The physical manifestation of the political conventions may be over, but the spin will endure ad infinitum on the Internet. The two Web sites dedicated to the major party conventions are homages to the art of propaganda, with nary any substantive information to guide Netizens toward making a well-educated vote this November.
The official Web site of the Democratic National Convention has lots of flash and little substance, but the most irritating detail is that it’s difficult to access. The server was either entirely blocked (from a crush of traffic? I can’t imagine) or inexplicably stopped loading a few seconds after the page was accessed. And the fact that there are typos and misspellings on the page once it does load is enough to make anyone with a sharp eye wince.
As far as the content on the site is concerned, there are links to the party platform (Kids learning to read is good. Crime is bad. Being poor is difficult.). The Frequently Asked Questions page doesn’t contain any questions that could be considered controversial, no “If Al Gore is elected, will abortion be a litmus test for Supreme Court nominees?” Instead we learn the vital answer to “How do I become a delegate?” — sort of. The response refers the user to an interactive map to find out how to apply for your state. Still, clicking through the map to California doesn’t contain information on how to become a delegate, but it does have a real nice list of congressional representatives.
What the Democratic Convention site is good for is multimedia glitz and minutiae. The live gavel-to-gavel Webcast looked surprisingly good, if a little blurry when a politico started gesticulating a little too emphatically. The fishbowl 360-degree camerasalso area hit, with different ones catering to the range of Internet connection speeds. But not all the gee-whiz technology worked. A chat with “party leaders” stalled on the message “We are having technical difficulties. Please standy.” Ah, those typos again.
On the fun facts side, the text of President Clinton’s speech as delivered is available on the Web site, revealing that he said “thank you” 18 times before he got rolling on the main part of his delivery. It’s fun to browse through the Demos e-commerce site, ConventionStuff.com to see the kind of schwag that delegates are battling over.
At least the Democratic convention Web site is designed well. The official Republican National Convention page looks like it was designed by Betsy Ross on acid, with windows that pop up to extol George W. Bush — looking more chipmunky than smirky — on top of the main browser window that takes you to yet again another Web site, the Republican National Committee page.
The content available on the two sites is striking similar. Republicans also have posted their official party platform (Kids learning to read is good. Crime is bad. Being poor is difficult.). Even the technological difficulties persist: Once again, many of the links on the site don’t connect to anything.
The one startling difference is the upfront attacks on the Demos that the GOP has on its convention page — front and center is a story headlined “Texas Democrats Refute Gore’s Distortions.” It’s smashmouth politics that screams that Roger Ailes’ legacy continues unabated, but at least there’s some emotion. (To be sure, the Dems have several links on their confab page as well in this vein, noting Bush’s record in Texas.)
A GOP section called the Gore Files features a photo of a grimacing Al Gore and suggests that his selection of Joseph Lieberman as a running mate equates to … well, to something. The link was dead so I couldn’t figure out where the GOP was going with this.
The GOP FAQ declares that it is taking questions from Netizens, but all of them have a distinct patina of coming from shills for the party: “I live in Simonton, Texas and I really want to help elect my Governor as president. How can I find out how to volunteer?”
The GOP also takes a stab at multimedia capabilities, with GOPTV giving video updates on the progress from the campaign trail. Some 360-degree cameras were also employed at the Republican Convention.
But all the nifty technology aside, the sites just don’t fulfill the promise of their potential. Sadly, the official sites of the two parties exemplify why more and more Americans are ignoring the political process. There’s no drama on these sites — nothing clever, unique or engaging to reward the trouble of the logon. Presenting a unified front is the raison d’etre for conventions, but these Web sites are so antiseptic that they seem to be almost afraid of tackling anything substantial.
On any given Web site with even a minor commitment to covering the conventions –from the stalwart WashingtonPost.com to Webzine McSweeneys.net — Netizens can read interesting tidbits that the writers have mined the conventions to find.
Media columnist Howard Kurtz gives a glimpse at the debate that went on between White House staffers on whether or not to broadcast President Clinton’s behind-the-scenes Rocky-esque walk to the podium Monday night. McSweeney’s contributor Neal Pollack talks to some of the more outlandish protesters in an attempt to find out what brought them to the Philadelphia convention.
Nothing of this sort is even attempted on either of the sites from the two major parties — and these sorts of details really aren’t damning information, they just make the election process seem more human.
It’s been said that the Internet is the most democratic medium of all, but the official convention sites for both the major parties seem not to realize the potential it has for making the political process accessible — which is a bad sign for two parties trying to capture the interest of disenfranchised voters.