The skepticism I expressed earlier about the role of the internet in the political sphere (as well as many of my other political attitudes, I’m sure) derives from the fact that I’ve spent much of my life in Chicago. John Palfrey’s thoughtful post-Election Day piece describes a political ethos unseen here in Cook County. The famous line by19th century Chicago journalist Finley Peter Dunne’s Mr. Dooley character still holds true: “politics ain’t beanbag.”
None of the candidates on my ballot took advantage of the web as effectively as Palfrey’s (and Chicago native son) Deval Patrick apparently did; our political campaigns are certainly not “highly decentralized.” Tony Peraica (the Republican candidate for County Board President) or his supporters took to Youtube, and one of the videos was viewed 2,000 times. But more important was the fact that the machine “was rolling,” as Cook County board member-elect and primo operator Bill Beavers said. Votes are fought for on the ground, literally, as WBBM news footage and the Tribune described. Suspicious of the slow pace of vote counting, Peraica and his supporters stormed the Cook County Board of Elections offices, not its servers.
I therefore suspect that Palfrey is correct when he surmises that “that the strongest reasons for the overwhelming Patrick victory were the charisma, leadership, and energy of the candidate himself; a serious shoe-leather campaign throughout the state to talk to people face-to-face, make what’s thought to be a record number of GOTV calls; and a well-run classical campaign.”
Unclear to me is how unique “the Chicago Way” is. Philly has still has a Democratic machine of sorts, but it also has a base of active “netroots” bloggers who have, at least on occasion, engaged with the old guard on the ground. By comparison, Chicago’s active progressive and labor movements do not have much of a digital footprint. Perhaps a healthy competition for City Hall could change that. Unfortunately, after the election we received the disappointing news that a much-hoped for mayoral show-down (along the lines of Carcetti v. Royce) will not come to pass, as both Jesse Jackson Jr. and Luis Guitierrez decided to try living as majority-party Congressional powerbrokers. We will still get a show down between the SEIU and the Chicago Chamber of Commerce at the aldermanic level, however (and perhaps, as John Kass conjectures, between Daley and U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald in the courthouse).
YouTube, Blip.tv and other video-sharing sites have forever changed the way the public participates in the election process. With legions of camera-toting partisans following around candidates 24/7, there’s no way a politician can get away with saying something foolish or nodding off during a hearing…User-generated political video is only in its infancy, but the macaca kerfuffle demonstrates it can have real impact. The question remains, though, whether it will evolve beyond gotcha journalism and allow citizens to have a stronger grassroots voice while keeping politicians honest.
What’s different about this election is the role of the ‘net. People are connecting online to work together to defeat bad guys.
Some other thoughts on the internet and the election:
Though the netroots have forever changed how campaigns raise money and find votes, the results demonstrated that they cannot yet win elections on their own. But the Democratic Party cannot win major national elections without the netroots.
Matt Bai, in next week’s Times magazine:
The influence of the netroots… is likely to stifle any inclination toward compromise or creativity, making it difficult for Democrats to transition from an opposition party to a governing one. Thoughtful and dynamic leadership, after all, requires a willingness to negotiate and a tolerance for dissent…
Dan Gillmor makes a key point, follow the money:
Campaigns used the Net to communicate with the faithful and especially to raise money…But they were less eager to use technology to reach out to the already unconvinced, it seems to me. By far the bulk of political advertising remained in the traditional media, for example.
Jeff Jarvis guesses that will change: “We will see an ever-declining influence of television and political advertising on TV in future elections. They will find new ways to get ugly in new media.” I’m dubious, but if that proves true, will candidates spend less time fund raising, and more time innovating with web 2.0 tools?
Finally, my friend kuinunu posted this video of her voting experience last Tuesday; Le Monde linked to it before I did.