Kerry and Bush both (foolishly) ignoring online

(Warning: Off topic) Some day soon, somebody is going to run a successful political campaign outside institutional politics. I’ve not written much about this here, choosing instead to offer comments on other blogs. I also try to avoid politics wherever possible in this blog, but this fits into a much bigger picture. Besides, the Democratic National Convention is underway, and it has me in a political frame of mind.

MediaPost’s MediaDailyNews is running two articles this morning about political advertising. George Simpson asks why Kerry and Bush continue to run 70s-style television campaigns in the battle ground states. This is an important question, because political marketers seem to be without a clue as to how better reach people using online. Chris Schroeder writes, “If political marketing mavens were to create a medium that best suits their most fundamental needs — raising money, creating awareness, mobilizing volunteers, driving interaction with positions, getting out the vote — they would have invented online advertising.” They don’t use online, however, and I think that’s the Achilles’ Heel of institutional politics. It’s also why I feel so strongly that somebody is going to sidestep the smoke-filled rooms in the near future.

Ed Cone is a popular political and pop culture blogger from North Carolina. He and I had a conversation last week about this, and I thought I’d share it here. I do so because we all need to see this in the context of the Age of Participation about which I’ve written so often. To paraphrase Murrow, we may deny what’s going on around us, but we cannot escape the consequences.

Ed’s post: I read Joe Trippi’s book. If you haven’t been following the development of politics on the Web, it’s a decent way to catch up. And it deals frankly with some of the problems that undid the Dean campaign, especially old-school issues like internal communications and trust.

But it doesn’t solve the riddle of how an Internet-based movement meshes with traditional campaign organizations to form an effective campaign. The failure to execute that maneuver helped sink the Dean campaign.

Trippi at an O’Reilly conference in February, speaking about the Iowa campaign: “We thought Meetup people should be a component of those delegates, but of course you’ve got the county Democratic chair who thinks, ‘Hey, I’ve been the county chair here for 30 years and I ought to be the Dean delegate.’ You only get seven slots. A lot of the fighting that actually happened in the campaign between the establishment and the ‘Net roots was over stuff like that.”

Maybe the solution lies in wiring (and wirelessing) the traditional organizations, too, so there isn’t a culture clash. I know the NC Democratic Party, for example, is working with some powerful people to become more Webcentric.

And the cautionary tale of Dean’s campaign should be useful, too. Other campaigns that are using blogs, Meetup, and similar tools have some of the dragons marked on their maps.

I’d like to see Trippi address this topic directly — how to meld Web-built and traditional organizations, avoid culture clashes.

Terry: I’m not convinced that what you’re seeking is doable or even necessary, and I know I’m in the minority here. It’s beyond a culture clash; it’s more like an amoebic absorption. One thinks of The Borg in asking/demanding that the old boy networks will ever be assimilated, and I just don’t see that happening. Hence, the day will come when somebody will simply sidestep all of that en route to office.

This, of course, assumes a few things, including a really viable candidate. You’re absolutely right in your belief that Dean lost it in this “culture clash” process, but in my view, it wasn’t going to happen anyway, because Howard Dean wasn’t the right guy for an Internet-driven candidacy.

Ed: Terry, I agree that Dean had limitations as a candidate. And I don’t disagree that certain existing nodes on the network will have to be routed around or rebuilt from scratch.

But some traditional organizations will try to adapt (eg NC Dem party cited in my original post), and this November traditional organizations will of course remain vital.

So maybe I should narrow my question, and ask for specifics on how actual campaigns are starting to bridge those gaps right now.

So far, we’ve seen web campaigns have success in some very real-world ways, including raising money, getting new people involved as volunteers, organizing volunteer activity, etc.

But how does all that fit in with the larger campaign, what does the org chart look like?

Terry: I marvel at the success of OhmyNews! and their smart mobs in South Korea. I realize that’s a parliamentary form of government, but think of what they did. In just four years, they brought a completely insignificant party into total power in that country. They used the Internet, cellphones with SMS messaging, and the whole smart mobs concept. Publicly, they divided the population into 2 demographic groups based solely on age: the 20/30s and the 40/50s. One look at population numbers revealed that the 20/30s vastly outweighed the others, so they went after that group, trumpeting the need to change as a media outlet.

In so doing, they completely sidestepped the political, business and academic power structures that ran the country. This is why I take the position that we should never underestimate the power of a group of organized, motivated people to completely ignore existing systems while getting what they want in a democracy.

Ed: Trippi emails to say he’s game for some give and take on this subject next week…so stay tuned.

I’m going to stay tuned, because I think this discussion is important. More (hopefully) later.

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