Saturday, February 07, 2004

Censuring the president

It is interesting to watch the effect of the media -- in particular the Internet -- on American democracy.

The Internet has made it possible for many more people to build sizeable audiences for their opinions. It also makes it easy to gather people together into "communities" that have enough mass to get the attention of political leaders and the general public. Howard Dean's campaign is listed as one classic example of the phenomenon -- the community that his campaign created had enough mass to get him mainstream media attention early in the campaign and to attract a large group of like-minded people quickly. It turns out that it wasn't enough mass to win any of the primaries, but it did get him on the cover of Time magazine.

The current effort to censure President Bush is the best recent example. Several organizations like MoveOn and have gathered together something on the order of a million people in their communities. With that many voices, they can begin to get the attention of representatives in Congress and the media. They then create or encourage Web features like these to build more mass:And it all happens quickly.

Where does this trend take us? One possibility is splintering, fighting factions and unrelenting party politics. I am starting to get the sense, however, that it might take things in the other direction. What could happen is that no one can rule if he/she pleases just one "party", as has been possible in the past. With all these voices, communities and activities that have hair-trigger reactions to anything they don't like, a 21st century leader may have to concentrate on serving the needs of the actual majority of voters all the time. Party lines become less important if that is the case. This is the intention of democracy all along, and it would be interesting if the Internet makes it possible to get back to that point.

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