Slate, the Industry Standard, and washingtonpost.com join forces to examine the effect of the Internet on Campaign 2000.
On this criterion, the site falls short. The Associated Press reported last week, for example, that the campaign has replaced the seven-and-a-half-page discourse on education policy on its old site with a new two-and-a-half-page summary, minus the dollar figures and critical details. (There is, however, a Bush FAQ with penetrating questions such as, "When is the election?") Ultimately, the Bush campaign is probably guessing that voters don't want to read policy papers on the Web. They want issue information, yes, but they want it in bite-size, easily digestible form.
In many ways, the Web site itself is the "issue" communicated. Last week, the Bush campaign released a TV ad devoted entirely to the revamped Web site. The campaign declared the ad to be a political first—the first campaign spot devoted specifically to driving traffic to a Web site rather than to communicating a message about the candidate. On the face of it, that's a reasonable claim. The ad is filled with shots of the Bush Web site, and the only message from Bush is the mundane assertion, "I'm running for president of the United States." The final shot of the ad features only the word "georgewbush.com" on a white background. (Click here to watch the ad at georgewbush.com.)
But the ad carries an unstated message, too: Bush himself as dot-com. No politician wants to be perceived as a politician, of course. That's why Bush poses as a Midland, Texas, oilman and not as the scion of a political dynasty—and it's why Gore poses as a Carthage, Tenn., farmhand and not as the scion of a political dynasty. With his "cyberad," Bush wants to do more than simply drive traffic to his site, impressive though it may be. He wants to portray himself as a technically savvy e-candidate, and he wants some of the optimism people associate with the Internet to rub off on him. To a large extent, the site's issue information doesn't matter as long as voters visit and enjoy it. In this case, the message is the medium.