A recent gaffe by Virginia Senator George Allen suggested the ubiquity of YouTube may be a campaign liability, but to what extent can it be an asset? Indiana Senator Evan Bayh is trying to find out. He’s been posting videos of his speeches on the video-sharing site. And he’s created a Facebook profile, all in an attempt to woo younger voters. WFIU’s Adam Ragusea reports.
SENATOR GEORGE ALLEN: Let's give a welcome to Macaca here. [APPLAUSE] Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia! [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD:: When that indicting video of Virginia Senator George Allen calling a young staffer for a competing candidate "Macaca" first emerged on, you guessed it, YouTube, it became even clearer that politicians need to take heed of the power of the Net – that is, if Senator Joe Lieberman's loss in the Connecticut Democratic primary to net-savvy newcomer Ned Lamont wasn't persuasive enough. Smart politicians know they have to take their message directly to the so-called "net-roots" rather than leaving it to agents of their opponents to do it for them. That's precisely what Indiana's Democratic junior Senator Evan Bayh is doing in advance of his anticipated 2008 presidential bid. He's wooing voters, or trying to, by posting videos of his more youth-oriented speeches on YouTube. Reporter Adam Ragusea is based in Bloomington, Indiana, where he logged on to this message from Evan Bayh.
EVAN BAYH: One of the biggest misconceptions around today about our young people is that this generation is apathetic. Well, I don't need to tell you in the room here today that nothing could be further from the truth. Through online organizational tools, like Facebook, you've become active and organized both online and on the ground. In fact, I hope that you will "Facebook" me after the conference and check out my website, at www.dot -
ADAM RAGUSEA: That's right. The senator invited his audience to Facebook him. Facebook.com is a youth-oriented social networking website, but unlike its competitors, MySpace and Friendster, Facebook is exclusive to academia, as it requires a valid dot.edu e-mail addresses to join. Since its founding in 2004, 7.5 million college students have joined Facebook, and just about anyone who goes to college right now will tell you it's a focal point of contemporary campus life. So it was with his Indiana University alumnus e-mail address that Evan Bayh was able to set up his very own Facebook profile. Bayh has now amassed nearly 3,000 friends on Facebook, putting him among the ranks of other tech-savvy social animals who have used networking sites to build themselves impossibly large cohorts. Daily Show contributor Dmitri Martin recently recorded this tune about the hardships involved in keeping up with just so darn many friends.
DMITRI MARTIN: [SINGING] I've got 9,000 friends on my MySpace. Yes, on my page. [PAUSE] So why do I feel so lonely, when I have quadruple-digit friends, I should feel great that I'm popular, right? I guess -- I spend a lot of time alone, but in a cool way. Yeah, yeah, yeah! I've got 9,000 friends. Yeah, yeah, yeah --
ADAM RAGUSEA: If you decide to become one of Evan Bayh's many friends, you'll be able to read all about his favorite color and car. He'll even send you a special message on your birthday. Indiana University political science professor, Marjorie Hershey, is skeptical that politicians like Bayh will find much substantive support in the Facebook/MySpace masses.
MARJORIE HERSHEY: An awful lot of people in the age range who are particularly attracted to MySpace and Facebook are just not interested in politics. They don't vote, they don't find politics to be relevant to their lives. And from their perspective, in the short run, they're right about that, because so much of modern politics has to do with big-ticket items like Social Security and Medicare that are of much greater concern to older people.
ADAM RAGUSEA: But modern politics also has to do with a war fought mostly by 20-year-olds and climbing interest rates on student loans. As the recent Connecticut Democratic senatorial primary seems to show, politicians would be unwise to ignore the youthful throngs online. Like Connecticut's Ned Lamont, Bayh's Internet friends aren't limited to his constituents in his home state. They're young, college-aged people from around the country. Many of them are registered Democrats who say they'll seriously consider voting for Bayh in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary. But when asked what they think about Bayh's Facebook profile, their impressions are mixed.
WOMAN: I thought his profile was good. It seems realistic. Obviously, you know, I've seen that he is not the one updating it, but it seems pretty personable.
MAN: It was good. At first he talked a lot about the political stuff. Somebody mentioned he should actually talk about what he thought and what he cared about, so he posted about his favorite car and ice cream, things like that.
WOMAN: I don't really know what he does. I don't really know like what office he holds or what party he belongs to, but he's my Facebook friend now.
MAN: It's so rare to have anybody even act like they care about what young people think.
WOMAN: Facebook's a joke. You put pictures of yourself throwing up in a toilet after drinking too much or pictures of you making out with another girl at a party. I don't go there to learn about politics. I mean, Facebook is for college students, not for Evan Bayh.
ADAM RAGUSEA: For On the Media, I'm Adam Ragusea.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Coming up, British press laws stymie reporters on the crime beat, and The New York Times is following its nose.