JOANNE MYERS: Good afternoon. I'm Joanne Myers, Director of Public Affairs Programs, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council I'd like to thank our members and guests and C-SPAN Book TV for joining us.
Today our speaker is Garrett Graff, and he'll be discussing his book, The First Campaign: Globalization, the Web, and the Race for the White House.
In less than four weeks, the first major event of the nominating process for president of the United States will take place in Iowa. Many have predicted that the 2008 campaign, the third in this century, will be like none in recent memory. They say it will be a campaign signaling a new age, where technology will both define the race and make all the difference in the outcome.
Beginning with the 2000 presidential campaign and following the 2004 election, it was plainly clear that the emergence of the Web as a political tool had irrevocably changed the campaign process, leaving front runners vulnerable right up until election day. Today it is even more apparent that the transformation of American politics by the Internet is accelerating, prompting the rewriting of rules on advertising, fund raising, mobilizing supporters, responding to attacks, and even changing the nature of debates.
It is not only blogs, but podcasts, MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube, that are moving us so much closer to the Jeffersonian vision of direct democracy, in which people make their own decisions without regard for the old challenges of vast distances and limited communications. With this new empowerment, voters have become more involved and sense that they are more in control of the selection process than ever before.
In The First Campaign, Garrett Graff argues that technology is both the medium and the message of 2008. As Howard Dean's first Web master, and as the first blogger in the short history of the medium to be granted a daily White House press pass for the specific purpose of writing a blog, our speaker understands the value of this new technology and potential for political gains.
In fact, it is Mr. Graff and his generation that are expanding the definition of what exactly constitutes "the press." Just as radio and television once pushed the boundaries of their era, the Internet will most assuredly change politics in our time.
Garrett is Editor-at-Large for Washingtonian magazine and Adjunct Professor of Journalism in New Media at Georgetown University. Not so long ago, he was the Executive Editor of the Harvard Crimson. Our speaker is young, technologically savvy, and concerned about the future. In fact, he is the future, and, as such, he is here today to give us an insider's view on just what tomorrow may hold in store for us all.
Please join me in giving a very warm welcome to Garrett Graff. Thank you for joining us today.
GARRETT GRAFF: Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.
I was saying just before we started tonight that the inner geek in me is particularly excited that this is being podcast tonight, because this will be the first time that I will have ever been available as a podcast.
As Joanne said, it's clear already that the 2008 election is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime undertaking. It is only the second time since 1920, when Republican Warren Harding battled Democrat James Cox, that there has been no president or vice president incumbent in this race. The only other time, of course, was 1952, when there was a five-star general who had just won World War II, Dwight Eisenhower, who was up for the nomination of both parties. So this is a really historic and interesting election to follow. It is also the first time since 1940 when there has been no obvious Republican front runner, as Reagan was in 1980, Bob Dole in 1996, and George W. Bush in 2000.
Beyond that, though, I argue that the 2008 campaign will be the first campaign of a new era of American politics, the first where technology is both the medium and message.
When the Supreme Court settled Bush v. Gore in 2000, it was a very, very different world for us. The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were still in the planning stages. Saddam Hussein and the Taliban were both still in power. Blogs and podcasts barely existed. Cell phones were still a novelty, BlackBerries were barely a year old, and the iPod was only an idea on the drawing board at Apple. Google, of course, was still in its infancy. MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube still years away.
In 2000, much of the world was still on the slow and noisy dial-up Internet connections. By the beginning of 2007, though, nearly 90 percent of Americans reported that they use a broadband connection to access the Internet, up from over 50 percent just a year earlier. More than one in three Americans was connecting wirelessly to the Internet. The very technology that over the last decade has transformed the global economy has transformed the campaign process as well, so that this race will be run as much on the World Wide Web as in union halls and town squares and on television.
Over the past eight years, Americans could sense this change at nearly every turn, every time they picked up a plastic good with the label "Made in China," and every time they dialed an 800 number and found themselves speaking to a person in Bangalore—industries and businesses that are no longer tied to a specific block, specific town, or a specific nation. We have seen that in Greensburg, Indiana, a town formerly loyal to its GM, Ford, and Chrysler automobiles, when it cheered the announcement last year that Honda would build a new plant there and the town turned out in red T-shirts to form a large H on the town square.
We see it, of course, in the images beamed back from the South Asian tsunami and from the tunnels of the London bombings in 2005, long before news crews and rescue crews could arrive. We see it in every Google search by a 70-year-old and every 13-year-old's MySpace page, and in the 33 billion text messages sent by the Chinese to celebrate this year, the Year of the Pig.
Today there are more new economy creative workers in the United States than there are traditional blue-collar workers, which is a stunning transformation of the U.S. economy from the industrial age to the information age. A blog like the left-leaning DailyKos.com has more inbound links, which is one way of measuring how many people are talking about it, than the Chicago Tribune, and the right-leaning Instapundit.com has more than Sports Illustrated. In this brave new world, even al-Qaeda, via its savvy Web videos, can speak directly to the American people without any filter of government or intelligence agencies.
Technology is being adopted across all spectrums of society and our culture and it is reshaping every aspect of our lives.
In the last decade, Internet penetration went from 9 percent to well over 70 percent. To put that number a little bit in perspective for you, it took electricity 46 years to reach a quarter of the U.S. population, and it took cars fully 55 years to reach a quarter of the U.S. population. And the Internet did it in three, four, five years.
Now, nearly 10 percent of the population, myself included, doesn't have a telephone that plugs into the wall, and by 2008 it is believed that one-third of all households will have a DVR or TiVo that will allow them to time-shift and skip ads and watch TV on their own terms.
Alas, of course, we are just beginning to see the impacts of this technology in the changes in presidential politics. In important ways, the 2008 election will seem like the previous ones we have had recently. America's stance towards Iraq, Iran, North Korea, will certainly be a major issue; images of terrorism, homeland security; hot-button wedge issues—gay marriage, flag burning, abortion—will, no doubt, be campaign topics at various points.
But every one of these issues, as I argue in the book, pales in importance to the question raised by globalization: How exactly does the United States fit into a competitive global economy? In the same way, the questions of how the candidates align themselves on the usual issues pales in comparison to the question of what their vision is for an America in a connected global world, and how each candidate will, in turn, commit their time, resources, and leadership to confronting the challenges of this new economy. It happens, of course, that the election is coming along precisely when this question is getting late and urgent.
The threads of politics, technology, and globalization have intertwined to reshape our lives and our political future. The challenge for the candidates in 2008 will be to recognize these changes and tackle the seemingly disparate but actually very interconnected issues of technology, health care, education, trade, energy, and the environment, and unite them into a cohesive governing philosophy, aided and driven by the tools and technologies that have come of age since Bush v. Gore.
The very technology that has transformed the global economy is, of course, transforming the campaign process as well. Over history, we have seen presidential campaigns that have broken new ground in technology, such as in 2000 when John McCain and Bill Bradley first tapped online small-dollar fundraising; and there have been campaigns where new technology has broken the candidates, as in 1960 when Richard Nixon's candidacy sharply fell after the first televised debates.
It appears, though, that 2008 will be the first campaign defined by technology, technology being both a medium and a message that drives the campaign. As candidates talk about innovation, the challenges facing America from the rise of India and China, and how technology is intricately linked to crises like arresting the soaring health care cost in the United States, they will be training to raise money online, respond to YouTube attack ads, and send text messages through sites like Twitter.com. Add to these the new media breakthroughs and advances in micro-targeting, the tools and databases that allowed the Bush campaign in 2004 to address individual voters on their most important issues, and we are in the midst of a presidential campaign that is being transformed and driven by technology at every level.
In a sense, the reach and specificity of the Web is restoring a personal and individual quality to this presidential campaign that went missing in the age of television.
Connecting with individual voters had once been the heart of presidential politics, because it used to be that the only way to win over voters was to go out and meet them face to face. This is the story that's told in historian Zachary Karabell's book about the 1948 campaign, The Last Campaign, which was the last campaign before the television age. That year, Democratic incumbent Harry Truman's whistle-stop tour traveled more than 20,000 miles back and forth across the country, making some 31,000 stops at events large and small.
Just four years later, though, Dwight Eisenhower ran the first television ads, including an animated short by the Walt Disney Company in which cartoon characters crowed "I like Ike" and a series of conversations that he had taped in a Q&A format with people randomly pulled off of the street in front of Radio City Music Hall here in New York.
"It is sad what an old soldier has come to," he said at the time, as he taped 40 television ads in a single day in 1952. Eisenhower, of course, won, defeating Adlai Stevenson. By 1954, 10,000 Americans a day were buying their first television sets. By the time of Eisenhower's reelection campaign in 1956, 75 percent of American households had television, and American politics would never be the same again.
In the 1960 campaign, television actually defined the candidates for the public for the first time. When John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon faced off in the first-ever presidential debates on television, 65-70 million Americans tuned in.
As the story goes, Kennedy's big smile won the night over Nixon's suspicious bearing. And, while people who merely listened to the debates on the radio thought the two candidates finished equally strong, those who viewed it on TV went strongly for Kennedy. Some 3 million people later reported voting for Kennedy based solely on his performance in the television debates—a stunning number, given that his margin of victory was only 112,000 votes.
As Teddy White wrote in his campaign classic, The Making of the President, 1960: "It was the picture image that had done it, and in 1960 television had won the nation away from sound to images, and that was that."
In the four decades that followed, presidential campaigning has been done largely over the television, through broadcast debates, prepackaged nominating conventions, evening news sound bites, and ever-more-aggressive negative campaign ads.
In 2000, some $200 million went to funding television ads for George W. Bush and Al Gore, about 80 percent of the campaign's total expenditures. By 2004, though, that number had already tripled.
At the same time, over the past eight years the changes wrought by the World Wide Web, the BlackBerry, the camera phone, and the like, are bringing the individual back into politics.
The 2008 presidential campaign might have been a vastly different race except for the August day in 2006 when Virginia Senator George Allen, considered one of the leading contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, looked straight into the camera held by a staffer of his opponent and uttered what was to become the most famous slur of the YouTube era: "Let's give a welcome to Macaca, here. Welcome to the real America and the world of Virginia," Allen said.
S.R. Sidarth, the staffer, a senior at the University of Virginia and of Indian descent, had struck gold. "Macaca," as America would come to learn in the coming days, was a long-tailed Asian monkey and an obscure racial slur.
The video hit YouTube and quickly went from CNN, to local news, to network news, and Allen spent the rest of his losing campaign offering one apology after another.
The power of the moment, of course, wasn't just the words, which connected with the latent fear among voters that Allen was a racist; it was the images of him saying it. The irony, of course, here is that if George Allen had not campaigned for reelection and had merely spent the last four months of the campaign lying on the beach in the Bahamas, he probably would be the Republican front-runner for the nomination for president today. It was only because he was actually out there on the campaign trail that he lost.
But part of the power of that clip was that it played on local and national news shows, widening its reach far beyond YouTube, which helped drive the audience and the debate and the discussion.
The sea change, though, happened before that point: it was that the campaign was able to upload the video to YouTube, and they didn't have to convince any television station to air it, in order for it to become public. The online-only ads and the YouTube "gotcha" moments are now able to be posted by anyone, anywhere. And, with the increasing proliferation of handheld video cameras and video-capable cell phones, all politicians have to reorient themselves anytime that they are in public.
As transformative as the 2006 congressional midterm elections were, though, in terms of technology and the net roots power, now the nation was ready to enter an even larger playing field, that of the presidential race.
This election in 2008 will be the first campaign were YouTube is available to hold the candidates publicly accountable. The myriad threads of technology and politics are getting more and more intertwined with each passing month.
The transformed landscape of the first campaign is also visible in ways today that voters will follow and interact with the presidential candidates as they roam the country. Whether the candidates like it or not, the whole world today will be watching their campaign, seeing how they react on the trail to various scenarios, and whether they are up to snuff. We are entering what I call the "Miranda era" of presidential campaigns—anything you say can and will be used against you, and probably by the time you are finished saying it.
In the early 1908s, Timothy Crouse was just three years out of college when he convinced the editors of Rolling Stone to send him out on the presidential campaign trail with a unique new mission: cover the press instead of the presidential candidates. The young Crouse headed out into the middle of the 1972 presidential campaign between George McGovern and Richard Nixon, which of course we now know became one of the greatest blowouts in presidential history when Nixon beat McGovern 520 electoral votes to 17. It remains actually today the only time Minnesota has ever voted for a Republican.
Crouse's popular Rolling Stone tales became the genesis for the book The Boys on the Bus, which related the story of the campaign through the eyes of the press corps, and for the first time captured the pack mentality of the nearly all-male corps of correspondents who followed the candidates from place to place, including now famous reporters like Johnny Apple, Robert Novak, and Jules Witcover.
At the time, Walter Mears, the correspondent for the Associated Press, was well on his way to establishing himself as one of the biggest names in political journalism. At the end of every event, as the press corps filed their stories, they'd clamor, "Walter, Walter, what's my lead?"—because they had come to learn that anytime they turned in a story that was different from that of the AP's, their editors would be upset. There was one story, and it was determined day after day, event by event, by the Associated Press, the largest and oldest news-gathering organization in the world.
It's hard to imagine such a day today. Some 35 years later, the campaign plane that Edwards used on his first official trip as a presidential candidate would have been unrecognizable to Crouse or any of the boys on the bus. As the sleek chartered jet departed from New Orleans last December, the first stop on Edwards's four-state announcement tour, the Internet hummed around him.
A photographer was shooting all digital with her Canon 5D camera and posting photos of the event to the photo-sharing Web site Flicker.com; as a videographer, Chuck Olsen from the site Rocketboom.com, was busy posting clips from the announcement to the video-sharing site YouTube.com. The trip director, Sam Myers, who is now working on his eighth presidential campaign, was plugging away on his Apple iBook. And campaign Internet strategist Matt Gross, who I worked with on the Dean campaign, was monitoring what was happening online using Google searches and blog aggregators like Memorandum.
There were two reporters on the plane at that time from the traditional mainstream media, Michael Finnigan from The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post's Dan Balz. Balz, who had been covering campaigns since 1978, was working on his Dell laptop and using his aircard to post repeatedly updated articles to the paper's Web site throughout the flight.
Sitting with the two of them, though, was perhaps the most unlikely political reporter in recent memory, former Microsoft engineer and blogger Robert Scoble, whose writing had catapulted him into the elite of the blogosphere from his site Scobleizer.com. He had been invited along to provide a fresh perspective on the political ritual of the presidential announcement tour. His mainstream media credentials? Well, he to this day is one credit short of graduating with a journalism degree from San Jose State, where he had dropped out. He spent hours sitting with Balz, picking the veteran's brain about politics and the process and what campaigns were really like. And he photographed everything, until he dropped his camera on one of the stops and then was forced to use his videocamera for the rest of the tour.
Of course, what was interesting about this was that at every stop that Edwards made he met with bloggers, and the encounters were videoed and posted to YouTube or to Scoble's blog. Edwards fielded question after question from these armchair pundits who would help determine whether he won the nomination.
Edwards is hardly alone in using these new technologies to talk about the pressing issues of the campaign. To see how technology has already reshaped this presidential race, we have to look no further than the original announcements of each of the candidates over the last year.
In November, the night before Tom Vilsack, her husband, announced his presidential bid, Christie Vilsack sent out an email to all of his supporters telling them about the first night that they had met.
The night before John Edwards announced his candidacy in New Orleans, he sent out a text message to supporters' cell phones saying that he had a special announcement and telling them to go to Johnedwards.com.
A few weeks later, an email arrived from Barack Obama saying that he was interested in running. Most people in the country hadn't even read a news article or seen any news report before they clicked on the link and saw Barack Obama's three-minute announcement video, where he sat in his study and talked to the voters at home about why he wanted to run.
The same thing happened a few days later, on Saturday, from the former First Lady, Hillary Clinton.
In this election, the candidates' main audience is less and less the mass media, and instead they are reaching past the traditional mainstream media to grab voters' personally and let their own personalities shine.
As I lay out in much greater depth in the book, there are four tools in the 2008 election—online video, cell phones, blogs, and social networking sites—that provide unparalleled power to ordinary voters and, together, have created a new political infrastructure for launching and rebutting attacks.
Add in the power of grassroots, small-dollar fundraising—what allowed Howard Dean, John McCain, and Bill Bradley to challenge the establishment in 2000 and 2004—and the 2008 election will be conducted on a playing field where the party establishment has the least power and control of any election in U.S. history.
It will also force the campaigns to adapt, becoming ever more creative, to win the eyeballs they were once able to purchase with a couple of well-placed ads during network news and prime-time sitcoms.
The 2000 campaign first displayed the power of online grassroots money to help boost Bill Bradley and John McCain, and then the 2004 election demonstrated how online grassroots organization could help power a campaign, as Howard Dean recruited nearly 200,000 Americans to join his meet-up groups in thousands of locations around the country.
The history books will likely reflect that the 2008 election is the campaign of voter-generated content, where ordinary people seize the moment and use the ever-increasingly-powerful tools at their fingertips to create and spread information without any help from the campaigns.
Every day now seems to bring some sort of new online development. The dancing, bikini-clad "Obama girl" had her brief moment on YouTube and ran into competition from the "Romney girls" and the "Giuliani girl."
James Kotecki, a recent Georgetown alum who went by the handle "Emergency Cheese," became the 2008 campaign's unofficial YouTube arbiter, as his online commentaries became a cult hit and he got to speak with candidates, including one, Ron Paul, who actually went to his dorm room at Georgetown to sit for an interview. It was, Kotecki believes, the first presidential interview ever conducted in a college dorm room.
Barack Obama hosted an intimate dinner with a handful of randomly selected online donors that he then posted to his Web site, where he currently has 15,000 supporters blogging about what they are doing to support his campaign. On his August birthday, Obama's Internet staff found their Chicago headquarters besieged by thousands of "happy birthday" messages from friends on the candidate's MySpace page.
As the 2008 campaign dawned, social networking sites had exploded. Whereas in the 2004 election sites like Friendster and Orket were largely alone, by 2008 MySpace and Facebook had grown to encompass tens of millions of users.
Farouk Agrebe was the coordinator of student government services at the University of Missouri at Columbia, where in January 2000 he started the group "One Million Strong for Barack" on Facebook.com, the social networking site. Within 24 hours, the new group has passed the 1,000-person mark, and they just watched it take on a life of its own from there. By May, it had some 325,000 supporters. To put that number in comparison for you, at the end of his campaign at the end of 2003, Howard Dean's entire email list was about a half-a-million people, meaning that the grassroots-founded Facebook group was actually larger than most presidential campaigns' email lists ever get. And that had happened from one individual nearly a year out from the election.
Twitter.com is one of those myriad of Web sites that you have probably never heard of that might just end up changing the world. It allows people to create groups of friends and send regular 160-character updates to their computers' instant messaging programs, or even their cell phones, a trend that is called micro-blogging, which allows people to spread information quickly to a wide range of followers.
A May 2007 government study found that nearly 30 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds in the United States only used a cell phone and didn't have a landline. That's 30 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds. That number has profound implications for elections, because those people are invisible to pollsters who aren't allowed to call cell phones, meaning that the young people will be harder to predict as a political voting bloc, and that most robo-calls from campaigns, also prohibited from calling cell phones, won't include them.
At the same time, the growth of text messaging and the adoption of sites like Twitter.com allows campaigns to more easily reach cell-phone-toting supporters. Imagine the power of texting millions of people with a voting reminder at 4 p.m. on election day that includes specific directions to their local polling place.
The CNN/YouTube debates held for the Democrats in August and the Republicans last week were a huge leap forward, too. Some of the 37 videos CNN eventually chose to show at the August Democratic YouTube debate (more than 1,500 were submitted) were a bit odd, including the one, now sort of infamous, of the "talking snowmen." But the majority were something amazing and new in politics: Americans asking powerful questions of those who sought power. There was none of the false glory from questioners preening for the camera in a typical town hall debate, but instead real Americans from the comfort of their own homes asking about real problems.
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said at the time, "I think that the presidency ought to be held to a higher level than having to answer questions from snowmen." But Romney missed the point by a mile. The snowmen created and animated by a voter represented an engaging way of talking about an issue that too many times just seems like it's full of hot air.
One lesson of the 2008 campaign should be that politics doesn't have to be boring. The questions from real Americans in the August debate made an impact that even the debate moderator, Anderson Cooper, with his abundance of gravitas, could never hope to match. A Brooklyn lesbian couple asked whether candidates would let them get married to each other. A question of Darfur came in from AID workers in a refugee camp close to the conflict. And for a question on expanding health care insurance, a 30-something Long Island woman took off her wig mid-question to showcase the effects of chemotherapy.
In a campaign environment where too many of the candidates' answers seem to be prepackaged talking points, the debate was a refreshing moment of authenticity and captured how ordinary Americans could now get a response from power that they never could have before.
While some sites chided CNN for maintaining editorial control over choosing the questions, the online community could have voted on which questions they wanted to see during the debate—and, indeed, a grassroots group has sprung up that allowed them to do just that.
The YouTube debate was a brave step forward down the technological road and a great experiment in participatory democracy.
Nick O'Malley, who was Dean's Web master during the campaign, and I were having dinner a couple of nights after the YouTube debate and we were talking about it. He turned to me and he said, "Why would you ever go back? It was beautifully American." I couldn't agree more.
An important distinction and common thread to examine here through all of these stories and all of these aspects of the campaign is that since the Internet's inception, the Internet has always happened to candidates. They have always lagged behind in the adoption of technology, failing to realize what it could do, and thus being swept along, as ordinary people stepped up and transformed the process.
McCain and Bradley didn't realize the financial power of the Internet until it dropped money upon their heads. The Dean 2004 meet-up groups were already growing and swelling long before our campaign manager, Joe Trippi, put a link up on the campaign's home page.
And when it comes to the Web, candidates in this election are finding themselves yanked along as the train is leaving the station.
There is no telling whether the candidates in the general election will embrace this new technology and run the first campaign or run the last campaign all over again. But so far there are signposts of the first campaign, how far we have come in this debate, and how far we still have to go.
Together, the bloggers Edwards met with on the trail, the voters at the receiving end of those emails and text messages, and the activists who watched those videos will play an unprecedented role in this election. They will have access to more information in more ways about the candidates than any campaign ever before.
And on the plus side for voters and for our public discourse, the longer format of Web discussions, online videos, blogs, and email helps allow for more thoughtful and nuanced conversation on some of the tricky policy issues that we face today. Politicians don't have to boil down their ideas to a bumper-sticker slogan for the evening news if they can go on YouTube and talk for four minutes, an eternity in the life of politics.
This brand-new playing field of the 2008 election, complete with cell phones and a global economy linked like never before, will help determine this uniquely important campaign, a campaign covered by people that Timothy Crouse could have never imagined, and talking about issues that Harry Truman never could have imagined either.
One thing, though, should be clear to all of us: the first campaign—the new era—is upon us.
Questions and Answers
QUESTION: What will the effect of all this technology be on the lobbying and campaign funding of candidates at all levels, not only the presidential level?
GARRETT GRAFF: The lobbying question is one that is still largely open, I think. The effect on the funding side is going to be much more obvious much more quickly. Barack Obama has demonstrated this year, through a very significant, small-dollar, grassroots fundraising operation, that he has been able to keep pace with Hillary Clinton's mostly big-dollar/big-donor campaign operation.
I think what we are going to see in the small-dollar realm is that candidates are going to try to raise as much money as they can through that method, because it leaves them with many fewer favors to do once they get into office.
The example that I'll toss out here is one from my experience in 2003, when on the Dean campaign we became aware that Vice President Cheney was going to be doing a fundraising luncheon in South Carolina for 250 people, who were all going to give out the maximum donations and raise $500,000 from a single lunch. We said at the time that we thought that we could turn to our grassroots online donor network and raise the same amount of money over the space of his fundraising window without having any big donors.
We did a three-day online campaign to match Cheney's $500,000. We got about 9,000 donors who kicked in an average of about $40, or about $1,960 less than the average Cheney donor for that luncheon. When Cheney was having his luncheon in South Carolina, we saw the governor down in Burlington, in front of a computer, where he went on the Web and blogged while he was eating a turkey sandwich for his fundraising luncheon.
QUESTIONER: But what about the lobbying aspect on issues and legislation?
GARRETT GRAFF: The lobbying question, as I said, is an interesting one that is largely still an open question, partially because Congress is trying to figure out how to deal with email. Congress has been just completely overwhelmed by these technological advances, and they find their congressional offices just flooded with email from thousands of people across the country.
They really don't know what they are going to do or what the impact is going to be. It is now, in their estimation, almost too easy to contact your legislator. There used to be sort of a barrier of entry, that you actually had to write a letter and put a stamp on it and mail it, or pick up the phone and call. Now they are just getting besieged by emails on all sorts of issues.
QUESTION: The question also is, since the McGovern-Fraser Commission in the 1968-1972 period, which weakened the political party system and opened it up to all kinds of independent candidacies within the realm of the political parties themselves, what you are talking about now fragmentizes the party even more. What impact is this going to have on the political parties, because you have self-generated candidacies, with the candidates having no loyalty to the parties, really?
GARRETT GRAFF: I think that is an excellent point, and one where we don't exactly know where that's going to lead.
I would argue that the two major problems with an independent candidacy are funding and ballot access, and that it is actually pretty difficult to get yourself on enough state ballots to really have an impact in the presidential election.
But there are now more disaggregated efforts to organize candidates. I think the person that you should follow if that is what you are interested in is Ron Paul this cycle, who is objectively probably the Republican least likely to win the Republican nomination, but at the same time is the only person who has any sort of energy or enthusiasm or passion online.
His supporters last month broke all of the online fundraising efforts with a single $4.2 million fundraising day. They plan a second "money bomb," as they are calling them, for sometime this month. Actually, what that has meant is that Ron Paul is out-raising John McCain right now. His campaign has no idea what to do with all of this money, because they are not the ones organizing this. This is Ron Paul's supporters out there doing it, going crazy, and tossing all of these resources into the lap of a campaign that is ill-equipped to actually deal with serious amounts of money.
QUESTION: Which side would you say makes the better or the bigger use of the new technologies? So for whom is it better—the voters, because they can come closer to direct democracy; or is it more the candidates themselves, because they can promote themselves and market themselves in any way they want, and can, for example, make YouTube videos against their opponents? A second part of that question would be: which candidate would you say makes the best use of the new technologies?
GARRETT GRAFF: To the first question, I would answer it in a couple of different ways.
I think it has more transformed the individual voter's capabilities to impact an election, because prior to the Internet, if I was an individual person in Nebraska or Wisconsin or Vermont, where I'm from, and I wanted to get involved in a presidential election and I wasn't in one of the early-voting states, it would have been very difficult for me to have a major impact. I might have been able to organize my block, my neighborhood, I might have been able to flyer a couple of the towns around me, but I couldn't really have much more of an impact beyond my own community. But now we see people, like this kid at the University of Missouri who is organizing massive, massive, coast-to-coast groups that rival the organization and the capabilities of any of the candidates themselves.
On the candidate side, as I said, I think that the most transforming thing for them is that they don't have to worry about getting their message through in a 10-second or 15-second sound bite. To a large extent, that is still how most American voters process the news. But I think that we are going to see that shift.
Barack Obama gave a big speech two weeks ago at Google about his tech policy and his innovation policy. You can go online and watch the entire 64-minute speech. This is a radical transformation of the way that we have come to see politics because, basically since the end of the whistle-stop tours, it was very hard as an individual voter to see an entire presidential speech. That just wasn't an option outside of C-SPAN.
To the question of which candidates are using it best this year, I think that I would draw the distinction that the supporters are the ones who are using it best in most cases—Ron Paul being the great example there; his campaign is doing almost nothing online, but his supporters are really very active online. On the Democratic side, I think that Barack Obama has been doing probably the best job.
But what is, I think, particularly interesting, and one of the reasons that I believe that this is the first campaign of a new era, is it is the first time where we have had a campaign where all of the candidates are campaigning online and there is not just "an Internet candidate," like there was Howard Dean in 2004 or John McCain and Bill Bradley in 2000. I can point to great things that Hillary Clinton is doing online, that Joe Biden is doing online, that Chris Dodd is doing online, that John Edwards is doing online. They all have active, vibrant, exciting organizations on the Web.
QUESTION: You did allude to this issue in your talk, but what would you say is the impact of the Internet on the role of newspapers in the future in terms of, just generally, public affairs and politics?
GARRETT GRAFF: I think if you asked the reporters who are covering this campaign, the answer that they would give you is that they are expected to do far more than they have ever been asked to do before. The reporters are being sent out with digital cameras and video cameras, and they are supposed to be blogging and shooting video and recording podcasts all the time while they are writing a story for that ancient relic of modern life, the morning newspaper.
For them, the morning newspaper just doesn't drive the discussion in the way that it once did, because there are now so many issues of videos and various reporters' blogs and all of that, that all of that information is getting reported all of the time anyway. It is a constant, constant churn and cycle of information.
I think that one of the challenges, though, for history is going to be that we may never see a great book—like Richard Ben Cramer's What It Takes about the 1988 campaign, Teddy White's The Making of the Presidency, 1960 or Timothy Crouse's The Boys on the Bus that I talked about—because what made those books great was the color and the behind-the-scenes stuff that didn't get reported in the daily newspaper articles. All of that information is being reported and scattered across lots of blogs. It is much harder to get that type of access in this YouTube era, to be sort of the fly on the wall that those reporters were once able to be.
QUESTION: Garrett, what sort of resources are congressional offices having to devote to handling the Internet or email? For example, in the old days, if you wrote a letter to your congressman, you would quickly get a response. What is happening? Are they having to devote five or six or ten people just to handle emails? What is the protocol? Are they answering all these things, like "msg received, thanks, bye"? Do you have any idea how they are handling it?
GARRETT GRAFF: A lot of the offices are finding themselves so inundated with email that they are not responding to it beyond a simple acknowledgement that it has been received. They mostly have a policy now of "if you want a real response from us, write us a real letter."
QUESTION: I think a lot of us are concerned about the future of democracy and democratic process. I wonder, with the intense pressure of K Street lobbyists, special-interest groups—and I am thinking, for instance, of the NRA [National Rifle Association]—do you think the Internet can really be powerful enough to overcome some of these vested interests?
GARRETT GRAFF: Yes is my short answer. The longer answer is that what the Internet does best is just level the playing field, and that it is a lot easier for me as an individual to set up my own campaign for or against a particular issue, to organize like-minded people, to find those like-minded people, and to build individual campaigns online in a way that would have been cost-prohibitive and effort-prohibitive in previous eras.
I think the other thing that the Internet can do much better than we have yet seen is to make government more accountable and transparent in the way that we have seen with organizations like the Sunlight Foundation. They created this great Google map of all of the earmarks across the country, so that you can zoom in on a particular district and you can see all of the various congressional earmarks that were went to that district.
There are a lot of ways that information can be presented online that would have been previously inaccessible to most people.
One of the biggest transformations in government in the last 15 years has been the Thomas Service that the Library of Congress does, where you can go on and actually read the text of a bill before it becomes law. Something as simple as that was nearly impossible to do 15 years ago.
QUESTION: I was wondering about third parties. You had said previously that funding and ballot access would be the most important thing for presidential candidates. But on a more local level, do you feel that emails and cell phones and Internet would level the playing field on the local level, so that they would not have to use television, radio, or newspaper ads? Just your thoughts on that.
GARRETT GRAFF: Absolutely. I don't think we yet know where this is heading, but certainly at most of the local level the technology that you would be using in a campaign would be virtually free. You wouldn't need large direct-mail budgets or postcard budgets, neighborhood flyering efforts, that you could do all this through email and text messaging and that type of thing.
The other thing that I would point on the third-party level is that the Internet makes it so easy to gather people to a particular cause. As I was saying in the previous answer, if you really care—and I'll use a nonpolitical example here—about knitting pink socks, you can go online and you can find every other person in the country who is really into knitting pink socks, in a way that you never could have 15 years ago. That opens up such an organizing tool and an ability for niche political causes that is unprecedented so far.
QUESTION: Clearly, a lot of good is going to come out of the programs that you've just discussed. But I was thinking about the Swift Boat people and their ability to throw these things together. Last time around, they had to actually rent space on television to show their ads. With this new technology, they are going to be able to put these things on the Internet for $50 a pop. So what's going to happen with that? Are the candidates going to spend most of their lives, most of their time, answering these kinds of Swift Boat attacks? That's a danger there, don't you think?
GARRETT GRAFF: I guess I don't necessarily think that that's a bad thing, that the ability for citizens to gather together and to spread a message in a cheap way that influences the political debate is not in all cases a bad outcome for the political system.
I think, though, the challenge is that it is much harder to correct wrong information online than it ever has been before. We see that from Wikipedia, to blogs, to this very-wrong-but-still-spreading-over-the-Internet meme that Barack Obama is a Muslim. This has been something that his campaign has been combating across the Internet. He is, of course, Christian. He goes to a famous black Congregational church on the South Side of Chicago, Trinity United Church of Christ. But there have been these rumors that have gotten started. Once you get a rumor started on the Internet, it is nearly impossible to stop it.
QUESTION: You emphasize the Web, the Internet, but the title is "Globalization, the Web, and the Race for the White House." How does the globalization weave into this picture?
GARRETT GRAFF: Thank you for asking. The book deals with both halves of this.
The globalization half of this is that we have seen these same technologies that have reshaped the political landscape reshape our economic landscape at the same time. What I mean by that is that 20 years ago, 30 years ago, there used to be domestic issues—education, health care, jobs—that these were issues that you could say "here's my domestic policy for this."
Well, if you want to start talking about trade and jobs in this election, you need to actually start by talking about health care, because the United States is the only major industrialized country in the world that puts the price of health care in the price of its product, which means that for every General Motors car manufactured, $1,200 of the purchase price of that automobile goes to cover GM's health care costs for its U.S. workers. That's far more than any foreign car manufacturer spends.
So we have these globalized technology issues that have blurred the line between foreign policy and domestic policy. These have largely been driven by technology and the growth of India and China and the developing nations and their economic issues.
I look in the book specifically at four issues—education, health care, energy, the environment—and then tech infrastructure. I think that the United States has a huge challenge in front of it, making the tech infrastructure decisions that it needs to in order to remain globally competitive over the next 20, 30, 40, 50 years.
The United States actually has a remarkably primitive broadband backbone, wireless technologies, cell phone technologies. I was in India in February as part of my book research, and I could get my text messages in rural India, as I was walking through shantytowns. I come to New York here and I can't even make a cell phone call on the subway. These are global competitiveness issues that will help determine the success of the U.S. economy over the next 50 years.
I think that we have leaders right now who are uninterested in the technology and the investments that we need to be making. So on that note . . .
JOANNE MYERS: Garrett, I'd like to thank you for introducing us to this new interconnected world. I'd like to invite you all to join us to continue the discussion.
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