Thursday, January 25, 2007


Welcome, Politics 2.0

Read of the day: Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry, the minds behind the Personal Democracy Forum and two of the country's top experts on how technology is changing our politics, debut their new column on today called Politics 2.0.

To show that the Netroots is much more diverse (and effective) than the angry blogger caricature suggests, and lay the context for columns to come, Rasiej and Sifry present an impressive summary of the ways that online activists leveraged digital technologies in the 2006 election to steer money to high-impact races, mobilize volunteers, and persuade voters to go to the polls. Then they pose the 64 gigabyte question: Will politicians treat these exciting new platforms -- and the excited people using them -- as a threat to be controlled or a tool to be unleashed?
What's next? After a decade of political use of the Internet, two very distinct schools of thought are emerging. In one, traditional institutions -- including political parties, elected officials and organizations like think tanks and PACs -- use technology to hold on to power and maintain top-down control. This model has its place, and no one has done it better than the GOP, which uses its sophisticated voter files to provide thousands of volunteers with precise walk lists of people to contact in their own neighborhoods.

What's developing now, in contrast, is a more net-centric approach that values open collaboration, participation and decentralization -- and it's why the net-roots are so potent. We're seeing an explosion of voter-generated content alongside the old top-down stuff. If you go to's groups home page, you'll find 24,000-plus groups on "government and politics." More than 63,000 people belong to the Myspace Democrats group -- five times as many as a year ago.
My sense is that, to borrow the words of the great John Hiatt, it's going to be a slow turning. That's in large part because most politicians today are both risk-averse and digitally-illiterate, and the higher you go up the electoratal food-chain, the more cautious and uninformed they are. Some of them may swayed by younger staffers to follow Hillary's lead and use these shiny new toys to do more superstaged Web videos and chats and more sophisticated interactive feedback mechanisms. But for the foreseeable future, most will continue to be resistant to the kind of true open-source politics that Rasiej and Sifry are advocating, which contradicts everything today's politicos have learned about message discipline during the TV generation.

I also think many conventional-thinking pols will be reluctant to fully embrace the Netroots and the promise of these new technologies as long as the angry blogger is the public face of the online community. This caricature is unfair -- there is much more to online politics than blogging, and even the blogosphere is not nearly monolithic as it is thought to be. But I can tell you from experience, in the eyes of much of the Washington political elite, the Netroots are defined by the voices who shout the loudest and the ugliest. Until that perception measurably shifts, the political establishment will by and large keep their distance and limit their digital connections.

All of which is to say that penetration in this case is and will be a direct function of generation. Once the Boomers fade from power, and the debate on the Net matures, the comfort level with Politics 2.0 -- and voter-empowering technologies -- is going to rise substantially. In that sense, John Edwards, one of the few high-level politicians who seems to get what this new movement is all about and is smartly acting to capitalize on it, is a harbinger of things to come.

What will be fascinating to watch, and impossible to predict, is just how much authority Generation X and Y's leaders will yield to supporters and voters they cannot control. The times and media may change, but human nature does not, and people typically go into politics to seek power, not cede it. Will my peers really be able to say in Kos we trust?

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?