November 08, 2008
Politics and Web 2.0 Discussion
One of the more interesting sessions at this week's Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco was the panel on the Web and Politics with New York Magazine's John Heilemann moderating. The discussion was with Arianna Huffington, San Francisco's Mayor Gavin Newsom, and Joe Trippi, who we mainly remember from the Howard Dean campaign. Be sure to read Trippi's amusing blog post: Rush Limbaugh doesn't get it: No wonder the right has lost their way.
Newsom says of the latest election, "I'm much more interested in how this election is going to change people's lives.....the sensibilities people are feeling and a real connection to this cause, not just this candidate. There's an incredible empowerment feeling to all of this but what does it mean in terms of change in this country for campaigning and governing?"
Arianna pipes in: "If it were not for the Internet, Obama wouldn't have been a democratic nominee nor would he be President. He won it in an incredibly sophisticated way. In contrast, the McCain campaign didn't have a clue. It wasn't the age of the candidate, it was the age of the ideas. In 2004, the only reason that Bush got re-elected was because people were grappled with fear. It didn't happen in 2008.
Those of us in the blogosphere and online suffer from an obsessive compulsive order so we stick with things and dig deeper to find the truth. Remember Sarah Palin, I call her the Trojan Moose of the Republican Campaign. (laughter from the audience) They tried using fear by connecting Obama to his Arab name and terrorism but it didn't work this time around."
John talks about the changes that have occurred between 2004 and 2008 and how the left blogosphere seemed to rise during that time, Arianna an instrumental part of it. He says, "it seemed like a counter narrative got established."
Arianna responds: "the truth doesn't always lie in the middle. The key thing is to stop looking at politics in this way. Sometimes it really is on the left or on the right. Left wing positions are not where the country is at the moment. Obama represents the center. We need to embody new journalists. When the truth isn't being told, we need to step up as a journalist or blogger and call them on it rather than sit back and be impartial."
Trippi adds, "mainstream media does a lot of he said, she said. The Republicans say the glass is empty, Democrats say the glass is full. The media just reports what they see and the blogosphere says 'look at the damn glass.' Numbers do matter. The White House is "our" White House." He talks about his mywhitehouse.gov idea and how Rush Limbaugh didn't "get it."
He continues, "this is going to change more than our politics. It's going to change government. We complain that the Presidency had too much power but I think we're going to see a President with more power and Congress with less. Congress is going to be stuck in between a rock and a hard place. There's an incredible connectivity now."
Trippi says, "a lot of this isn't the campaign, its Web 2.0. We have tools now that we didn't have on such a massive scale four years ago. Obama won every single state that mattered, Iowa included and he did it because of those tools. And we have a huge victory because of it. Volunteers used those tools to organize locally. He pushed in North Carolina and Indiana using those same tools. On both of those fronts, the Republicans are in deep trouble. They showed no ability or willingness to use those tools."
The question of new journalism versus old journalism was raised. Arianna refers to this divide as those who are "on-the-bus" versus "off-the-bus." Those "on-the-bus" are sent out to cover stories by establishment. To truly understand what is happening in the blogosphere, its important to note that bloggers send themselves out into the field and bring back what they learn.
Says Arianna, "the way we consume news and information has dramatically changed. In the TV era, you sat on a couch and watched. Now, you're actually engaged. It's interactive." When the Republicans were using their attack strategies and linking Obama to Reverand Wright, it helped that people were able to see the other side online."
Gavin talked about the people who are not engaged, who don't have Internet or the tools. He says, "this is meaningless for people who don't have these tools. It's incumbent on us to reconcile that. The only social media these people are getting is the TV set in front of them and perhaps a cable box if they can actually afford it. This needs to be part of the equation for people in power, to get people who don't have those tools involved and empowered."
Trippi talks about the Dean campaign and what happened in Austin Texas when they showed up expecting a few hundred or so people to show up from their 431 person email list. 431 people spread the word. he says, "People walked through the the Latin America parts of Austin and got others to come. Suddenly we had 2,000 people show up. People with online access motivated people who were not connected.
People communicated and pulled people in who didn't have the access we're talking about. As Web 2.0 and cell phones merge, almost everyone will have access." He reminds us that even in Nigeria, they have 1.6 million landlines but more than 66 million cell phones. Even in small poor villages in Nigeria, there is one cell phone and they share it.
John talks about fundraising. "I can easily see Obama targeting districts of Republicans and Democrats with advertising. He can use his web medium to drive his agenda in a way that no one else has before." He asks the panel - "what does all that mean for governance and for the two party system?"
Arianna goes back to her left versus right argument: "we're so used to talking about politics in terms of right versus left. That is not what is happening right now. You can't use right versus left - its a lazy way to talk. These should be forbidden words - we need to force ourselves not to think of American politics in that context. If we can, we'll be a lot closer to where the Obama Administration needs to go. If you want to really transform these devisions, we need to break through the conventional way we do politics.
Gavin says, "if you don't want to be part of the Republican or Democrat party, you need to be part of "get it done" party and motivate people, engage people, and empower people to push things along."
Trippi ends with this thought: "Remember that 47% of the country didn't vote for this guy. Leading them and getting them to understand this is the way we're going to go. Obama has to sit in the middle. It will be very interesting to see how he plays that."
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