Op-Eds Speaking Truth to the Powers-That-Be
That you are reading these words on the Huffington Post is part of the biggest game-changer in politics: The Internet.
Last year, my son had to come up with a political cartoon for school that encapsulated the primary races under way. It was brilliant, because it summed up how the campaigns communicated to their respective bases.
The first frame was a drawing of a computer laptop with Obama’s logo on the screen; In frame two was a television set with a Hillary ’08 logo on the screen; In frame three was a pair of stone tablets resembling the Ten Commandments with McCain scrawled across them.
How people feel about the election is largely dependent upon where they source their information. Talk to a former Hillary voter listening to the television news, and the race is a dead heat. A McCain voter regurgitates pretty much whatever Fox News or Rush Limbaugh deliver as their gospel. The online reader is running circles around both of them.
Obama’s victory in the primaries, and his phenomenal performance in the general election run-up can be attributed in part to the energy pouring across the Internet from the contributions of time, money and information by millions of Americans.
The web surfer of news is highly mobile and curious. They want to piece together bits of information, from an article in the New York Times to last Saturday’s Palin slam on Saturday Night Live, and come up with their own take on the campaign. They can sit on the HuffPo and read five different sources, and watch video recaps with different perspectives, at the same time.
They find nuances that the mainstream media misses. How many media outlets, for example, caught McCain’s proposal for the new league of democracies that would cut out superpowers Russia and China?
Where the media drops the ball, the blogosphere hits it out of the park.
The Internet allows, for the first time in more than twenty-five years, a response by the more scattered general public to the unified force of the religious right.
The first Obama-McCain debate was a test of how these forces are reshaping the current political landscape. The spin cycle of the television pundits was calling the contest a “tie.” Many, looking for old-school theatrics, gave McCain the edge.
On the Internet, though, the forces of change were talking. On a level playing field such as the Huffington Post, former secretary of state Madeline Albright, screenwriter Nora Ephron and singer Sheryl Crow weigh in on the news of the day, alongside pundits like Ariana Huffington, and two-bit bloggers like me.
The Greek ideal of true democracy may be unattainable, because direct representation is too time consuming and impractical. If we had to vote on every traffic light, we’d never leave the house.
The Internet allows for a whole new access to democracy for the average citizen, though. The Obama campaign is using it as a means of shaping their campaign from the bottom up. If he carries it beyond the election, he may become the first President in U.S. history to be able to get real participation from of the American people in their government by harnessing the web to weave new coalitions, and bring people together to solve problems.
The first Obama-McCain debate was a bellwether. When the TV spinners hit the ground running with their post-debate commentary, giving McCain the edge because he had the most negative sound bites, the bloggers and the instant polling of the web painted a different picture.
Obama came out on top, soundly in the first CBS News instant poll.
All of the nit-picking about Obama agreeing with McCain evaporated from the TV news cycle.
The audience had spoken, and television’s punditry listened.
This is the beginning of a change that will bring to an end, now or within a few years, of the Big Red State Hype Machine.
For the last twenty-nine years, we have endured the steady march of Reagan’s religious Republicans, a BORG-like force that has shattered regulation, bent the rules of civil conduct in the Congress, and run roughshod over the law and the Constitution of the United States.
If you look back at the path of destruction, why did far more reasonable men like Al Gore fail?
The GOP was better organized and motivated, with many of its most active campaigners moved by religious fervor to reshape the United States into a Christian nation molded in their own image.
The followers of Falwell, the minions of the Moral Majority, were an already pliant group used to taking their cues on faith and society from the televangelists. Falwell turned them on to the Republican party, and guys like Carl Rove channeled their energy, and their habit of taking information without questioning it much, to the advantage of his boss, ol’ W.
Without losing their tax breaks, the Robertsons of the religious right managed to persuade their large audiences of the faithful that the Republican party best represented their values. To keep them in place, the party has twisted, manipulated, and in some cases, like the invasion of Iraq, outright lied to the American people. Yet the machine endures.
The television news has been hamstrung by corporate takeovers and its transition from news with a bit of entertainment to entertainment with a bit of news. Anderson Cooper may be Dan Rather in about twenty years, but right now he’s a lightweight.
It is sad when The Daily Show and the Colbert Report, comedy programs, or Keith Olbermann’sCountdown, which is news with a satiric spin, do more real journalism than CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN and Fox combined.
The Internet has allowed all of the people who don’t march in lockstep, the vast silent opposition, to be less silent, to network. They debunk their own news, have their own takes about what is true, and what is false.
They listen to the Brokaw and Olbermann and O’Reilly and make up their own minds. They offer opinions to anyone who will read, or listen to their YouTube rants (Leave Britney alone!!)
The affirming nature of total strangers communicating and sharing ideas over great distances creates a community where there was not one. It is a new kind of democracy that can stand toe-to-toe with the Republican hype machine that has been the little red engine that ground up Gore and positively killed Kerry.
The Internet allows the digital Beatles to lead the charge in their brightly colored tunics, driving the Blue Meanies out of Washington, D.C and the media. The O’Lie-lys are being buried in a sea of commentary that speaks truth to their distortions.
John McCain can run, but he cannot hide from the wrath of the blogosphere. The news cycle may eventually forget that he said that he would have the SEC Chairman fired, or that he was suspending his campaign to help with the bailout bill, only to spend the next 22 hours in New York and dining with the Liebermans.
We do not.
Out here in cyberspace, the big story hangs as long as people want to read: Days, weeks, months. Often the story is accompanied by commentary. “What was he thinking?” “How can I vote for this guy?”
Whomever wins, this election will be marked as much for the tectonic changes in the way it was communicated to the voters, as it was for the epic struggles to change nearly three decades of deregulation and divisive politics that have lead to the disastrous state of our Nation.
The Internet is the game changer, and it favors those who embrace the future.
Maybe it is time to get that Blackberry, John.