Saturday, February 26, 2005

The Next Generation of Politics

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Every generation goes through the vanity that they have discovered something truly unique. In some cases, the belief is renewed that the new generation has found a new truth. Sometimes it's even true.

I think we've reached that place in American Politics again. Reading through Craig Shirley's book about the 1976 Republican primary race, "Reagan's Revolution", I was struck by Shirley's insights - and his mistakes, as well. Comes with perspective, that.

There is a lot of talk right now about the Democrats being at a crossroads. That's true; the Democrats have been losing every level I can see for the better part of the last ten years. They have not won the White House since 1996, and have not had a majority Popular Vote in a Presidential race since 1976. They have lost control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and continue to lose both proportion of the Congress, and relevance in their participation. It is not unreasonable to say the Democratic Party is in crisis.

The same is true of the Republican Party, however. Even with the majority control in Congress, there is doubt about the fate of some major initiatives, as some Republicans refuse to follow the leadership. The "big tent" philosophy of the GOP means that they do not always have the votes to follow through.

This brings us to the next generation of voters. In addition to the traditional tools, the Internet in general, and Blogs in particular, provide options and research material, as well as in-depth analysis, that was simply never available before.

The question now, is whether people will make use of the tools. Call me cautiously optimistic.

There was a lot of talk in the blogs about Rathergate, but politically, the big event was the Trent Lott scandal. Blogs wouldn't let Lott skate on what was a relatively small mis-statement. I don't think, personally, that Lott should have stepped down as a result, but there is no question the blogs had an unexpected impact, and politicians now realize they can not afford to ignore the trend. Most Congressmen at least make an effort to be available by email and website, and while most are still unable to communicate effectiovely with blogs (preferring the comfort zone of their Old Media habits, even though the OM reaches a smaller and smaller audience), the smart ones are learning to make their positions clear on the Web.

On the other end, both Democrats and Republicans have greatly improved their grass roots organizations. Groups which used to be productive only in fund-raising are much, much better at getting information out, and in energizing their base, a fundamental reason turnout was drastically up in the 2004 elections. Of course, that means now that in addition to getting mailers about the parties, you will be a lot more likely to get emails from the parties, but this will also be more likely from the local and county level. At least, that's my prediction for the next development.

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