21.456 politics via the Internet

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Wed, 2 Jan 2008 07:28:25 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 21, No. 456.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Tue, 01 Jan 2008 16:43:03 +0000
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: politics via the Internet

In "Brown and Friends" (London Review of Books, 3 January 2008),
David Runciman comments on British PM Gordon Brown's habit of
referring only to a small circle of people he knows very well, who
are also intimately interconnected by school and family ties. He
then says the following about the role of the Internet in the modern
political scene:

>However, the problem here is not just to do with Brown's
>temperamental difficulties in reaching out beyond his circle of
>acquaintance. His government, like any government these days, is up
>against one of the central facts of contemporary politics, which is
>that while the politicians have been busy nurturing their own
>personal networks, the public have been busy nurturing theirs, using
>the tools we all now have at our disposal. The internet is
>transforming politics, but not in the ways that were anticipated: we
>are not entering an age of e-democracy, or referendum by internet,
>or any of the other bogus and fantastical ideas that get floated
>from time to time. Instead, we are in the age of the social
>networking site, which allows everyone to make their own connections
>with the people with whom they have the most in common, and from
>whom they have the most to gain. In his fascinating, somewhat
>chilling book, Microtrends,* Mark Penn, the polling guru behind
>Hillary Clinton's march on the White House, documents the
>fragmentation of the American public into multiple different groups
>and subgroups, each with its own specialised interests or shared
>outlooks: people addicted to plastic surgery, married couples who
>met on the internet, homeschoolers, Christian Zionists, 'archery
>moms' (a subset of the old 'soccer moms') and so on and on. It's
>these narrower affiliations, existing beneath the traditional
>divides based on class, or race, or gender, that are increasingly
>being facilitated by the networking possibilities of the new
>information technology. Penn believes it is only by making a
>connection with these different groups that the politicians will be
>able to keep the public on side.
>The question is, how? Karl Rove, who played a role in George W.
>Bush's campaigns similar to the one Penn is playing in Hillary's,
>believed that ideology remains crucial. Rove felt he needed (and
>believed that in Bush he had found) a candidate with a clear, simple
>and deeply divisive central message, which could then be tailored to
>touch on the disparate concerns of various micro-interest groups,
>particularly within the fissiparous world of American religion.
>Penn, by contrast, thinks that the key, over time, will be
>competence, above and beyond ideology. 'The movement to watch is
>really the global Third Way movement,' he says, 'the triumph of
>pragmatic, independent thinking over left or right-wing ideology. It
>is the growth of mass media and communications that has fuelled it,
>and that gives voters more ability to judge the competence of their
>leaders and their policies. Though the internet has seemed to spawn
>more fragmented movements, the vital centre remains decisive.'
>This ought to offer some comfort to Brown. But, for three reasons, I
>think the comfort may be illusory. First, it is not by chance that
>Penn has hitched his wagon to Hillary Clinton, who may exemplify the
>virtues of the pragmatic, post-ideological politician, but who has
>something more significant to recommend her too: the strongest
>name-recognition in American politics, plus her husband's contacts
>book. Rove chose Bush Junior for much the same reasons. The
>fragmentation of American social life that Penn describes has gone
>hand in hand with an unprecedented narrowing of its political life,
>to the extent that two families may end up controlling the White
>House for an entire generation. Post-ideological politics is about
>competence in the way that pre-ideological politics was: it helps to
>be competent, but it helps even more to be born or married into
>families that give you a chance to demonstrate your competence.
>Moreover, family politics is in the end about the cyclical movements
>of fortune and fame, and when your star starts to set, it is very
>hard to get it to rise again, no matter how competent you are.



Willard McCarty | Professor of Humanities Computing | Centre for
Computing in the Humanities | King's College London |
http://staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/. Et sic in infinitum (Fludd 1617, p. 26).
Received on Wed Jan 02 2008 - 02:43:34 EST

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