The virtual rally

Politics | Access/Network
A curious comment by Chuck Todd on Meet the Press leads me to consider the difference between real rallies and virtual rallies.

On the January 11 broadcast of Meet the Press as part of a lengthy discussion on the effect of Internet/blogs on the campaign, David Broder evinced some hope for the “it’s part of what is the healthiest trend in our politics, which is going back to personal communication, away from the mass media—forgive me, NBC”. But his optimism was sliced a bit by Chuck Todd, editor of the Hotline, who sneered:

“You know, the Internet may have gotten 12,000 people to come out to a rally in Washington state, but people actually had to go and do it. They had to leave their basements and push aside their Burger King wrappers and actually get out in life, in public, which some of them don’t want to do. And they do that for Howard Dean. His crowds are almost always overflow crowds.”

Well, pushing aside the Burger King wrappers, and taking this silly characterization out of the basement, this suggests an interesting question. Why is a physical rally any more important than a virtual one? At a high level, they both serve the same purpose: to give proof to each participant that a lot of other people are sparing time to lend support. But, if the high level is viewed from a news chopper, then it’s much easier to show to people in TV land. I would argue that it is as much a pseudo-event as a televised debate.

There is indeed a time for writing on the computer, and a time for politicking in the fresh air (and with subzero temperatures in New England right now, it’s an easy decision to make). Certainly a social connector ought to do both as they see fit. But there’s no reason to suppose that being a body in a crowd at a rally is any more important that contributing the development of opinions online. A voter in Iowa may not care that thousands of people turn up at a rally in Copley Square in Boston. But it is possible that they may have a question or a concern about the candidates, an it turns out that a person sitting at a computer in Boston may be able to contribute to an answer. They may respond through the Internet, or through the telephone or the mail; each space is fairly “virtual” in the sense that happens outside of the “real” of television.