Every Man a Candidate

Tracking politics as it's practiced on the Web.
Aug. 17 2000 3:00 AM

Every Man a Candidate

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Slate, the Industry Standard, and washingtonpost.com join forces to examine the effect of the Internet on Campaign 2000.

Running for president is hard work. There's all that traveling, fund raising, and speech-giving. Plus you have to come up with some policy positions, a media strategy, and a reason for running. I think there's some paperwork, too.

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But the Internet, as is its wont, has made the process easier. Ordinary citizens from across the country have set up Web pages promoting their quixotic candidacies. (Click here and here for examples.) Still, the barriers to entry remain high for those not Web-savvy enough to design their own home pages.

Enter IPOcracy.com. The site, which will be unveiled tonight at the Los Angeles Shadow Convention, "lets anybody run for president in less than 10 minutes," in the words of Peter Hirshberg, one of the site's creators. The premise is simple: Transform the United States into an Internet startup, undertake an initial public offering of the federal government, and let citizens reap the benefits.

America 2.0 ("a major upgrade to democracy," according to the site, and 200 years "is a long time to wait for an upgrade," says Michael Markman, the site's co-creator) will be "the dominant player in the for-profit government sector." The business model: Collect up to 40 percent of everyone's income. With the government's annual revenues of $2 trillion, a market valuation of $200 trillion is expected. That's enough to leave nearly $1 million for every family. (Click here for a quick overview of the advantages of America 2.0. For example: Under democracy, voters lose interest. But under IPOcracy, voters earn interest.) A few tweaks to the current political system will be necessary to implement America 2.0. Most notably, our outmoded campaign-finance laws will be replaced with the National Influence Exchange (INFEX), where individuals, corporations, unions, and special interests will be forced to pay a fair market price for pork and influence.

But what does that have to do with running for president? The revenues from America 2.0 allow IPOcracy.com to host a personalized campaign Web site for every citizen, complete with a virtual campaign adviser (described as a cross between Dick Morris and the Microsoft paper clip), e-cards, and TV spots. All you need to do is complete a short application form about your issues and positions.

Explain why people will vote for you, what makes your supporters angry or happy, and which forgotten Americans you will defend. Then upload a photo of yourself, or select one from the IPOcracy gallery. Position yourself on a political spectrum ranging from Khrushchev to Mussolini, with stops for Jane Fonda, Regis Philbin, and Charlton Heston in between. Select a campaign slogan, confess your negatives, and voilà , you get your own campaign site. (Click here to see my site, "Chris Suellentro for President." One thing IPOcracy.com doesn't let you do is have an 11-letter last name.)

In addition to the e-cards and TV commercials, every candidate site includes a "Candidate Store," which "sells" products such as T-shirts, bumper stickers, highball glasses, and cigars ("Available in Torpedo, Corona Maduro, Fino Cognac Flavored, and French Tickler"). There's also news coverage from "NSMBC," and if you don't like the way your campaign is going, you can always "Reinvent Yourself."

Once you're satisfied, just sit back and wait for the ballots to be counted in November. Worried that no one will visit your site? You're probably right. But no one's watching the conventions either. 

Chris Suellentrop is the deputy editor for blogs at Yahoo News and a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine. He has reviewed video games for Slate, Rolling Stone, and NewYorker.com. Follow him on Twitter.