Back in the old days in political campaigns there were usually three ‘voices’ talking to voters. Today there’re more voices than anyone can count.
For instance, back in 1984 when Jesse Helms ran against Jim Hunt the three ‘Voices’ voters heard were Helms,’ Hunt’s, and the press. Twenty-six years later we’re in the middle of another campaign and with the blossoming of cable TV, News Talk Radio and the Internet no one can count how many ‘Voices’ are shouting at the top of their lungs.
The rules of political debate have changed too.
Say what you will about traditional journalism – and it had it’s critics – it also had traditions and ground rules. If, say, the News and Observer ran a story criticizing Helms – it also asked him to comment and, generally, reported whatever he said.
Today the new ‘Voices’ have thrown out the rules.
In the old days we had traditional newspapers and in big cities, like New York, a handful of more popular (and entertaining) tabloids like the New York Post owned by Rupert Murdock.
Then in a moment of inspiration Murdoch figured out if his readers loved tabloids in print they’d love them even more on TV and Fox News was born – with the added spice of a partisan slant which has left conservatives addicted to the ‘No Spin Zone.’
MSNBC – taking the opposite political slant – followed Fox and now Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Keith Olberman and Rachael Maddow have all become prominent ‘Voices’ of conservative and liberal politics and tabloid TV has grown so powerful it’s redefined the standards – and language – of political debate.
Only when the debate rolls over onto the Internet – where folks are free to say whatever strikes them and say it anonymously – the result sounds like a million Sean Hannity’s or Keith Olberman’s gone wild, shouting at the top of their lungs.
For example, the other day in Congress a grandstanding Democrat stood up on the House floor and used his 5 minutes on C-Span to throw a match on a powder keg by ripping into Rush Limbaugh – that sent a shock wave rippling through the ether followed by a roar of outrage on the Internet. Consider these responses posted anonymously on one pro-Limbaugh blog:
‘These S*#! for brains Democratic Congressmen can’t get beyond Rush.’
“Jim Moran” – another Democratic Congressman – “is getting more and more senile every day.”
“El Rushbo is public enemy No. 1 of the leftist socialist slime.”
“The Dumbocrats hate dissent almost as much as they hate our constitutional republic.”
And that’s a snapshot of the living, breathing world of politics today: Candidates shouting. Voices roaring on cable TV. And the voices of a million Americans roaring on the Internet. It’s a no holds barred freewheeling democratic symphony of free speech.
And it’s also a long way from the Lincoln-Douglas debates.