How Obama's Internet Campaign Changed Politics,
By Claire Cain Miller
One of the many ways that the election of Barack Obama as presidenthas echoed that of John F. Kennedy is his use of a new medium thatwill forever change politics. For Mr. Kennedy, it was television.
For Mr. Obama, it is the Internet. "Were it not for the Internet, Barack Obama would not be president. Were it not for the Internet, Barack Obama would not have been thenominee, " said Arianna Huffington, editor-in-chief of The HuffingtonPost. She spoke Friday about how politics and Web 2.0 intersect on a panelwith Joe Trippi, a political consultant, and Gavin Newsom, the mayorof San Francisco, at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco.
(Karl Roveand Newt Gingrich had been invited to balance out the left-leaningpanel, but declined, according to John Battelle, a chair of theconference.)
Howard Dean's 2004 campaign -– which was run by Mr. Trippi –- wasgroundbreaking in its use of the Internet to raise small amounts ofmoney from hundreds of thousands of people. But by using interactiveWeb 2.0 tools, Mr. Obama's campaign changed the way politiciansorganize supporters, advertise to voters, defend against attacks andcommunicate with constituents.
Mr. Obama used the Internet to organize his supporters in a way thatwould have in the past required an army of volunteers and paidorganizers on the ground, Mr. Trippi said. "The tools changed between 2004 and 2008. Barack Obama won everysingle caucus state that matters, and he did it because of thosetools, because he was able to move thousands of people to organize."Mr. Obama's campaign took advantage of YouTube for free advertising.
Mr. Trippi argued that those videos were more effective thantelevision ads because viewers chose to watch them or received themfrom a friend instead of having their television shows interrupted."The campaign's official stuff they created for YouTube was watchedfor 14.5 million hours," Mr. Trippi said. "To buy 14.5 million hourson broadcast TV is $47 million. "There has also been a sea change in fact-checking, with citizens usingthe Internet to find past speeches that prove a politician wrong andthen using the Web to alert their fellow citizens.
The John McCain campaign, for example, originally said that GovernorSarah Palin opposed the so-called bridge to nowhere in Alaska, Ms.Huffington said. "Online there was an absolutely obsessive campaign toprove that wrong," she said, and eventually the campaign stoppedrepeating it. "In 2004, trust me, they would have gone on repeating it, because theecho chamber would not have been as facile, " Ms. Huffington said.The Internet also let people repeatedly listen to the candidates' ownwords in the face of attacks, Mr. Huffington said.
As ReverendJeremiah Wright's incendiary words kept surfacing, people couldre-watch Mr. Obama's speech on race. To date, 6.7 million people havewatched the 37-minute speech on YouTube.
The Internet also changes the way politicians govern. Mr. Newsomlearned that last year when he ran for re-election. He showed up at arally and didn't see the usual crowd. His aides told him the audiencewas made up of his Facebook friends. "I said, 'What's Facebook?'" Mr.Newsom recalled.
These days, Mr. Newsom is "obsessed with Facebook." It strengthens hisconnection with his constituents and their connection with the causesthey care about, he said. The constant exposure can, of course, turn against politicians. Ms. Huffington's "off the bus" team of 10,000 citizen journalistscaught candidates saying things that embarrassed them later, such asMr. Obama's "guns and religion" remark.
Now, she said, "there is nooff-the-record fundraiser. "Mr. Newsom said he is fearful of the constant need to watch histongue. "I have to watch myself singing, 'I left my heart in SanFrancisco' on YouTube and it can't go away. I am desperate to get itto go away," he said dryly."There will be a lot of collateral damage coming to grips with thefact that we're in a reality TV series, 'Politics 24/7,'" Mr. Newsomsaid.
That's a good thing, Mr. Trippi said. "This medium demandsauthenticity, and television for the most part demanded fake.Authenticity is something politicians haven't been used to. "He predicted that this real-time Internet contact with constituentswill also change the way the president of the United States governs. He recently proposed that Mr. Obama start a Web site calledMyWhiteHouse.gov to talk with citizens. (Mr. Obama just started adifferent site, Change.gov, on Thursday to keep in touch with peopleduring the transition.) "When Congress refuses to go with his agenda, it's not going to bejust the president" they oppose, Mr. Trippi said. It will be thepresident and his huge virtual network of citizens."Just like Kennedy brought in the television presidency, I think we'reabout to see the first wired, connected, networked presidency," Mr.Trippi said....