The Myth of the 'Internet President'

Ah, good old 1996 – the first of our “wired” national elections. Bill Clinton versus Bob Dole, with special guest appearances by Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan, and Lamar Alexander. The information superhighway, online debate transcripts, participatory democracy, candidates on email – and all that jazz. We were so smart then.

Fast forward to the 2008 cycle. The campaigns are now super-wired, with vast email lists, major online contributions, multiple blogs, social networks, viral videos – the works. Yet, we’re no closer to choosing the “Internet President” than we were in 1996. TechPresident has done a super job of covering the race from a CauseWired point of view – which candidates have best virtual field operations, best digital media strategies, best penetration on Facebook and MySpace and the like.

But that doesn’t mean that the best-wired candidates are the technology candidates. So I found the efforts at TechCrunch to endorse “The First Tech President” kind of quaint, in a way – and so reminiscent of those mid-90s days:

TechCrunch wants to provide a voice for digital policy and technology issues in the upcoming U.S. Presidential election, and so we’ve decided to hold our own political primaries online.

A noble effort, and it’s a good think for Silicon Valley types to pay more attention to politics beyond their usual knee-jerk libertarian views as a business community. But no convention delegates come that “primary” and it’s very unlikely that the results will spur actual voters.

Besides, it seems to me the candidates, especially on the Democratic side (with due respect to online fundraising phenomenon Ron Paul), have moved way beyond hankering for that label – they’re not just pontificating on the importance of technology to the American economy. They’re some of the savviest consumers of media technology in the world. The campaign of the non-traditional Republican Paul, with his vast army of unpaid but highly-wired campaign supporters, pretty much defines the power of social networks in national politics; but the campaigns of Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and – to a lesser respect – Barack Obama also seem to really understand the tools of the network, and use them to their best advantage.

So with respect to TechCrunch for a decent idea, I think the notion of the first “tech president” in 2008 is antiquated. Don’t look behind any more for the politicians in their adoption and use of interconnected digital networks, look around you – or look farther down the road.