Internet a blessing for politicians in the know
"Teh intartubez," the information superhighway, a huge dump truck: Whatever you choose to call it, "all your base are belong to us." The Internet, in other words, is here to stay. So why have American politicians – in all of their manifest destiny – failed to become masters of the Internet?
Youth is one reason. Some social Web sites, such as YouTube, MySpace and Digg, have existed for relatively few years but still solidly infiltrate American culture by morphing into icons utilized for crude jokes as well as illustrative analogies.
International stalwart Google Inc. is but an adolescent of 12 years, yet it has managed to attain verb status in the American lexicon, so ubiquitous is the process of using the popular Internet search engine to sift through vast amounts of data in mere seconds.
The real reason politicians have avoided the Internet limelight invites cynicism: Why bother engaging a political demographic that will likely yield a relatively low percentage of votes in the next election?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Americans older than 55 voted at a rate of 72 percent in the presidential elections of 2004 compared to a rate of 47 percent among 18-24 year-olds. Translated: nearly three quarters of those over age 55 eligible to vote did, compared to about half for younger eligible voters.
Internet usage in 2006 across the same demographics was, respectively, 44.6 percent and 82 percent, according to data from the Pew Internet ‘ American Life Project. (For the curious: Americans aged 25-54 voted at an average rate of 62.8 percent and boast an Internet-user population of 77.5 percent.)
Perhaps "teh internets" simply confounds politicians. The 110th Congress boasts an average age of 57 years, part of the demographic with low rates of Internet usage. However, a July 27 Congressional Research Service report to Congress notes that "the overwhelming majority of members have a college education."
More likely, then, is politicians are confounded that they have not yet found a way to tax and regulate a medium that penetrates 73 percent of the adult population in America.
Sen. Ted Stevens,’ R-Alaska, poorly conceptualized and halting speech against so-called net neutrality before the Senate Commerce Committee in June 2006 is now a many-times-o’er re-mixed example on YouTube of the deep schism between younger voters and the politicians who ignore them.
The one thing Stevens manages to clearly understand and articulate is that commercial activity happens on the Internet and that it should be taxed. Surprised? Listen to the charade at: http://www.publicknowledge.org/node/497.
Not all politicians are lost in the cyber frontier, though. Republican presidential candidate and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, has a formidable online following.
Mainstream media largely ignores this binary zeal, but it is becoming harder to dismiss as just the overwrought actions of a few, since Paul’s online successes are manifesting in real life. Paul’s showing in each successive straw poll has been stronger so far, and he recently won straw polls in Alabama, New Hampshire, Texas and Washington state.
The most important reason for Paul’s Internet success is the potent and simple message he brings. Liberty is not just a word for Paul, who represents Lake Jackson, but a life’s work. During his more than decade-long tenure in the House, Paul has never voted to raise taxes; he also rejects pork barrel earmarks tantamount to tax increases. And he unabashedly applies the same paradigm to every issue: Is it Constitutional? Does it violate individual liberty?
Barack Obama has inspired an Internet following of his own, but the activity level is not yet competitive with Paul’s showing. Obama’s Internet-aware opponents convened along with him for the second YearlyKos convention in Chicago. The progressive-themed event included a forum for all Democratic presidential candidates. Sen. Joe Biden, D-Delaware, was the only one not in attendance.
The 2008 field of presidential candidates may not have harnessed the power of the World Wide Web as a group, but the successes of Paul indicates that opportunity is available for those political entrepreneurs with the ingenuity to employ a medium of entertainment for real world political activism.
Granger, a political science/economics senior, can be reached via [email protected]