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Fineman, Howard. Who needs Washington?(politics in the 21st
     century)(America  2000)(Brief Article). In Newsweek Jan 27 1997,
     v129, n4, p50(3). 


The Web will produce an explosion of microdemocracy. It may give us a 
new sense of connection--but it will also be mean, messy and          
dangerous.                                                            
                                                                      
LOOKING BACK, IT'S CLEAR THAT THE DEFINING election of the digital    
age was in the year 2004, and that the candidate who embodied the new 
era wasn't the winner (Republican John Kasich, who edged out Democrat 
Evan Bayh), but the man who finished third: Woody Harrelson, of the   
McLuhan/Reform Party. Harrelson's campaign, managed by Oliver Stone,  
mixed message and medium in a yawp of digital hyperpopulism. The      
platform was William Jennings Bryan: attacking the modern robber      
barons on behalf of the Great Plains of cyberspace. Harrelson         
demanded free-access vouchers for all students and unemployed, a      
pro-encryption amendment to the Constitution, the breakup of          
Microsoft and Netscape, and abolition of the federal income tax.      
Washington, D.C., he said, was an irrelevant relic, the "last refuge  
of the old carbon-based politics" in a world of bit-streamed data     
moving at the speed of light. "Let Washington tend to the atoms of    
aging baby boomers," he declared, "while we aim our browsers at bits  
of the future."                                                       
                                                                      
But it was the way Harrelson campaigned that almost won him the       
election--and that set the pattern others since have followed. His    
rivals had size on their side. Vice President Bayh had the full       
backing of AT&T, Netscape and ABC/Disney; GOP House Speaker Kasich    
had MCI and NBC/Microsoft. But these mainframe candidates were mired  
in old-think. They produced "spots" for analog-style TV networks and  
insisted on a series of "debates." Harrelson would have none of it.   
Powered by huge servers and the latest in artificial intelligence,    
Harrelson's "Let's Lead Ourselves" channels featured his interactive  
3-D image in a variety of settings (Iowa coffee klatch, campaign      
plane, TV studio), with each server capable of conducting             
simultaneous, real-time, discrete conversations with 50,000 voters on 
topics ranging from animal rights to zinc pollution. It was like a    
"fireside chat" with FDR actually sitting in each voter's living      
room. The AI 'bot was designed to sense the voter's opinion so that   
"Woody" could agree wholeheartedly--or disagree vehemently (or sadly) 
would be more impressive. Data from all sessions were fed instantly   
into the Harrelson campaign's computer, so that he could update his   
stands on the issues (and his on-screen attire) accordingly. In all,  
the site got 200 million hits. Of those who visited it more than five 
times--20 million souls--every single one voted for Woody. And why    
not? After all, they had made him what he was.                        
                                                                      
Go ahead, snicker, laugh--or cry. But it's true: each new wave in the 
technology of communications tosses up leaders who ride the medium,   
understand the issues it generates and embody the new Zeitgeist it    
creates. Just take a look at the historical spreadsheet: Washington   
and Jefferson in the epistolary age of parchment and cheap pamphlets; 
Lincoln, brilliant wordsmith of public speeches, in the time of       
telegraphy; Teddy Roosevelt, who invented the political publicity     
stunt to occupy the metropolitan tabloids; FDR and radio; Kennedy,    
Reagan and TV. Now what? The president as Webmaster-in-chief? As      
hologram? We are racing toward a time in which there will be          
unlimited channels of fully digital, interactive virtual reality      
transmitting data, entertainment and news.                            
                                                                      
What kind of politics will this produce? What kind of leadership--if  
any? What role will federal Washington play--if any? You could see    
the new-world chrysalis in, of all places, the Dole campaign of 1996. 
Dole himself was born in Kansas when commercial radio was in its      
infancy, yet he was the first presidential candidate to announce his  
Web-site address on national TV. He already knew the stuff could      
work. He happened to have as his top Webmaster one Andrew Weinstein,  
a savvy young Dukie who had put up an alluring, highly interactive    
site in the primary season. The result: a bumper crop of l2,000 good  
volunteers who worked key "early" states and helped save the Dole     
candidacy. By summer, the Dole campaign was regularly e-mailing       
messages to these fans, each message customized to specific topics    
the voters said they cared about. The entire effort cost less than an 
average TV advertising "buy" in a major market.                       
                                                                      
This was digital grass-roots activism in action. Such visionaries as  
newsletter guru Esther Dyson think the Web will produce an explosion  
of microdemocracy. She's right. The Web already has become the        
walkie-talkie and bulletin board for a new generation of organizers,  
from the National Rifle Association to the Electronie Freedom         
Foundation. Access to political information is being radically        
democratized. Voters can research--instantly--the record of any       
candidate on any issue. "The voters can really drill down," says      
Evans Witt, executive editor of the popular PoliticsNow Web page.     
Anything that restores a sense of connection is all to the good, Witt 
says. "Given the cynicism about politics, anything helps." If         
information is power, Washington is Rome with the file drawers        
locked. It took a vast bureaucracy to fill them and do the city's     
business. Now voternetheads have the capability--and should,          
logically, have the right--to do the work themselves. Washington      
still dictates the trajectory of missiles and the creation of money.  
But it rules little else, and the action is elsewhere: in the         
financial trading rooms of the world, in Silicon Valley software      
shops, in the antiseptic corridors of Seattle. Cyberspace is the new  
Louisiana Purchase, an uncharted West. It's creating its own issues,  
and forcing them onto the agenda of the establishment back "East."    
Instead of free silver, it's free speech and free Web access. If      
Thomas Jefferson were alive, he'd be spending his time at the MIT     
media lab and communicating with Meriwether Lewis by laptop. If       
America has been defined and refreshed by its ever-westering spirit,  
perhaps the digital age has arrived just in time.                     
                                                                      
But digital democracy will also be mean, messy and dangerous: a       
shrapnel-filled grenade clattering across the marble floor of         
consensus. What the musty academies call "mediating                   
institutions"--from party conventions to network news--have been      
declining for a host of reasons. The digital future could kill them   
off entirely. In the digital world, every unchecked "fact" is all too 
available, every opinion equal. The nifty Web page of the             
Holocaust-denier can seem just as convincing as the rerun of          
"Schindler's List." "Now you can immediately link the obsessions of a 
few like-minded folks in Tampa, Wichita and Montana," says Doug       
Bailey, the pioneering founder of the Political Hotline. "When you    
can do that, you're talking about the fragmentation of politics." And 
soon enough, the historical echoes of the Web will not he so bracing. 
Instead of recalling Lewis and Clark and the pristine rivers of the   
West, the relevant parallel may be Carnegie and Morgan and the        
monopolistic power they represented. The tycoons of the digital age,  
like their steel and railroad predecessors, are amassing              
incomprehensible fortunes and unaccountable power. It's easy to see   
Bill Gates or Rupert Murdoch as the fat-bottomed "trusts" in an old   
Thomas Nast cartoon. But who will play Bryan or Teddy Roosevelt? And  
how can they do it if federal power is dismantled by the digerati?    
                                                                      
Neither Bill Clinton nor A1 Gore is a true Son of Cyberspace. The     
president is resolutely carbon-based. He confides to friends that he  
has no keyboarding skills (can't type) and has never surfed the Web   
of his own free will. This from a man who claimed in 1996 that wiring 
schools for the benefits of the Internet was one of his top           
priorities. Gore is a half-breed. He's an obsessive e-mailer who uses 
his laptop wherever he goes. Gore is known to dutifully fill out      
electronic registration cards for new software. (Name: Albert Gore.   
Occupation: vice president.) "I couldn't believe it when I saw him    
showing up on our list," one executive said. But Gore is not beloved  
by new-world pioneers. The administration committed a mortal sin,     
they believe, when Clinton signed the Communications Decency Act of   
1996, regarded on the Web as a blunt attack on free speech. Gore      
didn't protest publicly, they note, and should have known better.     
                                                                      
The ultimate threats to American democracy in the digital age aren't  
the rise of splinter groups, or new tycoons, or government-imposed    
limits on speech. The dangers are more subtle and insidious. One is   
the lack of a common starting point for discussion. Soon enough,      
philosophers of cyberspace point out, you'll not only be able to      
"research" another point of view; you'll literally be able to inhabit 
it. If anyone can see the world from any angle--if everything is      
relative and the dominant reality virtual--where's the place called   
America? "It's a principle from optics," said John Pavlik, who heads  
Columbia University's New Media program. "If you don't have a 'known' 
perspective, you can't judge anything." The other danger is that      
leadership as we knew it--from George Washington to Ronald            
Reagan--will disappear as politicians become all too connected to the 
voters. You don't have to be Edmund Burke to see the danger: imagine  
poll taker Dick Morris as a server and Clinton as the interactive     
software. What if our presidents become nothing more than the sum of  
our whims and misinformation? The netizens of the future will have to 
take their jobs seriously. Are we ready for this much democracy?      
Let's hope so.                                                        
                                                                      
COPYRIGHT 1997 Newsweek Inc.