There has been much self-congratulatory hoopla in the blogosphere today in the aftermath of the first CNN/YouTube debate. I have seen euphoric phrases like "this is a watershed moment in American politics" and "the rise of virtual democracy" and "electronic citizen activism" and "the new politics" and other such pablum.
I did like Billiam the Snowman with the global warming question, though.
Yes, this was an opportunity for average citizens to be heard, and for politicians to be forced to take seriously the concerns expressed by these video participants. Yet ignored in much of the post-debate analyses was the certainty that the eventual winner of the 2008 presidential election will simply be the candidate who can extract the most campaign cash from his or her well-heeled donors.
Races for elective office at most levels of politics have degenerated into contests of cash-grabbing, and the concept of "buying" elective office is taken for granted by many Americans. No office, however, carries a higher price tag than that of the Presidency, a position that has become especially commodified in the last decade. Most of the major 2008 candidates have already foregone federal matching funds, knowing that the MSRP sticker for the next presidential election will likely be something on the order of $500 million dollars.
So while we twitter about "virtual democratization" during the warm afterglow of the first CNN/YouTube debate, let us not forget that the contestants are being financed in large part by corporations, political action committees, and groups whose agendas might not mirror those of last night's enthusiastic submitters of video questions.