an unanticipated consequence of
Jack M. Balkin
Jack Balkin: jackbalkin at yahoo.com
Bruce Ackerman bruce.ackerman at yale.edu
Ian Ayres ian.ayres at yale.edu
Mary Dudziak mary.l.dudziak at emory.edu
Joey Fishkin joey.fishkin at gmail.com
Heather Gerken heather.gerken at yale.edu
Abbe Gluck abbe.gluck at yale.edu
Mark Graber mgraber at law.umaryland.edu
Stephen Griffin sgriffin at tulane.edu
Bernard Harcourt harcourt at uchicago.edu
Scott Horton shorto at law.columbia.edu
Andrew Koppelman akoppelman at law.northwestern.edu
Marty Lederman msl46 at law.georgetown.edu
Sanford Levinson slevinson at law.utexas.edu
David Luban david.luban at gmail.com
Gerard Magliocca gmaglioc at iupui.edu
Jason Mazzone mazzonej at illinois.edu
Linda McClain lmcclain at bu.edu
John Mikhail mikhail at law.georgetown.edu
Frank Pasquale pasquale.frank at gmail.com
Nate Persily npersily at gmail.com
Michael Stokes Paulsen michaelstokespaulsen at gmail.com
Deborah Pearlstein dpearlst at princeton.edu
Rick Pildes rick.pildes at nyu.edu
Richard Primus raprimus at umich.edu
K. Sabeel Rahmansabeel.rahman at brooklaw.edu
Alice Ristroph alice.ristroph at shu.edu
Neil Siegel siegel at law.duke.edu
Brian Tamanaha btamanaha at wulaw.wustl.edu
Mark Tushnet mtushnet at law.harvard.edu
Adam Winkler winkler at ucla.edu
Robert Wright has a very thoughtful post on how the ability to target audiences cheaply in the digital age to garner political opposition and spread (mis)information has made politics increasingly difficult. He argues that this makes our political system less republican (i.e. representative) and more like a dysfunctional form of direct democracy.
Had technological change stopped in 1950, President Obama would be basking in the glow of victory. Insurance and pharmaceutical companies and labor unions posed challenges to health care reform, but their challenges were manageable, and as of a few weeks ago Obama had found a sausage recipe that these groups could stomach.
There's a lot to Wright's argument. Surely the Internet does facilitate new methods for demagoguery. It also allows groups to form more easily without traditional political intermediaries or traditional intermediaries for the formation and articulation of public opinion. Indeed digital technologies allow new kinds of intermediaries to replace older ones and thus create new centers of political power. (Thus, this is not so much a move toward direct democracy but rather a displacement of older forms of mediation and articulation of popular preferences and popular opinion by newer ones).
But the reason why Obama is not basking in the glow of a political victory in health care reform has little to do with the Internet or the trends that Wright identifies. It has to do with the Senate's filibuster rules. The early 2000s not only changed political communications-- Wright's concern--they also produced a change in how often Senators were willing to use the filibuster (and other delaying tactics like anonymous holds) to impose a super-majority requirement.
This change is a far more important factor in explaining the political problems that Obama now faces than the Internet. The major problem with political reform today is a recently created structural impediment to democracy-- a super-majority rule in the Senate for almost every important piece of legislation--and not, as Wright suggests, too much democracy.