The past no longer matters to the political present the way it once did, because we have such better access to it today. Just 15 years ago, investigations of politicians and opposition research were largely limited to professionals with access to Lexis-Nexis or those who knew how to conduct a document search at the county courthouse. Digging dirt back then was like mining gold in the 1800s: labor intensive, and requiring both expertise and expensive tools. Widespread digitization and cheap information technologies haven’t eliminated the professionals from political dirt digging, only lowered the barriers to entry.
…Kaczynski’s skill at dragging skeletons—and a few chicken bones—out of politicians’ closets indicates that soon, everything in a politician’s fossil record that can be retrieved will be retrieved– whether it be by oppo researchers, journalists, activists, or citizens–and put on display: Every utterance, every court filing, every public transaction, every burp, every miscue. By the time the technology really gets kicking, the new transparency will make Kim Kardashian look like a privacy hound.
Shafer is right that there’s a kind of compression of time in politics. With video, the distinction between new and old fades.
But new video can be powerful in a way that an old print story isn’t. Many of Jeremiah Wright’s offensive views had been reported in 2007; but the preacher didn’t become a liability to Barack Obama until his videos hit the web.