It’s Not 1996 Any More

Last week, Bill Clinton got into a public dust-up with Black Lives Matter protestors, which led Charles Pierce to ask, “Here’s a question for the poli-sci folks here in the shebeen: When did Bill Clinton become such a fcking political maladroit?”

Here’s what I think is different: Clinton is operating in a very different media world than when he was president–and it’s all about the internet.

Yes, the internet did exist when Clinton was president, and it did have an effect (The Drudge Report comes to mind). But its effect was still much less powerful. It was really outside most of the political news ecosystem (again, with exception). The tricks Clinton used (and before you call me a hater, I canvassed for the guy twice) just can’t work today. He was a master at telling different groups what they wanted to hear (while all politicians do this, he did it a lot, and very convincingly).

Back then, you could get away with it: you had to find different newspaper stories (video wasn’t online), if they could be found online, compare them, put them on a blog, and then hope someone might notice, at which point, it might find its way into the mainstream media food chain.

If you say one thing in front of one crowd, and another in front of a different crowd today, you will be called immediately on it. I usually don’t hear about ‘controversies’ until I’ve seen the rebuttal, and I’m often pretty wired in (some days, not so much). For a 2016 example, when Hillary Clinton argued Sanders wasn’t involved in the 1990s healthcare reform, within hours, the signed photo of Clinton thanking Sanders for his help was widely circulated. Bill Clinton’s methods don’t work very well, since someone can post ‘dueling videos’ online. He hasn’t lost his skills; it’s just they’re not useful in today’s environment. Big Dog needs to learn some new tricks.

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