CMC Magazine November 1, 1995 / Page 14
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by John December (firstname.lastname@example.org)
THE WEB--Did you ever notice that the presidential races seem to start earlier and earlier each year? This fall, a variety of presidential hopefuls are already using the Web to get their message out, or at least to spin their own rhetoric.
Bob Dole, famous for speaking of himself in the third person--"Bob Dole thinks..."--has a web site with the curious domain name www.dole96.com. After 1996 is long gone, he apparently doesn't expect to be even a blip on the World Wide Web horizon. Even with the dole96 name, Dole's web weavers forgot to reserve www.dole96.org, leaving themselves open to a blistering parody of Dole as a candidate with a pineapple and fruit fixation. This parody site makes ironic links to Dole's positions on a variety of topics. Developer Brooks Talley administers this parody site, as well as others at www.republicans.org as part of Satire On-Line which he founded with Mark Pace.
Talley says that he started the Dole satire web "just for kicks" after seeing Phil Gramm's real site. The official Dole site has never officially acknowledged Talley, but he suspects Dole's camp does know about the parody. Talley pointed out spelling and grammar errors in the Dole web, and they were cleaned up right away.
Despite being official, Bob Dole's web doesn't have the design grace of the parody site; instead, Dole's site is rich on slickness and short on policy. It gets quickly to the bottom line, with a link to a donation page, which has an HTML Forms interface where you can check off your donation, and you even get a free Bob Dole mousepad by giving $25!
While Dole's site touts the wonders of technology and the its role in his campaign, the web lacks an extended description of how technology plays a part in Dole's current or future policies. This lack of substance and vision is further deadened by language so strident it actually could have belonged on the parody site. For example, in the "Dole Interactive" section, you can:
"Test your knowledge of trivia about Senator Dole! Design your own campaign poster! Download exciting screen savers and desktop images! Send a friend a personalized Dole postcard! This is the place to have fun and interact with the campaign."
Instead of using the Web as a medium to offer an extended presentation of thoughtful ideas--a structure that other traditional campaign media can't seem to abide--Dole instead seems to use his web as a dumping ground for everything left over after his staffers created television commercials, brochures, and press releases.
Brooks Talley's parody also extends to Bill Clinton. This parody site boldly proclaims that the important duties of the president are playing golf and meeting ambassadors.
Since he occupies the oval office, Clinton's actual web is http://www.whitehouse.gov. But he can't campaign from there. Since his best bet of winning in 96 is to act "presidential," it's unclear if he'll get an official campaign web. There are unofficial campaign webs for Clinton. The haphazardly organized Clinton, Yes! site presents some arguments for Clinton's re-election. This web's commentary includes derisive references to "the other side": "the Clickable Despicables: Newt, Rush, Pat, and Phil." The "Clinton, Yes!" site definitely has an attitude: it is flippant, often funny, and, despite its strident, sarcastic tone, presents some thoughtful information on Clinton's record and accomplishments.
But this "Clinton, Yes!" site takes the same curious, cursory approach to creating political media as Dole's web: rich on flash, rich on fragments, but lacking an extended presentation of coherent ideas. These webs--true to most media campaigns--waste the opportunity to create a political vision based on thought, with a tone and view of the world that doesn't reduce everything to the simple dichotomies of right and left, rich and poor, and black and white.
Ross Perot's United We Stand America organization has a Web site (http://www.uwsa.org). This web has apparently been up since summer, but the romance of Ross has seemed to fade with this fall--the newsletter stops with the July issue. There is a depth to this Web--Ross's own brand. The tract, "Fiscal Crossroads: Facing Up to the Budget Deficit," goes on and on, although without Ross's can I finish? plea as a video voiceover. It gives the impression that it is very eager to be an alternative, but very uncomfortable to actually present a picture of a leader ready to govern.
Instead of just looking at campaign webs, you can connect to a wealth of thoughtful information about politics online at the Vote Smart Web , a national, non-partisan, non-profit organization for comprehensive political information. This web links you to government information at the federal and state levels and to political campaigns at the national and state levels. It also includes many links to information about issues and related political concerns.
You might not be able to find much of substance on the candidate's webs--they seem to be built by and for the already converted. Instead, forming your own thoughts from the information from the Vote Smart web might be your best step to making a decision in 96 and beyond.
John December's latest book is HTML & CGI Unleashed (Indianapolis: Sams.Net Publishing, 1995).
Copyright © 1995 by John December. All Rights Reserved.
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