“For the most part, the blogging community is small,” says [local blogger Chris] Woods, who blogs at Bleeding Heartland. “But Iowa’s blogging community reaches the core activists, the core voters and caucus-goers, who come online and talk politics.”
While stuck at the airport in Tyler, Texas yesterday, I ran across a fascinating history lesson in the comments section of a random Sadly, No article. Produced right after World War II, the short Encyclopedia Britannica film “Despotism” looks at the aspects of a society that make its government free versus those that make it authoritarian. What’s shocking is how much our political culture has changed in just 60 years — the producers of this film lived in a country that had just seen REAL despotism in the form of Nazi Germany and a military-ruled Japan (note the brownshirt-style uniforms, and also the lack of any of any depiction of their Soviet equivalents), and they pull few punches about what leads a society away from freedom. Do citizens treat each other with basic respect? Is power shared or concentrated? Is the distrbution of WEALTH balanced or slanted? Is information controlled or uncontrolled?
The economic aspect is particularly striking — the authors clearly saw the rise of European authoritarianism as being in part a reaction to the worldwide economic distruption of the 1920s and ’30s, and hence perceived the disproportionate concentration of wealth as a danger to democracy. These attitudes were widespread in postwar America, and it’s no accident that the 1950s saw a profound expansion of the American middle class — among other things, government policy in the form of the G.I. Bill and progressive taxation encouraged it.
A couple of weeks ago, a new application showed up on Boing Boing that at first glance would seem to be a reasonable approach to pressuring Our Elected Representatives: give the system your phone number, and CommitteeCaller will connect you with the office of each member of a given Congressional committee sequentially. Of course, you’ll still need to speak with a human being on the other end of each call, but as a Boing Boing reader pointed out in the comments, it’s still dangerously close to being spam — almost as bad as robocalls.
As it is, Congress is deluged with random calls and emails, and they’re generally going to ignore you if you’re not a constituent — it’s long been good email advocacy practice to funnel activists’ messages only to their own representatives for that very reason. And if you want to influence Congress on any significant issue, you’ll almost always need to spend a long time building up to it. Sure, a last-minute constituent communications blitz can sometimes make a difference, but what you need to do most of the time is spend time and energy building support in a representative’s district. Phone-spamming can give people a sense that they’ve helped, but identifying a member’s key constituencies and even individual influential supporters and working to convert or mobilize them is much more likely to get you in the door. Hiring a good lobbyist wouldn’t hurt, either. Unfortunately, there’s a reason that most legislative victories are incremental rather than revolutionary: Congress is a ship that changes course slowly, when it turns at all.
Here’s a sneaky way to use the web to put a knife in the other guy: leak an ad targeting your opponent to an online media outlet which can then post it for mass distribution. Combine that with the journalist’s own email distribution list, and you have instant publicity (thanks for the note, John). Besides using Romney’s own words against him in brutally effective fashion, the ad is also interesting in that it was produced by a media group now working for the Romney campaign — they’d been on Team McCain originally but left when he ran into trouble earlier in the year. Kudos to Dickerson and Slate for putting the piece out in context rather than simply running it straight, as you’ll see below.
For more background and analysis, see Slate. For Romney’s reaction, listen for the distant sound of wailing, moaning and gnashing of teeth.
Update: Why do I like this idea so much? Everybody loves a scoop or a leak — something that feels as though you’re getting an insider’s glimpse, and it makes someone like me that much more likely to link to it. It’s just a little naughty! I bet the TV types pick up on it like crazy. When your campaign is short on cash, free media exposure is priceless.
The good Doktor Rosenblatt has weighed in on my Matt Bai piece, and the results are excellent. Among his many worthwhile points, he notes that online support worked for Howard Dean because the campaign jumped on it — they saw a wave, and they rode it for all they were worth. Other political communicators can get in on the back-and-forth:
By feeding the online discourse with messages, facts, resources, nudges, and tugs; by pushing these out to a variety of online communities; and by listening to the response and adapting message and strategy accordingly, a campaign can add strategic advantage to the organic chaos of the internet.
See also Alan’s distinction between the message a campaign uses and the actual language they use: supporters can still spread a message even when they don’t parrot a candidate’s talking points verbatim. Besides this piece, the techPrez crew has come back from the holidays in full turkey-fueled force; check out recent articles on Facebook oversaturation, John Edwards’s online ad contest and the year’s best online vidoes, both campaign- and voter-created.
The Environmental Law and Policy Center gets up to $10,000 worth of Google ads provided free of charge each month to help promote its green efforts, including one aimed at reaching Iowa caucus voters. A search for “Hillary Clinton” turns up an ad suggesting that users “Learn how Hillary Clinton proposes to solve global warming.” Targeted to presidential candidate names, the ads link to IowaGlobalWarming.org, and are part of a year-long campaign set to finalize after January’s Iowa caucuses.
This tactic is an extension of a classic PR tool, which is to tie the story you’re trying to pitch to something topical and pressing. Of course, it’s a classic PR tool because it works, though if too many people jump on board the Google Ad train, the cost of running ads on the candidates’ names becomes prohibitive (try buying a more specific query if that happens to you).
In the new and evolving online world, the greatest momentum goes not to the candidate with the most detailed plan for conquering the Web but to the candidate who surrenders his own image to the clicking masses, the same way a rock guitarist might fall backward off the stage into the hands of an adoring crowd.
Powerful image! But some pictures hold less than meets the eye, and this might just be one of them. Are the presidential campaigns missing the boat, or do they know something we don’t? Let’s hear more from Matt first:
Ron Paul’s appearance on Meet The Press last Sunday was immensely revealing for many reasons, not the least of which was his success (in the words of The Smirking Chimp) at “parrying each of Tim Russert’s attempts to find a gotcha moment with honesty and conviction — two things Russert was obviously unpracticed in dealing with.” What really jumped out at me, though, was what the interview revealed about the limitations of traditional political journalism as practiced in this country over the last century. It ain’t for nothin’ that newspaper and television reporters and pundits have steadily lost audience over the last decade to a new army of amateurs and outsiders — a world of information scarcity is being replaced by a world of information plenty, and political journalism’s place as the arbiter of public discourse is eroding fast.
For a look at one of the real stories of the 2008 campaign, check out this NY Times article about attempts by the top Democratic presidential campaigns to cut back on the amount of money siphoned off by political consultants, bringing them more in line with their Republican opposites. In the past few election cycles, Democratic consultants have generally taken a percentage of television ad buys rather than a flat fee, creating an obvious conflict of interest when it comes to determining how a campaign should spend its money. Though the article doesn’t mention it, Howard Dean has criticized this practice repeatedly since he became DNC chair. The online revolution is wrapped up in the issue, in part because of the rise of the web as an alternate message-distribution channel:
But the bigger change may come as the Web redefines the entire media world. John Brabender, a Republican consultant who is working for Rudolph W. Giuliani’s presidential campaign, said that 5 percent to 10 percent of advertising expenses were already going to the Web. And Mr. Trippi, who helped pioneer the use of online fund-raising during Mr. Dean’s campaign, said the Edwards campaign had produced attack videos for the Web for as little as $800, a tiny fraction of what it costs to create and broadcast a television commercial.
Though of course we should note that online videos aren’t intrusive in the way that TV ads are, and so aren’t a true substitute mechanism for reaching the uncommitted and/or marginally interested. But, political campaigns have generally lagged behind the commercial advertising world in the percentage of money spent online, and removing consultants’ bias toward TV ads should help bring more balance to the system. Also, as online donations bring a larger group of small donors into the process, they’re going to demand that their money be well spent if campaigns want more of it.
Is the former President Clinton supporting Obama instead of Hillary? Time to sleep on the couch again! Or so an online trickster would have us believe — the owners of the domain names presidentbillclinton.com and williamclinton.com have redirected them to the official Obama website and also sent around an email to promote their actions. I got the message overnight but frankly found it somewhat opaque and had filed it to look at later, but I’ll reprint it here for your enlightenment instead. For more details, see Chadwick Matlin’s piece in Slate’s Trailhead column.
With many of our online colleagues taking the holiday week off, it’s time for e.politics — temporarily ensconced deep in the Piney Woods of East Texas while measuring the Pulse Of The Heartland — to take up the slack. And maybe to finish off a few articles that have been screaming for conclusion for weeks.
But first, let’s connect some dots international-style, with a nod to the globalization instincts of How The World Works. What does a European rocket launch from Guiana have to do with the rise of global people power? When an Ariane 5 boosts an African communications satellite into orbit, plenty. The Rascom consortium — dig the animated intro with an excellent backing track — aims to bring new digital communications access to telecom companies and internet service providers across this tragically most unwired of continents.
And based on a Netsquared presentation from Kim Lowery of Kabissa back in September, they should see plenty of demand. Among other things, she talked about how people in one small town, lacking a ‘net connection, would type out emails and give them on disk to a car owner who would drive them weekly to the nearest city (hours away) and send them to the wider world, returning later with the replies. THAT’S being hungry for communications.
Political implications? In countries where even the basics of government spending are closely held secrets, information that we in the industrialized world take for granted can be revolutionary (remember Google Earth and Bahraini corruption?). For a hint of the new potential, see this Post piece on modern campaign tools’ spread to Kenya (note that Dick Morris unfortunately went along for the ride). And while cell phones are still much more common than computers in the Third World, the tubes are coming: I got my first look this weekend at the one-laptop-per-child XO machine, courtesy of my father, who’s taken advantage of the give-one/get-one holiday offer (my brother and his IBM-Linux-guru wife have done the same). The user interface seems clunky, but the wifi works and the next generation of the software promises to be much more straightforward. Just you wait until these little critters and their descendents overrun the globe….
Votingpresent.com and Votingpresent.org are domains hosted by the same IP address as official Clinton Web sites, such TheHillaryIKnow.com, which was launched with much fanfare this week.
The Clinton campaign intends to use these new Web sites to paint Obama as cowardly.
Apparently, Barack voted “present” rather than take a stand on controversial bills several times in the Illinois legislature, which is apparently a reason to take after him (sounds like a bit of a stretch, but what do I know). ABC does seem to have jumped the gun by describing the sites in its headline and article text as having been “launched,” though, since neither site is live as I write this and the domains have only been registered (to Hillary Clinton for President) since December 4th. Will they ever go live? Or is this just a bit of psychological warfare?
Next, among the more famous promotional activities organized by the Ron Paul army of supporters is a rented blimp, which you can now track online via a Google Map. Good work on the site, which is dirt-simple but effective (fundraising through Google Checkout, btw). Viral tools not neglected, either: