Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Barack has accepted your friend request

I read this article in Slate today that talked about Obama and how his new website is going to be like a kind of Facebook for citizens. It will have public comment feature that will allow people to write in and express their opinions. He has promised that he won't sign any non-emergency piece of legislation before he listens for four days on the website. That may or may not be a mistake, but it shows how Obama's work as a community organizer has helped his approach towards dealing with the public.

Bush and those guys could paralyze the nation, but they didn't know how to call people to constructive action. One of the things that people love about Obama is how just his presence makes them want to do something.

It's like we're all tenants in the building and the old super was an incompetent crook and the new old super looks like he might be an incompetent crook. Obama comes in and organizes a renter's strike around the table of a thickly bespectacled grandmother. We all pool our money and buy the building back. And at the end we all get together and have a barbecue? You know that story? Well, that was the election. Now we're entering the second part of that story. Now Barack is our new super and Ms. Coleman's shower head is broken and Mr. Johnson still doesn't have heat in his living room and everyone knows that Mrs. Banks' son is selling marijuana out of her apartment without her knowing. And where is that new Super!

We're not there yet, but I can feel it coming. Perhaps Obama has banked on that too. He knows that the traditional methods of disemminating information, particularly the cable news, have a tendency towards sensationalism and know much better how to titilate and frighten, than how to inform.
Mr. O knows that even though the press has celebrated his election, the press is still the press. They're not eating if they're not feasting on someone else's carcass. (I know because I used to be a(n) (in)credible journalist, by the way.) Besides, the media is going to want some kind of pay back for all the favorable attention. They're going to want to see something happen. Preferably, something dramatic and something that will get the tenants riled up again.
During the campaign, Obama effectively used his technology networks to get around the drama construction and to help people feel involved. If he does the same with the new government site, it will allow citizens to give their support and to have a new type of relationship with the White House. Maybe people would start getting the crazy idea that the White House is our house, not some politician's.

But I wonder how much of this project will be real and how much of it will be perception management. This network will be important in advocating for his agenda, but another important reason for this kind of network  to lay the financial and logistical groundwork for (aghast!) the next campaign. (Haven't you heard that it has already begun?)

Personally, I'm glad Barack was able to win the way he did, but it's hard for me to get excited about all of the money that he raised. If he could do it, someone else could also do it. Someone else with a great deal less character could be extremely dangerous. I always wonder about Biggie's words: Mo' money, mo' problems.

And although I appreciate his caution with the press, the thing with him announcing his VP by text message signaled that he didn't feel the need to talk to the news media. Like he was cutting the press out and taking his message right to the "consumer." That sounds like a smart business model, but not necessarily democracy. Democracy can't exist without a free press to inform the electorate. Without a sceptical press that has critical access to this popular figure, the whole Obama network thing seems more like a cult.
Obama has shown that he has the power to shut out the press at will, but if he wants to be successful, especially in the long term, he's going to have to be much more transparent than any president in the last few decades. Bush taught the American people a lot of bad lessons about what a President can and cannot do. Basically, the President can do whatever he feels like and is under no obligation to tell you jack. I know Obama's different, but one of his first actions is going to have to be one of his most painful: reining in executive power. And the only way to do that constructively is to let the press shine some sunlight into that office and expose how much damage the executive branch has done to the balance of powers over the past decade. Obama is going to want to close the door and fix it himself, but he's got to restrain the impulse and not shut the press out, no matter how irritating they may be.

1 comment:

Rion Amilcar Scott said...

Great post Abdel. We're all so starry eyed about dude we have to make sure we don't go overboard and hand him the keys to the kingdom. A super-popular leader and a weakened press is a bad combination.