David vs Goliath
Posted by Mary
[Update: I really want to encourage people to go visit the post that inspired this post over at Blogging of the President where they asked "the Internet and Politics: What does it Mean?" This was an excellent question with some incredibly interesting and insightful answers. Do go read them all.]
The 2004 election will go down as one of superlatives. One side has an enormous war chest which they believed would make them invincible. The other side has found creative ways to use the internet to counter the overwhelming money advantage which their opponents have.
When planning the 2004 election, Bush's campaign decided that they could buy the election by doubling their 2000 fundraising goals. Certainly Bush is spending lots of time fundraising and looks to be ready to overachieve on the goal of raising $170 million that will be used to sell the president to the American public. As the WaPo reported last week, they are using this money to build a huge grassroots organization that will be used to register another 3 million voters and to get out the vote. And those millions can buy a lot of grassroots as well as place a monopoly on the traditional media.
Yet, a Bush win is not a foregone conclusion largely because the internet provides ways to challenge the Goliath. Moveon.org was the first to show how the internet could neutralize the money advantage on the internet and it continues to find new and innovative ways to counter the Bush juggernaut. Moveon.org's success is due to their finding a way to use the internet for "viral" marketing. And they know that getting people engaged is one essential piece of building an organization and that they need to influence people who are not online. So Moveon.org is taking its message to the real world by buying ads in the major media and was instrumental in organizing the candle-light vigils before the war. And this Sunday, Moveon.org is sponsoring the opening night showing of Robert Greenwald's documentary about the lies leading up to the Iraq war.
But as the presidential election moves closer, MoveOn's revolutionary potential lies not in buying advertising space from media corporations, but rather its ability to circumvent the corporate media with quality content that could potentially turn many of its nearly 2 million members – and the larger group they influence, potentially 10 million or more – into viral marketers, and perhaps more.
The growth of the Internet has spawned a whole new class of super-communicators; individuals who have list servs and blogs, and are the "viral" revolutionaries carrying the message of MoveOn and many progressive web sites.
Howard Dean's phenomenal campaign has also been made possible by the effective use of the internet. Dean and Trippi have been very astute in using the new tools of the internet (blogs and meetups) to garner frontrunner status in the last few months before the primaries start. One reason that the Dean campaign is so effective is because rather than running a command and control type of campaign, they have opted to use the more democratic open-source model of politics for which the web is particularly suited. His campaign will be studied intently by the political professionals to see what actually worked. Yet it is already obvious that a truly democratic campaign that really engages people is a successful model to follow.
A democracy relies on an educated populous that understands the issues. Once again the internet has overcome the tyranny of the traditional media which has basically abandoned the role of educating the public in order to entertain the crowd. Fortunately, the internet provides an enormous library for people with the world's media online and available for all to see. And blogs help organize and prioritize the news for their readers. Blogs and other internet forums are used to educate and motivate people. Unlike TV, the web participant is more likely to be get active rather than being just being couch potato consumers of entertainment fed by the media moguls.
Will the internet provide progressives sufficient tools to overcome the Republican monetary advantage? It is too early to say for now, but certainly the inevitability of a Bush win is not guaranteed. And this simply would not be possible without the changes to politics wraught by the internet.