George W. Bush, Father of the Internet
David Cogswell email@example.com
The endlessly repeated banter during the 2000 presidential campaign about Al Gore claiming to have "invented the Internet" was a lie. He never said that. It was part of a conscious, organized smear campaign created by the Republicans and blasted by major media organs. They cooperated either because they aligned themselves with the Republican agenda, or were just too lazy to resist the tide of conformity and check the truth of a widely trafficked statement before repeating it.
That's typical for the party of Nixon, the granddaddy of smear campaigns and dirty tricks. It's also to be expected from today's major media, which have dwindled to little more than propaganda arms for the corporate aristocracy. If Gore could be harangued endlessly for such an innocuous and essentially valid statement, it's obvious there was no way he could have avoided "gaffes." He was set up from the beginning.
It took a huge effort of the major media to get a man like Bush into the White House, a man who appears to have rarely or never read a book; who can barely utter a complete sentence without an absurd jumbling of words that betray his utter lack of comprehension of relevant issues; who has only the barest record of experience to qualify him for national office; who baldly misrepresented himself about his record and his real agenda throughout the campaign. The massive lie perpetrated in collusion with the major media almost worked. It got Bush officially within 539,000 votes of Gore, close enough to allow the Right Wing to steal the election with the help of a compromised Supreme Court.
Ironically however, the Bush now squatting in the White House is doing more for the development of the Internet than President Gore could have. It is true that Gore was thinking, writing articles and writing legislation about the Internet when 99% of Americans had never heard of it. President Gore would have set into motion programs that would invest in and develop the Internet, in contrast to Bush, who focuses entirely on legislation that will line the pockets of his generous patrons in corporate America.
What Bush is doing is inflaming passionate opposition to his anti-democratic seizure of power, and to the agenda of corporate robbery he is forcing down the throats of the vast majority who oppose him on nearly every issue. The Right Wing oligarchy's uncompromising approach to governing includes the silencing of dissent, the monolithic control of information, and the extinction of public debate. It has forced the citizens who still believe in democracy to find and create alternative channels for political discourse and action. The Internet provides an excellent means for harnessing grassroots democratic power.
What Gore said -- and did
In a live discussion with Bill Bradley moderated by Wolf Blitzer on March 9, 1999, during CNN's "Late Edition," Gore said "I took the initiative in creating the Internet." It was perhaps an unfortunate choice of words, but essentially true in the context in which he spoke.
The Internet was created through a series of inventions and initiatives of many people over a long period of time. Vint Cerf, who with Bob Kahn invented the Internet Protocol in the early '70s, gave Gore substantial credit on a live Internet forum hosted by Time magazine on June 14, 2000.
"I'd like to clear up one little item -- about the vice president," Cerf said. "He really does deserve some credit for his early recognition of the importance of the Internet and the technology that makes it work. He was certainly among the first, if not the first in Congress to realize how powerful the information revolution would be and both as Senator and Vice President he has been enormously helpful in supporting legislation and programs to help further develop the Internet..."
On September 28, 2000, Kahn and Cerf released the following statement on several e-mail lists:
"I am taking the liberty of sending to you both a brief summary of Al Gore's Internet involvement, prepared by Bob Kahn and me. As you know, there have been a seemingly unending series of jokes chiding the vice president for his assertion that he 'took the initiative in creating the Internet.' Bob and I believe that the vice president deserves significant credit for his early recognition of the importance of what has become the Internet."
Newt Gingrich -- who may twist the truth for Republicans but never for Al Gore -- also said that Gore was essentially telling the truth. In a live broadcast on C-Span, Gingrich said:
"In all fairness, it's something Gore had worked on a long time. Gore is not the Father of the Internet, but in all fairness Gore is the person who, in the Congress, most systematically worked to make sure that we got to an Internet, and the truth is-and I worked with him starting in 1978 when I got there, we were both part of a 'futures group'-the fact is, in the Clinton administration the world we had talked about in the '80s began to actually happen. You can see it in your own life, between the Internet, the computer, the cell phone."
In 1990 then-Senator Gore wrote an article that said, "Supercomputers are the steam locomotives of the information age. In the Industrial Age, steam locomotives didn't do much good until the railroad tracks were laid down across the nation. Similarly, we now have supercomputers going into the seventh generation of supercomputers, but we don't have the interstate highways that we need to connect them."
Wired magazine, which had transformed after its purchase by Conde Nast from a tech-savvy counterculture publication to a marketing vehicle for high tech corporations, chastised Gore for taking credit for coining the term "information superhighway," when people had been using the phrase "data highway" since the '70s. But again, in fairness, "data highway" is about as close to "information superhighway" as "beetles" are to "Beatles" or "lightning" is to "lightning bug."
The Internet vision thing
Obviously Gore is extremely knowledgeable about the Internet and has been actively involved in it since before Georgie's daddy was president. George W., on the other hand, appears about as clueless about the Internet as he is about most other issues a president would normally be concerned with.
When reporters asked Bush on the campaign trail about the Internet, he responded with that I'll-kill-you-sucka look he gets when he thinks someone is "playing gotcha." "Gotcha" is whenever anyone asks a question he is entirely unprepared for, or pretty much whenever anyone asks an unscripted question. Occasionally he would attempt to display his knowledge of the Internet with one of Karen Hughes' prepared statements, with limited success.
"It's important for us to explain to our nation that life is important. It's not only life of babies, but it's life of children living in, you know, the dark dungeons of the Internet," he said on Oct. 9, 2000, to a bewildered audience in Arlington Heights, Ill.
"Will the highways of the Internet become more few?" he said, trying to wow the crowd in Concord, N.H., on January 29, 2000.
And yet, the Bush mob is doing more for the development of the Internet than Gore could have done. What Bush provides is a target for rage, which is fueling the development of the Web as a medium of grassroots democracy. The Bush oligarchy is the absolute antithesis of the universal human aspiration for democracy, equal rights and justice.
Beyond commercial potential
The major corporate media have reported on the Internet from their standard point of view: almost entirely in terms of how much money it generates for major corporations. Now, after the Internet bubble has flown high over Wall Street and burst, the true significance of the Internet -- as a medium of social and political change -- is only beginning to make itself felt.
What will destroy the Bushoids is the consummation of the Global Village that Marshall McLuhan talked about in his writings of the 1950s and 1960s. McLuhan recognized early that electronic media would virtually destroy the social structures of the industrial age.
McLuhan traced the "imploding" effect of electronic media from the telephone through wireless, radio, movies, computers and TV. He predicted in the 50s and 60s that technology would eventually form a "seamless web" of electronics that would bring all of the world into instant contact and become like the nervous system of the planet. With the Internet, McLuhan's vision is becoming realized on a greater order of magnitude than ever before.
Television was violently disruptive of traditional social structures, and thrust the world into the post-industrial age. But TV was one-way communication only. It is capital intensive; it requires a lot of money to own a TV broadcasting system. Electronic media have a decentralizing, democratizing effect by creating a free flow of information. It is only partly counteracted by the monopolization of major media organs by a handful of corporate powers. The decentralizing forces of electronic media are still in motion and the most dynamic of those forces is the Internet. It is a catalytic component of a new network of interactive multi-media, facilitating a grassroots level of communication that cannot be controlled or monopolized for the foreseeable future.
Despite the Republican's loudly trumpeted legislative victories -- which blatantly thwart the will of the majority to serve a handful of corporate interests -- the present power structure is finding itself hopelessly unprepared to meet the challenges presented by the new media and the environment they create. Though the Right Wing's power-wielding techniques are impressive recreations of Nazi Blitzkrieg, they are finding themselves under siege by forces they do not comprehend.
"It was no accident that Senator McCarthy lasted such a very short time when he switched to TV," McLuhan wrote in his 1964 book Understanding Media. "Soon the press decided, 'He isn't news anymore.' Neither McCarthy nor the press ever knew what had happened. TV is a cool medium. It rejects hot figures and hot issues and people from the hot press media. ...Had TV occurred on a large scale during Hitler's reign he would have vanished quickly. Had TV come first there would have been no Hitler at all. When Khrushchev appeared on American TV he was more acceptable than Nixon, as a clown and a lovable sort of old boy. His appearance is rendered by TV as a comic cartoon. Radio is a hot medium and takes cartoon characters seriously."
The bridge to the 15th Century
Bush's conservative base is trying to pull the world back into a kind of aristocratic feudalism, in which a few lords own everything and everyone else is subservient to them. They cling to a flat earth conception of the world. A typical issue for the Christian Right has been to outlaw teaching about the theory of evolution as it is commonly understood at this point in history. In some places they have actually succeeded in mandating that schools must instead teach "Creationism," that is, that the earth was created in six days and on the seventh day the Lord rested. They have a medieval view of the world and they are not prepared for dealing with the realities of the 21st Century.
The sonic boom of the Supreme Court-assisted seizure of power last December was so huge, it was at first imperceptible. Now six months into the Bush presidency, the waves are beginning to become visible. Resistance is mounting. Practically every day opposition to Bush becomes more apparent.
When the Bush mob forced themselves into power by subverting democratic processes, the entire world was right there in the room. Because there was no violent uprising, it was widely assumed that there was no reaction. But nothing can change the fact that Bush has no claim to legitimacy, and the whole world knows it.
Americans who opposed the thuggish seizure of the White House in December 2000 were in a difficult situation. How do you defend democratic principles against those who do not adhere to them? History shows that fascists have a distinct advantage in the short term. But as the Thousand Year Reich was to discover, there are disadvantages over the long term.
Those who do believe in democracy had to wait and work to achieve their ends by democratic and lawful means. If they resorted to the tactics of the Republicans, they would be undermining their own cause. If both sides had operated by the methods of the Bush heavies and the DeLay mobs, it would have been civil war, and the violence would probably have led to repression, not democracy.
It was a wimpy approach in the eyes of Right Wing power mongers. They viewed it as a cakewalk and gloried in their victory. But the opposition was not lying down. It was only retrenching. Democracy is still the most powerful idea in political history and cannot be suppressed indefinitely.
Alexis de Tocqueville, author of "Democracy in America," said there are two great ages of human history, the aristocratic age and the democratic age. The democratic impulse is a universal aspiration of humanity. Its progression through history has been marked with high points such as the Magna Carta, the French Revolution, the Emancipation Proclamation and more recently the fall of the Soviet Bloc. The modern concept of democracy came to flowering with the Enlightenment thinkers like John Locke, and was first incorporated into a government with the American Revolution.
In the 20th Century, the American model of republic swept the world and most of what were kingdoms at the beginning of the century had become republics by the end. However imperfectly the principle of democracy functions in those republics, they exist by at least giving lip service to the principle. People no longer believe in the divine right of kings or aristocrats. And that includes the Bushes.
After Vietnam, the ruling elites learned to prevent news reporters from getting to the front lines to report what was really happening in their wars. During the Reagan and Bush wars, the press got only the information that was fed to them and no more - and only if they "behaved."
The Reagan-Bush regime perfected media control in America, and in effect neutralized the Fourth Estate, as the press was designated in the Constitution to be a mechanism for maintaining a watch against abuses of power.
The consolidation of the media ownership enabled the power elite to control information in the United States to a greater degree than ever before. But now the Internet has become a force and the elites are losing control of the media again.
What is happening in America with the rise of an alternative media in the Internet is parallel to the movement that toppled the Soviet Union when the electronic age made it impossible for the regime to control information. It was only a little over a decade ago that the Eastern Bloc collapsed. When the Berlin Wall came down it surprised even the people living there.
Much as the Republicans struggle to put the toothpaste back in the tube, it cannot be unlearned that the Republicans took power by undemocratic, illegitimate means. That history does not age well.
They assumed power with the same spirit in which they seized the presidency, with no sense of compromise and no attempt to earn the consent of the governed. They operate with the cynical assumptions that the public is stupid, sheep-like and docile, has a short memory, and can be easily manipulated and controlled. But the formula is running dry.
Even as the major media were trumpeting loudly that Americans had forgotten about the Republican coup in December, a rebellion was brewing even in the ranks of the Republicans themselves. The defection of Senator Jeffords, which gave the control of the Senate to the Democrats, was evidence that all was not well within the Republican revolution, much as the media were saying it was.
In spite of the success of efforts to consolidate the major media and control information, the center cannot hold. As the major corporate media get farther out of touch with their audience and with reality itself, they are making themselves irrelevant to more and more of their audience.
Enter the Web
On the other hand, alternative Internet news sources are growing in terms that the major media haven't seen for generations. "The Internet is transforming politics," proclaims Democrats.com on its daily e-mail newsletter, and 27,000 people subscribe, while its Web site gets over 3 million hits per month. Consortiumnews.com's audience has risen to 350,000 a month from 80,000 through most of last year. Buzzflash.com started with 34 visitors a day in May 2000, and has 20,000 to 25,000 a day in August 2001. Bushwatch.com doubled its audience in 2000 and doubled it again between November 2000 and January 2001. Online Journal was cruising along at about 40,000 hits in July 2000 and began shooting up at breakneck lift off speed as the election approached. In November it broke a million and by July 2001 was nearly 4 million.
No one can say for sure how many anti-Bush sites there are, but one site (www.linkcrusader.com) links to over 600 of them. These numbers may be small compared to major media, but their growth is dramatic and the trend should not be underestimated.
Those who are running the political sites are cautious in their estimates of the impact their sites can make. "I have mixed feelings about the reliance on the Internet as a basis for building honest news organizations to challenge the dominant media," said Bob Parry, editor of Consortiumnews.com, and a former Associated Press reporter. "While I think the grassroots spirit is a noble one, the reality is that serious news reporting requires serious resources. Many important stories are being ignored today. Crucial elements of our recent history are being lost for all time. Plus, the vast majority of Americans can't be expected to search out Web sites as a way to inform themselves."
But the Internet does not function in a vacuum. McLuhan pointed out that the effects of media combine in synergetic ways. It's not just the effect of the Internet alone that we are seeing. The Internet provides a release valve that breaks the monolithic control of information. Suddenly we are seeing a resurgence in the freedom of information. The Internet is now part of the emerging lacework of many overlapping media, including cable TV, movies, phones and radio.
Besides the sites like Consortiumnews and Online Journal that offer original reporting, other sites perform the important function of scanning the Web for pertinent stories and grouping them together for easy perusal. Sites like Bushwatch, Buzzflash and Democrats.com perform a valuable research function that makes it easy to survey the international online press in a fraction of the time it would take to search all the sites yourself.
By selecting from the mainstream, they break up the spin of the mainstream media and present the material in a different context. It's a very different experience reading a New York Times article in the context of Democrats.com's selection of articles than reading it in the context of the Times' own presentation. Reading through these portals, one may read a Times Op-Ed piece followed by a piece in the Guardian in the U.K., The Nation, The Voice, Suck.com and so on. The variety of viewpoints tends to dilute the bias one experiences reading the Times by itself.
Then there are e-mail newsletters and lists, whose effect cannot be estimated, as well as the grassroots effect of person-to-person e-mailing, which is enhanced by the e-mail capacity of forwarding articles intact. All of these effects of the Internet are creating a new environment buzzing with political activism, which will begin to show in the next election.
It is impossible to measure, but even as the major media continue to trumpet their corporate line obliviously, there is a gradual trend toward a solidification and emboldening of the anti-Bush sentiment that can be observed very slightly even within the mainstream. Once a story has broken on the Internet, it often reaches a point of visibility such that the major media can no longer ignore it. And they are already in danger of making themselves irrelevant through being entirely out of touch with their audiences. To what degree the free reporting of the Internet is trickling up to the majors is hard to guess, but it seems to be significant.
The Internet is changing the dynamic between the more traditional media. The media control system so effectively exercised since the Reagan years relies on a highly concentrated industry. Through the Internet, information can now flow more freely. It can no longer be bottled up. The damage control operations of the Bush bureaucracy will take an increasing amount of energy with their constant efforts to put the toothpaste back in the tube.
Bush is fueling the development of the Internet because he is the worst possible thing for a vast majority of the population, for practically everyone except the narrow, extremely rich constituency that put him where he is. The fact that his narrow constituency includes the major corporations that own the major media has been a major advantage, but the Internet is breaking down the media monopoly. Passionate opposition to Bush is inflaming the Web.
A vast majority oppose Bush's initiatives to destroy environmental treasures for the profits of the oil companies, to give the big polluters a free hand, to turn the weapons industry loose and re-start the Cold War, to imprison a large percentage of the population, to take all of the money out of the social programs and give it to the wealthiest 1 percent, to outlaw abortion, and practically everything else the Bush administration is pushing aggressively for.
On August 9 the temperature reached 105 degrees in Newark, and there were rolling blackouts in New Jersey and New York as power companies struggled to meet the demand. As people roasted in bone-crushing heat and saw their computers crashing every time the power failed, they were able to contemplate the fact that their president protected the profits of the oil companies and auto companies by trashing the Kyoto Agreement, which was an international attempt to slow down the destruction of the ozone layer and the effect of global warming.
This, and a host of other issues of equally disastrous consequence during the brief six-month freefall of America under the Bush administration will catch up to them. It is inconceivable that the Bushies can keep the lid on all the bad news they are generating.
McLuhan's fundamental premise was that the major significance of a new medium is not its content, but how it alters the world of its users. The Internet is the consummation of the Global Village. Democracy is on the verge of overthrowing corporate tyranny.
De Tocqueville, so prescient in so many ways, predicted the current struggle against corporate tyranny. "Can it be believed that the democracy which has overthrown the feudal system and vanquished kings will retreat before tradesman and capitalists?"
Bush will fall in four. For the democratic majority, the game is to hold the line until the next opportunity to dump him.