Envisioning a new politics
The medium of US politics for almost five decades has been television. The 30-second ad has lent itself to a simple and emotionally charged political discourse. As Joe Trippi points out in his book, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised", we are in the beginning of a shift to a new medium–the Internet. This shift will have a profound impact on politics. As Internet enthusiast Al Gore posited, "Any new dominant communications medium leads to a new information ecology in society that inevitably changes the way ideas, feelings, wealth, power, and influence are distributed–and the way collective decisions are made." Joe Trippi suggests that we have already seen how the Internet can establish a broad network of low dollar funders, taking the power away from "fat cats." Trippi also believes that this shift from TV to Internet poses a danger to politicians, since the US remains, for the time being, a TV society that will distort comments and actions meant for an Internet audience.
MATTHEW PALEVSKY, JOURNALIST, TRNN: In 1960, television fundamentally changed politics in America. This shift was immediately apparent when over 70 million viewers tuned in to watch Kennedy and Nixon in the first-ever televised presidential debate. Those who listened on the radio pronounced Nixon as the winner, while TV viewers watching the crisp and charismatic senator juxtaposed to the uncomfortable vice president believed Kennedy had won. The television medium and its 30-second campaign ads had amplified the politics of fear. Descriptions over the radio failed to elicit the same visceral terror one experiences when watching a mushroom cloud or the footage of the falling World Trade towers. This power of the 30-second TV ad has simplified public dialog for generations. But now the Internet medium is set to replace television, providing a shift away from the passive intake of information produced by the small elite. At the Netroots Nation conference in Austin, Texas, I spoke with Joe Trippi, the brains behind Howard Dean’s presidential bid in 2004, about how this medium has changed campaigns and how it might transform politics in the future.
JOE TRIPPI, POLITICAL CONSULTANT: This is a shift from television to something—. It’s like the shift of radio to TV, now TV to this interactive Internet. And what’s happened, it’s a medium that empowers people at the bottom. TV actually took power away. I mean, power with television comes from big fat cats who can give you money to buy more television. The new medium empowers the bottom to get active, to give you money, to organize for you, and to influence the direction of the country. That’s a much more powerful thing. The problem is right now we’re still at the very beginnings of that new medium in terms of what the power is. Like, in 2003, 650,000 people signed up for Dean. He raised $59 million. Where now, this time, with Obama, millions of people contributing, I don’t know, he’s up to three or four hundred million dollars. I mean, in other words, it’s all growing exponentially, but it’s still small. We’re talking about a couple of million netroots activists for Obama, and there’s 300 million Americans. So as this medium takes hold, frankly, as older generations die, and these people keep moving, and new people get sort of politically active, you’re going to have this get more and more power every single election cycle.
PALEVSKY: In his book The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, Joe Trippi warns that politicians can find themselves in limbo when trying to address an Internet audience in an era that has yet to shift away from the television.
TRIPPI: Right now we’re in a dangerous time, where I think the authenticity that’s rewarded by the Internet and new media is still abhorred by the phoniness of 30-second spots in a television news. And so the problem is we’re in this weird period where you’re authentic and it destroys you, right? On the other hand, we’re also in this point where you say something that somebody puts on the Internet, like the macaca moment, and it goes the other way and it destroys you. So I think for candidates it’s a very, very dangerous time to be a candidate, because on one hand you want to be authentic, but you don’t want to be so authentic that [inaudible] television media takes one moment in speech and runs you out of the race, which is still possible today. I still think that’s possible with Obama, and I think that’s the one thing we have to guard against if it happens.
INTERVIEWER: And then just bring us up to the future. We’re talking about campaigns. Just bring us up to, when someone gets elected, how this netroots, how this structure affects someone who’s actually in office?
TRIPPI: Well, no. I mean, I think the next president, I believe Obama is going to stand up on his inaugural platform and will be, you know, as John F. Kennedy brought in the television campaign, the television presidency, I think Obama’s going to be bringing in the interactive or network presidency, where, you know, when he announces his inaugural—in the first hundred days he wants to pass this health care plan, then immediately millions of people will be blogging about that, and starting passthehealthcareplan.com, and millions of people will rally and start to organize offline in their district to tell their congressman and senator that they want them to vote for the thing. And you’ll finally have sort of a president who’s got the power of being the will of the people. And those two things connected are going to be—.
PALEVSKY: [inaudible] held accountable then.
TRIPPI: Yeah. And held accountable by the people. But I think when those two things are connected, when you have a president who truly does see himself as an instrument of the will of the people with the leadership skills to actually put things out there that people embrace, that’s going to be one of the most powerful presidencies we’ll ever see.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.