The Right Side of the Web
At the Netwatch home page (http://www.cais.com/netwatch) an enthusiastic Internet songbird proclaims the 1996 election as a harbinger of the future: the first-ever election in "cyberspace." No longer beholden to the banal and repetitive reporting of print media, the snide jabbering of televised news shows, or smug and dishonest advertising, the American voter has been liberated! Netwatch informs us: "This year, voters aren't in the passenger seat anymore. They're in the driver's seat. Why? Because of the Net." Instead of being force fed a media-filtered election, the net brings voters unfettered outtakes from candidate speeches, home pages devoted to underground political parties, and outrageous commentary from sub-journalists denied entrance into the halls of CNN. And it's all, Netwatch intones, "just a click away."Contrary to Netwatch's proclamation, 1992's election had a presence online as well. During the Democratic primaries, Jerry Brown made a number of appearances on a Prodigy discussion group, and by November, Bill Clinton was also answering questions from the huddled masses in online chat areas. What distinguishes this year's election is the ubiquity of Netscape and the World Wide Web which translates into less discussion and more projection. Instead of joining Usenet groups, candidates and their supporters are posting home pages where they advertise, polemicize, and rant uncontested on an array of subjects.The Bob Dole home page (http://www.dole96.com) is a well-oiled tour of the candidate which ranges from a valuable point by point overview of Dole's positions on a number of key issues to the frivolous and ironically titled "Bob Dole Interactive" area which offers visitors a downloadable Bob Dole screen saver in both Macintosh and Windows formats. Organization and simplicity are the rule in Bob's house, a reality most appreciated his positions section in which a savvy staff member outlines the candidate's stance in easy prose. As a voter it is helpful to read these positions for oneself without the roar of television or the abject boosterism (or even jaded cynicism) of a print journalist. While all the usual suspects are here (balanced budget, the criminalization of flag burning, prayer in schools, and reinstatement of the ban on gays in the military), there are also two or three positions often overlooked by the media. In Dole's case this includes his commitment to streamlining the veteran's benefits bureaucracy and "strengthening" defense. Dole also highlights his unwavering devotion to the 10th Amendment (states rights) and pledges to do whatever he can to "dust off the 10th amendment and restore it to its rightful place in the Constitution."Like the candidate, Dole's home page is for the most part boring (save for the screen saver). So to spice it up a bit, or at least to appeal to what some GOP marketing consultant has determined is the Internet constituency, the Dole camp has set up an area on "technology" which simply lists all of the computer power that the Senator has enlisted in his cause. Written in snappy language, the listing sounds more than a little like the sidebars in Guitar magazine, where Al Di Meola rattles off his all his equipment from each Fender guitar and Boss effect pedal down to the medium gauge pick that he chews on between sets, all for the titillation of the nation's teenage rock stars. In this case the litany of tech toys must be for someone else's titillation."The campaign is a proponent of new technology. Dole For President's (DFP) hardware platform consists of 486 and Pentium based workstations and Pentium based fault-tolerant servers. The DFP network topology includes 10/100 megabits ethernet and a T-1 communications link. DFP is also standardized on a graphical based operating environment with an office suite for applications integration. Pushing the envelope at 35,000 feet: the Dole for President announcement tour aircraft was equipped with fax machines, cellular phones, laptop computers, and laser printers for constant communications with campaign headquarters and ground crew."While Bob Dole's staff is trying desperately to put cyber-chutzpah into their charge, other election year web sites overwhelm visitors with bilious vitriol. The Right Side of the Web (http://www.clark.net/pub/jeffd/index.html) is a somewhat laughable home page of right-wing boosterism and bombast, including the Rush Limbaugh info page and Newt Gingrich WWW fan page. In an attempt to make itself relevant to the debate and to register in the great democratic experiment of the online election, the Right Side includes a belligerent poll titled: "What kind of people are liberals?""A poll conducted in October by pollster Frank Luntz proves what we conservatives have known for some time: that liberals are "the most sinful people in America" and are far more likely to have committed 5 or more of the Seven Deadly Sins than conservatives."Thereafter is included a chart of liberal sinfulness that shows how 9 percent more liberals than conservatives (plus or minus 2.7 percent) admit to taking a towel from a hotel, or how 8 percent less liberals than conservatives (plus or minus 2.7 percent) refer to themselves as patriotic.In this liberated online election where the voter "is in the driver seat" it becomes obvious that the landscape differs little from the analog world. While the net brings Dole's positions into the home with a rapidity and ease unmatched by calling local Dole headquarters, the latter does produce the same result. Likewise, such useless partisan banter as found on The Right Side of the Web is easily acquired off-line in newsletters such as Heterodoxy. The web merely reproduces this extant material in a different format; and such a realization takes a little fluff out of Netwatch's exuberance.A sign encouragement comes with The Nation (http://www.thenation.com/) which recently launched its own web page. Though most of the sections have yet to be completed (like a full text searchable archive of the magazine's 100+ history), one notable article already up that is of importance to any voter. In 1964, Patrick Buchanan wrote an article for the left-leaning weekly in which he took to task the Missouri prison system for its inhumane treatment of prisoners. This living piece of history does more than most to give perspective to the election race as it graphically illustrates the devolution of this pundit-cum-demagogue better than any home-spun or spin-doctored home page can.