Pondering an Obama White House, Part I: Will Participatory Media Change Government?

The conventional wisdom is that, short of a dramatic development in the next 36 hours, Barack Obama is well-placed to win the New Hampshire primary and is thus now the favorite to win the Democratic nomination. The greybeards of the Party are hopping onto the Obama train: Bill Bradley endorsed him today and, if Al Giordano is to be believed, John Kerry will be next, to be followed in short order by Kennedy and Gore.

Assuming that the Obamentum continues to build through New Hampshire and onto South Carolina and Nevada, the campaign’s grassroots online organizing will be given at least a chunk of the credit. Will Team Obama incorporate MyBO, Facebook and other participatory media into government? How will an Obama administration channel the youth energy that the campaign has engendered?

The Deval Patrick administration does not offer an encouraging model, at least not as far as I can tell from here. Patrick was elected to the Massachusetts statehouse in 2006 accompanied, if not quite propelled, by a wave of participatory media excitement. In the days following Patrick’s victory , John Palfrey was excited about the prospect of Patrick-led “semiotic democracy.” David Weinberger was excited, too, but didn’t like the campaign’s “disappointing” transition page. “There’s no place for citizens to post in public and talk with one another. Judging from this site, the Patrick campaign—administration—still thinks it’s the hub of the universe.”

A year into his administration, how has Patrick adapted participatory media into the work of the Commonwealth? A cursory review of his campaign and official websites doesn’t reveal much participation, and neither has a blog.

Obama campaign strategists (led by David Axelrod and David Plouffe) and its online experts (most prominently Joe Rospars and Chris Hughes) will surely remain in campaign mode through November 4, but what then? Will they go the Rovian-Carvilian route, and continue the permanent campaign? Or might they use online digital tools to, in words Obama used last night, “enlist the American people in the process of self-government?”


One thought on “Pondering an Obama White House, Part I: Will Participatory Media Change Government?

  1. good call, john. let’s hope the participatory spirit of obama’s campaign, inshallah, will continue into governance.

    patrick has been disappointing in many regards, and this is definitely one. but i sure hope that this is where comparisons between deval and barack (only superficially similar) begin and end.

    as for “semiotic democracy” i really wish that smart people would stop using that misnomer. it belies/advances a misunderstanding of semiotics — i.e., the study of how signs make meanings. as plenty of communications (and cultural studies) scholars have shown, signs will always be made into different meanings for different people, even if they have no say in the public sphere (or, to put it another way, in the encoding rather than the decoding of said signs). i think what palfrey, fischer, et al., are getting at is better described by something like “media democracy” — something that more clearly implies participation in public conversations, in the production of signs.

    enjoying all your obama tracking, btw.

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