Little Things that Show How Much the Political World Has Changed

Catching up on the world of politics after a brief break has been quite informative — when you’re out of the current for a few days, you can get a really good look at the whole river. What jumped out at me today was a bunch of smaller stories — ones that give us a hole-in-the-gym-shower-wall glimpse of some of the changes the political world is enduring.

The first thing? A simple email caught by the Hotline in which John McCain asks his supporters to watch an Iraq speech to be broadcast live on his website. Next, another Hotline item about a (pitifully weak) RNC blast email sent to reporters and intended to paint Barak Obama as a fabricator (ah, sweet lies, the very breath of politics). Finally, the LA Times (via Political Wire) reports on controversy surrounding a “back-channel e-mail and paging system, paid for and maintained by the RNC, [and] designed to avoid charges that had vexed the Clinton White House — that federal resources were being used inappropriately for political campaign purposes.” (Hmmm, too bad it also led them to maybe break laws about government transparency…oopsie!)

What can we learn from these apparently unrelated stories? They all show how deeply electronic tendrils have wound their way into the political world. OF COURSE a candidate uses email to drive supporters to a website to see him give a speech, where they’ll also no doubt be exposed to talking points to help them influence the next day’s water-cooler conversations. OF COURSE the RNC is emailing reporters behind the scenes to try to plant stories and, in this case, doubts about an opponent they seem to be beginning to fear. And, OF COURSE White House officials tried to keep their political emails separate from their government emails, just as I keep e.politics-related messages out of my NET inbox (though no one’s subpeonaing me — yet). These things seem so normal now that they’re barely noteworthy, but think about how alien they would have been just ten or twelve years ago. Twenty years ago? Only a few people howling in the wilderness were thinking about how computers and networks would change politics.

In a networked world, just about every exchange of information that doesn’t require face-to-face human contact is eventually going to move online, something that’s just as true for politics as it is for music and movies. Elections are still won in the air (on tv) and on the ground (local organizing), but video is moving to the web and so is a huge chunk of human social interaction. What’s next?

We’ve heard a million times that all politics is local, a slight exaggeration that illuminates a fundamental truth. How long before all politics is equally electronic?


Written by
Colin Delany
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