The presidential election of 1960 was truly the Television election — waged between a candidate who understood the impact of that medium (Kennedy) and one who did not (Nixon).
It is my belief that the election of 2008 will historically be remembered as the Internet election. Barack Obama is the only candidate who appears to understand the potential impact of the internet on electoral politics, but also how to tap in to the truly participatory nature of the internet. McCain (and to a lesser, but still noticeable extent, Clinton) seem to view the internet as, essentially “computer television” — a passive, presentational medium to get a message out.
From the beginning, Obama has tapped into the self-perpetuating participatory model of the internet. His my.barackobama.com site allows for personalized social networking — creating a nationwide network of enthusiasts who are self-sustaining. His campaign, utilizing this ever-expanding network, was able to do things like raise 55 million dollars in February….without holding a single fundraiser in that month. At campaign appearances, participants have been urged to use cellphones to text and email at least 5 other people and bring them into the campaign. Some of the most powerful advertising (the “Yes We Can” video, for example) has been generated outside of the campaign, by supporters. It is, in a very real sense, a “viral” campaign.
Perhaps more importantly, the Obama campaign appears to understand the effect that the internet has had upon our understanding and consumption of OTHER media. Specifically, the speed with which news stories now proliferate. During the primary (and now into the general), Obama’s campaign has responded immediately to attacks, issuing responses often within the hour. Gone are the days when a charge, statement or characterization would have at least a single-day news cycle to itself, to spread it’s message. Obama’s responses are tagged onto the same cycle, with two immediate effects — either it’s simply not carried as a story (since there is a refutation, which makes it less ‘sexy’), or it’s carried WITH the refutation, which gets the competing message equal time.
The McCain campaign is screwed. They’re fighting a war with last century’s weapons. Yesterday, for example, Newsweek reporters asked McCain about something he had said in last Tuesday’s speech (specifically – about how the media “often overlooked” Clinton — a blatant grab for her supporters). McCain, amazingly, vehemently denied having ever said it. According to most analysts, this was not a “senior moment”, where he didn’t remember saying it — but rather a function of the old politics, where you could get away with a straight denial on something minor, because the evidence was archived on videotape held exclusively by the big networks. The problem for McCain is that today, it’s on YouTube — available instantly to everyone. So a denial of something minor becomes a situation where you’re caught in a blatant lie. A candidate with 4 decades of experience hasn’t come to grips with the media realities that have only existed for the past 4 years or so…. and it’s just going to get worse for him.
The most stark example is his proposal for a series of unmoderated Town Halls with Obama — which was sent in a postal letter to the candidate. Why?
Because McCain doesn’t use email.