The Campaign Mentality

We all know that technology accelerates during wartime and that a war is a series of campaigns. I’m fascinated by the wartime mentality, whether or not it occurs in combat, so let’s call it a campaign mentality. The campaign mentality sets in when a group feels so strongly about its mission that it transcends the usual carping, grandstanding, empire-building and pettiness that marks so much of enterprise. It’s invigorating.

War is the easiest way to produce the campaign phenomenon, and gets the most attention. But the mentality is not unusual. Every time a plane takes off or a boat launches, its occupants share a campaign mentality as to the importance of arriving gently on dry land. In the startup companies I’ve started or helped, a campaign mentality was expressed by the participants’ olympian willingness to work harder, longer faster–and cheaper–than people in established companies.

Political campaigns are the best non-combat examples of the campaign mentality. And they’re an interesting counterpoint. The aim of war is to blow things up, so war technology is designed to blow them up more accurately and cheaply. The aim of political campaigns is to build consensus, so its technology is about building consensus faster and more cheaply.

I’ve felt for a while now that a smart mob is in the process of stealing the Dean campaign, because the smart mob is growing faster and more intelligently than any campaign’s ability to manage it. As Doc suggests, the competition will learn how to use the tools that Dean is using, but what will they get for their trouble? A campaign like Dean’s, where the people manage the dialogue, a decidedly counter-Rovian management style.

Massage the Medium

If the people take over your campaign, what have you got left?

  • The campaign blog with staff personalities and volunteers’ comments is the Sunshine law of backroom politics. You lose control of the process and start to host the kind of dialogue that the front runners have never wanted.
  • Your Contribute Now link attracts a zillion people who think they have a stake in your campaign just because they charged 20 bucks to their Visa.
  • Rank experts set up their own campaign sites and then open source hobbyists invent a whole new set of tools to let the sites talk to each other and all their users blog and then let them vote on the ideas they like best, just like it was a participatory democracy rather than a Tory republic.
  • People dream up new ways to give you money and then bitch at you if you don’t put up an automatic donation tool in a week. (Zephyr? Bobby? Anyone there?)
  • People start chatting online with the campaign manager, taking valuable time away from the important work of writing ads to get people interested in the campaign.
  • Instead of making up your own mind about fundraising tactics, you end up having to ask the donors if they’re ready to give another half mill you hadn’t counted on.
  • College kids and even high schoolers (high schoolers!) run their own sites without asking permission, (the high schoolers patiently explaining that half the kids in high school will be able to vote in 16 months). They’re so insistent that the candidate feels obligated to shuffle off to Buffalo between Oklahoma and Iowa. The kids even organize their own ride board, fer chrissake!

And these people think that, just because they replace the PAC and National Committee and corporate soft money that they should have as much say in your administration as those they replaced. They feel entitled just because they bought their own votes!

Remember that part about users voting each other’s ideas up the queue like a bunch of SlashDotters? That’s the Knowledge Base tech that everybody’s been talking about but not getting around to. It’s the campaign mentality! These amateurs may not even think they’re inventing new tech and may have never heard the endless conversation about how to turn blogs into knowledge. Just like WWI for aviation and WWII for atomic energy, this campaign is spinning off blog-to-Knowledge Base tech.

Democracy, the Killer App

And blogs-to-knowledge base is the end of politics as usual. With citizen blogs and preference-registering knowledge bases and interested amateurs taking ownership of government, democracy becomes the Next Big Thing. The campaign mentality works like it always does, pushing tech to the limit. Special interests realize they’ll never get everything they want so they start to get real about what’s possible, so NYC Democrats cheer for a balanced budget pitched by a rural-state Guv who opposes national gun control.

It wouldn’t make sense unless they felt like they own the guy.

11:37:18 PM    

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