In the history of our nation's presidential campaigns there have been four major eras, each defined by the communications technology available at the time. Each had its pros and cons. The major benefit of the present era is that it is much harder for a man or a woman to lie his or her way into the Oval Office.
As we discuss the technologies of the different communications eras, it is important to note that they are cumulative. For instance, newspapers were most important during the first era, but were eventually eclipsed by the radio. As radio became more important to presidential campaigns, newspapers became less important. However, newspapers continued to be used, and are still used today. In a similar fashion, each technology from previous eras continues to be used in ensuing eras, but each has less impact than it had in its own era.
The first was the Newspaper Era. In the early years of our nation the only way for a candidate to reach large numbers of people was by the written word. Of course speeches were important during that time, but only a very small number of potential voters ever had the opportunity to see the candidates in person. The transportation technology of the earliest days of the Republic was mostly horse-powered. Travel was slow, so candidates tended to limit their speech-making to major population centers.
As anyone who watches old movies knows, advances in another area of transportation technology made presidential candidates more available in person to more of the electorate. Candidates would tour about in private railroad cars, stopping in towns along the way to give speeches using the caboose of the train as their platform. Of course, if you didn't live close to a railroad, you didn't get to hear the speech. And even if you did, word of mouth was usually used to announce the arrival of the train, so if you lived outside of town you were out of luck.
So newspapers were the best way for the candidate to communicate their ideas to the public, if they had any. Unfortunately, the early days were no different than today. Many presidential candidates had no ideas, only blind ambition and greed for power, just like today. But those who had real ideas and were good at articulating them on paper (or had good writers on their staff) used newspapers to good advantage.
At first newspapers were expensive, delivery systems limited and many Americans could not read. So few voters had access to the printed words of the candidates. But this changed as printing presses became cheaper and more towns had their own newspapers. The spread of the railroads helped, because newspapers from the larger cities could reach small towns more easily.
The main drawback of the Newspaper Era was the slowness of the medium. A candidate could give an important speech that could help or hurt his candidacy, but many people might not read about it until weeks after they had voted.
The other problem of this era was that most people never saw the candidates, or indeed the president himself, except in photos or in caricatures. And the vast majority never got to hear them speak.
Then came the Radio Era. This was a major advance, because it is much easier to tell what a candidate was like by hearing him speak rather than just reading his words (which, as noted above, might not even be his own words). Radio gave the people another tool with which to judge the sincerity of their candidate. I believe it was around this time that politicians first uttered the philosophy that is still the watchword of many: "Sincerity is everything. Once you can fake that, you've got it made."
Fortunately, Americans have always been smarter than their politicians give them credit for, and radio was important in helping people decide which politicians were really sincere, and which were simply seekers and grabbers. The ability of the people to hear a man's words in his own voice, rather than on paper, decided many elections.
The main drawback of the Radio Era was the lack of availability of radios, particularly in the earliest days of the technology. Radios were expensive, and initially could only be heard in areas close enough to a city that had a transmission tower that was powerful enough to reach them. Often dozens of people would gather in a wealthy neighbor's home to hear important radio programs like a candidate's speech (or the latest installment of "The Lone Ranger"). Children reading this today will be surprised to learn that every child did not have a personal radio-MP3 combination that he could carry in his or her pocket.
Then came the Television Era. Now potential voters could both see and hear the candidates. Television revolutionized presidential politics, particularly when the party conventions were televised. What could be hidden by radio was no longer hidden. The people could look into a candidates face and see the character (or lack thereof) of the man.
Of course, some were better than others at using this new medium. Oily politicians who had no more sincerity than snakes learned how to appear to be men of character for as long as the camera was pointed at them. And good men who didn't "look presidential" (whatever that is) were sometimes eliminated from consideration.
The greatest advantage of the Television Era was that for the first time in our nation's history, millions of Americans could see and hear the candidates speak, if they made the effort. This was revolutionary! Where once a relatively small number of people decided who would become president (the ones who actually heard the candidates speak, and told the rest who they should vote for), now everyone could participate in the democratic process.
The main drawback of the Television Era was the same as it had been with radio -- lack of availability. But, just as with radio, as televisions became more popular, more were manufactured and prices dropped. And more television stations were built that reached more people in rural areas. While this was happening, people would gather in a wealthy neighbor's home to hear see important television programs like a candidate's speech (or the latest installment of "I Love Lucy").
Today we are in the Internet Era. And, following our brief history lesson, we come to the main point of this article. The Internet makes it much harder for politicians to lie their way into the White House.
Prior to the Internet Era, it was relatively easy for politicians to lie about who they really were. A presidential candidate could wear many hats in front of different crowds and get away with it. Hillary Clinton is the perfect example of this genre. She has, at various times and places, been a Liberal, a Moderate and even a Conservative.
Hillary has been both pro-union and pro-business. She is rabidly pro-death, but has managed to convince some that she is pro-life "in her heart". She became a Yankees fan when she was running in New York, and discovered that she had "Jewish roots" when speaking to groups of Jewish people. She has never gone as far as her husband (at least not yet), who claimed that he was "The first Black President." But she has managed to convince large numbers of minorities that she really cares about them. (Remember, "Sincerity is everything...")
The Internet will be her downfall, just as it was John Kerry's downfall.
Kerry is a good example of the power of the Internet. We all remember the television coverage of the Swift Boat Veterans, who were witnesses to Kerry's criminal actions in Viet Nam and his faked Purple Heart. But these brave veterans had tried for years to get the liberal television networks to air their eyewitness accounts. It was only after the truth started circulating on the Internet that the networks were FORCED to give them air time.
Before the Internet Era, a politician could speak to a union crowd and convince them that he or she would stand up for the "little guy". (I wonder why they always use that term. When I was in the carpenter's union, most of the guys were pretty big!) Then the same politician could speak to a group of business owners about how he or she would stand up for their right to hire whoever they feel is best for their business. Most times the television cameras don't cover smaller events (they're too busy re-hashing O.J. Simpson and Princess Diana), so the American people don't get to see the contradictions. And even if the cameras do record contradictions, the liberal media are very careful not to air anything that would hurt their candidates.
The same politician could scream to a group of lesbians about a "woman's right to choose" and draw huge applause and cheers. Later, he or she might speak to a more conservative group on the same subject. Here the tone would be softer, and filled with regret. "My personal moral convictions are against abortion. I personally abhor abortion. I would never allow my daughter to have one. But we must uphold the law, and abortion is the law of the land."
The Internet Era is taking away these slimy politicians' ability to have two (or three) positions on every subject. Pretend for a second that twenty years ago you had attended two of the contradictory events described above. You are incensed, indignant, even furious about the lies you have witnessed. You offer to speak on television and radio about what you have seen. They send you away amidst a storm of laughter. In desperation you send letters to the editors of dozens of newspapers, none of which are ever published.
The Internet has changed all that. Now everyone can be a publisher. If you can't get a website to publish your ideas, you can start one for $5 per month.
Conservative Truth is a good example of this. Seven years ago I was incensed by Al Gore's attempts to steal the White House. I wrote a well-researched Letter to the Editor of the Palm Beach Post, titled, "Al Gore- Patriot or Litigant" (see LINK below). Here is the cover letter I sent with it on November 27, 2000:
"To the Editor:
Knowing the liberal bias of your newspaper, I am sure the following will be promptly relegated to the "Too Conservative for Publication" file. However, on the off-chance that you may want to emulate the FOX News Network and provide "Fair & Balanced Coverage" to your readers, I offer this guest editorial. As a close observer of many of the events here in South Florida (I was a Republican observer in the Palm Beach County recount and voted using the infamous "Butterfly Ballot"), perhaps my conservative viewpoint may be of interest."
Not surprisingly, it wasn't of interest to that liberal rag. So, since I had spent over twenty hours researching and writing the letter, I decided to send it to the 24 people on my personal email list. I was amazed to receive hundreds of requests each day for more information. Apparently the 24 had forwarded my email to thousands of friends.
I started writing daily articles entitled "Election Watch" during the 36 days Al Gore tried to steal America. These contained commentary as well as condensations of the various County Court, State Supreme Court, Federal District Court and National Supreme Court decisions.
Soon I was receiving thousands of requests from all over the world to be put "on the list". The problem was that I didn't have a list! People just assumed that since I was writing, I had a mailing list program. I bought one, and for weeks I was up until 2:00 or 3:00 AM writing my daily articles and processing the "Subscribe" requests. My wonderful wife, Ana, became my research assistant and helped with the list.
After President Bush finally got the keys to the White House, I sent out one last email telling the folks that the Republic was safe (at least for the moment) and that this would be my final communication. I was inundated with requests to continue.
I prayed over the matter, and decided two things. First, I couldn't continue doing daily articles as it was interfering with my ministerial duties. And second, I didn't want to write just about politics. So Conservative Truth was born. I told the subscribers that I would email one article weekly, and that I would be writing about social, moral and political issues from a Biblical viewpoint.
Before long people were asking for my website address. Of course I didn't have one, and had no idea how to start one. A wonderful friend in North Carolina, Mark Wilson (who is now our Technical Director) offered to build our website, and did a great job on it. (Of course, it was far more expensive to start a website back then than it is today.) Other authors started asking if we would publish their work, and more people started getting their weekly "Antidote to the Liberal News Media" online.
Many websites are "blogs". Authors can publish their work by simply posting it on a site, without the piece being edited or even read by anyone from the website. Conservative Truth is not a blog. We are more like a traditional newspaper, except that we are on the Internet. We edit all submissions for accuracy, grammar and spelling. Sometimes authors submit to us with a request that their work not be edited. We send such submissions back. Accuracy and quality are fundamental to our publication. Unless an author is willing to submit his or her work to review by our Editors, it is not published on Conservative Truth.
Largely because of our reputation for quality, today we are in the top 1% of all websites worldwide in terms of traffic, and some of my articles have been published in major national newspapers. We have a staff of forty, including Editors, technical staff, authors and researchers. Everyone is a volunteer.
This is the power of the Internet. Many of the most powerful sites are grassroots efforts. The publishers of these sites spend time working on them because they believe in what they do. Politicians and money can't control them.
The Internet is already hard at work exposing the many faces of Hillary and others like her. It played a minor role in the last two elections. I believe 2008 may be the first time that the Internet will play a major role in deciding who will next occupy the White House.
I'll bet Al Gore regrets that he ever invented the Internet.
Dr. Tom Barrett has been an ordained minister for 30 years. He has written for local and national publications for most of his life, and has authored several non-fiction books. He has been interviewed on many TV and radio programs, and speaks at seminars nationwide. Tom is the editor and publisher of Conservative Truth, an email newsletter read by over fifty thousand weekly which focuses on moral and political issues from a Biblical viewpoint.