The Bush Administration might as well be over. I can’t even recall the last time I heard something positive about the White House, and it’s not an issue of a biased media. We have a president whose political skills are obsolete in this modern landscape. Five years of mistakes, missteps and malaise have taken their toll, to the point where we might as well pronounce this horse officially dead.
If there is a better example of troubles facing a modern politician than the Cheney shooting incident I don’t want to know about it. If there is a worse example of a way to respond to it, I pray to God I won’t ever know about it. Nobody can blame a guy for accidentally shooting his friend, but you can fault somebody for handling it so poorly. I didn’t even think it was possible to get crucified for something such as this, but I guess that’s what happens when you not only neglect to inform the media of a near vice-presidential manslaughter, but the commander-in-chief as well.
Republicans like to think they bring business logic to the government, but the fact that White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan still has a job proves they’re full of it. The days of a press secretary being able to spin a story or shift the blame are long gone. The legions of fact checkers have expanded from the press corps to literally anyone with a computer. The RatherGate incident reflects the reality that faces politicians on a daily basis; the no-spin zone has expanded from O’Reilly’s TV show to the entire Internet; everyone’s a Jon Stewart as they laugh at the excuses.
For all intents, the old media – CBS, ABC, NBC – are as elitist and corrupt as our politicians. They are established and stuck in their ways, completely oblivious to the changing winds. The new media – talk radio, Internet and cable news – are different, and they more closely resemble the makeup of the population. It could be the fact that they actually involve the public via phone calls, emails and letters, or it could be the fact that they seem to put in some effort. Do not misunderstand this phenomenon or label it an obsession of the middle class. The people’s involvement in the media has drastically changed the equation, and made it impossible for politicians to ignore.
Remember as a child when your parents told you that “if you ignore it, it will go away?” You might as well forget that if you plan on playing the politics game in the future. In this era of instant gratification, everything is about satisfaction. When people express worry they want to be calmed, when they expose a problem they want it fixed, and when they feel they’ve been wronged they want an apology.
The Internet’s ability to give the people literally everything they want has spoiled us when it comes to politics. If a computer capitulates to every demand, why doesn’t our government? We fund them with our tax dollars, we support them with our votes, and we dignify them with our ceremony, so they sure as hell better give us the time of day. The democratization of content happened because of the inherent hatred of elitism. People don’t like distant leaders just as they dislike media distribution that defies common sense.
The old Hollywood is failing because of a failure to respond to the people, and so too will the old model of Washington. The woes of the movie industry parallel those of our politicians, who feel that because things have always worked, they will continue to work.
The key to success in this new era lies in proactiveness. Remember pre-emption? It may not have worked too well in Iraq, but it does in everyday politics. Politicians cannot wait for a storm to blow over because of the permanence of the Internet. It doesn’t matter if the MSM picks up your story, because millions of bloggers will. You can’t get away with the Friday news dump anymore, and you aren’t going to be able to pull a fast one on an angry public. The bias of the media is irrelevant when you take into consideration the combined force of talk radio and the Internet.
There is only one way to deal with problems in this new era. Head them off. Politicians will be forced into openness, honesty, and a quick response, lest they wish to raise the ire of the blogsphere. The only way things die down is when everyone has taken their shot; refusing to comment just extends the problem and keeps it in the public eye.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to attribute Bush’s low poll numbers to a failure in every single one of the above categories. It’s not surprising; the business world hasn’t even caught up to this trend, so we shouldn’t exactly expect it from our politicians…yet.
The importance of this issue, however, is that the first party to master it can ensure itself victory. Democrats or Republicans, the first ones to modernize, to utilize technology, to win the web, will forever retain that label. As Republicans allied themselves with big business a hundred and twenty five years ago, they ought to now become the party of the information generation. Become the party that responds quickly to the public’s needs, hears their demands and does something about it. Regain the youth and energy that comes from being on the cutting edge and you will feel a boost in the polls.
Hollywood and Wall Street are making the transition to the Internet; when will Washington? It’s really not that difficult, a few token moves will make a massive impression.
Here they are:
Make It a Policy to Support Internet/Computer Voting
Why don’t teenagers vote? Because they are too busy spending time with video games, and the computer. Bring politics to them. Everyone realizes there are some security issues that need to be dealt with, but go ahead and deal with them instead of complaining. When you remove the barriers that keep people from the polls, then your message begins to matter. Prove that you are willing to step into the future and you will be taken seriously.
People want to know what their politicians are doing, so give them what they want. They already comment on your decisions, your votes, your donors and your sound-bites, don’t you think it’s time your explanation is thrown into the mix? Give a write-up on weekly or even monthly Congressional happenings. Explain how you voted in Congress and why. Announce television appearances. Post speeches in advance and ask for comments. People want to be involved; they want to see their money at work. It will prove that you understand modern media, and will allow you to seem accessible. It can reaffirm to them why they support you in the first place, and then help your campaign by re-posting a tangible track record.
Stand Up For Free Speech
If the Internet has relit any political flame, it has been for the 1st Amendment. People for the first time are able to fully express themselves, and in doing so realize the importance of such a right. Every time a blog gets shut down, or a writer gets sued, the fallout is huge. The Internet has flourished because of a lack of restriction, and the public is smart enough to realize it needs to stay that way. Become the party, or at the least the politician with a reputation for standing up for free expression. Oppose legislation that limits Internet speech or attempts to impose legal standards on bloggers. The passionate energy that explodes when a blogger is fired could be used to for a re-election campaign instead of a petition against you. If you stand up for the Internet, it will stand up for you, so vote and act accordingly.
Grant interviews, give quotes, leak information to bloggers just as you would the mainstream media. DailyKos has thousands of daily readers who eagerly seek out political information to write about. Give them fodder, and make them feel important. Hell, read their blogs. If they’re important enough, drop an email or a comment. Let the Internet know that they influence your thinking, that you’ve got a finger on the pulse. When you talk to reporters, drop names of the blogs/sites you read. If someone writes a good article, syndicate it. Post it on your official page just as you would a positive write-up from any other media outlet. They will thank you for the traffic, trust me.
The Bush administration is literally the opposite of what a modern political organization ought to embody. A politician – a man of the people – has no justification whatsoever being less than completely forthcoming. Bush is supposedly this straight shooter, a get-right-to-the-point kind of guy, and he avoids nearly every public speaking opportunity. So many of the issues that have ravaged his administration could have been cut short or dealt with outright. When he addresses the Union, the confidence is re-instilled and his initiatives supported; when he wholly ignores informing the public of his moves, he fails miserably.
Arnold proved the legitimacy of a ‘directly to the people’ strategy. When he said, “screw the legislature,” skipped the middle man and spoke straight to the voters he was successful. When he took his name off the initiatives, essentially giving in to the media, he lost…miserably. Naturally the checks and balance system limit Bush’s options, but the media strategy still applies. You can’t reach the people when you hide inside the White House. You can’t revolutionize Social Security when you let your opponents define your opinions in the eyes of the public. Your argument for the War on Terror has to be something other than, “Well they aren’t showing you the good we are doing!” You have to prove it, then take the initiative and show that supposedly missing side of the story. This elitism, this refusal to dignify the other side with a response has been the Achilles heel of the Bush administration. If you’re not going to explain yourself, believe me, millions of people are willing to do it for you — not positively I might add.
George W. Bush had the opportunity to secure a place as a powerful and respected president, but his hubris prevented him from taking it. A policy of condemning innovation and a refusal to explain himself created one of the most bogged down administrations in history. Much like a modern military must be fast and responsive, so too must a modern politician. No longer can our leaders sit back and ignore the demands of the people, for the individual’s influence has grown too great. In an era where an unpaid writer can reach thousands of readers, a politician cannot afford to blow off public opinion.
Though the environment facing office holders may seem hostile, it is not hopeless. The Internet is still a rough and untamed land; in other words, it is the perfect cause for a party to align itself with. The first party to fully utilize technology and the Internet will find itself a voting base strong enough to sustain a run to the top. It is not a difficult task; the only requirements are humility and honesty. Our media has been democratized, so it’s only fitting that our democracy should be as well. The Internet is more than a bunch of computers, it’s a vehicle for the people to finally overthrow the elites against whom resentment builds nearly everyday. The days of politicians simply ignoring a story until it goes away are over, with media spin and finger-pointing lagging not too far behind. The best way to overcome a competitive trend has always been to embrace it, so though the Bush administration fatally shot itself in the foot, it’s not too late for the rest of the party.
Ryan Clark Holiday is a published journalist.