Tuesday, June 1, 2010

In his magnificently probing book, The Gutenberg Galaxy, Marshall
McLuhan asks readers to probe the following question: "What will be the
new configurations of mechanisms and of literacy as these older forms of
perception and judgment are interpenetrated by the new electronic age?"
With the rise of TV and the Internet we are seeing the new configurations which for establishments and institutions almost seem to twist into gargoyles and grotesques.

In his next book, Understanding Media, McLuhan predicted way back in the
1960's that television would change politics in America forever. He
prophesied that television would eventually diminish the power of
partisan party bosses in America. Voters no longer needed the
recommendation of party as to whom to vote for because candidates could
come into everyone's living room on the TV screen. Candidates bypassed
the party bosses and talked to voters directly, electronically. He
foretold that TV would eventually push people away from voting the
"party line."

I can remember people actually calling Dolores Dickman, our North Denver
Democratic Captain, asking for her marked official Democratic sample
ballot so they knew whom she recommended for the primaries. That showed
true party discipline. And if one of the committee people did not hand
out the sample ballots before election, voter turnout was diminished in
that particular precinct. This trend reflected the truth of the
communication theory which says: "Lack of information equals
uncertainty." Without their sample ballots, like the cell phone user in
the TV spot talking with his girl friend: "Was it something I said?
Did she hang up?" The phone's battery could have simply died and
perhaps she did not hang up, but the lack of information led the caller
to great angst and romantic uncertainty. And uncertain voters often
stayed home.

The Internet dragon breathes fear and trembling among China's government
officials. Like church officials after Gutenberg's press the church
could no longer control the messages to the faithful. They now had
their own copy of scripture.

China's current leaders do not know it yet, but the Internet has
transformed its blossoming online population, now over 400 million, into
one big buzzing national electronic caucus. The Colorado based DaVinci
Institute, which analyzes media future trends reports that China's
Internet has morphed its society into a national digital forum where
citizens can communicate and "express their opinions in a way rarely
seen in a country where traditional media are under strict government
control." They don't know it, but it is too late for the party bosses
to try to stop Internet communication. Even Chairman Mao couldn't put
the toothpaste back in the tube.

We can see the trend away from party discipline in the Colorado
primaries this year. Andrew Romanoff top-lined 60-40% Michael Bennet at
the Colorado Democratic State Convention last week. Democratic
establishment from President Obama down through Gary Hart had endorsed
Bennet. Dan Maes, the anti-establishment candidate top-lined the GOP
establishment Scott McGinnis, not by many points, at the Republican
State Convention the same weekend. In earlier times, in a print
culture, top-line designation by the party assemblies and conventions
meant more to the party faithful than it does today. Top-line
designation could mean up to 10% of a vote. Newspaper endorsements mean
less now due to the electronic media. Remember the embarrassment
suffered by Ken Salazar in his senate bid? Salazar had the Democratic
Party establishment behind him, but Mike Miles, the unknown candidate, a
fiery gargoyle, edged him out and got top line from the party rank and

"Politics: the only game for adults." Dolores Dickman

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