Being Thankful

There are many things to be thankful for this week, as we celebrate the Obama victory.  It means so many good things about America and offers — truly — such hope for the future of our troubled world.   After a few days of reflection, there are three things, perhaps idiosynchratically, that I find myself particularly thankful for: 

One is that the Obama campaign won after doing such a terrific job of combining old-fashioned door-to-door campaigning with the best of the online tools and strategy.  There are of course many reasons for the landslide; this is but one of them.  Many people, like Joe Rospars and his crew, deserve credit for this approach.  Chris Hughes, the Facebook co-founder, joined the Obama campaign very early on as coordinator of online organizing.  The team from Blue State Digital, veterans of the Dean campaign, was there from the start of the primary, too.  But the digital teams for the campaign didn’t do their work in isolation; everything was brilliantly coordinated with real-space campaigning.  It’s the combination of classical-and-jazz campaigning that I have been waiting to see a campaign pull off at large scale.  This one sure did.  And how.  The Obama campaign did that, and much more.  It is surely a new blueprint for a successful political campaign.  (PRI/KCRW’s “To the Point” did a segment on this concept yesterday.  Chris Hughes made this point, too, on his MyBO blog the same day.  Micah Sifry was overhead on NPR yesterday talking about the future of this community.   CQ, among many others, wrote about some of the differences in the campaigns on these topics, early on.  And so forth.)

Second — and not unrelated — the uptick in new voters and young voters continued in 2008.  We’ve had great numbers in 2004 and 2006 in these categories compared to previous cycles.  The trend clearly continued this year, no doubt to the benefit of the Obama campaign and other Democrats newly elected to office.  The presumption that today’s youth represent an apathetic “generation” is, time and again, being disproven, as they find ways new and old to demonstrate their commitment to civic activism.  David Gergen is calling it a “new order” and pointed to the 18-to-29-year-old vote on CNN.  The New York Times referred to a “deep generational divide” that cut sharply in favor of Obama this time around.  (Urs Gasser and I took up this issue, and related matters, in the Activism chapter of Born Digital.  It will be fun to update that chapter now.)

Third, the campaign deployed so many good election lawyers that Obama voters were not disenfranchised in the way that Kerry and Gore voters plainly were in 2004 and 2000.  It was incredibly well-organized this year.  My brother, Quentin Palfrey, took a leave from his job as chief of the health care division at the Massachusetts AG’s office to run voter protection in Ohio.  His team — of literally thousands of lawyers — ensured that there was no repeat of the 2004 horror-show that cost John Kerry votes, if not much more than that.  (Like many other lawyers, I trekked up to NH to do voter protection in previous cycles; this time, there were more than enough lawyers to go around, such that many were sitting around at polling places, redundantly.)  The emphasis on voter protection in this cycle, at such a high level of sophistication, and in so many states, was a great thing to watch.  And locally, organizations to keep this trend growing (in Massachusetts, for instance, consider MassVOTE), only seem to be gaining strength.

Each of these trends took an extraordinary amount of work by an extraordinary number of people.  The successes of these collective actions offers much reason for hope. 

We all share the responsibility of turning this hope into tangible improvements in all of our lives.  One way we can do that is to encourage our elected officials, from President-elect Obama to our local representatives, to govern just as they campaigned — with the Internet as a means of providing transparency.  I think this next four years will be great for organizations like the Sunlight Foundation, Lessig’s Change Congress, the Omidyar Network (with its new investment area in transparency and governance), Personal Democracy Forum, and others, which will — as institutions and communities — help lead us in these ways.  No doubt the terrific Obama technology policy means that there will be administration support for such efforts at transparency. 

These changes need to continue to be driven from the bottom up, with widespread participation, just as the campaign was.  I’m confident that many youth, brought into civic life during this cycle, will stick around and make great things happen — and that many of us, no longer so youthful, will pull our weight, too.  Today, and tomorrow, it’s up to each of us to find ways to maintain the momentum that’s been built up in these and other areas so important to the future of democracy in America.  And in the meantime, I’m feeling awfully thankful to Chris, Quentin, and all those who tossed aside their day jobs for a while to make this happen full-time — yes, community organizing — to make sure that all that volunteer time and money went to great use.

5 thoughts on “Being Thankful

  1. “I think what we see … is a new coalition, a new order emerging. It isn’t quite there, but with Barack Obama, for the first time, it’s won. It is the Latino vote we just heard about. It is the bigger black vote that came out. Very importantly, it’s the youth vote, the 18-to-29-year-old,” said the Harvard University professor and former presidential adviser.

    Gergen is a bit hesitant, but he’s dealing primarily with voter data. I think he’d be more confident after looking at data about the percentage of VOLUNTEERS who were younger. If we were to compile data about who knocked on doors, I think the disparity would be sufficient to call this is a new order.

    When I was up in NH,the Obama office in Concord was so busy with young volunteers that they had to rent out a civic center down the road. When we went there, the CIVIC CENTER was so busy that they had to send us twenty minutes up Route 93: “We just got two bus loads of students we weren’t expecting.” That wasn’t even in the last 48 hours of the campaign.

  2. We have just seen the new dominant model for political campaigns strut its stuff. What fascinates me is the contrast with the dominant model it has supplanted.

    The Republican coalition, with the exception of conservative libertarians, is dominated by top-down people who put great value on hierarchy and authority — corporate, religious, military. GOP organizations and fund-raising reflect this top-down worldview and, from the 1970s until this election, they worked splendidly well.

    The secret of Republican fund-raising dominance since the late 1970s was mastery of both bundling among the wealthy and direct mail among the less-than-wealthy. William Vigurie set the tone for GOP direct mail, whose messages were breathtakingly fear-based and manipulative. The Democrats were never able to match GOP direct mail success, giving the Republicans a huge advantage. Direct mail is entirely a top-down art, rooted in a 20th century worldview and its no-interactivity technology.

    The Democrats’ new model uses 21st century interactive technology to add a bottom-up component to fund-raising, and it crushed the GOP’s 20th century approach. It clearly works at least as well with a hope-based message as direct mail works with a fear-based message. Because of tiny response rates and huge printing and postage costs, direct mail is wildly inefficient; the Web is wildly efficient. This is not a fair fight.

    The Republicans will learn from Obama and get better at the Web. But their top-down worldview confines them, in John’s fine vocabulary, to classical. Jazz is not top down, it is democratic and interactive, beyond the narrow range of most top-down people. The party that is comfortable deploying both forms will dominate the party of one form. So I think what we’ve just seen is a lasting political sea change.

  3. I like the comparison and contrast of “real space” vis a vis online “space.” Or, as I like to call it “meat space” vs “meet space.” The two aren’t, or certainly shouldn’t be seen, as mutually exclusive, or sufficient by themselves. Though it will be seen as crude, probably by the standards of even a 2012 campaign, this may well have been the first Internet presidential campaign. And one side was clearly better than the other at seeing how to use it in conjunction with people-to-people on the ground.

  4. Great article.

    I’d take issue, however, with the spin around youth vote and turnout.

    Chris Cilliza of the Washington Post today writes about 5 myths coming out of the election. Turn out and the Youth is one:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/11/13/AR2008111303287.html

    2. A wave of black voters and young people was the key to Obama’s victory.

    Afraid not. Heading into Election Day, cable news, newspapers and blogs were dominated by excited chatter about record levels of enthusiasm for Obama among two critical groups: African Americans and young voters (aged 18-29). It made sense: Black voters were energized to cast a historic vote for the first African American nominee of either major party; young people — following a false start with former Vermont governor Howard Dean in 2004 — had bought into Obama in a major way during the primary season, and they finally seemed on the cusp of realizing their much-promised potential as a powerhouse voting bloc.

    Or not. Exit polling suggests that there was no statistically significant increase in voting among either group. Black voters made up 11 percent of the electorate in 2004 and 13 percent in 2008, while young voters comprised 17 percent of all voters in 2004 and 18 percent four years later.

    The surge in young and African American voters is not entirely the stuff of myth, however. Although their percentages as a portion of the electorate didn’t increase measurably, Obama did seven points better among black voters than Sen. John F. Kerry did in 2004 and scored a 13-point improvement over Kerry’s total among young voters.

    Shaun Dakin
    CEO
    StopPoliticalCalls.org

  5. How very sad that you are thankful for the results of the election and not once mentioning our Creator from who blessings flow. You doleful intellects remind me of a scripture; “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” 2 Timothy 3:7.

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