Politics 2.0 is Politics as Usual
Posted on January 4, 2008
Filed Under Web 2.0 Kool Aid |
I’ve never really discussed Web 2.0 and politics before despite the fact that Web 2.0 has been trying to play a visible role in the political process in the run up to the 2008 elections. Quite frankly, I’m apolitical and my definition of efficient government is government where suitcases full of money are an acceptable form of payment to government officials.
Nonetheless, now that the Iowa caucuses are over, I figured it was an appropriate time to address Web 2.0 as it relates to politics. Obviously, between MoveOn.org, the YouTube Presidential Debates, the MySpace Presidential Primary, all of the official and unofficial social networks built up around politics and politicians, the grassroots Ron Paul supporters who have used the Internet to raise nearly $20 million in the last quarter and now of a presidential debate, it’s clear that Internet entrepreneurs and activists are looking to leverage the power of the Internet to get involved in the political process.
But for what? And what has it accomplished? For all the hype, I see little evidence that Web 2.0 is making a significant impact on politics as usual and I see little effort to actually do so. In my opinion, Web 2.0 has:
- Provided a means for politicians to raise money from lots of individual supporters. This is great, especially for candidates like Ron Paul who otherwise might not have had the ability to gain a wider base of support, but at the end of the day, will this really make politicians less beholden to big-money special interests? Not likely.
- Given candidates the ability to connect directly with individuals for feel-good marketing ops. The YouTube Debates, for instance, enabled individuals to submit their questions to the candidates, and some candidates have even taken the time to talk with Washington outsiders, like Michael Arrington. But does this change the fact that the candidates are still going say one thing and do another? Politicians are the masters of deception. They make promises that they never keep so why would anybody expect it to be different now that John Smith in Alabama was able to get a candidate to answer his question in a YouTube Debate? It might look good, but a lie is still a lie.
- Given candidates a distribution platform for their bullshit. The Internet has become a powerful and low-cost channel for politicians to spread their “messages” (which most of the time happen to be pure bullshit). Why does anyone think that the message a candidate distributes via a video sharing website or social network is going to be any more honest than a message distributed via a mainstream media outlet? They’re not.
In my opinion, Web 2.0 has become little more than the technological equivalent of the candidate-holds-a-baby photo opportunity. It looks great that politicians are answering questions from Internet users, making themselves appear more accessible and encouraging grassroots campaigns, but it’s really little more than marketing fodder. I don’t see any evidence that politicians are going to change the way they do business. And frankly, they can’t. Anybody with an iota of common sense knows that when a politician is elected, no matter how much he or she wants to represent “the people,” he or she has to answer to more powerful interests than the American public. While I don’t believe that all politicians are dishonest, I do believe that even those who go into the profession with the best intentions learn quickly how the world really works.
Clearly, Web 2.0 proponents are going to continue to try to play a role in the political process in this election year, but if they actually want to do something relevant in the political realm, there has to be substance. Web 2.0 has to become more than a “democratic” new distribution platform for politicians’ bullshit.
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10 Responses to “Politics 2.0 is Politics as Usual”
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News are reporting it was young voters that propelled at least Obama’s vote. I don’t see any evidence that it was Web 2.0 that got these people out but it seems at least plausible. Like you said, some sort of investigation into this would be good to see.
Michael: even if Web 2.0 propelled Obama’s win, the question would be: so what? If Obama wins the presidency, do people really expect that it’s going to change how Washington operates?
Fantastic post. As a cynic, though one who gets paid to research this trend, your last line sums it up perfectly, “Web 2.0 has to become more than a “democratic” new distribution platform for politicians’ bullshit.”
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If Web 2.0 propelled his win I think there is an argument that says it not only makes it possible to raise money from lots of individuals, it makes it viable. Moreover, if Web 2.0 provides a cheaper way to reach people then it further lowers the bar to entry.
Isn’t what makes the powerful interests powerful the amounts of money they contribute? If the Web 2.0 levels that playing field doesn’t it, even within the constructs of your argument, change the power balance and result in politicians who not only are more representative, but more responsive, too?
Michael: I don’t doubt that the Internet is helping candidates raise money from a lot of individuals. Just look at Ron Paul. But I don’t think this in and of itself is going to result in the election of a candidate who is going to change the way business gets done in Washington. Whoever wins is going to have to play the game whether they like it or not.
In terms of powerful interests, I will say little more than:
1. The amount of money these interests have will not be rivaled by donations from lots of individual supporters.
2. Not all money is created the same. That is, some money is more powerful.
3. There’s a lot more to it than just money.
At the end of the day, don’t forget that the President of the United States is not the most powerful man in the world. He’s just a figurehead. The real shots are called elsewhere.
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