JOHN SHATTUCK: Good evening. I’m John Shattuck, CEO of the Kennedy Library Foundation. And on behalf of our Board of Directors and our Library Director, Tom Putnam, I want to welcome you to tonight’s forum. Before beginning our program, we at the Kennedy Library want to briefly honor the memory of all those who lost their lives seven years ago today on September 11, 2001. In May 2002, the Kennedy Library honored with a special Profile in Courage Award that stands permanently in the Pavilion right here in the Library, all the heroic public servants that responded to the terrible attacks of that day.
And what we do here tonight in this forum and in all of our programs here at the Kennedy Library is intended to honor the spirit of American democracy that no attack will ever defeat. So tonight’s forum is the second in our series this fall on the issues and atmospherics surrounding the presidential race. Tonight we are going to take you on a tour of the new, high-tech world of political campaigns, a world that didn’t exist until about four years ago when it burst on the scene as we will discuss tonight, just in time for the 2004 election.
Before going there, let me first offer thanks to our sponsors. Tonight’s program is part of a special forum series around the theme of our new Kennedy Library exhibit, “The Making of a President,” made possible by generous support from the AIG Private Client Group and from WCVB. Our forums are made possible by generous support from out lead sponsor, Bank of America, as well as our other forum sponsors, Boston Capital, the Lowell Institute, the Corcoran Jennison Companies, The Boston Foundation and our media sponsors, The Boston Globe, NECN and WBUR, which broadcasts all these Kennedy Library Forums on Sunday evenings at eight.
So let’s go now to the new world of high-tech politics and campaigning. Once upon a time, in what seems like another country, politicians could control news cycles by issuing statements that they timed carefully to meet reporters’ deadlines. They could go off and commit gaffes that only their immediate audience would see. They could leave the stage and admire themselves in private as they combed their hair. And they could let out screams without being heard around the world.
That’s the way it was. You may even remember that. But no more. Today the Internet makes deadlines obsolete. Bloggers give candidates a 24/7 media bath. And YouTube captures just about everything they do. So let’s take a look.
[VIDEO CLIP of John Edwards’ “I Feel Pretty,” George Allen’s “Macaca,” and
Howard Dean’s “Scream.”]
So there we are. Like here we are. Here we are back again and this is the world we’re in. I think it is no accident that at least for these moments, none of these candidacies survived in the age of YouTube. Not that the old days were any easier. They were just different. For example, when President Kennedy was asked in a White House news conference in May 1962 what he thought of the press’s treatment of his administration he responded, “Well, I’m reading it more and enjoying it less.” I’m not sure what he might have said if his presidency had been under microscopic scrutiny from the Internet, bloggers and YouTube. But he might have enjoyed it even less.
So what are we to make of this new frontier of politics and the media? How is it affecting the 2008 presidential campaign and what will it be like for the next president to try to pull the country together and govern now that the age of Internet politics is in full blast? To answer these questions, we’ve assembled an all-star cast here on our stage today. Let me introduce them starting on my left.
Matt Bai is the author of one of the most important political books of today. Its title is The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics. And in it Matt takes us inside the new progressive movement where savvy Internet experts and big money are working to create a juggernaut to overtake the long-time political dominance of the conservative movement in America. The New York Times recently called The Argument one of the year’s most notable books. Matt is a staff writer for the Times Magazine and a former national correspondent for Newsweek. And like all great journalists, of course, he got his start here in Boston working for The Boston Globe.
Garrett Graff is widely recognized as one of the nation’s leading experts on the Internet and politics. He’s the editor-at-large and Internet director for the Washingtonion Magazine and he was the first blogger to receive White House press credentials. Was it worth it, Garrett? We will see. He served as deputy press secretary on Governor Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign and before that he was Governor Dean’s political web master. His first book Globalization, the Web, and the Race for the White House got great reviews last year. And it examines the role of the web in the 2008 presidential race. Garrett has also written for The Washington Post, Wired and Politico. And he teaches at Georgetown University’s Journalism and Communcations program.
Joe Trippi has been heralded as the man who reinvented campaigning. In 2004 he was the national campaign manager for Howard Dean, where he pioneered the use of online technology to organize what became the largest, grassroots movement in presidential politics to that time. By using the Internet for small donor fundraising, the Dean for America campaign raised more money than any presidential campaign up to then, blazing a trail that, of course, Barack Obama has followed. Joe has run Senate, gubernatorial, and mayoral campaigns and he has been profiled as a campaign revolutionary in GQ, Wired, Fast Company, New Republic, and The New York Times Magazine. He’s the author of a book with a wonderful, provocative, which is, along with the other books of our authors here, on sale, and they will be happy to sign. The title is, The Revolution will not be Televised: Democracy, the Internet and the Overthrow of Everything.
Our moderator this evening is Boston’s own public radio superstar, Tom Ashbrook, who is known to all of you. Appropriate to this evening’s 9/11 anniversary, Tom began his award winning career with National Public Radio on WBUR in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks when he created his own program On Point to provide special coverage of the world after 9/11. Tom’s longer career in journalism spans 20 years as a foreign correspondent, editor and author, as a reporter and then deputy managing editor of The Boston Globe. He directed coverage of the first Gulf War and the end of the Cold War and after leaving The Globe in 1996, he spent four years as an Internet entrepreneur, an experience he chronicles in his book, The Leap: A Memoir of Love and Madness in the Internet Gold Rush.
So please join me in welcoming to the stage of the Kennedy Library Matt Bai, Garrett Graff, Joe Trippi, and Tom Ashbrook. Over to you Tom. [Applause]
TOM ASHBROOK: Thank you very much, John. And thank you, everyone for being here. It’s a real honor to be with all of you and with this terrific panel at this time when this subject matters so much. And it’s a special honor, Joe, sitting next to you, who represented two of our stars in the videos there, Howard Dean and John Edwards. Two out of three ain’t bad, Joe. You really—you’ve got it going.
JOE TRIPPI: You guys didn’t find out my connection to George Allen.
TOM ASHBROOK: Oh, my gosh. I mean watching those things: George Allen, the license, the license to stand and say that again and again. And your guy, John Edwards. I’m getting your haircut right after the show tonight. I’d never find myself in that situation.
I’m thrilled to be talking about this. I was thinking on the way over about my sense of the Internet and politics, and we will have every kind of metaphor and simile here tonight. But when I think back on the arc of how I’ve sensed the web pushing into this arena, I mean, at first it was, literally, nothing, and then a whisper, then a playground. Then there was a distinct period when it was widely considered a joke. Then the next thing we knew it was a player. And the next thing we knew it was a piggy bank and a weapon. And now, when I think about the Internet in politics, I think about quite a grand army with many ranks and different kinds or artillery pieces with snipers and major generals and generals and generalissimos and tons and tons of foot soldiers. Or to think of it another way, I think of it as a kind of lightly, sometimes heavily armed Greek chorus that rushes right out into the battlefield all the time. You know, shouting out and shouting down and mocking and making and leading charges and beating retreats.
When I think of it in that kind of tidal way, I really think of it even more as a journalist looking at it. It’s almost as though there was a time when journalists worked on dry ground and it’s all been flooded now. The Internet is like an ocean. It has just engulfed all the traditional reporting. And we still go through all the motions of traditional reporting, but we are now surrounded by this new medium, which is a force in itself, which has currents, which has storms, which has all kinds of deep sea creatures, and you never know when they are going to emerge. It’s leviathan. I mean, I think of it as just as completely immersive at this point as an ocean. And it’s all around us.
I want to read something just to get started here and get your response. And Garrett, I’ll come first to you. This is from Steve Schmidt, John McCain’s main man who has turned his campaign tough and successful just in the last, what, couple of months. This is The Times, your paper Matt, on Sunday: “Mr. Schmidt is considered by members of both parties to have a superior sense of a greatly altered news media environment caused by the proliferation of political websites and blogs, providing all different ways of getting out information. This new environment, he has told friends, is easily manipulated because of round the clock thirst for news, increased competition, lowered standards created by the proliferation of outlets and hunger for the outrageous.” Garrett, is that your role, your biz?
GARRETT GRAFF: I think that’s a very simplified version of what’s taking place. But I think that Steve …
TOM ASHBROOK: It’s working for him.
GARRETT GRAFF: I was going to say, I think that Steve is on to something there. That what is fascinating about this particular election is the blurring of the two parties that you were talking about. In 2004, it was really easy to tell who was a blogger and who was a traditional, mainstream reporter. Now, what struck me when I was out at the convention in Denver was that it was very hard to tell the two apart any more, that all of the reporters are out there with video cameras and digital cameras, and they’re blogging and they are twittering and they are sort of doing all of the same things that the bloggers are doing. And that all of the bloggers are out there, talking to sources and doing reporting and doing research and digging up primary source documents. And that they are doing all of the things that the reporters are doing. And that confluence of these two, historically very different roles, means that it is very, very hard to control any sort of message in this environment now because now you don’t even know which audience to begin to speak to.
TOM ASHBROOK: Is it hard or is it easy? Throw out red meat, vetted or unvetted, and you know the ocean will come.
GARRETT GRAFF: Well, and that’s where I think Steve is on to something.
That we have seen throughout this campaign, this year that because of the nature -- not just of the blogs and not just of the front page of the Drudge Report and Huffington Post, which drive the daily news cycles in ways that certain traditional journalists are very uncomfortable talking about -- but that the hunger for the cable news channels to just fill the time that they have to cover anyway, that it’s very, very hard to end up with any sort of serious conversation. And that certainly, I think, is what Barack Obama was saying yesterday in his speech when he said, “You know, enough is enough. We can’t allow ourselves to be distracted from the campaign with all of this phony outrage.”
TOM ASHBROOK: Matt, what’s your sense of the big picture of what’s going on with the web now and politics, presidential politics in particular right now.
MATT BAI: Ah! It’s a flash in the pan Tom. It’s going to be gone.
TOM ASHBROOK: It will be gone tomorrow. It is nothing. [Laughter] Newspapers will be back. Circulation will be doubled, tripled.
MATT BAI: Yeah. Can I just take a moment of personal prerogative, not to …
TOM ASHBROOK: Absolutely.
MATT BAI: I want to thank the Library for doing this and say how honored I am to be here. As you heard, I started my career across the street not that long ago. Tom was actually one of the people who hired me. Or, at least, he did not vociferously object in any, a loud enough way to have an impact. And this building is sort of holy ground to me. I mean I used to come over here. I used to take that walk back and see that American flag out on the grass. It is a terrific place. And so I’m just personally very honored to be here. And thank you all for coming.
TOM ASHBROOK: A star from the start. And I’m sorry the industry hasn’t lasted longer.
MATT BAI: Yeah, that is really gone. Don’t worry about that. So, yeah, the bigger picture of this, I think, is interesting because the way I like to look at it is just to get some perspective. The Internet isn’t changing politics. I mean the Internet is changing everything. And, as usual, politics is pretty much the last of the American institutions to begin to catch up, because that’s always the way it is.
So everyone in this room has probably in some ways seen their lives, you know, their life transformed. If you used to do your banking in a teller window or even at an ATM, now you are online. If you used to give your money to a stock broker, you go online now, you make the trades yourself. You used to go the doctor and say, “What’s wrong with me?” Now you know what’s wrong with you. You’ve surfed WebMD and you go to the doctor and you say, “This is what I need.”
And so the whole culture has changed, and I think you see that we get stuck in the granular ways in which the Internet is changing politics, cell phone messaging and the raising of money, all of which is very impressive. But there is a much larger cultural shift going on that is reflected in many ways. And the ways that I would point to, I think most dramatically to me is, if you look at Barack Obama and his candidacy—and I know people don’t like it when you say this because we are in the height of a presidential season and no one wants to yield a point to the other side -- but let’s be serious. His candidacy would not have been possible 20 years ago. I don’t think it would have been possible a decade ago. I don’t think it would have been possible in the last 100 years. He does not have the historical level of experience, even a term as an executive like Jimmy Carter, one of the least experienced presidents of the last century had. He does not have a resume that would have been taken seriously traditionally over a period of time in government.
Why is it possible? Well, yes, he has a singular talent and, yes, we are in a weird moment. But I think it is possible because the Internet, the rise of this digital technology, has devalued experience and expertise across the board for all the reasons I just mentioned. You don’t need a doctor to tell you what’s wrong with you any more. You don’t want a stock broker to invest your money for you. People want to be their own experts. There is something very empowering about going online and making your own choices and decisions.
And I think the Obama phenomenon is a direct result of that cultural shift because he has effectively said to the American public, “This experience thing is overrated. You can make decisions. You can do this for yourself. We can all be our own experts.” So I think there is a broader culture shift going on that politics is just beginning to adapt to and be swayed by.
TOM ASHBROOK: Palin, too? Or is she in an older mode, Davy Crockett recruited to run on the ticket? [Laughter]
MATT BAI: No. I think there is an aspect of that, too. The same aspect with her, where I think the experience factor seems to bother people less. But I also think McCain’s campaign you can discount. It is often said he doesn’t know how to use the Internet. He doesn’t know how to use e-mail. I’m assuming that’s true. I’ve not talked to him about it. But you see reflected in the culture, the ethos of McCain, the thing that made him a national figure and continues to be his calling card in American politics is very much technology driven.
Don’t forget 2000 when he ran was the first emergence of the Internet. Bill Bradley raised what was considered at that point a lot of money online. Now it is like two hours of donations. And so did McCain in New Hampshire in 2000. And, you know, McCain talks about, as part of his reform mantra, weekly press conferences, question time in Congress. I don't know how many have seen this in a European country or Australia or something. There is no way McCain would last 30 seconds in question time. They would have to bring in the police.
He talks about taking the pork spending projects, right, and putting them online for everyone to see. He may not grasp the technical aspect of the Internet but he absolutely grasps the cultural shift, which is toward accountability, towards transparency, and towards individual empowerment. That’s what makes his message to people so powerful. That’s why, in this environment, economically, internationally he can be dead tied in the polls.
TOM ASHBROOK: Joe Trippi, you have been considered a kind of wizard in this arena. The Internet has made politicians you have worked for and helped raise up. It has destroyed politicians that you’ve worked for and helped raise up. On balance, how do you look at it? Is it good? Is it bad? Does it matter? Is it good or bad for American democracy? Not that it’s going to be going away.
JOE TRIPPI: Well, first of all, I think anything that gets thousands and thousands of Americans who haven’t been involved, participating in politics and in democracy is good. You know, we’ve seen hundreds of thousands, millions of Americans who have never contributed before giving in this election. And starting in 2003 you’ve seen hundreds of thousands of them out there, organizing, knocking on doors, talking to other Americans. You know, I think that’s a great thing.
I was taken with your introduction about how you see it as armies out there. Actually, a very conservative blogger by the name of Glenn Reynolds wrote a very good book, not as good as any of the three that have been written up here.
TOM ASHBROOK: Not nearly. And by the way, they will be for sale in the lobby after this. [Laughter]
JOE TRIPPI: His will not be. But called an Army of Davids. And his view was exactly that, that it was creating these armies out there that were interested in issues or interested in some hobby together or some other interest or were looking for how they were going to treat their diabetes or something. But it was creating these armies. And it was interesting because he was clearly talking about Goliath and the army of Davids. And every institution out there, you know, for years in our society has tried to be Goliath. I mean Hertz wants to be number one. Avis is trying harder so it can be number one. And the interesting thing I thought he didn’t get to was, okay, so in the old world of Goliath and Davids, and now there are armies of Davids being created out there. You don’t want to be Goliath any more. That is a very bad place to be. What you want to be is a manufacturer of sling shots, right? How can you, the Barack Obama campaign hand out a zillion sling shots to that army that’s growing out there to help you get your message, your brand, your institution further along? And that’s where I think things are moving.
That’s also why any citizen out there with a cell phone can commit an act of photojournalism. I mean all of a sudden the army, these armies are getting built. And so how we—I think that’s what’s happening in politics. Politicians are starting to understand that they don’t want to be the big thing. They want the army. They want to give the army the tools to help them get to office.
I think McCain definitely understands that and Steve Schmidt. I think the Obama campaign understands it. The first time that we’ve had where … In 2003 it was a joke -- or at least a lot of campaigns thought it was a joke for far too long and then woke up to it -- to what Dean and Wes Clark and some of the other forward users or pioneers of the Internet were doing. But this year was not that way. This year no one was laughing about it. Everybody from the get-go was trying to use it. And I think you are ending up with two campaigns. As Matt says, it was the McCain campaign actually in 2001 with Bradley that showed some understanding of this. In fact, that was what made me concerned as a Democrat. I saw what McCain was doing in 2000. And so I started thinking about what we would do in 2004. I’m actually kind of flabbergasted that the thing has come full circle, and now Obama and McCain are going at it in 2008.
TOM ASHBROOK: Garrett, let’s come back to Steve Schmidt because I hear what Joe is saying but I didn’t read him that way. I didn’t hear him saying, “I want to arm masses of Republican bloggers and Republican citizens to rise up, raise money.” I’m sure he’d like that, or advocate for McCain. I heard him saying, “This is a manipulable, large, ungainly, unruly, but highly manipulable medium. And if I put the right catnip out there, the right fire water, the right provocation, I can count on this medium to turn it into a firestorm.” Joe?
JOE TRIPPI: I think that is a far better understanding of cable television than it is of the Net. If cable television wasn’t in there as sort of the middle of the food chain, I’m not sure that getting a couple of bloggers going crazy over … In fact, I think it was actually cable that actually went crazy over the lipstick on a pig than it was the bloggers.
TOM ASHBROOK: Yes.
JOE TRIPPI: It may work backwards that way. But I think cable has made that kind of usage a lot more prevalent than it would be. We’ve always had this weird thing where you could easily create, you know, some sort of story out there, with every medium we’ve ever had. There’s nothing different about the Internet.
TOM ASHBROOK: But there was a time when you had to have printing press or a broadcast tower or, at least like Tom Paine and the others, be a pamphleteer. You didn’t have a thousand megaphones in a thousand provocateurs’ hands, or ten thousand. I mean I always wonder what the conversation is behind closed doors. When they were thinking about Sarah Palin, they knew Palin would drop into the left wing bloggersphere, like what? Like, I don't know. Like something off the new accelerator in France, you know. Something out of physics. And would accelerate everything.
MATT BAI: A wounded moose, perhaps.
TOM ASHBROOK: There you go. And that happened immediately and kind of wildly and pretty soon we had Sarah Palin, her daughter pregnant and her smuggling the baby under her coats, and the whole thing of her bearing her daughter’s baby and so on and so forth. Is it played that thoroughly? Do they anticipate that?
GARRETT GRAFF: No.
TOM ASHBROOK: Can they see it coming?
GARRETT GRAFF: No. I also think that one of the things -- and I think that Joe has hit on something fundamental in his answer -- that there are big partisan differences, I think, in the way the bloggersphere approaches the news cycle. That the right, if you are coming from Steve Schmidt’s perspective, is used to having an echo chamber that they have built up over time with things like talk radio, during the 1980s and 1990s, where they sort of understand that they can put out something and have that drive conversation for a number of days. And I think that that is to a certain extent carried forward into the way that the conservative bloggersphere exists. The left, and Matt has done a very good job in his career of tracking this—the left, the progressive bloggersphere was founded and exists as a counterweight to the organized politics of the Democratic Party.
TOM ASHBROOK: Republican Party.
GARRETT GRAFF: No, Democratic Party.
TOM ASHBROOK: Democratic Party.
GARRETT GRAFF: That they are out there as the rabble. They are the army of Davids going up against the Goliaths.
TOM ASHBROOK: They are for Howard Dean. They are for Obama.
GARRETT GRAFF: Represents, exactly. They are going up against the Terry McAuliffe-Clinton wing of the Democratic Party. And so there is no expectation on the left that you can easily manipulate the doers of the, you know, the bloggersphere into doing your bidding.
TOM ASHBROOK: But they are seen as the left’s answer to radio very widely.
GARRETT GRAFF: Yes, but that is not—the left, right wing radio …
TOM ASHBROOK: Gets the memo.
GARRETT GRAFF: Right. They get the memo. Whether or not we consider them an official wing of the Republican Party, they are on the same page as the official Republican line. Whereas the progressive bloggersphere has existed and was founded to speak truth to power in the form of the traditional Democratic Party.
JOE TRIPPI: And the interesting thing, though, in the last couple of years some of them are now getting invited to the big Democratic meetings and things and you are starting to see even a blurring there of how much they are still voicing their independence as sort of challengers of the Democratic establishment and how much in order to help like get 60 more Senate seats, you know, sort of where they have become part of it.
That’s a fascinating shift that is going on. But I think Garrett is exactly right about it. There is a totally different way that Republican, the conservative bloggersphere, and the Democratic bloggershere function. They come out of two, totally different prescriptions, where they know if they get a story and they can get it on the Drudge and they can get it onto Fox, they have a whole food chain of how this thing …
GARRETT GRAFF: Pipeline.
JOE TRIPPI: … works. And the Democratic or the progressive bloggersphere doesn’t operate that way at all. I mean we …I remember one moment in the Dean campaign where Dick Cheney was doing a big dinner, $2,300 dollar luncheon somewhere.
GARRETT GRAFF: South Carolina.
JOE TRIPPI: In South Carolina. That’s right. And we just decided we would take a picture of Howard Dean eating a tuna sandwich -- I think it was your idea.
GARRETT GRAFF: Turkey sandwich.
JOE TRIPPI: Turkey sandwich. It was Garrett’s idea. Do you want to tell the story? [Laughter]
GARRETT GRAFF: So it was [simultaneous conversation] Joe’s idea to hold the fundraiser where, you know, Dick Cheney was going to South Carolina for one luncheon, 125 people raised $250,000 dollars in an hour at this luncheon. And $2,000 dollars being the maximum that you can donate to a presidential campaign or the maximum you could donate in the 2004 campaign. And we decided to sort of make a real, big push around this and show that, you know, People-Powered Howard could raise that much money in small dollar donations. And we raised about $500,000 dollars, and all online, over the course of the two days leading up to this. And we sat Governor Dean down at the computer during the time when Dick Cheney was having his lunch in South Carolina and we handed him a three dollar -- I don’t remember whether it was a ham or a turkey sandwich -- and that was Howard Dean’s $250,000 dollar luncheon.
TOM ASHBROOK: Pretty good.
JOE TRIPPI: No, but that moved around and that would never dawn on the conservative blogs. They wouldn’t do that. They try to move stories. The Democratic, the progressive bloggersphere has gotten much better at that. They come from two different sort of disciplines on how they do it yet.
TOM ASHBROOK: The right doesn’t do it yet. Matt, in 2004 we were here in Boston and sort of the whole Net community, the bloggers were on the outside looking in, like Obama in the parking lot in 2000 in Los Angeles. I mean this time they had set up their own big tent or whatever it was called. In Denver there were a lot of folks. It was pretty well organized. And they were there in force and no longer sort of floating particles. They were organized. They had their own program. They were a big deal.
I want to get your sense of the right versus left on this. But what about when you look at this community, and it is so big. I mean there are those who are there in Denver in the big tent. And then there is a ring, sort of …
MATT BAI: By the way, that was the big tent, as in big, if you agree with me, you can come in.
TOM ASHBROOK: Yes. That kind of big tent. And anybody who does anything on the web knows this or anybody that gets commented on the web knows this, there’s tons, hundreds of thousands, millions of others who are kind of in that arena. When you look out on the whole conversation that goes on there and it is participants … You wrote the book on it, The Argument, for sale in the lobby after the show. [Laughter]
MATT BAI: And now in paperback with a new afterword.
TOM ASHBROOK: Hey! [Laughter] How do you look -- I know you are going to say, “All of the above.” -- but do you see this as citizens, provocateurs, vandals, slanderers, gossips, architects of a new age? How do you look out on these armies?
MATT BAI: It depends on whether they are talking about me or not, Tom.
TOM ASHBROOK: Yeah. Same here.
MATT BAI: Look. I think this is important. I think this is important because you are talking and Garrett and Joe have been at this from the beginning. They are pioneers in this and they have a necessarily and a laudably idealistic view of this. And I share it to a large extent. But let me try to be somewhat a balancing force. There is a lot about this. Joe and I, we have like a little … We are developing a traveling show where we do this. I think there is a lot that is really empowering and inspiring about the Internet. And you guys had a lot to do with starting that. I think anything that brings millions of people into the process to participate, to get engaged who haven’t before, to reach friends of theirs, neighbors who feel like they can play a significant role, that is a tremendous; it is one of the greatest technological advents in terms of American politics we’ve obviously ever seen. And so, I’m down with the fact The Revolution won’t be Televised. And it’s a great revolution.
I’m also profoundly troubled. I think it comes, and this gets to your question, profoundly troubled by some of the effects that it has. Because it does tilt us in a way … there is something sort of Athenian democratic about it versus the sort of the republican ideal that has unpinned the country for its entire life. And there is a reason the founders resisted mob rule.
What I often say is that my fear is that we are leaving the age of persuasion and entering the age of confirmation. That effectively you used to write something or you used to talk about something in the political arena, in the public square and people weighed the argument and maybe weighed another argument. And, so, it’s The New York Times and I don’t exactly like what you are saying but I trust The Times or whatever it was. And they made decisions based on the information, hopefully from multiple sources, they were given. Now it seems like people read about the first ten lines of anything that is out there or look at the first 30 seconds. And if it doesn’t immediately conform to their worldview, they dismiss it and shut it out. Because now, why would you bother spending time with something that doesn’t immediately tell you that everything you think is true, when you can go to hundreds, thousands of websites and immediately have everything confirmed for you and have people tell you you were exactly right about everything, just as you thought you were.
And so we are less thoughtful and more reactionary as a society and as a political society and it is reflected in our discourse. And I find it profoundly troubling because it’s people talking past each other rather than with each other very often.
You know, very quickly, just let me add—the other thing that really, I think, is a deep concern about this trend is that it’s inherently unequal. I was in Lebanon, Virginia the other day when Obama did the pig in the lipstick thing. I didn’t think it was that big a deal. Anyway, I was in Tennessee. I drove up to Lebanon. I drove all the way up through southwestern, southern Virginia. And, you know, this is the kind of, in some of these areas, the kind of abject poverty in America that, you know, Robert Kennedy was talking about 40 years ago. And it’s, of course, true as well in the inner city. It is not just in rural America. When you think right now … I’ve just been to Australia, too, and I was talking to their government ministers about their broadband policy and what they are doing.
And I came back really thinking about this a lot. And I thought about it as I was driving in Virginia. Right now, if you have a kid who is growing up in that area of southwestern Virginia or here in the neighborhoods in Boston where I used to report, and there is no computer in the home and there is no computer in the neighbors’ homes. And there might be an old computer in the school that you can sign onto for a few minutes—we are damning that kid. There is nothing we are going to be able to do for that kid.
TOM ASHBROOK: Because they are mute.
MATT BAI: The world is passing that kid by. It’s all Internet driven. This Internet, this incredible infusion of the Internet in society is unequal. And it’s only reaching part of the society. And everybody -- You know, Mark Warner, the former governor of Virginia, used to talk about, “This is like the railroad in 1880 or the highway system in 1950. If it doesn’t come through your town, your town is doomed.”
TOM ASHBROOK: Matt, it is about to boil over here. What do you say, Joe?
MATT BAI: My point is that we have—we need—this is urgent. There has to be some urgency about this. If this is going to be the venue in which politics is going to be discussed and conducted, just like every other part of society …
TOM ASHBROOK: Then give everybody …
MATT BAI: There has to be a national policy. If ever there was a thing for federal government to exist for …
TOM ASHBROOK: Joe, what’s eating you?
MATT BAI: … just to make sure that this technology is pervasive.
JOE TRIPPI: Well, there’s a couple of things. First of all, that I just got to, just sort of poke at a little bit. The first thing is that it strikes me as a little odd that it was okay for big, swinging $2,000 dollar check people to fund our entire discourse as a nation in presidential and governors and senators elections -- guys that ran around having big … Retail politics became dialing for dollars in a room with a phone where all you did was call people for $2,000 dollar checks so you could spend it on TV ads lying about your opponent.
TOM ASHBROOK: So it is all relative and we are better off.
JOE TRIPPI: That was a great public discourse and that is how we funded it. There is something wrong when two million people give $77 bucks and actually got active and they actually may have more power than the 50,000 people who usually write the $2,000 dollar checks to create an army, which is how it has happened in the past.
MATT BAI: But who is saying there is something wrong with that, Joe?
JOE TRIPPI: No. No. I’m saying … But the other side, it’s always an over simplification of what happened. I’ll give you a really incredible example that— I’m not arguing that we don’t need a national policy to get broadband everywhere and connect people. That’s not what I’m arguing here. What I am saying is there is something special about what’s going on.
In the Dean campaign, we had 400 and something people, 431 people I think in Austin, Texas. And we e-mailed them and said, “He’s coming in two weeks.” And we got there and we thought, “Well, if half the people we e-mailed to, it would be 200 people in the park.” It wasn’t 200 people in the park. We got there. It wasn’t 200 people in the park. It was over 3,200 people in that park, over half of them Latino and over half of them didn’t have computers. Now, how did we know that? We did clipboards through the crowd. And people signed up. We asked, because we were the Dean campaign and we were idiots doing it, “Give us your name and your e-mail address.”
Well, it turned out half the people in the crowd didn’t have laptops or computers. And we knew that when they went, name, phone number, but no e-mail. What happened was a couple of people in the 431 e-mails that we sent out got together. One of them said, “If he’s coming, maybe we should all get together.” A couple of people actually came, met in the guy’s backyard and they went out and leafleted, decided they were going to leaflet the Latino section of Austin, Texas, and we are going to go stand out from polling places in some city council special election was going to happen. And they were going to hand out leaflets saying, “Howard Dean is coming. Come.” That is how 3,200 people got there. Those people never would have gotten there if it wasn’t for … and they all started plugging in to that campaign.
What’s happening right now is something much different in our politics. Many more people are getting involved and they aren’t all connected through the Net. The Net is just empowering other people to reach out and connect to them. I think it is disaster that people don’t, that we haven’t as a nation made sure the broadband was available and out there.
TOM ASHBROOK: Let me ask you about another angle if I may. I can see how if you are inside a campaign, and you’ve been there, it feels like a miracle compared to the old days to be able to create a campaign and fund a campaign on the web. You can get numbers like never before in a big hurry, low cost. You can be up and running. You did it with Dean. Obama has done it as Matt describes.
JOE TRIPPI: I agree with Matt, though. Obama never would have existed because the party establishment—I mean if the only place you could get your money was from big checks …
TOM ASHBROOK: Right. So it’s a miracle. The web is a miracle here and nobody can deny that aspect of democratization. What about though, Matt’s concern about the Athenian democracy versus republican. Let me put it to you this way. From the politicians -- and they know they are going to be shot crimping their hair or saying something stupid or attacked on every comma and every statement -- what about the Internet at large when it comes to the discourse? What about civic debate? Good? Bad?
JOE TRIPPI: We’re talking like ridiculous numbers. Three hundred million Americans. Three hundred million Americans. Everyone is jumping up and down doing cartwheels down the street because two million of them have signed up for Barack Obama on the Internet. It’s ridiculous. This thing isn’t running anything. It’s too small a number. Like I said, if it was 50,000 people giving money the old fashioned way, it’s two million people giving money the new way!
TOM ASHBROOK: I thought your book title was Democracy and the Overthrow of Everything. Now, which is it?
JOE TRIPPI: No. My point, in 2012 or 2016, there is going to be a campaign that makes Barack Obama’s look ridiculous, just like Obama’s makes the Dean campaign look ridiculous. You still have to have the network grow larger, more people using broadband as we are today, until it actually gets to a point where, yes, it’s going to be a big revolution because that’s how many people are going to be actually connected. I believe if John F. Kennedy went to the podium that day when he gave his inaugural address and he heralded in a totally new kind of presidency, it was a television presidency in a lot of ways—because when he gave his inaugural address it was the first time there were enough Americans with the many television sets in all their households that they all saw a president of the United States address the nation, everybody at the same time. And it was an amazing speech.
The next president, be it McCain or Obama, is going to walk up there and he is going to step up and herald in a new era. It’s going to be the first networked presidency, the first one where when he says, “My healthcare plan in the first 100 days, this is what I want to pass,” millions of Americans out there are going to start debating it online, create petition drives to pass the president’s healthcare plan or whatever it is. There will be a way for the White House, the president and people to connect. “These are the ten members of Congress opposing my plan. I need your help.” It’s going to be one of the more powerful presidencies we’ve ever seen because we are almost there. There are not quite enough people yet, but I think this president will herald that era in. And just like after JFK …
TOM ASHBROOK: Even if it’s McCain?
JOE TRIPPI: Yes. There is nothing …
TOM ASHBROOK: You can’t help it.
JOE TRIPPI: We were fortunate that it was somebody like John F. Kennedy who heralded in that kind of new presidency and I think McCain—I actually think we are fortunate probably that either of the two candidates running right now—I mean this -- regardless of your partisanship, will understand and get that they are going to becoming president in an entirely new media age, where there is a way for them to connect and pass their agenda with the help of the people and actually have, you know, enhance the people’s power and Congress. And Congress, you know, is sort of standing in the middle as a referee. It is going to be very different, a very different kind of democracy I think. It’s not democracy of the mobs, though, because the president has to be there. The president doesn’t have to …
TOM ASHBROOK: I should say that in about five to ten minutes we are going to start taking questions from these microphones. So if you’ve got them whirling, we are going to be eager to hear them. And you can step to the mic. We will be happy to have them.
GARRETT GRAFF: I think Matt is right, though, on what …
JOE TRIPPI: You always think Matt is right.
GARRETT GRAFF: No, Joe, it is always that I think you’re wrong. [Laughter]
MATT BAI: Because I usually am. Joe is the problem.
TOM ASHBROOK: Joe will send one e-mail and get 50,000 people who think he is right.
MATT BAI: He could have this building surrounded in ten minutes.
GARRETT GRAFF: I think that Joe is right about what is going to happen come January that if it’s Barack Obama, he’s going to take that list of three million people that he will have on his e-mail list by November, and he is going to segment that list and he is going to send an e-mail to the 50,000 people in the 7th Tennessee congressional district and get their congressmen on board with his plan.
But I think what Matt is right about, that one of the real challenges of online debate -- and it is not solely a challenge of online debate -- it is a larger challenge in our political discourse right now because I think, largely because of talk radio and news, there is no passionate middle. There aren’t any like hugely successful, moderate bloggers. Like that is not a path to success online. Like no one is saying, “Well, actually, if we take this little part from John McCain’s plan and we take this little part from Barack Obama’s plan, and we marry it with a little bit of Ron Paul’s plan, then together this is great compromise document that we should…”
TOM ASHBROOK: That is just a big raspberry that nobody wants to hear.
GARRETT GRAFF: No one is doing that blogging out there.
TOM ASHBROOK: I’m trying on the radio a little. I want to ask about this. Joe says that the web in politics doesn’t run anything. You know, it’s two million out of three hundred million. Forget about it. I mean, not forget about it, but don’t oversell it. But I have a sense that there is a very strong wag-the-dog dynamic here that goes to what Matt says, which is, you know, it’s about leaving persuasion for confirmation. There is tons of confirmation that goes on. If you have numbers on your side, even if they are within that two million subset, what do you think, Garrett, does it run anything or it’s already running people around?
Look, Howard Dean is out in part because, of course, it was on broadcast television and cable, but it was all over the web. John Edwards, the most important repeat and repeat and repeat that, “I feel pretty,” was on the web. It didn’t put him out. It’s interesting why the web didn’t catch up with his dalliance. It did catch up with his haircut.
GARRETT GRAFF: Now, we are going to go there.
TOM ASHBROOK: Okay. Okay. [Laughter] We’ll blog on that later. But is it wagging the dog? Is it just two million out of 300 million and don’t get excited about it?
GARRETT GRAFF: I think that is a little bit true but one of the beauties of this, though, is that the ability to bypass the traditional media for these campaigns and for these candidates is giving millions of voters, tens of millions of voters, far beyond the two million or three million who may actually be on someone’s e-mail list, the ability to study these candidates in ways that they would not have been able to four years or eight years ago.
If you look at Barack Obama, probably the most important speech that Barack Obama has given in this election, which is his race speech …
TOM ASHBROOK: Philadelphia.
GARRETT GRAFF: …in Philadelphia. Over eight million people have watched that YouTube video. It’s a 37-minute YouTube video, which means that some multiple of maybe ten times the number of people who would have seen that video live when it was on TV that first day, have had the opportunity to sit down and watch that video since then. That was impossible four years ago, eight years ago, 12 years ago. And, certainly, I think that one of the great revolutions in this is that it’s giving ordinary voters the chance to see their candidate speak a full speech that you wouldn’t have had since, basically, Harry Truman’s Whistle Stop tours ended.
JOE TRIPPI: I just want to put this in a little bit of perspective. Something like 117 or so million people voted in the last election. Yeah, 60 million for Bush, 57 million for Kerry.
MATT BAI: Oh, other way around.
JOE TRIPPI: Sixty million for Bush, 57 million for Kerry.
MATT BAI: Oh, 57?
GARRETT GRAFF: Yeah, 57 for Kerry. A hundred-seventeen million. What I’m saying is that there is this amazing thing. It is sort of this army of Davids thing. There are two million people out there. That’s a big number. But 117 million are going to vote. There are still people going to make the decision.
What’s important, what’s interesting about what’s changed is, when you do have two million people out there, it gets to something that is important and that is, people tend to be motivated more by their peers than they are from paid advertising or something else.
So if you have two million people who are out there saying, “Here, look at this speech. I’ll send it to you,” or “Here’s my candidate. I really think it’s important. You should consider him.” People are likely to do that. And the best way to describe this to you, we are in an age now where if your five friends go see a movie over the weekend and they e-mail you saying it was really the worst movie they have ever seen, it no longer matters how many millions of dollars the studio spends on television telling you it is going to be the greatest movie you have ever seen. You’re not going.
So that peer army, armed with the right tools—and I think this is, by the way, what Obama is counting on -- that if this is a dead heat going into election day, that peer army that he has built, armed with the right tools may, they believe, will make the difference on election day. It will move their supporters and their people out. Look, what I don’t think, though, is ever since we’ve been a democracy there’s been garbage stuff strewn around in every medium.
And I always use the example of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. You’ve got to think about this. If we’re all John Adams’ consultants and we are trying to figure out how we are going to go negative on the guy who wrote the Declaration of Independence.
TOM ASHBROOK: Tough, very tough. [Laughter]
GARRETT GRAFF: The first thing they do is they start spreading around that Jefferson was too French, which they tried …
TOM ASHBROOK: That one still works, you know. [Laughter]
GARRETT GRAFF: That one still works, evidently. It works better today than it did then. But the other thing they did was they got a bunch of guys on horses and they ran around early states screaming at the top of their lungs, “Jefferson is dead. Jefferson is dead.” And, you know, if you were in Delaware and you hadn’t see Jefferson for a few months and the last time you did he was looking a little green, then you know, you started to believe it—which made Jefferson’s guys get up on horses and run around screaming, “Jefferson lives.” And they didn’t have today’s New York Times proof of life, you know, a picture of him [laughter], Jefferson, that they could show people
MATT BAI: Nobody was getting any sleep in these towns.
JOE TRIPPI: Saddle sores and [simultaneous conversation] oats in those days.
GARRETT GRAFF: What I’m trying to say is this kind of stuff has happened with every new iteration of media. The difference is now you can—Drudge says something. A bunch of other blogs can say it’s not true and they can put proof up, etcetera.
TOM ASHBROOK: A lot more. A lot faster. Matt, I want to put it to you. You say we are going to Athenian democracy away from Republican. That doesn’t sound like a minor shift to me. Do you think that we will elect a different kind of leader in this country, different kind of leaders under the scrutiny of all the different ways that the Internet comes to play, with all the communication, with all the kind of citizen involvement? Will it change the kind of leader we will elect?
MATT BAI: Yeah.
TOM ASHBROOK: Or, I mean, I think at the Republican convention, Obama with all of his Internet armies, suddenly had a war hero, that’s as classic as you can get and Alaska’s Annie Oakley and he was back in business?
MATT BAI: It already is changing the leaders we are going to get. These are two, highly unconventional presidential candidates. And, as I said at the outset, I think the advent of the technology has had a large impact on who they are.
TOM ASHBROOK: On McCain?
MATT BAI: On both.
TOM ASHBROOK: On Obama I get. Why McCain? He is the last one standing?
MATT BAI: I think the reform ethos that drove McCain onto the national stage as a successful leader and an icon for a lot of political observers as early as 2000…
TOM ASHBROOK: Was driven by the Web.
MATT BAI: Very much driven by what was just the emerging technology at that point. You know, Joe and I were talking about this backstage about why hasn’t the third Bush term thing really worked? Right. They keep saying …
TOM ASHBROOK: Obama’s line, Biden’s line.
MATT BAI: “McCain is the third term of Bush. McCain is the third term Bush.”
And here he is after the convention and the race is tied. Because one of the hallmarks of this new Internet age is the breakdown of loyalty to institutions as opposed to individual empowerment. And people don’t think like party people any more. They don’t say, “Well, Republicans have been in for eight years. I don’t want to put a Republican back in. I want to change parties.” They are looking at the individuals. They look at individuals much more separate than these institutional parties. That is not only changing this landscape, it is going to change it going forward. I still believe, and have said many times, and I think Joe agrees as well. I don't know how you feel, Garrett. The conditions have never been stronger, more hospitable to an independent presidency in America.
TOM ASHBROOK: That’s right.
MATT BAI: The barriers that existed have largely been obliterated even now by the web and that is going to be exponentially true in four or eight years from now. I would not be at all surprised to have a president in the country in the next two, three cycles who is neither a Democrat nor Republican.
TOM ASHBROOK: So not just party men or women, more open to change, more maverick, potentially in their …
MATT BAI: Yes. Because it is a very reform minded, you know, movement. It empowers people who want to change the system and who sense the system isn’t working.
TOM ASHBROOK: And maybe more change and we don’t know where we are going. We are ready for your questions. Anybody who has them, please step to a mic and identify yourself. We are happy to take them. I could do this all night but I would love to hear what you’ve got. Right here, Sir.
AUDIENCE: Hi, yes, I’m Fred Balfour and I’m intrigued with the comment that we went by briefly, that many other countries are farther ahead than the U.S. in terms of networking, whether you measure that in number of houses with broadband, or the actual broadband speed. U.S. is 15, 16, 17, something like that. That would imply that vast changes are taking place in the countries that have election cycles in their election, in their process, in the way are approaching it. Anybody on the panel have any insight outside this country on this phenomena?
TOM ASHBROOK: Matt, you are just back from down under, or Garrett, Joe? I don't know. What do you say?
MATT BAI: I was. I can speak to it briefly. You know, what interested me, and I sat with the broadband minister for the Australian, the federal government. And they are not so much further along then we are. They are grappling with this—you know, Australia, I mean those of you, even if you know a little bit about the country, it is really hard to get the Internet. It’s a huge land mass with a lot of barren areas that are not geographically all that hospitable.
But what really struck me is how much they are thinking about it and how much they have already gotten their head around the notion that, yes, they have competing technologies and competitions. But if they don’t get this right, if they don’t expand it outwards, they are going to have a much more equal and a much less competitive society.
And I think that is true here. And to which I would add, as my point earlier, that you are also going to have a politically imbalanced society, where some people have much more magnified voices than everybody else. And so my sense is that other countries, partly because they are either smaller or because they are adapting quicker, they are simply thinking more—at least some other countries are thinking more assertively about it. We’re in this period, of course, where the federal government doesn’t do big, national programs. And I’m not actually sure we are capable of doing big national programs.
I think we are going to find out if Obama is elected because healthcare is going to be the first thing on the table. But, you know, if you think about the highway system or the railroad tracks, to me this is analogous. This isn’t what the federal government is here to do. So lay down these wires that nobody else can do and which companies are going to compete over otherwise and never get done. I don't know. Why don’t we just disband it and figure out some other way.
TOM ASHBROOK: Your qualification about countries with election cycles is very germane, having been in China just this spring. I had a high communist party official say to me, “You know, we are going to totally dominate the Internet.” Within another five or ten years, they will have many more people on the web in China than the United States does, and soon after that then the west. So whatever the web is—and not that the Chinese aren’t using it in politically disruptive ways but the weight of it may be more determined there than here.
Other countries, Japan, Korea, they have more ubiquity than we do, more broadband than we do. Europe, other countries where you can see a distinctive, Internet-age politics emerging?
JOE TRIPPI: Actually, the places where cell phone usage is greater and text messaging is greater, are actually moving more quickly and more pronounced in terms of their democracy and using their technology. In the end, I think that is going to be the great equalizer here in the states as well. You know, Korea was the first place, really, where there was a sort of, if you want to call it, an electronic gadget that elected a president or head of state. That happened just before Dean. In fact, the Dean camp went to school on that election.
TOM ASHBROOK: With text messaging saying, “You’ve got to be for whoever it was at the time.” [Simultaneous conversation]
JOE TRIPPI: Yeah, it was all text messaging. I was first involved in Nigeria. You know, Nigeria has 1.6 million land lines, 66 million cell phones. I mean, even the poorest village has cell phone usage. So you are literally communicating to voters with text messages saying, “You hold the torch of democracy in your hand. Pass it on. Don’t let it drop. Vote for.”
TOM ASHBROOK: But does it work?
JOE TRIPPI: Yeah. It’s worked. Like I said, in South Korea we are seeing it. The problem here in the states, we screwed up the way our cell phones all work. So we don’t have … It’s going to take a while for us to get there, but it’s the way we did our standards. It’s a long story. But, anyway, our cell phones don’t work as well. But I think in the end, equalization will come around here. It won’t be moving so much on people’s lap tops. It will be the cell phone that democratizes even the poorest sections of the United States.
TOM ASHBROOK: Garrett.
GARRETT GRAFF: To build on Joe’s point, what we’ve seen is that text messaging around the world is really the tool of insurgent movements -- that it was text messaging that helped to topple Jose Estrada’s government in the Philippines in 2001. It was text messaging that really helped to topple Aznar’s government right after the Madrid train bombings. And that in Myanmar last year during the monk uprising there, that actually the government shut off text messaging …
TOM ASHBROOK: Too late.
JOE TRIPPI: Well, too late. But they had figured out that it was text messaging that was driving those political protests. And so one of the ways that they helped arrest the protests was to prevent the protesters from being able to communicate.
TOM ASHBROOK: And in it’s way, that’s the web, too. Sir?
AUDIENCE: I’m Roy Freid from Canton. And speaking of cell phones, I’ve heard it said that the widespread use of cell phones, for which there is no ready access through directories, might undermine the accuracy of polls. What do you think about that?
MATT BAI: I was actually having a conversation with a pollster about this just the other day. So just to explain the question a little bit for those with a background and the knowledge …
TOM ASHBROOK: We’ve all been called, not on our cell phones yet.
MATT BAI: That pollsters are largely prohibited from calling people with cell phones. This is a particularly large problem in people under the age of 35 where the number is about one in three voters under the age of 35 don’t actually own a landline. They rely solely on a cell phone. So what the pollsters are now doing more of, is that they will do telephone polls of people over the age of 35 and match it with a sample of a web poll done for people under the age of 35. And then they weight them and do all of that complicated math that pollsters do to arrive at the truth that …
TOM ASHBROOK: All polls do this now and we see McCain and Obama are neck and neck.
MATT BAI: Not all polls but that’s the way that pollsters are beginning to respond to this.
TOM ASHBROOK: There could be an interesting margin in there.
MATT BAI: They are all using different techniques. Some are asking specifically for the youngest person in the household every time so they get younger, and then they get the rest of it.
JOE TRIPPI (?): Hello! [Laughter]
TOM ASHBROOK: No, I mean they are trying to …
JOE TRIPPI (?): Bristol, put the phone down. [Laughter]
MATT BAI (?): It’s actually a real polling technique that has worked in the past.
TOM ASHBROOK: How old are you? That’s not young enough. Give me someone younger. I’m sorry. [Laughter]
ROY FREID: It was just suggested that web polls are voluntary and therefore they might not be as accurate.
TOM ASHBROOK: Is the web ever going to be a good polling tool? It seems so manipulable.
MATT BAI (?): No. I think the problem you are sort of right about is self selection. You are self-selecting in. That could be a problem. But I think, look, they are trying a whole bunch of different techniques. We will find out at the end of this cycle which ones worked. I mean whether it was the web poll match up or whether it was asking for the youngest person in the household or some other technique. I don’t think anybody knows.
I talked to a pollster who thinks the following: that they are going to be … the polls are underestimating how many young people are going to come out. They are underestimating how many African-Americans they are letting through and should be let through.
JOE TRIPPI (?): Overestimating.
TOM ASHBROOK: Madam.
MATT BAI (?): You’re right, anyway, that it is all going to balance out in the end.
AUDIENCE: Matt, I wanted to take exception with something you said about …
MATT BAI: Oh, take a number. I’m sorry. Go ahead.
AUDIENCE: Barack Obama could not have done this without the Internet. I think an exception is a man who was a one-term Congressman, who lost the Senate seat two years before he became president.
MATT BAI: Right. I get it. I get it.
AUDIENCE: That other experienced guy from Illinois. And do you think there might be a tendency for us to explain things using things we think we understand -- like the effect of the Internet -- in a man with incredible wisdom of someone like Abraham Lincoln would be explained away by things we think we know, instead of things that we don’t understand well but we kind of get.
TOM ASHBROOK: Interesting.
MATT BAI: Well, it’s my job to try and explain things. So I try to come up with—I spend some time thinking about it.
TOM ASHBROOK: So they will be explained.
MATT BAI: They will be explained. No. I actually—I do reject the suggestion. I appreciate you bringing it up. I hear it a lot. I think the fact that you have to go back to 1860, right, to find an example of this man. This is the example everybody pulls out. And, you know, this extraordinary time in the nation’s history, a completely different era, where obviously nothing in the country was even remotely the same, to explain this.
I’m not suggesting that experience should be the guiding factor, that there is not a good reason to vote for Obama, that he wouldn’t be a terrific president or that he isn’t a terrific candidate. I’m just saying there is a sea change in what makes a candidate, which I think is largely driven by cultural changes or by technology. I mean, I don’t quite know why. I just don’t think you can argue this. I know it arouses a tremendous amount of emotion in people. I know they bring up Lincoln.
I know they bring up John Kennedy. People thought Franklin Roosevelt wasn’t qualified. Dwight Eisenhower had never run for office. I’ve heard all the arguments. I don’t think Obama would argue this point, actually, and I just don’t think it is at all persuasive to try and argue that he is traditionally in the traditional vein …
TOM ASHBROOK: Just another Lincoln.
MATT BAI: [Simultaneous conversation] for a presidential candidate. He is just not.
JOE TRIPPI (?): I’ll just do this really quick. After Jimmy Carter won the presidency in 1976, the establishment and the Democratic Party in 1980, when he left town, did every thing they could to say, “That is never going to happen again. We are going to set up rules and make rules that do not let an insurgent ever get our party’s nomination. No one from outside of town is going to do what that cracker did.” And that’s how they did it. And they set up a bunch … It used to be, until recently, you had to get 30% in the primary to get any delegates. They set up every rule they could to stop it. And there is no way, with the way the Democratic Party establishment works today, in the modern era—I’m not sure where the Republican establishment was in 1860. But there was absolutely no way Barack Obama would have been the nominee this time around, had there not been a way for the bottom to get him the resources and connect with him and bypass where the establishment, because it wasn’t lined up with him, at least in the beginning.
TOM ASHBROOK: Madam.
AUDIENCE: Hi. Ellen Hume from MIT. McClatchy newspapers is reporting that Sarah Palin charged the state for significant amounts of money for the travel of her children and her family members as she went around the state of Alaska.
And that was McClatchy newspapers, a mainstream media operation. Now, we’ve been seeing in recent years that the GOP gets away with saying, “Oh, that’s just the liberal media.” They can say it about The New York Times as Bush did during the debates. So what happens to a story like that? Where is the role of the mainstream media? And what would make a politician quake in his or her boots if someone were holding them accountable? What does it take now to hold people accountable?
TOM ASHBROOK: Matt? Sorry. Garrett, jump in.
GARRETT GRAFF: I was going to say, I think that the answer is on the T-shirt right here in the second row, “Deny everything.” [Laughter] We’ve entered a very bizarre era of politics where I think that what we have begun to see over the last, over President Bush’s administration, and that this playbook is carrying forward into the McCain, the McCain campaign. And Matt was actually talking a little bit about this before back stage, about how the McCain’s press operation is largely run by former Bush press staff. That there is a very real -- and I think as a member of the press -- troubling trend of de-legitimizing the role of the press.
Where you can say, you know, “We want to ask this question. Is X true?” And the candidate says, “No. X isn’t true.” And then the press says, “Well, actually, we have all this evidence to back up that X is true.” And the candidate just says, “No, it is not true.” You’re sort of beginning to see that play out.
MATT BAI: Like dealing with my three year old.
GARRETT GRAFF: You’re seeing that play out in a very interesting way this week with Sarah Palin’s claim on …
ELLEN HUME: The bridge to nowhere.
GARRETT GRAFF: That she was the bridge to nowhere, that she stopped the bridge to nowhere and all of that. And there have been countless news stories saying that is just really not true. She did, in the end, not build the bridge to nowhere. But that she supported it. She lobbied for it. She accepted the money.
And it only really when it became a huge story that she said, “Okay. We will try to bury this.”
TOM ASHBROOK: Is the web or the web era culpable in this dynamic? There is no bar. So everything is asserted. So everything is true. So nothing is true. So whatever.
MATT BAI: Can I just jump in here?
GARRETT GRAFF: Yeah.
MATT BAI: Because I totally agree with Garrett on the point. I think 30, 40 years of a conscious effort, particularly on the right, to de-legitimize the media has taken a toll. And this is my problem with critics on the left and the tenor of their criticism. They are trying to finish the job, unfortunately.
TOM ASHBROOK: What do you mean by that, Matt? What are you referring to?
MATT BAI: In the last couple of years it has become very fashionable for Democrats to say, and a lot of them online [simultaneous conversation] to say, “The media is the enemy. Look at how the conservatives got them to do their bidding by de-legitimizing them. We will de-legitimize them.” The problem is, you break that bond with the public and it is very hard to get them back. I think the situation is much more complicated than they make it sound.
But also (inaudible) with a slightly more hopeful look at it, which is I kind of look at it with twig in the theory, the twig in the river theory. I don't know if anyone has read that terrific novel, Time and Again, with the twig in the river theory. But, basically, you know that in an environment where so many developments and everything is moving so quickly and there are so many sources of news, any one revelation, any one story, is like that twig in the river. The river just kind of runs right over it, right?
And so, in a sense, you are no longer in a period where you just have three networks and they all do the same story and it has this big detonation. But over time there is the cumulative impact of those stories. People begin to form cumulative impressions that become not only extremely important in their determination of who to vote for but unshakeable. And all the moments you saw online, when we opened this program on this video, were confirmational moments. They were moments that people latched onto and remembered instead of the thousands of other videos that didn’t take hold because they confirmed in an instant for people what they already believed about the subject.
They already thought that Howard Dean was unstable. They already thought George Allen was probably a racist. They already thought John Edwards was a lightweight and way too vain. There is something that those videos captured in people, something they already believed to be the case. I think that cumulative impact is still quite important and you may see it this election as well.
GARRETT GRAFF: I will give you an example to think about in terms of what Matt’s talking about for confirming moments. Two years ago when McCain was just starting out running for president, one of his aides said to me, “If anyone captures on video John McCain falling down, the race is over.” And so, if you think of, you know, the power of the video of John McCain tripping, walking up an aisle or falling off a stage, or being captured in any way looking like he is old or frail or feeble, the power that that would have. And then think of what the exact same video of Barack Obama falling off a stage or Barack Obama stumbling down the stairs, it would have no influence at all on Barack Obama’s campaign. But that, I think, could torpedo John McCain’s campaign.
MATT BAI: Joe is over their thinking, “I could trip John.” [Laughter]
TOM ASHBROOK: I could trip him. [Laughter] Joe Trippi, little fishing wire.
[Laughter] Ellen, thank you. Madam?
AUDIENCE: Related to this kind of theme of confirmation you’ve talked about, how there are very few moderate blogs that can be successful and how you foresee possibly an independent candidate coming to the national election, winning in the national election, possibly in the next two or three cycles. And I was wondering if you think that the current climate is also more conducive to the rise of more extremist candidates, say, on the far right or on the far left than it has been before?
TOM ASHBROOK: Joe?
JOE TRIPPI: I’m sorry. Can you repeat? I’m just not sure I got it.
TOM ASHBROOK: Do you think it will bring an independent candidate? And is it more hospitable to extremists? Is it likely to bring an extremist candidate to the fore?
MATT BAI: Does it lend itself to demagoguery?
JOE TRIPPI: Yeah. Okay, I got it. You know, the first thing I would say is something Matt said earlier. We are going to see an independent candidate. I would be shocked if we don’t see him or her in the next four or eight years, who is really going to, you know, I mean, put Perot to shame and put both parties on the ropes and may actually win it.
TOM ASHBROOK: Who will it be?
JOE TRIPPI: I don't know who it is going to be but I do know, particularly if whoever wins the presidency doesn’t, and we still have all these problems, particularly if it’s Obama, I think. You sort of here, “Well, let’s take a big leap here and try something really new.” And if that fails, too, I think people are going to be like, “You know, we tried it both. We tried everything, let’s look for something really, let’s go independent.” I think on demagogues—the problem here is that, you know, somebody out of power or one somebody out of My DD or Daily Codes could run for president …
TOM ASHBROOK: A blogger.
JOE TRIPPI: Yeah, a blogger could run. I don’t think they are going to, you know, coming out of the extremes. You know, you still have got to get 50%. It is just not the way it works here. You know, we still have, the network news still gets most Americans watching it. I mean the Americans who consume the news, more of them watch ABC, CBS, NBC, mainstream news. They are not looking for, you know, real life. I guess what I’m trying to say here, there is a reason reality TV is working, right? Because if you are only trying to get a couple of million people to watch during that show, you can do it. They are not trying to get 30 or 40 million people to watch something any more. You know, American Idol maybe.
What I’m saying is, what’s happened, it is not just the bloggersphere. It’s not the Internet. There is something else going on where, as media fractures, cable, etcetera, if you can grab a million eye balls, that’s a great show on A&E or something [simultaneous conversation] …
TOM ASHBROOK: You can be a candidate but can you win an election?
JOE TRIPPI: Well, my point is that somehow you still have to come back at the end of the day and put 50% of the country or 45, 46% of the country together. I don’t think that’s going to happen.
TOM ASHBROOK: As a demagogue?
JOE TRIPPI: As a demagogue or at the extremes.
TOM ASHBROOK: I don’t see it out there right now. Garrett? Arianna Huffington?
GARRETT GRAFF: Oh, no! She’s got the Schwarzenegger problem. I do think that you are going to see more powerful extremist candidates.
TOM ASHBROOK: All you need is a million or half a million gung ho supporters and they are networked.
GARRETT GRAFF: Exactly.
TOM ASHBROOK: Ron Paul.
GARRETT GRAFF: Yeah, Ron Paul. Sort of the runner up in the Republican primary this year, the guy who raised more money than just about any Republican who has ever run for office and not won. I mean Ron Paul reshaped the Republican race in lots of ways by having a relatively small core of people who would give $50, $100 dollar donations. And that the web makes it much easier to network those million, two million, three million person groups.
TOM ASHBROOK: Sir?
AUDIENCE: Good evening. My name is Steven Goode, and I’m a teacher at the John D. O’Brian School of Mathematics and Science here in Boston. My question for you today … Before I give you a question I do want to make a statement. You mentioned that in 2000, 2012, the Internet campaign of Barack Obama, it may look silly. Well, he may actually make himself look silly by winning twice. So you do have to consider that. And the election hasn’t happen.
JOE TRIPPI: I said 2012 or 2016. I mean assuming …
MATT BAI: I don’t think anybody here is counting out Barack Obama. Far from it.
TOM ASHBROOK: Duly noted. Kennedy Library. You heard it here.
STEVEN GOODE: But you did mention the Internet and you were saying, I think Matt you said that—you sort of counted the group out that—And I’m a school teacher. So we don’t really count them out too fast.
MATT BAI: Count out--?
TOM ASHBROOK: You do mean unconnected citizens?
MATT BAI: I see. I understand. I understand.
STEVEN GOODE: You said those kids who do not have access to the
Internet—well, they can’t catch up.
TOM ASHBROOK: What do you see?
STEVEN GOODE: Help me with this. Because the greatest generation didn’t seem to use the Internet either and they are still around. Does that mean there are two groups now, very large groups that are left behind?
MATT BAI: No. What I’m suggesting is that we are living in a massive economic, technological, and social change. We are living through one of these really tectonic shifts that don’t happen every 30, 40, 50 years in American life. And that the nature of our economic engine and the nature of how we relate to the world, and this is not—I mean this is something Bill Clinton began to talk about in 1992. This is not new. This is all changing very dramatically. And in order for people to be connected to the social fabric, to the political conversation and more than that, obviously, to be competitive, to get jobs, to be … for the cycle of economic mobility that America has relied on, in order for that to happen, when these kids turn 18 or 20, they are going to have to grow up with some notion about the command of the technology and a command of the culture that the technology spawns.
I understand. I take your point. Because I certainly don’t want to suggest that we should just write off somebody. That is not my point. My point is we have an urgent need to make sure that those kids have an opportunity that other people do. And as we talk about how this has transformed the political conversation, we have to be always cognizant of the fact that it is not only transforming the political conversation and the societal experience for a portion of Americans. And to the extent that it only transforms that experience for a portion of Americans going forward, we will have a significant inequality in society, which we have already seen. I mean this is September 11th. We already know the cost of dislocation and alienation of large parts of a population, who see modernity as something foreign to their lives.
TOM ASHBROOK: Sir, may I ask you. Do you feel like your kids, your students -- I don't know their demographics exactly -- Do you feel they are cut off from the web life, the web world, the Net?
STEVEN GOODE: I think any public school, to some degree, is cut off because of the way schools are funded. So maybe, I don't know, maybe we can blog about that tonight. But, I guess, another question -- and this will be my final question -- my concern would be thinking, well, and you did mention this, and I was glad you mentioned it, China will rule the web. So if they are going to rule the Internet and the web, does that mean that their influence is already there now as well as the group of people, the undocumented workers or illegal aliens here in America, are they allowed to use the Internet and do they show up in these polls?
PANELIST: Whoa! Let’s just stop here. I think you are trying to get into issues of substance and policy, which have no place in any discussion of modern American politics. [Laughter] So I hope you are not trying to raise actual issues [applause] in this forum about YouTube.
STEVEN GOODE: No. No. No. Actually, I’m sorry about that. I’m an AP government and politics teacher. I would never, ever do that. [Laughter]
JOE TRIPPI: I was at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View in February.
And in their lobby they have this spinning globe that shows in real time where
Google searches are taking place around the world. And it’s this fascinating thing to watch happen because you sort of watch the world rotate and these flashes of light go off as someone searches Google. And, of course, it’s actually one out of every hundred Google searches is represented on the globe because there are just too many for any one to actually process. But what I was struck by standing there is -- and this sort of goes to Matt’s point -- is that you look at the United States and it’s basically a wall of light. You look at Canada, you know, it is mostly lit up. You look at Europe, it’s mostly lit up. You start to see Africa go by. Cairo is lit up. Johannesburg is lit up. The rest of the continent is dark. You see Japan go by. Japan couldn’t be brighter. Korea couldn’t be brighter. China just has some major pockets of light in its major cities.
We are not going to realize the full potential of the revolution that is taking place, the overthrow of everything that is happening, until all the world gets that light, gets that opportunity to join this world. And I think that Matt’s point is not that we have to write off the people who are left off now. But that we need to make sure that they are online and they are really getting the full opportunity to take advantage of this.
Public schools, for instance, students today in a public school in the United States use the Internet and use computers exactly the same number of minutes that they did in 1998. I challenge you to find anyone else outside of public school who is using the Internet today the exact same number of minutes a day as they were ten years ago.
PANELIST: John McCain. [Laughter]
TOM ASHBROOK: Okay. Okay. Thank you very much. We are getting up
against our clock. I’m going to exercise a little moderator’s privilege and press the clock. But to do that I’m going to ask, please, just one question and a brisk one and brisk answers. And we will try to get through everyone standing up right now.
No more, please. Yes.
AUDIENCE: I’m Betsey Meister from here in Dorchester and I like Talking
Points, Andrew Sullivan, and Mud Flats. And Joe you mentioned …
JOE TRIPPI: And Betsy it talking so fast I can’t keep up.
BETSY MEISTER: Here is my question. Joe, you mentioned a scenario in which our new, our next president could manipulate the Internet, like Steve Schmidt does and pressure elected officials to vote the way the president wants them to go. I’ve been reading Andrew Bacevich’s book about the imperial presidency. And that scenario really concerns me. Either one of you, any one of you to be the website that validates my point of view about that.
TOM ASHBROOK: Joe, manipulate the Internet or use the Internet.
JOE TRIPPI: I didn’t say he would get his way. It’s unlikely that in the new era you are not going to have millions of Americans who want to pass the president’s agenda or oppose the president’s agenda. There is now literally instantaneously— the blogs are going to weigh in on that and I think the president can mobilize people through that to—because people are going to put pressure on Congress.
None of that is new. It’s just a more powerful way to do it.
TOM ASHBROOK: Sure.
AUDIENCE: The country is very polarized and it seems to me that the Internet, at least from the political part of it, is serving as a series of echo chambers, where you find a chamber that you like and you go into that echo chamber and you hear echoes of what you originally thought. I don’t think that is serving us very well. It’s not helping us reach consensus. Is there any way you can think of that we could change things, that would reduce that echo chamber effect and help us find a consensus?
TOM ASHBROOK: Matt Bai?
MATT BAI: Let me jump in. I’m going to tangentially answer your question because the short answer is no. I can’t think of a very good way and I’m not sure there is any one way. I want to just talk to the media piece for a moment, which is what I am. I do think we have a problem and I’m concerned about columnists and commentators in my business who have recognized that they can be exploited -- heard the cheers and the applause as politicians often do.
TOM ASHBROOK: Building a franchise.
MATT BAI: I’m sorry?
TOM ASHBROOK: Building a franchise.
MATT BAI: Building a franchise. And find that if you tell the same story over and over again there is a set audience of people who will raise you up on their shoulders, but who will learn nothing from you. And I believe that we should be in the business of challenging people’s preconceptions. We are a business of challenging our one preconceptions when we go out to look at news. Not to simply come at it from the viewpoint that we always know, not to be partisan, not to assume that there is an absolute truth to everything. That is part of the journalistic ethic I was raised on and believe, very strongly. And so we have people in our own business doing a disservice. We may not necessarily be able to cure the problem you are talking about -- and I very much agree that it exists -- but we can certainly make it worse. And I think we ought to be on guard against doing just that.
TOM ASHBROOK: Garrett, do you think, quickly, that there is a technical or an organizational fix for the echo chamber effect?
GARRETT GRAFF: No.
TOM ASHBROOK: Thank you. Sir?
AUDIENCE: My name is Carl Kaysen. I want to ask a question about two numbers that have been mentioned. One is 171 million, the number of voters. The other is two million people who talk to each other, talk to the void on the Internet. My question is are the two million that same set talking to each other or are they in some way spreading out to the other 150 million voters? And if so, how? Because that has not been made clear, at least to me, by the discussion?
TOM ASHBROOK: Thank you. Joe Trippi?
JOE TRIPPI: I would say that it is clearly the hope of the Obama campaign that the two million are reaching out to touch their family, friends, neighbor, coworkers. And if two million—you are talking about probably 30—they get to talk to somewhere between 15 and 30 people each to reach out to the majority of people. I certainly think that Obama hopes that that will be the difference in a close race. But it is not necessarily that these people talk to their friends on the Internet. It is that they talk to their co-workers at work. They talk to their family at the dinner table, their neighbor over the fence and, yes, send an e-mail to their friends. It is using all of the techniques that we all use as human beings to talk to each other.
TOM ASHBROOK: And the two million, do you see them as representative of the 170, a little representative? If you made a Venn diagram, how much …
JOE TRIPPI: They are all people who have a mom, a dad, a sister, a brother. You know, first of all, the average age of the Dean campaign was 47 years old. So you kind of got to start wiping your memory banks or the way your thought process and what an average Obama person might look like.
MATT BAI: The same is true for moveon.org, for that matter.
TOM ASHBROOK: Moveon.org is 47?
MATT BAI: It’s average is middle age. It has as many seniors citizens as
[simultaneous conversation] …
TOM ASHBROOK: Is that sort of the demographic center of the country? Is it?
I mean 47, isn’t that about—I don't know.
JOE TRIPPI: I don't know the answer to that but I do think it is a lot more diverse, a lot more representative than we might all think after you look at the usual press coverage.
AUDIENCE: I want to ask of the influence of lobbying money in Congress, particularly in the presidential campaigns. What’s that likelihood that this revolution will change that, will reduce the influence of money significantly in Congress? And will that also spread to the networks in that it might cause them to have to provide free air time rather than taking the money themselves?
TOM ASHBROOK: Garrett?
GARRETT GRAFF: I think there are two very hopeful signs here. One is there is going to be tremendous power in the aggregation of small donations. That we’re not yet there, but it will in the near term future be possible to run a presidential campaign and not accept any donations over $250 dollars. And that will have a huge effect on the bundlers and the trail blazers and the hill raisers and pioneers and rangers and all those people who eventually end up as ambassadors from our political process.
The second thing is, I’m very encouraged by groups like the Sunlight Foundation in Washington that are doing very interesting work on the web, building government transparency and accountability, using these new tools and using the incredible data crunching ability of computers today to match up things like donations from things like industries to Congressmen with the earmarks that those Congressmen are responsible for creating. So you can really go and see whether your Congressman is representing the interests of your district, of your area, and your state and whether they are taking money from the right group. There is another campaign that the Sunlight Foundation is running that is called the Punch Clock campaign, that is making candidates pledge to post their daily schedules on their websites every day. And so they’ve actually got …
TOM ASHBROOK: [simultaneous conversation] Plus Dick Cheney?
GARRETT GRAFF: Right. They’ve gotten a couple of who have signed this pledge and happened to win and now stuck with this pledge [Laughter]
TOM ASHBROOK: Hate it. Just hate it.
GARRETT GRAFF: … of posting their daily schedules. So you can see whether your Congressman is spending five hours a day with energy lobbyists and whether that lines up with the interests of your district. And I think that those types of transparency efforts are going to have a real big impact on our government over the next decade or two.
TOM ASHBROOK: Good question. Thank you very much. And maybe next they will pledge to wear a web cam all the time. Sir?
AUDIENCE: Speaking of big bundlers … [Laughter]
MATT BAI: Hi, Alan. [Alan Solomont, democratic fundraiser and Obama supporter]
ALAN SOLOMONT: I have to take Matt on, on the role of Internet in the
Obama campaign. Although I think that the Obama campaign exploited the Internet better than any other candidates, really, I think, as important to his success has been old-fashioned community organizing. If you look at what …
MATT BAI: I agree.
ALAN SOLOMONT: The strategy was to do well in Iowa, to use that as a springboard. The success in Iowa was due in large part to on-the-ground, grassroots organizing. That was certainly the case in the post Super-Tuesday strategy in the caucus states. And, quite honestly, the money that funded that wasn’t all small dollar donations.
I remember it in ’04, coming to the realization when I was in the Kerry campaign and seeing all the money that the Dean campaign was raising over the Internet. I began to realize that they were driving a lot of their large contributions to the Internet, so that they could not only boost their numbers but demonstrate the power of the Internet. There is still a large amount of money that is coming in to all of the campaigns as a result of larger donations. I think the day when $200 dollar contributions will finance a campaign in its entirety is still a little ways off.
MATT BAI: Right.
ALAN SOLOMONT: And I think that real point is that what the secret of the
Obama campaign’s success is that he realized or he tapped into what really drove this election, which was his country was dying for change. And everyone else has caught up to. Hilary got caught up to it during the primary. McCain has caught up to it now. And that more than the Internet was a great tool. But I think he would have been the candidate even without that.
MATT BAI: Well, let me tell you, just to be clear, I agree with you, Alan. And just to be clear, again. My point was that there was a cultural shift represented in the movement that created Obama. Not that his mastery of the technology—not that the technology—I mean, I think Joe talked more about how the technology drives the campaign. I’m not talking about the nuts and bolts of the campaign. I’m talking about the environment and the mindset in the country that makes that possible.
But, you know, I go a step further, even. Because people forget. This is in the Afterword of my book now. People forget, and I think it is a very important point. Obama is not the darling of what we would consider the progressive, the online progressive movement. He actually – and remains to this day – is the only Democratic candidate -- and this isn’t in my book -- he is the only important national Democratic leader and figure who has directly challenged the blogs, the liberal blogs. He went online and told them to stop demonizing people who voted ways they didn’t like. And he disappointed and angered a lot of people doing that. And he did it out of conviction.
So really what Obama inherited in the money and the organization online was anti-Clinton energy. Right? There is a huge Clinton resentment that runs through the progressive left online. And it’s partly where the energy in that movement comes from. And Obama was really the last guy standing. There was always going to be someone who inherited the anti-centrist, anti-Clinton, anti-DLC energy that was online. And Obama inherited that.
And it wasn’t really until he was the last guy standing that he started raising all this huge, you know, more money than Howard Dean raised in his entire campaign in one month and then, again, in another month. But I think it is a mistake and a rewriting of history to suggest that Obama’s campaign was fueled by some Internet uprising. It actually took quite a while for those people to get their heads around supporting Obama at all.
TOM ASHBROOK: We do the web and nuance. Thank you very much, Alan.
Madam, last question?
AUDIENCE: Hi, my name is Klefas Staffer and I’m a junior at John D. O’Brian School of Mathematics and Science. And I had a comment to make on something that Matt had said.
MATT BAI: Why is it always me? What did I do? [Laughter]
KLEFAS STAFFER: I don't know. You’re a good guy. [Laughter] Well, just let me know if you agree. So it’s on the comment you made about how inner city kids don’t have computers in the house, so the world is just passing their eyes. My comment was I don’t think it’s not having the computer in the house which is making this child not knowledgeable of what’s going on in the world. Because let’s face it, right down the street, there is a library down the street where the kid can have access to that computer and go on the Internet. It’s sites such as MySpace and FaceBook and crazy videos on YouTube that’s keeping this child unaware of the events going on in this world. If this kid was to go down to the library and use the Internet, it’s not like he will look up a news channel and figure out what the daily events are happening in the world.
MATT BAI: I see your point.
KLEFAS STAFFER: He is going to check his MySpace and FaceBook comments, and do you agree?
MATT BAI: I think it is an excellent point. I hadn’t thought about it. I do tend to think on balance that if every kid who is now in grade school went down to the library a certain amount of time and did nothing but just check out social networking sites, they would be okay, ultimately, because they have never learned as much as they should. TV took care of that, if it ever existed. But Lord knows, my generation spent more time watching “Welcome Back Kotter” than reading news.
But there is a comfort with the culture and with the technology that enable you to master certain skills and understand the sort of information economy that is driving the country. I don’t think that is actually happening. In my experience, I don’t report as much in inner city and, you know, I’m in a lot of rural areas, too. So I’m part relating to that. But I certainly did for a long time. And I don’t think there are a lot of kids going down and spending hours online.
It’s not really the nature of the technology to go down to the library or sign up for a few minutes at school. I think we’ve got to get kids connected. If you had wireless technology in all of these cities, right, as you do in San Francisco, or they talked about it in Philadelphia; I don't know if they have done it, that would go a long way. You wouldn’t need the hard wiring, right, hooked up. And at least then, if you got computers into people’s … I mean the computers are going to get more and more affordable. They are going to be like TV. They are going to be universal in every home. And I think that is going to happen relatively quickly. But without that, the ability to get broadband technology into those homes, that is not going to matter as much. And that is what worries me a lot. But you raise a really good point.
TOM ASHBROOK: That’s a good point. Diversion comes with the web as well. It is not all C-span out there and voting. We have pressed the clock. I’m going to press it a little more. And I’m going to ask for brevity if you can. In the briefest you can communicate it, your greatest hope for the web in politics, your greatest fear and what you think is likely.
JOE TRIPPI: Greatest hope is that it definitely changes the money situation. I disagree that we are not there yet. I really believe that if Barack Obama had said at his convention that he was turning the money back and all he had was the American people. And if they wanted to change the country that their contributions were going to do it and that he was limiting himself to $200 dollars, I don’t think that even Palin could have turned McCain into a bigger reform candidate than Obama had he done that. And I think millions of Americans might have contributed more. It’s now delayed for at least another trip around. That is my biggest hope for it.
My biggest fear, well, for me it’s that the Republicans actually understand how to start using it [laughter] since they sort of turned the lights off, I think, in terms of building community. What was the third one?
TOM ASHBROOK: What do you think is the likely, the likeliest of net effect?
JOE TRIPPI: You know, the net effect again is … I didn’t mean to belittle Obama. What I was belittling is Dean and everything that has come before. The net effect is that we are not anywhere near. We are still scratching the surface of this thing. There will be 20 million people who will be giving to their candidate in 2016. We will all look back on the days when two million people did it for
Obama and think, “What were we all excited about?”
And in my view it is inevitable that that is what is going to happen. It’s how big the network is, how many people are connected on that network, particularly these 30-year olds and younger growing into the 50-year olds. And this is the way they got involved in politics and the way they communicate. It’s become an even bigger phenomenon in our presidential campaigns for years and decades to come until, just like TV is sort of being messed with now by the net, something else messes with it.
TOM ASHBROOK: Thanks, Joe. Garrett. Net effect on politics, greatest hope, greatest fear?
GARRETT GRAFF: I will answer your question a little differently, because I think that actually Joe answered it pretty well in the way that I think a lot about the web. I think that what we are going to see in this election and this wraps up my fear and what I think is likely all in one phrase. I think that this will either be the first campaign won by a candidate because of their use of technology, technology being the Internet, or it will be the last campaign won by someone who is not using the Internet. And we won’t know until November which way that is going to go.
MATT BAI: Which is which? No, just kidding.
TOM ASHBROOK: And Matt?
MATT BAI: My greatest hope—well, I guess what Joe was saying. I think it is to his point that citizens empowered by the Internet who can be heard and who can aggregate and reach others in communities that are not geographically or demographically based, can overwhelm the power of interest groups and the political process to get big things done if they can bring enough pressure to bear on individual Congressmen, on individual senators, you know, such that they rival some of the wealthiest interest groups that have really stopped, in many cases, significant progress and reform.
My biggest fear is that politicians won’t lead. This has to be led. People don’t lead. Movements don’t lead. Leaders lead. And my biggest fear is that politicians will be swept away in the will of that loud segment of the populace, instead of, as Obama did when he went on Daily Kos and spoke back, instead of giving people direction, a constructive outlet for that energy. It’s about giving people a vision that they can rally around and actually, you know, then use the technology.
And in far as what is likely, I’m very, very optimistic because I think I generally am about this. But I think we are seeing, we are getting generational change in the country. Obama is just the beginning. He is the foot in the door. You know, I hesitate. I’m sorry if this offends anyone either at this table or out there. But it is time for the boomer generation of leaders to go. They have not achieved what they were supposed to have achieved. The have not met the challenges of their generation. [Applause]
There will be a generation of people raised on the web, figuratively or literally, figuratively, you know, in the sense of either as growing up as adults with the web or growing up with it in their homes. They will expect more transparency. They will expect more accountability. They will be less doctrinaire. They will be less blindly loyal to institutions. That is going to give us better policies and better institutions.
TOM ASHBROOK: It has been a wonderful evening. Now we can all go blog about it and read each others’ blogs. I want to thank the Kennedy Library. They put it together; it is a great venue. They attract a great audience and we’ve heard that tonight. And they put together just tremendous panels. It is an honor and pleasure for me to sit with these three. Thank you all and please join me in a round of applause for Joe Trippi, Matt Bai, and Garrett Graff. [Applause]
END OF FORUM