Friday, November 12, 2004

The Internet's Role Has Grown in U. S. Politics

The presidential election of 2004 was especially noteworthy because of two events that transpired in cyberspace.

In ordinary times, there is no possible way for the governor of a tiny, out-of-the-way state to mount a credible campaign for the nation’s top office. This is especially true when the state in question is Vermont.

Vermonters have proven just how different they are from other Americans by previously electing a crackpot as their governor and a second, even more-incredible crackpot (Bernie Sanders-I) as their lone representative in Congress. The aforesaid governor who ran as a 2004 presidential candidate is Howard Dean, a creature conjured from Green Mountain sap by the bloggers.

Howard Dean became the darling of left-wing bloggers and that is how his campaign got noticed. It did not take him long to become a known entity in all 50 states. And with his notoriety came a substantial number of campaign contributions. At the beginning of the race, Howard Dean was not only raising millions but he was outpacing all of his competitors. As important, the Internet became his avenue to the grass roots of the nation’s cities and suburbs.

The second Internet event came when Dan Rather announced that he had in his possession actual copies of the Dead Sea Scrolls typewritten in English and verified by handwriting expert Marcel Matley. (I’m sorry; make that George Bush’s service records.) This time, the right-wing bloggers came into play. They quickly realized that Dan’s document expert sounded a little too Vichy. In the space of a few hours, Memogate became the front page story in the blog world. The Drudge Report even put up its flashing light as if to say, "Extra! Extra! Read all about it!"

These two events suggest dramatic changes in future elections. First of all, Howard Dean challenged the hierarchy of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in a frightening way. I am sure that Terry McAuliffe wanted no part of the uncontrollable Vermonter leading the Democratic ticket. When Howard "I have a scream" Dean threw an inevitable tantrum in Iowa, the DNC made sure that its friends in the media covered the outburst in excess.

The second phenomenon has to do with the blogs challenging the franchise of the mainstream media (MSM). Although the campaigns and the 527’s spent record amounts for advertising, the impact of those ads was minimal-just a net of eight electors changed color from 2000. Had Sen. Kerry challenged the Swifties head-on instead of letting them run negative ads for a month, then the Swifties ads would have been nothing more than an annoyance. The blogs were much more effective than the MSM in cultivating partisans.

It is fair to say that CBS News endorsed John Kerry and that Fox News endorsed George Bush. As Memogate developed, CBS and Fox were always a day behind the blogs in the news cycle. The blogs forced the networks to cover this story on a fast track, a position which they were not comfortable with. Then on Election Day, the networks were ever-so-cautious in declaring a state. The blogs again kept the pressure on-they went for the scoop.

The 2008 election will be open to all comers. Obviously, Dick Cheney won’t run. This leaves the door wide open for a complete unknown to capture the New Hampshire primary and still have plenty of cash (and the organization) to campaign in other early primaries. The DNC and RNC will undoubtedly counter this renegade scenario by choosing their leaders early on. Sen. Hillary Clinton and Gov. Jeb Bush might be their respective draft picks. But will the renegades start their own parties if squeezed out by the majors?

Consider what we’ve just seen. That Howard Dean could even mount a national campaign defies the laws of politics. In the span of a few hours, Dan Rather and CBS News were totally humiliated by a blogger with the most unlikely of pen And George Soros spent millions of his own money for ads that produced no favorable results.

Make no mistake about it; the Internet will be the dynamic in 2008. As the grass roots turnout demonstrated this year, the Internet’s impact will only increase four years hence.