The net’s voice in the election

I think the internet brought more change to the biorhythms of American politics in this election than the last, but in more subtle ways that we can only now begin to measure.

Start with this: Wouldn’t it be ironic if the netroots’ excommunication of Joe Lieberman led the Democrats to lose a seat and not quite get control of the Senate? It won’t matter much in reality, of course. Lieberman’s still a Democrat, whether some Democrats want him or not.

But there’s a lesson here for newly empowered popular movements and for political parties. It’s just not clear yet what that lesson is. Does the law of unintended consequences rule: A movement rose up to purge Lieberman from the party but ended up losing one for the party? Or does this demonstrate to party leaders that they can’t lose control of their parties? Can they still? The people and the power brokers have to figure out who’s on top.


YouTube allowed anyone with a camera to report on any candidate and so now any misstatement gains toxicity and speed; this is the true viral politics.

The speed of politics has changed, just as the speed of media did before it. Dan Rather couldn’t wait 11 days to correct his mistake. Allen and Kerry couldn’t wait hours to back off their media malaprops.

The voice of politics has changed, not just because the people can now be heard in our blogs but also because we can cut through the nonsense of media coverage with the no-nonsense attitude of comedy news. On YouTube, you can remix and mock any politician. Anyone can be Jon Stewart. Everyone can call bullshit. I hope we are starting to see the death of the dutiful voice of politics in America.

Yes, this was an incredibly ugly, TV-run election in many races (including our Senate race in New Jersey) but I believe that we will see an ever-declining influence of television and political advertising on TV in future elections. They will find new ways to get ugly in new media.

  • You have hit the nail right on the head, Jeff (you schmuck!).

    I wouldn’t say it is the “dutiful voice” of politics that is losing influence, but rather the self-appointed “responsible voice” whether liberal (like the media) or conservative (like the Republican party leadership supposedly is).

  • It’s clear, I think, that the typical dynamic of partisan websites does not help in the big wide world. Here’s what I mean: at a place like Daily Kos (or Free Republic or whatever), you make a splash and earn the approval of your fellow partisans by expressing the greatest form of disgust. It is no longer enough to say you’re moving to Canada if the Dems don’t win; now you have to mutter dark things about how the Rethuglican fascists have destroyed our democracy and a hot poker in the eyeballs wouldn’t be good enough for them. And tomorrow you’ll have to top that, especially since the world will not have fixed itself in a day and your outrage must, accordingly, be that much higher. (Interestingly, I think Islam has a bit of a same problem; so many mullahs competing for attention by issuing the boldest, nuttiest fatwa. If they had a Pope he’d rein them in, but they don’t.)

    So Lieberman isn’t merely out of step to the Kosites, he’s a traitor, Bush’s lapdog, blood-soaked Joe. Only that isn’t how the electorate sees things. If anybody won last night’s election, it was the middle; if anybody lost it, it was the extremes. Lamont lost, so did Santorum and Jim Ryun. Lieberman the prowar Democrat won and so, probably, did James Webb, the nativist pro-cracker Southern Reaganite Democrat. Affirmative action lost and so did a ban on abortion. Illinois elected Roskum and Bean a few miles apart.

    So the mechanisms that produce heated rhetoric at the blogs are in many ways counterproductive to the actual business of getting elected. Something tells me the blogs just got less influential last night, and the moderate middle a lot more influential.

  • We who spend a fair amount of time online probably overestimate the effect that the internet is having on average, disinterested voters.

    It is still TV where these people get the snatches of information that they use to form their opinions. The corruption theme seems to have resonated even in districts where the issue was not locally relevant. This feeling can only have come from what little news people have heard from the mass media over the past year or so, not from the highly detailed tracking done online.

    The blogosphere seems to be good at calling attention to events rapidly and since it is now monitored by the major media outlets important stories get picked up. So Jeff is right there is a power of citizen journalism emerging. As for citizen punditry its impact is still being developed.

  • Scote

    “The speed of politics has changed, just as the speed of media did before it. Dan Rather couldn’t wait 11 days to correct his mistake. Allen and Kerry couldn’t wait hours to back off their media malaprops.”

    Yes, the speed of the media has changed but the quality has gone down the toilet. More to the point, the speed of **disinformation** has increased out of proportion actual factual information.

    The **media** obsessed over John Kerry’s joke, allowing themselves to be egged on by the Bush Administration. A mere glance at the context of the Joke and the published text of the original speech showed beyond a reasonable doubt that it was a dig at the President but the media abrogated its **fact checking** duty and failed to point out the absurdity of the manufactured indigence of the Administration and the convenience of obsessing about a senator who isn’t even running in the election.

    It will always be faster to just make stuff up than it will be to research and disprove the allegations, like this: Jeff Jarvis secretly fantasizes about Steven Brill. Prove it wrong! You can’t. Jarvis can only claim it is wrong but there is no way to prove such an allegation to be false. It is the media’s responsibility not to echo unfounded accusations regardless of the “speed of politics.”

  • A great opportunity was offered to us last night when the Dems took the House. It is new chance for the Millennium Development Goals. The MDGs address global poverty and hunger. The Borgen Project has been working to address these goals and encouraging our political leaders to do so as well. However, the GOP wasn’t listening. This is a new awakening.

  • jeff daniels

    Mr. Jarvis’s point is a moot one, since Tester and Webb will give the Democrats control of the Senate. Lieberman lost credibility in the reality-based community with his rosy view of Iraq and later with his too-little-too late criticisms of the war efforts.
    Mr. Jarvis appears to be the schmuck with his utterly wrongheaded observation on both Lieberman and the net-roots (who championed progressives candidates that won).

  • Mike G has it inside out.

    The yelling and screaming on the partisan blogs has resulted in constructive action. The Swingstate project, netroots, ActBlue.

    They in turn gave a channel for targeted fundraising as well as, along Jeff’s line, calling BS and keeping the bastards honest.

    People like Conyers, Pelosi, Reid and others post on dailyKos, not to grandstand so much as to do and endrun around the biased, compromised, corporate media, and to ask for actual help. And they get it.

    Bloggers and their candidates also, via Webb’s inspired use of video and YouTube, gather and distribute direct, unspun reporting of what exactly the candidate in question said, and the context, and his/ her tone of voice, with random access on demand.

    It also included such gems as endless replays of Sue Kelly refusing to say anything about her role and responsibility in the Foley fiasco.

    If all you see is the grandstanding, and don’t see the GOTV, fundraising candidate involvement and G3 gathering, constant watching and listening that they enable and facilitate, then you are missing what is happening.

  • Jeff’s subject of our inquiry, the Internet as a medium for politics, and our faculty that belongs to it have been pardoned to evolve. At least for two more years. The ending of a republic and restarting of a democracy are grounds to restore civil discourse. All voices progressing in dialogue is made possible by a democratic sense of governance. This fiber of the Internet can go further: creating an accountable Internet voting machine, run directly representative lines of communication to channel constituent views in realtime, and from a new standard for elected officials to know what their “subjects” think. This rigmarole of officially waiting 4 years for the chief to “officially hear the pleas of subjects and respond” is dishonest and unnecessary in these Internet times. The means of fairly channeling the populace on their judgment, and grounding issues of truth through the link and the search engine, these are the new tools of government. -mrb

  • chico haas

    “People like Conyers, Pelosi, Reid and others post on dailyKos, not to grandstand so much as to do and endrun around the biased, compromised, corporate media, and to ask for actual help. And they get it.”

    For politicians, it’s a modern form of handshaking, admittedly, with more content. But really, Kos and the other blogs you mention are hardly examples of an “endrun” around bias. As a strategy to motivate voting among the converted, though, it works.

  • In a strange way, the architecture of a technology can be reflected back into the kind of society it supports. Broadcasting is, by its very nature, one voice to the many, and a one-way street. Jay Leno speaks, you listen.. or watch. By the same token, radio, the first broadcast medium, was a great political tool for the likes of Hitler, who understood it immediately (it is unlikely he would have survived TV in the Aryan Nation… where’s the blonde hair, blue eyes? What’s the deal Adolf?) Likewise wheelchair bound Roosevelt was perfectly suited for radio. When television arose, it was still fundamentally a broadcast technology – I speak, you listen. Television simply gave rise to the Kennedy, good looking, glib perfomer. Reagan and Bush (listen, Hee Haw had big ratings) followed. Poor wooden Al Gore was just terrible TV.

    The arrival of the Internet, and particulalry the arrival of youtube and the melding of instant politics online with video means that a new architecture has been created – and ironically one that is far more coherent with the principles of democracy. (What do you all think… as opposed to shut up and listen to me). As the technology percolates down into more and more hands, and more and more people give voice to their opinions, we have the potential to reflect online a far more democratic society in terms of the way we are governed and reach consensus.

    As Roosevelt and Hitler understood and seized upon radio in the 30s, and Kennedy understood and seized upon TV in the 60s, we are now primed for a candidate who will understand and seize upon web/video/blogvlog in the (what do we call them, the 00s?)

  • Success in politics is ultimately dependent on two strategies – firming up your own support (energizing the base in Karl Rove-speak) and changing the mind of swing voters.

    The net is clearly directly effective at energizing the base. As a fundraising mechanism, as an advocacy platform, it is second to none.

    For the rest of the population, the impact of the net is still strong, but certainly indirect. As much as we might like to pretend otherwise, most of us that care enough to find our favourite blogs and trawl through them daily are fiercely partisan, and if we were truly moderate, we would find very little out there for us. At the very least we care deeply about politics and political issues, and most of the population do not. By definition, interactive content requires effort, and much of the population doesn’t have the interest or desire to do that work. Hence our the online experience for many is just a computerized version of television news or newspapers, and in most cases (, etc) we are simply visiting the same companies.

    However, the indirect impact is huge. The internet provides the initial voice in most cases, and the traditional media (both in their old and new outlets) provide the amplifier to the nation at large. The internet shortens the news cycle, and allows small stories to explode in a matter of hours. Candidates are increasingly risk-averse, and parties are fleeing to the safety of their base, where they can at least be assured of some support.

    The bottom line is that unlike other forms of media, the Internet is completely unmanageable, and as such a threat for any organized system (hence the threat it poses to totalitarianism regimes). The results of all this are highly unpredictable for the party system and could ultimately result in a complete fragmentation of traditional political parties.

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