Did internet kill the political star?
Robert Wright thinks the rise of the Internet has made legislating a whole lot harder.
The new information technology doesn’t just create generation-3.0 special interests; it arms them with precision-guided munitions. The division of readers and viewers into demographically and ideologically discrete micro-audiences makes it easy for interest groups to get scare stories (e.g. “death panels”) to the people most likely to be terrified by them. Then pollsters barrage legislators with the views of constituents who, having been barraged by these stories, have little idea what’s actually in the bills that outrage them.
It’s no exaggeration to say that technology has subverted the original idea of America. The founders explicitly rejected direct democracy — in which citizens vote on every issue — in favor of representative democracy. The idea was that legislators would convene at a safe remove from voters and, thus insulated from the din of narrow interests and widespread but ephemeral passions, do what was in the long-term interest of their constituents and of the nation. Now information technology has stripped away the insulation that physical distance provided back when information couldn’t travel faster than a horse.
I don’t see a miracle cure here. It would be hard to restore much of the insulation without tampering with the First Amendment.
I don't really have an opinion on whether this is correct. It certainly seems plausible. On the other hand, it's not like FDR or Truman or Nixon found it easy to pass a universal health-care bill.
The one thing I would say is that I find people oddly resistant to the idea that changes in the country -- either cultural or technological -- have left our political system struggling to adapt. I get the reticence: It can be hard to close that door once you've opened it, and there's a real utility to our lionization of our system. But the Internet has forced serious changes in pretty much everything else in American life. Journalism, for instance, works very differently in the age of blogs and Google, and it's still struggling to figure out exactly what that looks like. My sense is government is going through a similar process.
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