September 09, 2004

What Academic Bias?

Oh, Boy! Yesterday I received the latest copy of the alumni magazine from the People's Soviet of Middletown, CT. Usually I just look at the class notes and toss the thing, but there was an article this time entitled Politics at Grassroots that purported to be about politics and the Internet, so of course your humble Llama had to read it.

First I had to find it, though. The cover said the article was on page 24. It was actually on page 20. It would be useless to complain about so glaring an error, because I already know what response I would get: "Hey, man, don't be so anal. Anyway, page numbering is just an artificial construct that enables the continued hegemony of phallo-centric Western Civilization over oppressed indigenous cultures that approach life, wisdom and knowledge in a more holistic, nurturing and non-hierarchical manner. By the way - got any pot?"

Aaaaanyway, most of the article is pretty harmless yadda yadda about online political ads and fundraising, although it is (as you would expect) heavily tilted towards the Donks. But get a load of this:

Will the Internet prove to be truly effective in politics? Assistant Professor of Government Melanye Price says the Dean campaign shows that the jury is still out on that question. “People saw Howard Dean’s campaign as a watershed, because he had so many people involved and he raised a lot of money, but it didn’t translate to votes.

No, Dear. All the Dean experiment proved is that for all a campaign's whistles and bells, if the guy at the center is a total loon, it's not going anywhere. And in fact, I'd argue that the true power of the Internet in Dean's case was in the way it aided and abetted his flame-out. YEEEEEAAAAGGGH!!!!!

But here is the real money quote of the piece:

Also unclear is the extent to which the Internet will influence the political process and outcomes. Both parties have raised funds on the Internet, but the Republican Party, particularly its religiously oriented conservative wing, has not used it to mobilize in the way the Democrats have. “The Christian Right’s way of mobilizing is fundamentally through churches and face-to-face meetings and through the commitment of people to the beliefs of the Religious Right,” says Boyd. “The religious divide is currently the most important political divide in this country—and that’s a social movement that does not depend on technology for its effectiveness.”

I'll even set aside the gratuitous swipe at those silly Bible-Thumping Jeebus Freaks, who apparently rely on speaking in tongues to communicate their eviiiil plans for nationwide cultural domination. Instead, I'd note that this paragraph illustrates the political version of what Douglas Adams called the Somebody Else's Problem effect- the predisposition of the human eye not to see what it doesn't expect or can't explain. Has the author of this piece never even heard of Blogs for Bush? Has she not bothered to check out a sampling of other conservative grassroots blog confederations like the Victory Coalition or Katie's Eowyn Bloggers? Granted, I never went to J-school. But this shore looks like mobilization to me.

Also, I think the article doesn't really comprehend the way in which blogging current affects politics most directly - through its increasing power to shape and present arguments, ideas and images. Trent Lott, anybody? Howell Raines and Jayson Blair? The Plaime Game? "Sticky Fingers" Sandy Berger and the 9/11 Commission?

The Swiftboat Vets story is a perfect example. Without the conservative side of the 'Sphere, this movement would have been strangled in its crib. The mainstream press would simply have buried it. Only after the story had spread across the Web and allowed the Vets to generate some notoriety and money did the NYTimes and its ilk deign to take notice. Once the SBV's story could no longer be ignored, it seriously altered the public image of J. Francois Kerry's carefully crafted image of Vietnam hero. And as the polls demonstrate, this is having a profound impact on his chances of getting elected.

That is where the political power of the Internet primarily lies these days, I think. And there is a great deal of conservative firepower here. If my only on-line political effort was simply to email all my friends and tell them to go vote for Dubya, I wouldn't have much of an impact on the vote. But by engaging in the debate of facts and ideas on-line and in front of a largely anonymous audience, I am (hopefully) influencing the way people think about the issues and the candidates. And that is going to translate into numbers come November.

Posted by Robert at September 9, 2004 10:09 AM | TrackBack
Post a comment

Remember personal info?