I’ve wanted to use that phrase from Carousel for, like, ever, so thanks, Joe and Kathy, for the opportunity at last. On Saturday, the Trippi family threw their annual clambake on their Maryland farm, so naturally, it was a bit of a Dean campaign reunion.
In addition to the what-are-you-doing-now questions I asked of everyone, there were also conversations around how ‘Net-mediated conversations might continue to inform politics, especially compelling to me since the pace of growth is not as galvanizing as it was at the start.
I had a stimulating conversation with Matt Stoller, who’s now working on Jon Corzine’s campaign for New Jersey Governor. We didn’t discuss that campaign, but Matt described the importance of what he called “micromedia connectivity” – the localized feedback loops that were once supported by local papers discussing local issues, before print media got ClearChanneled.
Back-Channeling the Clear Channels
The key to political success, Matt reminded me, is to show up at local party meetings and get involved enough to become part of the political process rather than simply being what I’ve been: a smart-ass commentator in a blogosphere that no one in local politics knows how to spell, much less attend to.
The problem with party meetings is their accidental cynicism – they seem purpose-built to attract only those who like party meetings: people with too much political ambition or not enough real life. Do you know anybody who goes to local political party meetings? Do you know anybody who knows anybody who does? I didn’t think so. Naturally, you and I think that people like us should be running things, and we’re mad as hell that we don’t, and we resent it that people like us are so disinclined to hang out at the power centers that there’s really no place for us in the political process. That’s why our jaws drop in stunned amazement as we watch the doofus political insiders cavort with glee at a Presidential nominating convention. It’s scary that these are the people minding the spigot disgorging our candidates: Who are those people and why the hell are they the political power base?
Because they show up. They show up for meetings that you and I would flee for an elective root canal. And that’s just fine with the insiders running politics.
The disinclination of centrist Americans to “do” politics is at the heart of my assertion that, based on American voter data, it takes a zealot to even get out and vote, let alone get active. As for the people minding America’s political power levers, they are so few in number that our politics is a central planning realpolitik. If the Swiss ran their politics like we do, they’d be Albania.
Clearchanneling has homogenized media so that its “content” is as predictable as a shopping mall’s tenant roster. A corollary cocooning has insulated most institutions from their constituents, whether it’s an annual shareholders’ meeting, a nominating convention, a city council meeting or your homowner’s association. And that’s the stonewalling that stops “regular” Americans at the doorstep of local party politics. It’s not just laziness, it’s the user interface.
Matt Stoller knows so much about this that I’m embarassed to opine in the wake of our conversation Saturday, there on the dock in the sunset on Cummings Creek. But there’s a distinction in our viewpoints I can’t leave alone. Matt has concluded, like so many others who are drawn to the tech side of politics but who have faced the reality of actually doing politics, that the newly energized people just have to develop the will to go to party meetings.
I’m more cynical. I’ve concluded that “real” Americans (i.e., people with a life) never will do the local party thing and so we need to develop a robust and seductive back channel for governance so that, as in the run-up to the American Revolution, a new population emerges, taking over politics by using technology as disruptive as Ben Franklin’s press was in his day.
Technical Determinist at Work
Technical determinism is politically incorrect. The sophisticated observers of culture, politics and markets don’t like technical determinism which seems, to put it delicately, to really piss off the humanists among us. As a lifelong card-carrying humanist, I’m not so sure. It seems that we humans and humanists carry out our right-brain agendas totally circumscribed by the information that we apprehend and by the reality we build from that mental picture. Of course, all the elements of our constructed reality are pawns of the communications technology that has been erected for us in our immediate past. We’d like to think we are free intellectual agents, perceiving reality and making astute judgments of absolute value, unfettered by transient constraints and filters. I suggest that we’re really corks bobbing in the perceptual stream of media flowing past our forebrain: that technology is the real determinant of what we perceive and, perforce, of what we conclude.
At the O’Reilly Digital Democracy Teach-In at the ETech conference in February 2004, I chatted with Dan Gillmor briefly about the Dean campaign I was just coming off of. Dan dismissed Dean as someone who wasn’t fit to be President. I asked Dan if he’d ever met Howard Dean, and he answered “No.”
How do we “know” someone we’ve never met? I won’t argue with Dan that Howard Dean wouldn’t have intrinsic difficulties connecting with world leaders and the electorate based on his apparently bristly nature, but it seems hubristic of any of us to conclude a leader’s true nature while observing him through the multi-element lens of Main Stream Media.
So those are the issues I want to deal with as our new little company tries to build the next round of tools for people who want to govern from their arm chairs and not from their local party meetings.