Monday, February 5, 2007

My "Hope" for Obama's Campaign 2.0

In the wake of Time’s decision to select You as Person of the Year (as in we the brave warriors against corporate imperialism on the user-ruled internet terrain), it appears that 2008’s presidential candidates are gearing up for guerilla combat in the digital trenches. At least, that’s what Barack Obama’s campaign advisers are counting on.

Already drawing crowds of Facebookers to dazzling speeches about “the audacity of hope” in modern politics, Obama is banking on a “campaign whose support continues to expand even faster than you can put a fence around it” (adviser Robert Gibbs, in today’s WP).

…the challenge for Obama is not just assembling the nuts and bolts of a national campaign on the fly. He must, his advisers believe, do so in a way that reflects the distinct, next-generation message of his candidacy, or at least avoids making him look like every other politician in the race. "I would sooner lose the race than lose having him the way he is," said David Axelrod, his chief media strategist.

Few will argue that Obama possesses a certain je ne sais quoi that has yet to be tainted by the pressures of traditional campaign warfare. But as much as I am drawn to this charisma, I’d like to think that the American public – specifically the Google mailing, instant messaging, YouTube watching variety – can see through the increasing amount of idealistic rhetoric about Obama’s supposedly noble efforts to reach voters through the net. As critics of the Time tribute were quick to note, the “digital democracy” is anything but; corporations increasingly have a hand in shaping or limiting the content of sites like YouTube and MySpace, and the same strategic conniving that goes to shaping every other candidate’s image will go (and has gone) into making Obama the “next-generation” candidate. And while it is certainly early in the game and there is (some) time left to develop a distinctive agenda, I am extremely skeptical of statements like this:

"There are those who don't believe in talking about hope… They say, 'Well, we want specifics, we want details, and we want white papers, and we want plans.' We've had a lot of plans, Democrats. What we've had is a shortage of hope. And over the next year, over the next two years, that will be my call to you."

Well, Mr. Senator, I certainly hope you can give me some specifics, some details – soon. Nevermind that we’ve already had a lot of plans… how about focusing on drafting some plans that actually work for the American people?

He already possesses charisma and an apparent grasp on whatever potential lies in the digital forum. But in order to inspire confidence in his abilities as the leader and decision maker for our nation – and to combat accusations of having all style, no substance – Obama should focus on developing a specific platform with answers for the pressing questions of today.

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