For Insurgents Only?

In the short history of the intersection of politics and the Internet, it has been a tool that only underdogs have used successfully. Is this just because the insurgent campaigns are younger and more flexible like the Internet? Or is the Internet a tool that front runners can use successfully too?

Presently, the Internet is dominated by a younger generation of people. Older Americans have yet to catch on, if they ever will. However, the Internet generation will one day be the older people of America and these people will have lived their whole  lives with the Internet. Although it is difficult to predict how else we will use the Internet in , say, 20 years, it is clear that it is not a fleeting trend and it will affect every aspect of our lives. At this point, those who will lead our country politically will have all used the Internet in their campaigns and probably in their governance.

So, after one or two more election cycles, the front runners of any campaign will have the same tools available and will have become accustomed to using the Internet. Right now, the Internet appeals to and is used by insurgent political campaigns. But, the Internet is designed to be available to everyone. In fact, the Internet will not live up to its potential if everyone does not use it.

Insurgents will have to find a new tool that wont be as accesible.

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Reflections on a Historic Campaign

I think for most Americans–an tons of people around the world–the 2008 U.S. Presidential campaign delivered on its expectations to be on for the record books. People will be referring to this campaign as one that changed politics…until the next game-changing election. In addition to electing the country’s first African-American president, the 2008 campaign was a helluva campaign to watch. Looking back, there was no shortage of ground-breaking events and surprises. Here are the ones that stand out to me:

  • Voter Involvement–The involvement of the American public in this campaign has been amazing. From YouTube, to the huge crowds at political rallies, Americans really showed up for this one and got involved. In the future of politics in America, voters will be involved more than they have in the past.

    Obama in front of a huge crowd in South Carolina.

    Obama in front of a huge crowd in South Carolina.

  • Sarah Palin was probably one of the biggest surprises of the campaign. A bigger surprise than McCain picking her, was that people liked her so much. Much of the voter generated content in support of the Republican ticket this campaign was in support of Palin over McCain, as if she were running for president. I mean, there are already books written about her–the VP nominee on the losing ticket! Up until November 4th, I still had lingering fear that Americans would prove to be as dumb, ignorant, and short-sighted as we have been portrayed in the international spotlight, so as to elect McCain-Palin–largely on the strength of Palin.
  • Speaking of Sarah Palin, one other very interesting twist in this campaign was the role of the media. Palin–and to a certain degree–John McCain avoided the press. We all heard about her alleged meetings with world leaders. And of course you remember her telling Gwen Ifill that she wouldn’t answer the questions in the VP debate with VP-elect Joe Biden. Palin said to Biden, she may not “answer the questions the way you or the moderator want,” and proceeded to respond the way she wanted to. While she was the most blatant, Palin wasn’t the only one side-stepping the traditional media. Inherent in many of Obama’s tactics is an element that takes out the media middlemen. His direct conversations and infomercials with the American people eliminate–if only temporarily–the need for news. What, then, will happen if he conducts his administration this way? Obama’s plan is to talk to the people, which is an admirable goal. But, does this mark the end of the need for political news?

Among many others, these are a few memorable events of the 2008 Campaign. These, also, are important because they have lasting impacts and should be evaluated critically as their impacts may not be desirable for all.

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White House 2.0

It has been said over and over again that Barack Obama led on of the most seamless political campaigns ever, and that he did so, in large part, to his use of the Internet and new media tools. During the 2008 Presidential campaign, Obama’s team set some unprecedented heights for the use of the Internet and social tools. Furthermore, these tools created a much more inclusive and transparent campaign–one that many people felt a part of and, in some level, of control over. Now that Obama has won the presidency, many people are wondering how this philosophy of giving government back to the people will play out in more than a campaign. When real issues are on the line, to what extent are the American people going to have input on decisions?

The use of Web 2.0 allows organizations, and now the government, to create dialog with its constituents. But, if the American people were capable of making big time decisions, then there would be no need for the type of government that we have. How, then, will the Obama administration use Web 2.0 to continue to engage the American people, while still maintaining its own sense of rule and power?

So, as Kevin Thurman suggests, I think that it is a great idea to use many of the same tools that Obama used in his campaign as the foundation for the communication and technology platforms of his administration. Things like the databases of my.barackobama.com, Catalist, and change.org will be very useful. But, as Thurman also says, teh Obama administration will also need to reach out to the rest of America–those who didn’t sign up for his campaign emails, and those who did not vote for him.

But, what do you do with all these names, email addresses, and tools to reach them? Continue the web videos? Yes. Emails? Yes. Interactive blogs/vlogs? Of course. But there has to be something more. Of the people who would contact the administration to offer their thoughts on the way things should run, a small percentage will be reasonable. Obviously, Obama does not plan to let people make decisions. I think the main idea is to let people have their opinions heard. But, will this just be an empty exercise to keep the American people busy?

I think all of these ideas are great and will eventually become more commonplace in government and how it is run. Furthermore, the problems that might arise in creating this online citizenship, will likely be trivial (how to weed out nonsense, what to do with the good stuff, and how to respond to people.) Too trivial at that.

I don’t think that the Obama administration will be abe to–or should–successfully pull these things off, not in a first term anyway. There are several more complicated and more pressing issues to deal with, than an undertaking that is essentially an appeal to the emotions of those Americans who feel left out of U.S. governance. Finallly, those emotions won’t matter if after four years, the economy is better, the wars have ended, we have established alternative energy sources and infrastructures, and education and healthcare are on track to full rehabilitation. These are the issues that really matter to Americans, and should be the primary focuses of the Obama administration…not the trial and error of a new system of communication.

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Reins of Power: How far will micro-targeting go?

“There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”

–George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

Not to sound paranoid of anything, but reading about micro-targeting and the new tactics of American political parties did make me feel like a crazed conspiracy theorist. Everyone mentions the magazine subscriptions, education and levels, and booze tendencies. But, all I could think was: What else do they know? Better yet, since these are relatively new tactics, what else will they know?

Politically, though, micro-targeting makes all the sense in the world. That they are absconding strategies from for-profit companies and marketing professionals bolsters the effectiveness of the direction that campaigning is going. The evolution of Karl Rove’s strategies used in 2000 and 2004 to what the Obama campaign did this past campaign cycle has developed a science for campaign outreach. One thing is clear though: it takes a lot of money.

Also, these tactics are made possible by relatively new technologies and tools. The use of text messaging, emails, social networks are largely un-regulated by any government agency; a reality, which allows campaigns the freedom to create and launch new strategies that may be invasive to many Americans. As the government finally begins to catch up to everyone else, we may see more restrictions on the freedoms that micro-targeting takes advantage of. But, probably not. They need these abilities to stay in office, and nowadays if you don’t use micro-targeting at all or ineffectively, you will lose elections (Al Gore, John Kerry, John McCain).

It should be interesting to see how goverment regulation is augmented and expanded to cover the Internet and other new technologies. Will the government institute regulations that would protect the privacy of their constituents, even if it will rein in their own chances of getting re-elected? But, if nobody can do it, then I guess it doesn’t really matter.

Nonetheless, if and until this happens, Big Brother will still be watching…

images

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What a Difference Four Years Make

As the votes were being counted and the states called, I sat in the office of TheRoot.com and–my head on a swivel–watched the TV, several blogs, and other internet sources. Between MSNBC, CNN, Marc Ambinder, FiveThirtyEight, and WaPo, there was a lot of information to process all at once. But the adrenaline and Red Bull made everything wistfully do-able. Even as we approached 11 o’clock, and the numbers looked promising, people were still on edge, unsure of the capabilities–however unscrupulous–of the GOP.

Riding the trend of this campaign season, I was sure that an Internet source would break the news. With my eyes darting back and forth between the TV and computer screen and my right hand impulsively, almost OCD-like, clicking ‘refresh,’ it was on CNN, Ambinder not far behind, that – first caught sight of the words “Obama” and “President.” This time though, they were not strung together with fleeting speculation. Rather, they were bonded in a demonstratively history-making declarative.

The office erupted in unison with the surrounding Dupont Circle neighborhood. And though we couldn’t hear it: that our applause and shouts exclaiming “We did it!” were in sync with cities the world over was tangibly felt.

Undoubtedly, though, the use of the Internet and new technologies has drastically contributed to thrusting this election front and center on the world’s stage. In just four short years, the successful coalescence of a dynamic leader, an inspiring vision, impassioned voters and donators was made more easily possible by the development of new media.

The President-Elect’s my.barackobama.com, his command of other social networks, text messages, and emails will forever change the way that political campaigns are run. In addition, many are eager to see if it changes the way that government is run too. But, Obama and his staff aren’t the only ones responsible. There was a huge opportunity in the second coming of the web industry and the catching on of millions of people across the world. Astutely, like everything else in the campaign, Obama and his team took advantage of it.

Henry Louis Gates and Tina Brown very eloquently discuss the intersection of prudence, charisma, perseverance (historic and present), technology, money and luck that created the perfect storm of a campaign.

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Redskins Lose in a Landslide

The Washington Redskins, with a new coach and a new starting QB and on-the-field leader–a black guy, at that–have experienced a lot of change. Until Monday night, the Skins had gone 6-2, in the team’s most energetic season start in years. Since 1936, when the franchise came to Washington, the so-called “Redskins Rule,” says that if the team wins its last home game before the election, the incumbent party will stay in power. The Rule, at best has been 100 percent correct and, at worst, 94 percent. Last night, as a DC native and a Skins fan, I experienced a blasphemous of joy when I watched Jason Campbell’s late-game touchdown effort knocked down by the Steelers’ defense. Normally, following such a crushing loss would ruin the rest of my day. But last night, the Skins loss put me to sleep with a last minute sense of optimism.

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‘Wassup’ in ’08

Eight years after the Budweiser ‘Wassup,’ Super Bowl commercials, filmmaker Charles Stone III is putting his idea to a more meaningful use. Although Budweiser used, distributed, and made tons of money off of Stone’s idea, he still retained the rights to the idea itself. The 2008 rendition of the ‘Wassup’ videos is a hearty endorsement for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill).

Stone says that many people though he was cheated out of the original deal. Budweiser leased the rights to the idea for a paltry $37,000 over 5 years. This foresight has paid off, Stone says, now that he has the freedom to use a recognizable motif in new and different ways. As he told Business Week, “That I’m able to use an idea distributed by a huge company, who made a lot of money off it, so that now when I put out what I want to say, it’s recognizable, and it sparks — that’s worth $1 million to me.” This ironic twist in rights and owenership has an even more hilarious layer when you consider the Anheuser-Busch heiress, Cindy McCain, who can’t do anything to stop the commercial forever attached to her company from endorsing her husband’s opponent. That’s whats up.

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