If you believe the wisdom of the crowd, this bailout blows.
An intense and often spontaneous Internet backlash hindered bipartisan efforts to pass the $700 billion bailout. As soon as the basics of the measure were publicized, e-mail and Web discussions exposed a sharp and important divide between the public and elites on the proposal. Proponents insist the “rescue plan” is essential to shoring up credit and stabilizing the financial markets, while critics say taxpayer money should not be spent to bail out irresponsible behavior on Wall Street. A remarkably broad coalition of elites back the bailout measure, of course, from both parties’ nominees and Congressional leaders to the majority of commentators across the corporate media spectrum. Across the fuller spectrum of the Internet, however, it’s a different story.
Websites of all stripes are brimming with intense opposition to the plan. Bailout talk dominated the blogopshere this week. References to the measure hit a staggering 14,000 per day at its peak, for the vote on Monday, according to the blog search engine Technorati.com. (By comparison, references to “Obama,” an international Web sensation, average about 8,000 per day.) On Capitol Hill, the high volume of constituent e-mail against the bailout has computers on the brink of crashing–literally. Congress temporarily banned e-mail to representatives because its website, House.gov, was about to go down. On Tuesday, a House official told members that the unusual step was “temporarily necessary to ensure that Congressional websites are not completely disabled by the millions of e-mails flowing into the system.”
The vast majority of e-mails are against the bailout, according to politicians who have disclosed estimates. Senator Sherrod Brown said in a newspaper interview that a whopping 95 percent of his e-mail opposed the measure and “nearly all” of Senator Barbara Boxer’s e-mail was against the bill, according to her staff.
“What happened this week online has been far more spontaneous than organized,” said blogger David Sirota, author of The Uprising, a recent book about the “populist revolt” against Wall Street and Washington. “Many of the organizational players actually stayed on the sidelines, but the Internet became a real outlet for activists and the public to vent its outrage to Congress,” he told The Nation. Groups like U.S. Action tapped into that sentiment, using net and grassroots outreach to quickly organize more than 250 street protests around the country. Activists also used the web to pick apart and expose the entire bailout bill, which some members did not read in full. (The version that passed on Wednesday ran hundreds of pages, and Senator John McCain acknowledged he did not read the three-page summary circulated by the Treasury Secretary. Web transparency advocates are fighting that habit, too.)