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Daily Digest: Obamamania Or A Real Movement?

BY Joshua Levy | Tuesday, February 12 2008

The Web on the Candidates

  • Once MoveOn members declared their preference for Barack Obama, we knew the online organizing superpower’s support would mean more money, and possibly more votes, for Obama. Now we’ve gotten the first glimpse of what their backing looks like. Through the MoveOn site, members have donated more than $500,000 to Obama and have have sent more than 500,000 emails and Facebook messages to friends and family urging them to support him. They also sent GOTV messages to members in states that have voted. It’s almost like two campaigns for the price of one!

  • Really, how can we observers of tech and politics exist without the help of Wired’s Sarah Lai Stirland? Her latest piece examines “a new type of Web 2.0-enhanced nonprofit advocacy group [that] is streamlining the process like never before, producing and distributing slick, effective videos in internet time.” She cites the emergence of nonprofits like Robert Greenwald’s Brave New Films as evidence of how these groups can influence the eleciton. Technically, Greenwald’s group is a 501(c)4, which means that — unlike 527s, the most of notorious of which was behind the “Swift Boat” campaign of 2004 — as long as they don’t solely engage in political campaigning, they don’t have to disclose their donors. Stirland rightly says that “The line between issue advocacy and an effort to elect or defeat a candidate is a blurry one,” and we suspect that it’s just gonna get blurrier.

  • Twitter has become an indispensible tool for journalists and netizens covering or just watching the election (my Twitter friends often provided the most reliable and up-to-date information during Super Tuesday). This fact is not last on Twitter founder Biz Stone, who created a cool graph showing the number of tweets about the candidates over a four-hour period on the night of Super Tuesday. Somewhat predictably, Obama stays at the top, though he dips after his GA wins, and Mike Huckabee and Hillary Clinton both spike during their speeches. Mitt Romney and John McCain lie at the bottom of the chart — are they just not tweety enough?

  • Speaking of Mitt, he’s out of the race, but that doesn’t mean some folks still won’t look for his website. However, type in and you get… Mike Huckabee’s site! John Pulawski, the trixter behind the ploy, exposes himself on web consultant Craig Stolz’s blog, who explains that the URL first redirected to Ron Paul’s site. Sneaky.

  • “I’m not the first to point out that the Obama campaign seems dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality,” writes New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. “We’ve already had that from the Bush administration — remember Operation Flight Suit? We really don’t want to go there again.” Leaving aside the fact that enthusiasm for Obama’s campaign is just a smidgen different than the premature announcement of victory in a war we’re still fighting (and I haven’t seen Obama in any tight-fitting pilot outfits lately, either), he has a point. Newhouse’s Jonathan Tilove writes that Clinton advisor Sidney Blumenthal is sending around a Media Matters post saying that “media figures” are comparing Obama followers to “Hare Krishna and Manson followers.” Flattering, huh? But some supporters see the campaign as a genuine movement, though we have to ask if, despite Obama’s message, his campaign can fairly be considered a movement rather than… a presidential campaign.

The Candidates on the Web

  • In one of the least exciting headlines of the campaign season, Yahoo! Finance reposts a press release from project collaboration company Central Desktop about their role in Barack Obama’s primary successes: “Central Desktop Helped Barack Obama Presidential Campaign Team Re-Engage the Public in Politics Through Web Collaboration.” It’s actually interesting to read how the company’s software helped Obama create its ground effort in CA (though they fail to mention that he, um, lost). But the headline — and much of the corporate jargon used within — makes the effort seem about as exciting as using Hoover vacuum cleaners to clean the campaign offices.

  • When he wrote last year about the Obama campaign’s takeover of a voter-created MySpace page, techPresident’s Micah Sifry asked, “is it true that once a voter-generated site gets major traction, the campaign affected has to control it?” Now, with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton evenly splitting delegates, and thus assigning greater importance to the role of superdelegates, some folks (like our own Zephyr Teachout) are calling for voters to “show some sound and fury” by asking the DNC to push superdelegates to affirm the popular vote. But as with the MySpace ordeal, the Obama campaign would rather that they do the talking, instead of supporters freelancing for the campaign. At least that’s what staffer Chris Hughes, who’s also the co-founder of Facebook, suggested in an email to Atlanta-area supporters after Super Tuesday. “When it comes to winning the support of superdelegates, the best strategy is not to flood them with calls, letters, and emails. Oftentimes that can do more harm than help,” wrote Hughes. On one hand, this sounds like an attempt to not turn off superdelegates by inundating them with emails which they may not be equipped to handle. But this is also the campaign’s way of saying, “Send us your money and make phone calls, but let the professionals handle the important stuff. Is this “social movement lite” further evidence of the Obama campaign’s discomfort with true citizen action, or just a practical strategy for dealing with the superdelegate mess?