Something fascinating is happening in America. It is still too early to hope that the 2012 election and Sandy Hook represent a policial realignment, but the possibility is becoming hard to ignore.
What we’ve learned over the past two decades is that the digital communications revolution — the most empowering, democratizing technological change since the printing press — can enable a well-organized and well-funded minority with compelling (if dangerous) ideas to hijack a country. We all laughed at Gingrich’s cassette tapes and conservative talk radio until the 1994 Congressional elections, and the country has only tilted further since then. It’s the same with guns. Groups like the NRA succeed because they can talk to their supporters without the rest of us hearing. They don’t need to be a majority; they just need the majority to be silent.
The genius of Obama’s campaign was its ability to activate the silent majority. That’s harder to do, because majorities in large diverse countries are complex and factionalized. You can still reach them with the shotgun blasts of old media, but that approach is what has become increasingly ineffective. As the Obama campaign showed, with a lot of passion and software and hacking, you can talk to a coalition at lower volume, sotto voce.
Which brings us to Sandy Hook. Most Americans don’t want assault weapons, and they don’t want their neighbors to have them. Not to mention a variety of other common-sense limitations guns. But it has been easier for the determined minority to organize and win the political battles. A pro-gun control President like Obama didn’t have a good way to talk to us — not to the country, but to us. And equally important, we had less than no way to talk to him.
So can I indulge in a bit of audacious hope in wondering if something like the overwhelmingly popular We the People petition on gun control, and the White House responding by returning to campaign mode, could be the early stirrings of a new kind of politics? I know, I know. We the People is a broken platform, the Obama Administration has failed to live up to its promises of transparency, and the campaign’s technology advantage was relentlessly harnessed to fund-raising. Just let me dream a little. After something as horrific as the Sandy Hook massacre, I need to.