Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The New Spin Room

There was a lot of talk over Obama's decision to forgo the public financing system. His privately raised millions will out gun McCain from now until the election. The decision was clearly tactical, but it raises the larger specter of campaign finance reform. In many ways though, the debate is centered around a dying paradigm

Against the backdrop of an unprecedented internet fundraising campaign Barack Obama hurled himself to national prominence and now is one opponent away from the White House. However, the very same viral power of the Internet to spread Obama's message especially to the young when he needed them most, is also the very power he seeks to combat today. is the Obama campaign's response to rumors that have swept the web. 

All of this stands as background to say that the battle of public relations and spin is moving from television to the internet. Barack Obama announced his decision to leave the public campaign system in a web video, Hillary Clinton announced her campaign online, John McCain is struggling to find his voice on the web, but is already making up ground.

So then the question becomes in this burgeoning internet age, when a candidate can not only fundraise, but indeed control their global message online, why do we need publicly funded campaigns at all? Moreover, why is Senator Obama raising hundreds of millions for the forthcoming fight with McCain? The answer of course is television. Paid television advertising is still the single most costly expense for any state-wide or national campaign. The cost of those 30-second spots all over the nation is what has spun campaign financing out of reach.

But is paid televised political advertising really necessary any more? I think Barack Obama and John McCain would tell you it is. That web video might be the future, but its not the present and plenty of Americans will be introduced to Barack Obama or John McCain via a 30-second spot on their screen.

I am not proposing a ban on political advertising on television it still holds a place in our media landscape. But with it's low cost of entry and global reach, plus the added benefit of having a message go "viral" the internet still offers the promise of a true market place of ideas. A place where not only well-monied candidates compete, but any candidate that can launch a website and start posting on youtube, can find a space on the web. All for far less in real dollars cost than television.

We are seeing the difference between being "good on the web" and "good on tv." The same way we saw the difference in the 60's between being "good on the radio" and "good on the tv." The skill sets are different, the strategy is different, and its the future of campaigning and media. 

So Barack Obama might have smashed the current campaign financing system to pieces when he opted out. But looking at the future of our politics, didn't it need to get rebuilt anyway?

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