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Is it possible that the Internet is changing politics? You’d be foolish to think otherwise. But you’d also be foolish if you thought the Internet laid the foundation for some utopian break.

What if the Internet served mainly as a funnel for the village cranks who, in the past, bored their family, friends and neighbors with their rants, sent angry letters to newspaper editors and generally made a habit of being self-righteous, indignant and quick to jump on everyone else’s hypocrisy but their own? Sounds like the political Internet, eh? The funnel has turned into a megaphone that’s harder and harder for the rest of us to dismiss politely, as we would the neighborhood crank. All the cranks are linked together now — and plugged directly into the media.

Consider the tempest-in-a-T-1-cable over comments by John McCain’s Internet adviser. He said something to the effect that McCain doesn’t need to know how to use a computer to govern effectively. The people bemoaning this sound a bit like someone complaining about a city council member who doesn’t know what it’s like to live on their street because s/he lives in some other, better-protected neighborhood.

Ultimately, Americans don’t need a leader who understands the Internet. They need a leader who can help them get affordable health care, sensible energy choices and perhaps an end to the war in Iraq. But just as the issues are eclipsed by the likes of Chris Matthews’ analyzing the interior and ulterior motives of Bill Clinton, they’ll be eclipsed by judgments concerning politicians’ use of, and attitude towards, new technology.

The good news for American democracy online is that there will always be some new toy for the insiders to twitter about.

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