Youd think, by listening to all the public worrying, that Washington, D.C. was expecting an attack by Martians: An invasion of strange creature intent on disturbing the Capitols treasured way of life.
But, no, as reporters and lobbyists contemplate the confirmation hearings of Judge John G. Roberts, President Bushs nominee to the Supreme Court, its “the Internet” that has everyone cowering in fear.
Thats right. The Internet. As we all know, it changes everything. And the worry in Washington is that this change isnt for the better. Of course, its not “the Internet,” its the folks—like me—sitting at their keyboard typing who are so bothersome.
But this version of “Whos in charge?” is important. It promises to be another step in Washington—and politicians orientation—to a technology that more and more Americans take for granted.
When Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day OConner announced her resignation—a surprise that no one in Washington expected—the political talk shows were full of reporters worrying about the quantity, tone and style of the e-mail they had received.
The subsequent speculation—particularly online—about OConners replacement and the fate of Chief Justice Rehnquist, who has cancer, only added to concern about “the Internet.”
This is the same technology that eased CBS anchor Dan Rather into earlier-than-expected retirement and, for many on the left, fostered rumors that kept John Kerry from being elected president.
Certainly, talk about all these topics filled plenty of time on Web logs during the election. And since late June when the court adjourned for the year, court gossip has been rampant. Advertising, some of it very harshly worded, from the Democrats and Republicans was up on various Web sites almost immediately after OConner said she was quitting.
For some, its no big deal. Mike Krempasky, the co-founder of the conservative site RedState.org, says advocates have to work a bit harder—and faster—to keep up with whats out there. Thats good for blogs like RedState, which carried its share of rumors about the Supreme Court.
“I think the Internets biggest impact, as it is with everything else—is simply to accelerate the process,” Krempasky said. “In the past, briefing books were shipped around the country for surrogates, and those messages sufficed for months of conflict. Now the network of supporters and detractors need to be updated every morning. Strategy must therefore become far more fluid than in the past.”
Murky mix of bloggers
and advocates will chronicle everything”>
Cynics say its just a matter of time before small questions about Roberts—an almost lifelong Washington lawyer—will become magnified by online conversation and discussion. After all, much of the funding that organizations expected to lobby for and against Roberts nomination comes from folks who approve of the work theyre doing. And theres nothing like a big political fight to convince supporters of the need to donate even more.
And given the sometimes murky connections between advocates and bloggers, many Washington insiders—press folks as well as lobbyists and other professional politicians—are also focused on Web logs and the people who run them.
“The blogosphere has shown it can act as this massive human parallel processor, like they did to Rather,” says Carol Darr, director of George Washington Universitys Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet. “That does, to me, seem to be a legitimate fear.”
Shes not alone. Writing as part of an exchange posted last week on Slate.com, Cliff Sloan, a Democrat who shepherded Justice Stephen Breyers nomination through the U.S. Senate sounded this alarm: “John Roberts Supreme Court nomination will be the first of the Internet age, which will turn up the heat even more.”
Viet Dihn, a Republican doing a similar sort of work for his party on behalf of a group of lower court nominees, echoed Sloans concerns:
“The process has become even more invasive and divisive since the early 1990s, which from my vantage point seem like the good old days,” Dihn wrote before he started pointing fingers.
“There are several reasons for this devolution. The first is technology. The rise of the Internet and the blogosphere has created an echo chamber that is much more instant and loud than the old Beltway-Heartland connection through traditional media. Technology has also changed how information is gathered. There is no need to keep files anymore because Google is the biggest filing cabinet out there.”
That Internet. You never know where it will lead you. And as with the record and movies businesses, the transition for politicians isnt smooth.
eWEEK.com technology and politics columnist Chris Nolan spent years chronicling the excesses of the dot-com era with incisive analysis leavened with a dash of humor. Before that, she covered politics and technology in D.C. You can read her musings on politics and technology every day in her Politics from Left to Right Weblog. She can be reached at [email protected]