Perhaps the biggest-name speaker at Personal Democracy Forum this year was to be Elizabeth Edwards, blogger and wife of former presidential candidate John Edwards. Weather intervened, however, since a storm system interrupted flights and trapped her at home in North Carolina. Enter Skype, the online voice/video phone system — Andrew Rasiej was able to interview her live and in front of a large audience, with her image projected on the main-stage screen.
It was the first time I’ve seen that at a conference, and it was remarkably effective. Her projected image was much easier to see than she actually would have been on-stage, and the back-and-forth was quite natural. Of course, it was difficult for audience members to ask Edwards questions directly, but she could hear enough for the system to work. The audio did crap out at one point, but a quick “hang-up” and a new Skype call got things moving again.
Some highlights from the talk:
- Despite the success of online fundraising, most campaign money is still going to the same old expenses (i.e., TV), even if it’s raised over the internet.
- Internet presence must be coupled with real-world work — each feeds the other, with real-world activity helping to drive people to the web. Otherwise, you keep going back to the same pool of people over and over again.
- Connectivity limited the internets effectiveness in some early states such as South Carolina — not as many people were online in those states.
- Small donors and big donors will continue to coexist, with big money being particularly important helping to get a campaign started. I.e., small donors won’t entirely replace people who can write a large check.
- Will Obama’s army of supporters hold him accountable? His trick will be to turn his list into something that “provides muscle for him” in legislative battles. She hopes he’ll take the step of asking people to act rather than just donate.
- When asked how the next president should use the internet, she said that there’s no point in collecting political capital if you’re not going to spend it. Also transparency — government information is out there, but it’s too hard for people to get to. Government too often doesn’t make it easy enough for us to find information that should be public, from relatively mundane consumer information to vital access to the legislative process. Would better information lead to more involved citizens?
- Would like to see every agency have a plan to provide information to the public (certainly a step beyond a Freedom of Information Act request).
- When asked whether the “YouTube dynamic” makes it more likely for candidates to speak the truth, she was not so hopeful — even after Bill Clinton, we still had Elliot Spitzer. “Politicians aren’t as easy to train as we would like them to be,” at least when it comes to certain errors.
- About her role in crafting Obama’s health care policy going forward — she’s “delighted” to be able to continue to advocate for universal health care, and is open to different methods of getting there.
- She did not endorse Obama at the time her husband did because of a promise to Hillary Clinton to stay out of the race.
- She does not see an assured victory for Obama, though the current poll numbers certainly look good. But she’s learned the lesson of 2004 — Obama can expect a lot of incoming fire, whether from the McCain campaign or from outside individuals and groups. One particular burden on Obama will be to live up to the idea of change. For the Obama campaign, she recommends more small, personal discussions from the candidate to supplement his big speeches — more personal events might help to break down the perception that he’s different from “regular folks.”
- If you’re a celebrity, it’s difficult to generate a “real” social network on a site like Facebook — too many people want to glom on to you. Her daughter, for instance, has a private social network profile for her real friends and a public one for people who want to be “friends” with a daughter of John and Elizabeth Edwards.
- Update: John dropped in at the last second, spending some time on the floral-patterned couch in their living room. He felt that his campaign did some things online while, others not, but that the ‘net will “make an enormous difference in the Fall.” For example, Obama’s foregoing of public financing depends entirely on the ‘net, but it will also be used to motivate voters and volunteers.