The Google of Politics: Innovation in Democracy
In a 2004 post, one observant blogger noticed that the presidential campaigns for George W. Bush and John Kerry weren’t “doing something new, something uniquely suited to the new medium that wasn’t possible before but perfectly fits with the types of communication the Internet enables.” This person remarked that “right now political activity online is in the eToys era. What will be the Google of politics?”
For a couple of generations, it was conservatives who had the more effective political infrastructure. They used direct mail and talk radio to run circles around liberals in raising money and communicating their message around the filter of the establishment media. Some of that money flowed into think tanks that helped nurture ideas and operatives. 2008 was striking because the technology/communications advantage was decisively with the Democrats. Obama and other Democrats used this to raise vastly more money than McCain and to mobilize legions of people who had not previously been engaged with politics.
The mission of Google is to organize the world’s information – to transform the relationship between people and information in such a way that collaboration, innovation, and insight are electrically catalyzed. The mission of the Obama campaign was to organize and inspire the people of the United States – to transform people’s perceptions of relationships with one another and convince them that they could achieve a more hopeful future together. And they used Web 2.0 to do it elegantly. Not only did this campaign spread the infectious meme of hope to so many young Americans, including those who previously didn’t have it, it was very easy for anyone who wanted to contribute to know exactly what to do. The Obama campaign made its needs actionable so it was easy for anyone with a little motivation to get involved, and make a difference.
Obama is the Google of politics: He has technological expertise and an audience his political competitors simply cannot match. Looking ahead to 2010, House and Senate Democrats will be jealously eyeing Obama’s e-mail lists and technology secrets — giving him even greater leverage over them. Republicans will be forced to invest serious money and time to narrow the technology gap.
Now that the campaign that organized the Google of politics transitions to the White House, I am hopeful that this penchant for innovation might infect other areas of government. I don’t have my expectations set unreasonably high, but I’m pleased that we can try out a new mindset in American government. I am tired of the politics of fear, I am conscious of idealism, and I am dedicated to action. I know that millions of Americans don’t feel this way today, and are wary of what a new Administration might bring… to them I say, keep an open mind. The condition of the country could get worse, but it could also get better. Let’s be open to learn from a new experience. Whether you voted for him or not, it is possible to acknowledge Obama’s campaign as both masterful and innovative; one that efficiently leveraged the power of collaboration in remarkable ways in just 21 months.