year and a half, and podcasting for maybe six months, it's going to be an amazing period of time.

Posted by: Lynn | May 29, 2006 2:59:46 PM

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