My dad sent me an email this morning, with this Newsweek article attached. I fired off a response.
Then I realized that it was precisely the kind of thing I used to post here, back when I had the time to do so. Since I apparently had the time in this instance, but put it to different use, I might as well take advantage, right?
I've re-posted my email response below. Please note that I have not re-read any of it, so it might not actually make any sense. Enjoy!
In think Alter overstates the case significantly. The people who are using the internet for politics are, by in large, wackos. There's a small community of reasonable people (who on both sides of the aisle are ripping into Unity08 at the moment), and a bunch of lunatics that you don't really want representing you (either in the real or ethereal world).
It's going to be at least another presidential election cycle before we see the internet really start to play an active role in presidential/general candidate selection.
In fact, his correct assertion that the early adopters will be successful if they can figure out the medium takes away from the candidate selection idea. To this point, when netroots communities have picked candidates, those candidates have done extraordinarily poorly. DailyKos, for example, the largest political blog community in existence, regularly chooses candidates in major federal and statewide races.
So far their candidates have lost 19 out of 19 general elections. One of them won a primary. That's not a terribly impressive record.
The biggest problem is that these communities develop into substantial echo chambers. DailyKos is a liberal site, the members of which have convinced themselves that everyone in the country thinks like they do. They consistently support the most liberal candidate they can find. The primary they won (which was this week) was a liberal challenger to a fairly moderate Democrat in a moderate district--he's going to get trounced in the general whereas the other guy might have defeated the Republican incumbent.
The early adopters of this type of organizing aren't doing very well. However, other forms of internet organization are incredibly useful--after the candidate has been selected.
Tan is a great example. I got on his email list, and got regular, weekly updates about his campaign. He wasn't asking for money (too many candidate emails focus only on the money and people delete them without taking an interest), but instead he made you feel like he himself was sending you an email to update you on his progress. It was incredibly inclusive, and worked to make you feel like you were a part of something. I have little doubt that he got a lot of volunteers and that these emails helped his turnout. [ed: "Tan" refers to Tan Parker, a mutual acquaintance of my father and me, who recently ran in a very tough Republican primary for the Texas State House of Representatives. He ran a very positive, strong campaign against an opponent who thought nothing of harsh personal attacks. He stuck to his record and his political philosophy the entire time—and won.]
Other candidates have turned to blogging (and bloggers) to help communicate their positions. While this scares the heck out of some politicians, those who've done so effectively have lent themselves a new credibility based on their openness. Tom Coburn is a great example. He's always been a pretty honest guy--got into the house, said he's only stay for two terms, retired to run for the Senate after two terms. And he likely would have been against all the pork that's going on anyway. But he's been wielding the internet like a sword. Swarming bloggers to any Senator who defends pork, publishing some of the ridiculous behavior he sees, fisking [ed: sorry if it's insulting for me to link to the definition—I'm pretty sure my dad needed me to] people like Tom Delay when they claim that all the pork that can be cut has been cut.
These guys get it. They understand that, as with Kennedy and TV, it's really only a conversational medium. Maybe someday we'll see online conventions and the like--but I doubt it. Politics is a spectacle, and as much as some people hate it they are drawn to it.
Why have an online convention when you can have a real convention, simultaneously webcast and liveblogged? Why move the methods to a new medium when you can keep it in the old and augment it with the new?
Sorry, guess I had more to say than I thought. The above was written through in one draft and not re-read, so I apologize if it rambles or fails in logical flow.
Friday, June 09, 2006