Things are very different today than they’ve ever been in history. The way that people consume their media, the methods that politicians present their cases, and ability for people to communicate with each other has had as much of an impact on the political landscape as television had on the election of John F. Kennedy. It could be even more important than that.
The internet and social media have made every action or lack of action much more pronounced. It has also made it possible for something as completely misunderstood as the government shutdown to ring as gloom and doom across the world. This isn’t like the 1995 shutdown when the effects were mostly covered by the evening news and the war between the political parties was a game of editorials in the morning paper. The real-time nature of the way we communicate and consume news will make this shutdown not only more painful in appearance. It will make the battles between the parties a 24-hour per day nonstop race to sway the independents to one side or the other. A CNN poll today showed that the party lines were pretty clear but the independents were nicely split 38% to 39% when deciding whether to blame the White House or the Republican House of Representatives.
Most mainstream media outlets are still unofficially supporting the President and that support can be more easily crafted and controlled today than it was in 1995. The goals are the same – reach as many people as possible with a message of blame and a facade of working towards finding a resolution, but he mediums are different. It’s not about hitting the television show circuit and getting coverage on sound bytes. It’s about eyeballs on stories and videos that are being consumed at all hours of the day and night.
The worst part of this shutdown is that there is less incentive on either side to come to an amicable agreement. The conservative edge of the Republican party feel that they must stand strong without buckling to the will of the Democrats without some variation of change to the Affordable Care Act. The White House is dependent on the Affordable Care Act to continue down its current path in order to create the legacy that President Obama wants. In the middle of this battle are the people who will be affected by this financially as well as the fiscal reputation of the country on the global markets.
All of this can be attributed to technology. In this case, unlike in 1995, we are seeing the real-time, always-on perspectives of the population weighing heavily on the politicians’ abilities to make an agreement. In 1995, both sides were easily able to claim victory to some degree because the story was being told in news bits and lightly read editorials in newspapers. This shutdown does not have the luxury of working in bits and pieces. Every time a news outlet or blogger gets a hold of someone who was negatively affected by the shutdown, flamethrowers will be blaring from both sides. This is going to get ugly.
We now have direct access to the thoughts of the politicians, the stories of those affected by the shutdown, and the emotions that will run through social media, blogs, and editorials. This shutdown is going to get brutal and it will not end well for anyone involved. While technology cannot be blamed for this shutdown, it’s definitely a part of the reason that this one will be more harmful than the 28 combined days of shutdown in 1995 and early 1996.