I’ve found quite considerable interest in the election here in London and just spoke with an editor who said it is higher than he has ever seen it. Tie this with a recent Pew survey that found that 20 percent of people who followed the election online went to foreign sources. So it’s no surprise that we’re seeing incisive coverage of the election coming from over here. See, for example, Gary Younge’s column in the Guardian arguing that money is still king in our elections and wondering whether the internet can or would unseat that.
We have no idea yet what role the internet will play in next year’s presidential election. First, it is too early in the process. Second, the pace at which the medium is developing means that the campaigning tool of choice probably has not been invented yet. Back in 2003 it took Howard Dean six months to compile an email list of 139,000. But that was before networking sites such as MySpace. In less than two months Barack Obama has gathered more than 310,000 supporters on Facebook.com.
What is certain is that the internet will play a vital, possibly decisive, role; and in all likelihood that role will come into conflict with the established kingmakers. Neither trend is new. But the power of money and the modem are both driven by different and, arguably, contradictory forces. At some stage something will have to give. . . .
While these tensions may play out as a battle between left and right, or doves and hawks, they will in essence represent a far more fundamental shift in the relationship of the professional political class with the politically engaged public – a struggle between the popular and the oligarchic, between the bespoke message of the paid consultant and the chaos of freewheeling public opinion. Sadly, it won’t change the centrality of money in American politics – the internet is a crucial fundraising tool. But by enabling thousands of small donors to contribute, it has already proved its potential to provide an alternative funding base. . . .
We should have no illusions about who has the upper hand in this battle between big money and burgeoning activism. At a meeting in New York to support Hillary Clinton last week, organised through Meetup.com, the host told us that since Hillary had the votes of New Yorkers sewn up, all she really needed the town for was money. . . .
It suits the mythology of meritocracy that remains so central to American identity to have young children walking around in T-shirts saying “Future president of America”. But the truth is if your kid really does stand a chance at the top office, he’ll already be wearing more expensive attire. America’s class system is now more rigid than most in Europe, and that sclerosis is given full expression at the highest levels of politics. Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa, Chicago mayor Richard Daley and Southern Christian Leadership Conference head Martin Luther King all carry the names and job titles of their fathers. Each year the richest quarter per cent make 80% of all political donations. The last time there was not a Clinton or a Bush on the presidential ticket was 1976. This is not democracy, it is dynasty.
A brick at a time. A brick at a time.