What was the internet's role?
1. It forced the process much more into the open. For better and for worse, the sausage-making process is now much more transparent. As Nancy pointed out last week, without a formal change in the rules, Congress is starting to post major bills online 72 hours before a vote. This is what happens when you have many more eyes watching. Any attempt by the White House to repeat the Clinton process of crafting a bill over months of secret negotiations would have blown up in its face. Yes, there were still many back-room deals, from the Billy Tauzin-PHrMA deal to the "Cornhusker hustle" and the "Louisiana Purchase" but we know about them, don't we?
2. The relatively open process fueled a lot of passionate engagement on all sides, with rightwing blogs, GOP outfits like Freedom Works and Tea Party protesters along with leftwing blogs, Democratic efforts like HCAN and OFA, and MoveOn and the PCCC all turbocharging their efforts by using the latest tools for connecting, coordinating, collaborating, raising money, and moving messages and troops. The overall effect was for many more voices to speak effectively in the process. It appears that most of these voices tended to make the discussion more polarized, but I think that may be an oversimplification. MoveOn, for example, may have worked for most of last year to push the debate to the left, but in the last few weeks, after its membership voted overwhelmingly to support Obama's approach, it helped rally progressive activists to support the bill.