For the people and by the people

FRAMINGHAM (09/26/2003) - I just watched the first and apparently last gubernatorial debate that will feature Ahhhrnold in the three-ring circus that is the California recall election. It was terrific. I couldn't make up stuff like that.

If you don't know the actors - umm, candidates - involved in this event there was Lieutenant Governor of California, Cruz Bustamante (Democrat), who came across as irritatingly smug and not a little smarmy; Arianna Huffington (Independent), who is very smart but too shrill and too much of a political animal for her motives to be trustworthy; Peter Camejo (Green Party), who is really smart but far too socialist for my tastes; Republican state Senator Tom McClintock, who is mostly well-informed and seems credible; and last but not least, Arnold "The Govenator" Schwarzenegger (Republican).

Arnold actually came across much better than I had expected, although he skirted a few issues. On the other hand it wasn't as if any of the other candidates seemed to be committed to staying on topic either.

Arnold also took Huffington's repeated jibes in stride and displayed a facility with off-the-cuff sound bites that was impressive.

What has this to do with networking? Well, as I sat there being entertained, glass of wine in hand, it occurred to me that the Internet might render politicians a dying breed . . . at least as far as we think of them carrying out their duties today.

You might think politicians already are disposable (indeed, many appear to be purchasable as well), but the truth is that they are the current mechanism of the system - we elect our representatives on the basis that they conform to some extent to our values and then we turn them loose to make decisions on our behalf. And when they don't, we have a recall.

When we were a young country and communications were slow, this hierarchical management system made sense - you couldn't get a true consensus because the idea of holding a plebiscite back in say, the 1800s, would have been totally impractical. As a digression let me note that, as an example of how slow communications were for even world-shattering news, I have read it took three weeks for the story of Lincoln's assassination to reach England.

But now we are a slightly older country with great communications and we are approaching the era of Internet voting. Sure, many pundits have pointed out that there are significant security problems in running elections over the 'Net, but they can and will be solved. And I can't believe that Internet voting systems could be any less dubious than, say, Florida's was in the last presidential election.

Eventually the proposition of any citizen being able to vote online from anywhere will become a reality, and then the chad will hit the fan. Voters turning rabidly activist as happened with the California recall will become commonplace, and eventually the demand for more issues to be voted on by the people and not through the dubious proxy of their elected representative will become overwhelming.

No politician will be able to dam the flood of voter demand for the people to be consulted and for them to make decisions through voting. This will apply to all sorts of social and political issues ranging from the most strategic to the most tactical.

And that will throw politicians into a completely different role as information brokers rather than balancers of often conflicting political agendas. The pressure to be honest and objective would be immense because they would have to adopt the role of mediator and enabler rather than decision maker.

Does that all sound too optimistic and utopian? Perhaps, but government for the people and by the people would take on a whole new meaning.

Your vote to backspin at gibbs.com.

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