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White House online

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young and restless

Aren’t they lovely? The average campaign donation for Obama was 83 dollars. This time you know who the money came from.

The picture is ripped from the print edition of the article “Young and Restless” in the Financial Times of 24 October, which sweetened my ride home last night. Here is one section that will be interesting to those of you involved in media democracy and e-government:


Barack Obama has used the power of the internet to transform the way election campaigns are run – and if he wins the White House next month he is thought likely to use the web to transform the presidency, writes Rebecca Knight.

Political observers predict Mr Obama, if elected, will convert his election strategy into a governing strategy, using the internet to communicate directly with the public without the filter of the mainstream media and harnessing technology to expand political participation.

The Obama campaign has created and nurtured an online community of followers through its use of social networking websites. Its e-mail communications not only solicit donations but offer supporters glimpses into the campaign’s strategy sessions and direct them to local rallies and other gatherings.

Expectations are especially high among young voters, many of whom have become engaged in a presidential election for the first time. “Certainly with young people whose political engagement is facilitated and encouraged by technology, there will be higher expectations on feedback, accountability and responsiveness,” says Kathryn Montgomery, president of the Washington-based Center for Media Education. “I would expect voters to want to continue to be involved.”

Andrew Rasiej, co-founder of the Personal Democracy Forum, which studies the intersection of technology and politics, foresees an Obama presidency using the internet the way Franklin Delano Roosevelt used radio. FDR used his fireside chats to reach living rooms at critical moments of his presidency, urging Americans to support his New Deal measures to revive the Depression economy. “This is a revolutionary opportunity to re-engage the American public in not only democracy but civic life itself,” says Mr Rasiej.

He envisages online forums where the public could comment on pending legislation, YouTube town hall-style meetings where citizens could question the president and he would answer on video, and official White House bloggers for big policy issues.

Mr Obama’s supporters – who according to one Democratic strategist represent “a built-in focus group and support network” – have over the past year received constant and direct communication from him and his campaign. Many may wish that feeling of involvement to continue.

“His supporters have been so intricately involved and felt so empowered that they feel a personal connection to him and ownership of his presidency,” says Mr Rasiej. “If you’re used to a campaign that’s sharing information with you regularly and trusting you to distribute it for them, then you’ll expect the same once the candidate becomes president.”

Any direct interaction between president and citizens would be a dramatic improvement on the status quo, according to Thomas Gensemer, managing partner at Blue State Digital, the company managing the web technology for Mr Obama. “Right now the White House comes online with a Saturday morning radio address and occasional press briefings,” he says. “Any act of direct communication will be transformational.” 

– Jurek Martin, Washington © The Financial Times Limited 2008

Exactly. That was my mantra from day 1. We are the president. And now, you sweet boys and girls, go and vote!


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