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Playing Catch-Up

Dec
15
2003

Two very smart observations about how politics is changing appeared over the weekend.
Writing in the Washington Post, former Clinton Administration official Everett Erhlich wrote about the economics of information and the ways in which it has made politics easier. He gets directly at what’s been missing from all the reporting about Democrat Howard Dean’s campaign. And while he doesn’t flat out predict the creation of multiple political parties he gets very close, saying that at “third party” candidate – whatever that’s going to mean – could take the presidency in the next few election cycles.
Along those same lines Doc Searls provides some of the inspiration, er, “consulting” he’s been doing for the Howard Dean campaign on his site. Searls is a computer guy and a businessman who, more than most people in his world, seems to pay attention to politics and its mechanics. He, essentially, agrees with Ehrlich, although in different language.
Over at Slate, Mickey Kaus, has taken this to a new level and is soliciting possible nominees for “third party” candidates who might seek the White House. The latest? Warren Buffett. But Kaus is missing the forest for the trees. This isn’t about candidates, in the traditional sense, it’s about political action – that’s one thing the Dean campaign has over its rivals. Even the New York Times got that.
This all came along just as I was digesting an indignant note from the “Old Country,” — you know it as Washington, D.C. — where I lived, worked, and covered politics for many years. My friend was objecting to my tirade about the different ways non-tech people see Dean and his campaign. A reference to kool-aid was thrown my way.
My friend in Washington, a life-long institutional Democrat did a very good job of explaining – although he didn’t intend to – just how little understanding professional political people have of the mechanics of the web. They really do need someone to tell them what Friendster is and how Meetup works and why they’re attractive (Friendster, sex; Meetup, convenience). My friend found the much-maligned piece in the New York Times magazine to be both sad and touching in that the people involved were using politics to connect with one another. He assigned pathos, I think, to a simple on-line reality: Sometimes when people correspond, they want to meet each other. He didn’t seem to get that. On top of that, he said, there’s no community., there’s no place. How can anyone belong to something that doesn’t exist?
Well, as anyone reading this knows, you can and we do. But making that leap, peering into a screen and seeing friends and acquaintances, enemies as well as allies, requires a little understanding of how networks really operate, as webs, not as channels. And that’s not something you can explain by talking about some brand-name social networking group or even about the power of one political campaign to attract a crowd of young idealists.
I’ll give Searls the last word. It’s techno-speak. But you get the idea. It’s the many, he says, joined to the one. And they don’t need anyone to tell them what to do to get together.
“The demand side now has the power to supply itself. That’s the lesson of Linux, of “open source” everything, of peer-to-peer, of independent creators in everything from music to software, of the shift in media power from the few to the many, from the peerage of Big Network Powers to the peer-to-peerage of everybody with something worthwhile to contribute to the connected whole, whether it’s a piece of music, a piece of code, an opinion, an observation, or a few bucks for a candidate. These developments are not opposed to business or government, but rather support both by providing more choices to the supply and the demand sides of marketplaces.”
Or, to borrow a phrase, the people, united, can never be defeated.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 7:22 PM | Permalink

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