Technology is changing how power struggles are waged between the White House and Congress. For the last few years, negotiations between Democratic and Republican leaders have too often led to stalemate. The battle over how to avert the “fiscal cliff” is the latest example.
Since President Barack Obama’s reelection, he has begun to shift strategies — taking his case directly to the American people as a way to pressure Congress. After all, members of Congress ignore their president without penalty, but ignoring the opinions of their constituents can cost them their jobs.
Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton both effectively used television to address the nation when facing off against a House of Representatives controlled by the opposing party. While TV will remain important, going directly to the American people continue to morph in the era of the Internet. Political messages can be customized and narrowly targeted.
Much of the political broadcasting of the past may ultimately be replaced by political narrowcasting. We saw this already during the 2012 presidential campaign — candidates began with broad appeals to the nation and ended up focusing on a relatively few undecided and therefore persuadable groups living in key swing states like Ohio and Virginia.
We may even see specific groups of American citizens playing the role of jury, as they are bombarded with carefully tailored appeals from both sides, while the rest of us remain apart from all the sound and fury.