The meltdown of the lefty blogs on FISA allows us to point out something: there were two significant online communities that were tracking the FISA bill: lefty blogs and tech blogs. The tech blogs were more wrapped up in other things, like the fight between AP and TechCrunch. (kind of astonishing that more political blogs didn't track this), the release of Firefox 3, etc. But there was real attention at Ars Technica, Wired, CNet, etc.
Similarly with another issue that is far more obscure: net neutrality. TechCrunch's Mike Arrington was interviewed by the LA Times about his politics. The response is quite stunning:
Arrington said he had a harder time endorsing a Republican candidate because he felt each of their positions on technology was flawed. Even though Paul won the TechCrunch reader primary, Arrington said Paul's opposition to net neutrality, for example, disqualified him.
Eventually, he settled on McCain:
Though McCain is "standoffish" on net neutrality, mobile spectrum rules and the digital divide, and has voted against some bills to fund renewable energy research, Arrington blogged that he was swayed by McCain's willingness to address "inequities that arise from his hands-off policies on net neutrality and mobile allocations, which other Republican candidates refuse to do. And his positions on Internet taxes, H1-B visas, China/human rights violations and other issues are strongly pro-technology."
Is net neutrality really a voting issue for anyone? Looking at the tech blogs, you get a sense that for some people it might be. Maybe not an insignificant number of people. MyDD even hosted a debate on spectrum allocation, one of the other issues that Arrington mentions. And OpenLeft has a front-page tag and video about net neutality. (my understanding is that Matt Stoller does some work for one of the groups in this space, but still)
Here's another data point. Recently, I had a conversation with a Democratic new media operative. This person told me that the three most important issues to get net roots support were:
We all understand the rallying effect of the war clearly. Net neutrality is an obscure and poorly understood regulatory issue that seems to energize the online gaming community, high-bandwidth users, and others. And telco-immunity gets lots of coverage from civil libertarians and technology people.
The upshot is that the success of the Democratic netroots may be as much or more about basic coalition politics than any great technological or political innovation. Afluent, socially moderate-to-liberal, tech-saavy people were attracted to the Democratic coalition through these arguments, anger at the war, a message about the GOP becoming too socially conservative, They were given a series of tools with which they could organize, and they developed more, like Act Blue.
Again, on a certain level, there is nothing new here. Direct mail provided a way for older people with checkbooks to participate in a process that they couldn't participate in before. Door knocking is out of the question and phone calls required going to a central location. The left just found a really important sweet spot that linked technology to issues to create good activism.
On a political level, there may be larger warnings for the GOP here about how we get the support of an emerging creative class and information workers, etc. There is a very good chance that the lifestyle, if not the issues, of the modern creative worker is better suited to the current organizing strategies of the left. What does the GOP start to offer those people?
On a political technology level, we should be asking ourselves what transaction costs are dropping enough to bring new constituencies online. And it might not be the same online. The next big technological innovation will probably be mobility. How could we tap mobile people more effectively with technology?