Jonathan Alter in Newsweek writes about the evolutionary confluence of technology and politics, and announces an intriguing new initative to creatively disrupt the 2008 elections. All you need is a modem and a dream.

Bob Schieffer of CBS News made a good point on “The Charlie Rose Show” last week. He said that successful presidents have all skillfully exploited the dominant medium of their times. The Founders were eloquent writers in the age of pamphleteering. Franklin D. Roosevelt restored hope in 1933 by mastering radio. And John F. Kennedy was the first president elected because of his understanding of television.

Will 2008 bring the first Internet president? Last time, Howard Dean and later John Kerry showed that the whole idea of “early money” is now obsolete in presidential politics. The Internet lets candidates who catch fire raise millions in small donations practically overnight. That’s why all the talk of Hillary Clinton’s “war chest” making her the front runner for 2008 is the most hackneyed punditry around.

Alter calls it “open-source politics,” and predicts that it could soon “begin busting up the dumb system we have for selecting presidents,” redesigning the polarized and unrepresentative nominating process from the netroots up:

But there probably won’t be much that’s organized about it. By definition, the Internet strips big shots of their control of the process, which is a good thing. Politics is at its most invigorating when it’s cacophonous and chaotic.

Best of all, it’s already being tried — by the self-described “bunch of old white guys” (and centrists) Hamilton Jordan (who spoke to the National Centrist Meeting in New York last month), Gerald Rafshoon (both helped elect Jimmy Carter), Doug Bailey (did media for Gerald Ford), and Angus King (former Independent governor of Maine). They’re hoping it will catch fire and be taken over by the “collection of idealistic young people” they’ve already got on board.

Their hope: to get even a fraction of the 50 million who voted for the next American Idol to nominate a third-party candidate for president online and use this new army to get him or her on the ballot in all 50 states. [ . . . ]

They’re calling it an “online third party.” Its name is Unity08, and the website launches today.

The Unity08 plan is for an online third-party convention in mid-2008, following the early primaries. Any registered voter could be a delegate; their identities would be confirmed by cross-referencing with voter registration rolls (which would also prevent people from casting more than one ballot). That would likely include a much larger number than the few thousand primary voters who all but nominate the major party candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire. This virtual process will vote on a centrist platform and nominate a bipartisan ticket. The idea is that even if the third-party nominee didn’t win, he would wield serious power in the ’08 election, which will likely be close.

Alter acknowledges that the air will be let out of this initiative if either major party nominates a candidate with centrist appeal, like John McCain or Mark Warner. But perhaps the very existence of such a threat will help to push one or both parties in that direction.

Centrists will want to keep up with this initiative, and possibly join it. Read the article. Check out the Unity08 website. I’m going over there now.

Hat tip: John P. Avlon.

Technology “Politics is at its most invigorating when it’s cacophonous and chaotic.”