The DorobekInsider Obama reader — Part One… some of the tea leaves
In a presidential race that has gone on for nearly two years, there has been a lot written about these candidates — and particularly President-elect Barack Obama. That being said, despite our best attempts, there has not been all that much written about what it is going to mean to government other then to say that he wanted to make government service cool again.
One of the things that will be particularly interesting is how the Obama administration uses technology.
The administration has posted a technology policy, which was posted on the candidates site. And, in fact, press reports have noted that President-elect Barack Obama’s change.gov Web site already taps into the social networking aspects by asking people for their stories… and their hopes and concerns.
But perhaps we can learn how the Obama administration might manage by looking at how the campaign won its campaign.
One of the better stories I read was in the September/October 2008 issue of MIT’s Technology Review.
The social-networking strategy that took an obscure senator to the doors of the White House.
Joe Trippi, Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign manager and Internet impresario, describes Super Tuesday II–the March 4 primaries in Texas, Ohio, Vermont, and Rhode Island–as the moment Barack Obama used social technology to decisive effect. The day’s largest hoard of delegates would be contested in Texas, where a strong showing would require exceptional discipline and voter-education efforts. In Texas, Democrats vote first at the polls and then, if they choose, again at caucuses after the polls close. The caucuses award one-third of the Democratic delegates.
Hillary Clinton’s camp had about 20,000 volunteers at work in Texas. But in an e-mail, Trippi learned that 104,000 Texans had joined Obama’s social-networking site, http://www.my.barackobama.com, known as MyBO. MyBO and the main Obama site had already logged their share of achievements, particularly in helping rake in cash. The month before, the freshman senator from Illinois had set a record in American politics by garnering $55 million in donations in a single month. In Texas, MyBO also gave the Obama team the instant capacity to wage fully networked campaign warfare. After seeing the volunteer numbers, Trippi says, “I remember saying, ‘Game, match–it’s over.’”
The Obama campaign could get marching orders to the Texans registered with MyBO with minimal effort. The MyBO databases could slice and dice lists of volunteers by geographic microregion and pair people with appropriate tasks, including prepping nearby voters on caucus procedure. “You could go online and download the names, addresses, and phone numbers of 100 people in your neighborhood to get out and vote–or the 40 people on your block who were undecided,” Trippi says. “‘Here is the leaflet: print it out and get it to them.’ It was you, at your computer, in your house, printing and downloading. They did it all very well.” Clinton won the Texas primary vote 51 to 47 percent. But Obama’s people, following their MyBO playbook, so overwhelmed the chaotic, crowded caucuses that he scored an overall victory in the Texas delegate count, 99 to 94. His showing nearly canceled out Clinton’s win that day in Ohio. Clinton lost her last major opportunity to stop the Obama juggernaut. “In 1992, Carville said, ‘It’s the economy, stupid,’” Trippi says, recalling the exhortation of Bill Clinton’s campaign manager, James Carville. “This year, it was the network, stupid!”
The story mostly focuses on the campaign, but… it also addresses governing.
Lessig warns that if Obama wins but doesn’t govern according to principles of openness and change, as promised, supporters may not be so interested in serving as MyBO foot soldiers in 2012. “The thing they [the Obama camp] don’t quite recognize is how much of their enormous support comes from the perception that this is someone different,” Lessig says. “If they behave like everyone else, how much will that stanch the passion of his support?”
Read the full story here. [registration required]
The Obama campaign even created an iPhone application, Technology Review reported.
In the same issue of Technology Review, there is this story:
Mitch Kapor, a pioneer of personal computing, says the position is vital given the growing importance of technology.
Advertising Age magazine named Barack Obama as the “marketer of the year” as a result of the campaign’s ability to tap into data.
Detractors may mock Barack Obama these days as a celebrity, a candidate who promises little more than vague abstractions such as “hope” and “change.” But no one should forget that he usurped the inevitable Clinton machine and has been considered the man to beat in this election.
Not too shabby for an African-American, first-term Democratic senator from Illinois (with the funny-sounding name) who was considered a long shot when Election 2008 got off to an early start back in 2006.
How did he do it? The first step was taking the lessons learned from the Howard Dean campaign four years ago and turning them into internet-based fundraising that stunned Democrats and Republicans alike. In the most obvious example of what happened, Sen. Hillary Clinton, who thought that by sewing up the party’s biggest fundraisers she had closed out rivals, found not only that it didn’t matter but that the old way of raising money couldn’t compete with the new way.
That new way didn’t simply use e-mail to complement direct mail and other old-fashioned methods. The Obama campaign tapped into the latest developments of social networking. It hired Chris Hughes, one of the founders of Facebook. What the team ended up creating wasn’t simply a way to earn more money from small donors than previously thought possible; it created an Obama-specific network that took advantage of and built upon the movement-like quality of the Obama campaign. By the time other candidates on either side of the aisle got around to copying my.barackobama.com, they were too late to the party.
There are many more, but this is a start.