Obama and New Media Moving Forward
by Jonathan Singer, Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 10:25:01 AM EST
The Associated Press' Phil Elliott has an interesting article on the wires today about Barack Obama and the new media that I was able to provide a comment for and which I would like to flesh out a bit more.
President-elect Barack Obama is refereeing a struggle between liberal activists, who want to help their candidate score rapid wins in Washington, and party traditionalists who would turn his powerful grass-roots organization over to the Democratic National Committee.
Any mishandling by Obama and his aides could cost him support from factions that were crucial to his Nov. 4 victory and that remain important to his hopes of launching a smooth administration in January.
A top Obama aide sent a note this weekend to progressive activists, imploring them to cool down and let Obama govern. Other aides are helping Obama decide what to do with the campaign's massive mobilizing tools, which include millions of e-mail addresses of citizens with proven records of giving Obama money or other means of support.
Many of Obama's younger and more liberal supporters -- sometimes collectively called "netroots" because the Internet is their chief communications tool -- want to remain a political and social force that is not subsumed by the Democratic Party.
"This can't just be about Obama or the Obama movement," said Jonathan Singer, a blogger at the progressive MyDD. "It has to be greater than that."
Singer and others do not want the far-flung, electronically connected army to become nothing more than a DNC e-mail list.
One of the things I spoke to Elliott about was the desire not to see Obama repeat the mistakes of Dwight Eisenhower.
When Eisenhower was elected by a wide margin in 1952, and reelected by an even wider margin in 1956, he cut against the trend of the then recent history of Democratic successes in the previous five presidential elections -- not to dissimilar from Obama's victory cutting against the grain of five Republican victories in the previous seven presidential elections. He did so on the basis of a grassroots organization, but also much like Obama, Eisenhower was able to exploit a newly developing medium -- in his case television -- to usher in a new era of how candidates and elected officials interact with the populace.
Eisenhower was highly successful in achieving some very important policy ends (ending the War in Korea, establishing the modern interstate highway system and dramatically increasing federal support for education through the National Defense Education Act spring to mind. What's more, he was highly popular with the American public throughout this time.
Yet for all of the personal successes enjoyed by Eisenhower, the Republican Party did not reap very many benefits. This isn't to say, of course, that the primary end of an administration should be to further the aspirations of the party to which the President belongs, because it's not. That said, the party in power should have the opportunity to grow and be rewarded in the event that the policies put in place by that party's administration are successful. And during the Eisenhower administration, the Republican Party did not by and large grow (or certainly at least not to the extent that Eisenhower's popularity outstripped that of his predecessor, Harry Truman), and a period of 40 years in exile for House Republicans and 26 years in exile for Senate Republicans -- both of whom had been competitive in elections prior to the Eisenhower administration -- were ushered in during Eisenhower's watch.
It was with this in mind that I said, "This can't just be about Obama or the Obama movement... It has to be greater than that." And I expect it to. Obama has the chance to fundamentally alter the way that Americans interact with their government, through the list his campaign currently holds and through the list he will be able to build in the White House. If these lists become just about President Obama or his administration, they are not likely to have the lasting power that they could have if they are about fostering a broader movement, for policy change and change in the way we conduct our politics, a broader movement that could have the potential of (though the primary aim of which need not be) altering the partisan balance of the country. This is what I am expecting, and certainly also hoping, to see moving forward.