Friday, June 29, 2007

The People's Policy?

Barack Obama seems to be taking consultation, and perhaps the idea of political marketing, to a new more sophisticated level. On his website he lists his position on all the major issues facing America. However on the side bar he asks for more than simply comments:

"Across our country, everyday people like you have experiences and ideas that haven't previously been heard. This is your chance to speak your mind and help set the policies that will guide this campaign and change the country"

There are then three steps to complete:
Step 1: Present your ideas; in the form of ideas, telling your story, uploading a video or recording a message.
Step 2: Collaborate and Debate: Here Obama says "In the coming months we will be helping you collaborate with others across the nation to define and refine the best ideas and incorporate them into our vision for the future. We'll make it possible for other people to weigh your ideas and give their own thoughts on the issues."
Step 3: Define a New Direction; the philosophy being: "As the best ideas from the community are refined, we'll use your feedback to find the best and important submissions and incorporate them into the campaign's policy."
This all suggests that rather than simply commenting on policies, interaction of those who sign-up to 'My Barack Obama' will actually shape policy initiatives if he becomes the Democratic nominee and perhaps also if he becomes President; this of course is not specified.

Some forms of interaction are already going on. In an open thread begun by Scott Goodstein tells readers that "This afternoon we sent Obama supporters who signed up for text messages a note about the upcoming debate tonight... We asked folks to tune in and text us back with their thoughts about the debate. A few of the responses that came in just before the debate started: Jayson will be "watching for a Darfur question" while Kelsey wrote "you are truly inspirational and perhaps the only person capable of reversing all the damage that has been done since Bush took office". We even had a text from a Howard University student who was headed to the debate. But that all reads as just a little too censored and congratulatory.

As is the contribution from high school teacher 'Angela': "A lot of people drop out of teaching after the first couple years, because it can be an extremely difficult job," she said. "It's not great every day, but the high moments keep you going. They inspire me to be a better person. I feel like I can change things by leading by example, and I think that's part of why I respect Senator Obama-- he leads by example". There seem to be a few too many words of support to suggest that this is open debate, and the videos that are posted are more citizen endorsements than anything else (see below)

If this is a new phase in political marketing, connecting people to decision making and the design of the political offering, where is the serious debate? While those who believe in Obama and support his campaign are clearly drawn to contributing, his initiative could draw others to the campaign who feel marginalised from politics. Maybe it is too risky at this stage in the process, the danger is that it maybe perceived as rhetoric if the debate is not started.

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