Social Media and the Revival of American Democracy
How could Facebook, YouTube and Twitter help to limit the role of money in U.S. politics?
May 26, 2011
Barack Obama seems determined to become the first billion-dollar man in American political history. That’s how much some observers are speculating he will raise for his 2012 reelection campaign.
This campaign finance target underscores the absurdity of the role of money in American politics. It is so pervasive these days that it taints much, if not all, of the outcome, especially at the congressional level.
But rather than bemoan the role of campaign finance — which has been known for decades, although it has gotten progressively worse, thanks especially to the U.S. Supreme Court — we want to point today to the true benefits of social media in an age when money rules politics.
Officially, candidates justify their never-ending search for more cash with the high cost of campaign commercials, particularly on television, as well as the costs related to the staffing of their campaign operations.
By now, everybody must have noticed that something is very different about the upcoming U.S. presidential campaign. Several of the Republican candidates, such as Tim Pawlenty and Newt Gingrich, have either formally launched their 2012 bids through social media or have relied heavily on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to expand their electoral appeal.
And therein lies the salvation for the future of American politics. Just force candidates, not just at the presidential level, but also at the congressional level and below, to communicate to the electorate mainly through social media platforms instead of via TV and radio ads. Best of all worlds, they are free to use and easily allow candidates to engage in virtual or real dialogue with their voters and constituents.
No doubt, that would be a tough turn of events for commercial radio and TV stations across the country. They have been the primary beneficiary of the old style of American politics. Every two years or so, the cancerous system that is U.S. campaign finance has thrown them a vital survival line with all those political ad dollars rolling in.
In a twin threat from the Internet and the recession, these stations do suffer from a paucity of commercials from real businesses, such as car dealers, supermarkets and local banks. But is it really the role of politicians to raise funds so that broadcast TV stations can stay on the air?
Imagine the brave new world of severely limiting campaign finance. Members of Congress could actually spend time in Washington, as well as back home, doing the job they were elected to do — focusing on policymaking, not engaging in the unseemly rat race that is campaign fundraising.
Campaigns might also become a bit more civil and issue-based, since not everything will have to be compressed into shrill 30-second commercials.
Who knows — as a result of this technology-induced campaign reform measure, political outcomes might also change. Since it is more than a truism that money talks, U.S. democracy has long been tarnished by the fact that it is unrepresentative — in the sense that politicians see first and foremost to it that the interests that funded their campaigns are being “taken care of.”
Barack Obama, tech enthusiast of the 2008 campaign, ought to lead the way and challenge his Republican opponent to rely mainly on social media in order to improve the tarnished image of American democracy as being little more than a money chase.
Nothing else will do at a time when the U.S. Supreme Court has engaged in another shocking act of unprecedented legal activism by inventing a concept out of the blue that holds that U.S. corporations are endowed with the same rights to free speech in the political process as citizens.
Imagine the brave new world of severely limiting campaign finance. Members of Congress could actually spend time focusing on policymaking, not fundraising.
Campaigns might become a bit more civil and issue-based, since not everything will have to be compressed into shrill 30-second commercials.