David Hawpe of The Courier-Journal loves to spout the old Mitch McConnell line that money equals free speech. Now, it seems, Mr. Hawpe is trying to assert that free speech is a time-limited commodity as well. In his Aug. 16 column, Hawpe chided local members of MoveOn.org for moving “too quickly” with efforts to highlight Anne Northup’s close ties to big oil.
Hawpe went on to complain that “politics usually doesn’t begin until after Labor Day,” and that “there will be plenty of time to discuss and debate the issues” before this November’s general election. However, the traditional timelines of politics are rapidly changing, and students of the old school are going to have to deal with it.
To put Hawpe’s comments into context, there are extenuating circumstances. In deference to Anne Northup after the death of her son in July, it was tacitly agreed by all parties that political activity surrounding the Third Congressional District race would cease for a time. And it did. It seems, however, that Mr. Hawpe’s gripe is caused more by his bewilderment with what MoveOn.org actually is, what it represents and what such Internet-based efforts are actively doing to change the American political landscape.
What Mr. Hawpe apparently wants to see is politics as usual. He mentions there will be plenty of “tube time” for the candidates this fall, and as such he wants us to spend our summer shutting up and raising money — the huge sums that will be required to finance a proper, conventional media blitz in the weeks leading up to Nov. 7. It puzzles him to see groups of citizens do anything to controvert that convention, which is precisely what MoveOn.org is doing. Its members react to Internet calls from organizers to coalesce and deliver hard-hitting criticisms of elected officials.
My buddy Mike Bailey, the local coordinator for MoveOn, has effectively done that as a part of our ongoing campaign to highlight Anne Northup’s close ties to big oil, big industry and special interest groups. Her ties to those groups have skewed her voting record toward the preservation of their interests. MoveOn.org is a coalition of individuals that operates independently of any candidate or entity in the true spirit of what political action should be. It aims to give people back their voice, and that voice needs to be heard on a continual basis. The nature of grassroots operations makes it essential to engage in such ongoing efforts.
It’s no secret that Anne Northup will probably outspend John Yarmuth by a factor of three or four to one in conventional media buys this fall. If free speech is ever to become truly free again, we have to expand the campaign timeline significantly in order to effectively deliver our message. We also have to expand our efforts to involve people in the community, and MoveOn.org has been instrumental in those efforts.
Howard Dean’s youth-driven organization managed to turn some heads in 2004 with their grassroots, Web-based crusade to bolster support for his presidential campaign. Even though Howard’s bid for the presidency imploded in Iowa with his now-infamous “I Have a Scream” speech, Dean’s organization demonstrated that the Internet was ready to play a major role in American politics. There is now a wide agreement that the power of the Net has increased exponentially ever since, and that it will continue to do so.
That assessment was validated this month when Ned Lamont defeated incumbent Sen. Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut Democratic primary. Lamont’s stunning victory was driven, at least in part, by the enormous, nationwide support that he received in the blogosphere from organizations like MoveOn, DailyKos, and MyDD.
Mr. Hawpe began his Aug. 16 column with the nervous question, “So what is this MoveOn.org …?” It reminded me of the old Gary Larson Far Side cartoon featuring a pair of dinosaurs. Observing the first snowflake of an impending Ice Age, one brontosaurus looks to the other and mutters, “Uh oh.” The Internet is beginning to drive a change in the American political climate that none of us can yet fully comprehend, but we all know this change is only going to increase in magnitude. Free speech is becoming truly free once again, and expensive, conventional media buys as the mainstay of the political process may well be on their way toward extinction.
Those who fail to comprehend that change and adapt along with it will be driven toward extinction as well. We’ve all just seen the first snowflake.