Blown To Bits

Bits Change the Campaign

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008 by Harry Lewis

In important ways, this is really the first digital presidential campaign, and the news about Sarah Palin provides some thought-provoking examples.

First, the McCain campaign explains that the disclosure of her daughter’s pregnancy was required to dispel the wild rumors being circulated by liberal Internet bloggers about who was the mother of her own four-month-old. Someone needs to trace back who started this on the Internet. I quickly looked at the Daily Kos and both the rumor and skepticism about the rumor are discussed there. (By the way, wouldn’t a birth certificate have sufficed to put that rumor to rest? But I digress.)

The official reaction of the McCain campaign is that this is the sort of thing that happens to families. Some conservative columnists are turning this news into another way in which the Republicans can identify with ordinary Americans. That is post-Internet Republicanism. At another time, they surely would have done there best to hide it.

But you can’t hide stuff any more, as we repeatedly explain in Blown to Bits. Not your silly college-dorm photos (that’s Sarah Palin looking like the college student she was, with a T shirt that reads “I may be broke but I’m not flat busted”). Not the Facebook silliness of the boy who got your daughter pregnant (from the NY Post; thanks to Richard Bradley for point this out). We are all silly when we are young, but having all the silliness permanently recorded and universally accessible is something new.

The spread of this kind of stuff can be childish and mean. It raises the question of whether McCain’s staff was aware of the Internet materials like these that turned up very quickly after the announcement of his VP pick.

But the exposure of these personal details does seem to be making politics less distant. This campaign has so much else going on with it that it’s going to be hard to separate out the effect of the Internet from other factors. But it seems certain that politicians are going to be unable to be quite so pretentious in the future. Too much will be known about them too quickly — especially if they, like Sarah Palin, were born after 1960.

And the public is going to have to decide what it thinks about the disclosure of things it rarely used to find out about. As we say in the book, we really don’t know what we think about privacy any more.

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