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Daily Digest: Defining "Mission Accomplished"

BY Nancy Scola | Monday, July 7 2008

The Web on the Candidates

  • If we're being honest with ourselves, we should probably admit that the odds that Barack Obama was going to respond to protests of his support for legislation containing telecom immunity with a hearty "Woowee, was I wrong -- thanks for the heads up guys!" were slim to none. But Obama did respond, in a statement posted to the blog account of his new media director Joe Rospars on Friday afternoon, and he tasked three policy advisors with attempting to explain his position. Scheduled to hang out on the blog for 30 minutes, the staffers stuck around for an hour and a half as more than 600 comments poured in. (The post eventually attracted more than 2,400 responses.) TechPresident's Patrick Ruffini suggests that this back and forth between the Obama campaign and the "Get FISA Right" group on is a "fig leaf" if it doesn't explicitly change Obama's behavior. But let's consider an alternate metric. Campaigns are less like vending machines -- where you know that if you put in X then Y pops out -- than they are like dogs that learn how to behave through feedback and repetition. And the lessons learned here? First, that Obama's base is smart and sophisticated on even the most complicated policy issues; check out prominent blogger Glenn Greenwald's dissection and dismissal of Obama's explanation. And second, that that base is now fully capable of attracting the attention of the media when it is unhappy with the state of the campaign; witness the Washington Post's Jose Vargas's coverage of the interaction, the New York Times' Sara Wheaton's blog post on the matter, and most especially, the NYT print edition's profile of Mike Stark, one of the main organizers of the protest action. One more lesson for the Obama camp: that this is a constituency not easily placated -- the group is right now collaboratively crafting their response to the candidate's response on their wiki. For more, check out Ari Melber's great reporting and analysis for The Nation.

  • In the same vein is the New York Times's Brian Stelter's profile of Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook who now serves as Obama's "online organizing guru." The profile's narrative thread is about exactly that: how campaigns and the people who staff them learn and evolve as the whole process chugs along. Hughes, who had, in Stelter's reporting, a somewhat bumpy transition between Silicon Valley and the world of politics, describes MyBO and its place in the campaign as "still very, very rough around the edges."

  • NPR had a great piece this weekend on how Obama and John McCain are bidding for the affection of Hispanic voters. One appeal featured in the piece has McCain highlighting the Hispanic names on the Vietnam memorial wall. Another has Obama reminiscing with voters in Puerto Rico about his own island upbringing in Hawaii. One particularly TechPres-y bit: Hispanic Americans receive more text messages than other voters -- giving campaigns a vibrant path by which to deliver their targeted message right to the pocket of its intended audience.

The Candidates on the Web

  • Do the search terms voters are using when they end up up on a candidate's official website point to what they still need to hear straight from the horse's mouth? According to some new numbers out from Hitwise, searchers have an unsatiated hunger for details on the Republican candidate's policy positions and the Democratic candidate's biography. That's useful data for any campaign to have on hand.

TechCongress and Beyond

  • PoliQuiz is a new enjoyable little time-killer from the Sunlight Foundation and that asks tests your political smarts. The test assesses your knowledge on who's a Republican and who's a Democrat, obscure presidential trivia, how the U.S. government is organized, and more. But there's a clever twist: the answers come packaged with both fun open-government facts and pointers to online resources like Congresspedia so that quizsters can dive deeper. For example, a question on New Jersey's congressional delegation returns this gem: "Rob Andrews, along with 4 Senators and 8 Representatives, earmarked $2 million toward Tactical Metal Fabrication System." Like Sunlight's Capitol Words, PoliQuiz is putting the fun back in "functional government."

  • Time for an update on the OffTheBus Special Ops experiment in citizen-driven reporting that we've talked about before in this space. OTB's first Special Ops assignment was to report on the local Democratic and Republican party headquarters in strip malls, row houses, and office parks that dot the country -- in order to provide us all with a gander at "how the the two main U.S. political parties look on the ground." The result: a campaign HQ photo essay and Google Map mashup that give a first-hand view of where, for example, Pima County Democrats hang out, all without having to hop a plane to Tucson. It's an interesting experiment; Special Ops seems less interested in breaking news than in compiling the resources that might turn into news down the road.

In Case You Missed It...

Dave Witzel pulls out his favorite bits from the new PdF anthology "Rebooting America: Ideas for Redesigning American Democracy for the Internet Age."

And we've posted more keynote videos from PdF '08: Clay Shirky on Politics As If Everybody Can Participate, Zephyr Teachout on The Internet's Still Unfinished Potential, Douglas Rushkoff on The New Renaissance, Van Jones on How Social Technology Can Help Solve Global Problems, Steven Clift on The Power of Information to Transform Government, and Redefining Leadership in a Networked Age with Brian Behlendorf, Scott Heiferman, Gina Cooper, and Craig Newmark. With all that great video content now available, there's really no excuse for you getting any work done today.