Thursday, October 22, 2009

Political Revolution

A while back, I wrote this blog entry concerning a three-pronged breakup of the newspaper industry, as posited by Clay Shirky. To summarize, Shirky believes that the newspaper industry is in trouble due to three principal factors:

1) The business model is flawed
2) The economic bundle of news, sports, comics, crosswords, et cetera, has been replaced by an intellectual model, in which people don’t want such a mix of content
3) The “shock of inclusion” – that ordinary people can be involved in a process heretofore reserved o the elites – is wearing the industry down.

He mentioned that he thought the industry was the first to suffer from these impacts. It’s obvious, of course, that the music industry is suffering from the same effects and, to a lesser extent, so is the movie industry.

I think politics – particularly political parties – may be feeling the first evolutions of these effects.

I have to confess that this thought is being driven primarily by a book I’m reading at the moment, The Making of the President 1968, by Theodore White. White presents a fascinating analysis of the pressures that were driving politics, politicians, the parties, the news media, and the voters in the 1968 election, which saw a strong Democratic Party crumble and a Republican Party that had been written off as broken emerge victorious, with Richard Nixon entering the White House.

But I’m looking at it this way. Back then, White says, student voters were fed up with Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam War. So much so they went to great efforts to find an alternative candidate and did so in Eugene McCarthy. These student organizations, organized on the national level (White says it’s hard to call them organized, but they were at least working together for the same common goal) worked to get McCarthy elected. World and national events were so different, so shocking – Vietnam, civil rights, the generation gap, the “credibility gap” Johnson suffered in saying one thing and consistently delivering another – were as upsetting to the Democratic political landscape as the Internet is to newspapers today.

We may be seeing the effects of the Internet and easy communication in politics today, however emerging much more slowly and much less explosively than the analog effects did in 1968.

The political parties are flawed. Even back in 1968, the parties were held together by coalitions of differing interest, brought together under the big tent of either the Democrat or Republican party. From these differing interests came the party platform which, in the course of politics, had to be modified – and sometimes modified away – to “get things done.”

This leads me into the second: This economic bundle of like but competing interests is no longer working – as evidenced by the increasing number of voters who either identify themselves as independents or with no party affiliation whatsoever. We’re tired of the economic bundle and want a more intellectual bundle that more closely ties our more narrow interests with politicians and parties who not only believe what we do but are trustworthy enough to fight for those beliefs. (This doesn’t mean, of course, that there isn’t room for compromise, but that the room for compromise is narrower by default of the parties being more narrow.) We’ve seen movements form around the likes of Ron Paul, H. Ross Perot – much as the nation saw movements around the likes of Bobby Kennedy and George Wallace in 1968.

Then there’s the shock of inclusion. Go on the Internet and you can find people who think just like you do, who are doing things, organizing things in a way that defies traditional Democrat/Republican party lines in trying to get things done. They’re mostly failing, of course, because the traditional party model still has deep, deep pockets. But I firmly believe as the Internet revolution continues, the ability of third-party candidates, and even fourth- and fifth-party candidates to be considered seriously, will grow, because both the traditional parties and traditional media, which are generally disdainful of third parties, will see their power diminish.

I’ve babbled enough. Back to reading.

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