Blog to the Chief

The political revolution will not be televised (it'll be blogged)

Describe the impact of new media on the 2006 midterm elections in one word? Easy: macaca.

It's an inelegant simplification, but that obscure racial slur-and specifically how it was uploaded into our collective electoral consciousness to the point where it became synonymous with "boneheaded political suicide"-has become the incident that now embodies an informational sea change in American politics.

"What we saw in the 2006 cycle was the use of the internet for persuading people," says Jerome Armstrong, founder of progressive blog grandaddy MyDD.com. "I think you could point to the example here in Virginia with James Webb against George Allen, where we had the YouTube story that broke online, that showed George Allen making disparaging comments that were considered racially insensitive, that did shift public opinion through the use of the internet as a tool."

The George Allen campaign implosion was only the most visible example of web-based media flexing its populist muscle. Blogs-online journals that were formerly the equivalent of writing dirty limericks on the internet's bathroom wall-have become the preferred opiate of political junkies. Their quick-fix egalitarianism has become pandemic.

"You can blog out of Lawrence, Kansas, and you're blogging to the whole planet," says David Perlmutter, KU journalism professor.

"You can see something at a rally-or video something, as we saw with George Allen-and then 30 minutes later, it's all over YouTube," he says. "A blogger in central Kansas can have just as much influence as a blogger in New York City."

The liberal blognoscenti seem to have harnessed the power of this new fangled media better than their conservative counterparts. "The internet is a tool that can be used for insurgency a lot easier than it can be used for somebody already in power, because it does empower people who don't have power," Armstrong says.

According to blogger Joan McCater, whose readership at Dailykos.com approaches one million on a busy day, that rise is also partly spurred by a mistrust of mainstream media.

Past Event

Panel discussion: "Blog to the Chief"

  • Tuesday, February 13, 2007, 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
  • Dole Institute of Politics, KU campus, Lawrence
  • All ages / Free

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"The watchdog role is particularly important. The [fourth] estate has fallen down on its job a little bit in the last six years:the pass that they gave this president in not questioning the justifications for the war, the claims made that we all know now aren't true, the blogs helped push that," says McCarter (known online as "mcjoan").

Exactly how influential these new media will be in the 2008 presidential elections is unclear. History would argue, "Not so much." When you look at the two presidential candidates who are credited with pioneering online organizing, John McCain in 2000 and Howard Dean in 2004-well, the only place you'll hear "Hail to the Chief" whenever they enter a room is in their head.

Midterms 2006, however, seem to indicate a growing sophistication and effectiveness among the net-roots. "Given the resources that the political campaigns are going to put into this next cycle, I think we're going to see it jump leagues forward," Armstrong says. "If you look at the numbers of people who are now engaged in the blogosphere, they are probably close to one hundred times the amount as last cycle."

No one is quite sure into what sort of beast the blogeratti has evolved-or will continue to evolve. Whatever the outcome in 2008, this bottom-up form of citizen journalism has grabbed the political establishment by the lapels and shaken vigorously.

"This is people. This is grassroots activism and we're all involved in the conversation," says McCarter. "We want dialogue. We don't want to be talked to, we want to be talked with. We want to help shape the message," she says.

"More and more candidates are realizing it's a great force for tapping into what the public is thinking," she says. "We're wielding our influence."

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