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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Netroots Coordinator

Time Magazine has a new article Campaigning on the Blogs about politicians using internet specialists. Matt Stoller has some thoughts and Tim Tagaris has a guide to becoming a netroots coordinator (the pic has me taking out frustrations on a white board marker). I want to look at the reaction to this article and compare it to the reality of what has gone on during the last two days at the National Press Club.

Before I get to the Time article, I think Stoller brings up a key point:

For the past few years, most of these these staffers have very little authority and basically have to beg internally for time and resources from their boss. They aren't listened to, and there's a lot of sneering in the office about the blogs and how crazy they are. That basic attitude of anti-democratic, anti-populist, and anti-progressivism is still in place, though it's changing. Progressive rhetoric and policies aren't quite considered politically relevant yet (see Harman, Jane, Dianne Feinstein, or Jonathon Chait's 'don't make warmongers uncomfortable' screed). So I guess it's nice that a politician hired someone to be on the other end of the phone, but that's not really the point. The politicians' behavior is the issue, whether or not there's a netroots coordinator.
This is the most important point that I think can be said about politicians hiring netroots coordinators. Using the internet to campaign isn't an add-on for a campaign like loading up a new car with options like a sunroof and leather seats. Using technology is the difference between driving and flying. Campaigns that think that the internet is just an addition instead of a fundamental change in doing business are likely to encounter problems with or without a netroots coordinator.

For some unknown reason, people who wage politics online have been marginalized by the media and out-dated consultants as a fringe. While it is acceptable to hold these thoughts in a political campaign senior staff meeting, you would get fired for thinking this in a corporate board meeting. I mean, name a single sector other than politics where there isn't an expectation that using computers makes things more efficient? The meter-maids have handhelds, my mechanic stopped surfing the web last week to order a specialty part, beat cops have laptops in their squad cars...yet some people think that using computers for politics isn't to be expected?

The netroots campaign that works starts by inspiring people and then uses technology to activate participation that maximizes the potential of the candidate. But the starting point is a candidate who leads, that is what creates the "spontanous" netroots reaction behind the candidate. The netroots can't unite around a candidate who isn't leading, which means the netroots can't ever unite around any candidate who associates with the Democratic Leadership Council (the DLC is also known as the GOP wing of the Democratic Party). There is no inspiration in corporate shills, no leadership in GOP-lite, no potential for a candidate to motivate the type of bottom up movement that the internet allows. The netroots are also sophisticated enough to realize that the 2008 DLC candidate is Hillary Clinton and that the other DLC candidates seeking the nomination have to deal with being both GOP-lite and Clinton-lite -- meaning they have no chance of getting the opportunity to sell out the people.

So back to the National Press Club. On Monday, Senator Russ Feingold was there and said:
WASHINGTON -- Sen. Russ Feingold, a potential anti-war candidate in the 2008 presidential field, urged fellow Democrats on Monday to show more backbone in challenging President Bush on Iraq.

"We must get out of our political foxholes and be willing to clearly and specifically point out what a strategic error the Iraq invasion has been," Feingold, D-Wis., told a National Press Club audience.

He said some Democrats in Congress gave in to "intimidation" by the Bush administration when they voted to authorize the war in 2002, and warned: "If we do not show both a practical and emotional readiness to lead in the fight against terrorism, we will lose in '06 and we will lose in '08, just like we did in '02 and '04."
Now realize that Senator Feingold doesn't have a big name Netroots Coordinator, yet the netroots loved this speech. Everyone on Feingold's staffs (both senate and PAC) seem to follow and understand the blogosphere and netroots. Feingold is meeting with bloggers and running a top-notch bottoms up campaign.

Now compare this to Mark Warner who has a serious big netroots name in Jerome Armstrong. Jerome is a mentor to me, but either the campaign isn't listening to him or he is giving bad advice because today at the NPC Warner shared the stage with Evan Bayh at a DLC event.

"Simply lashing out in anger at the current administration doesn't accomplish what we want," said Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, a likely candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Bayh and another potential White House hopeful, former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, spoke at an event sponsored by the moderate Progressive Policy Institute to promote its book, "With All Our Might," a Democratic blueprint for fighting the war on terror.

Neither Bayh nor Warner has any foreign policy experience yet they'll go on stage with the DLC. Iraq and NAFTA and CAFTA have all proven to show the DLC knows nothing about foreign policy which means both Bayh and Warner have gone from nothing to worse in terms of foreign policy. Not only do they not know anything, but they wouldn't be hanging out with Al From if they didn't have Small Man's disease.

Jerome is good, but Warner showing up at a DLC event is stupid. This is a clear example of a campaign with a great netroots coordinator and shitty strategy. The DLC is the antithesis of the netroots and the fact Warner hasn't denounced Al From shows that he is either out of touch or willing to sell his soul to the corporations in order to further his own career.

Anyway, back to Perry Bacon's article for Time:
Ari Rabin-Havt, 27, who worked for and on the Internet team for John Kerry’s presidential campaign, spends his entire day reading blogs, responding to hundreds of e-mails from bloggers and figuring out how to get stories favorable to Senate Democrats onto the blogs. The relationship is helpful for both sides; Rabin-Havt will feed documents on key issues to the bloggers, which they like because it helps them post faster, and the close contact helps politicians head off some negative stories before they surface on the blogs.
Ari deserves serious credit for Reid having a higher standing in the blogs than he probably deserves. This might be wearing away, but Ari is an all star who lets bloggers know what is going on when it is going on. Nancy Pelosi should be jealous.
Several of the potential presidential contenders have already hired staffers to help them connect with the online world. Warner now spends one hour each week with his blog advisor, a prominent liberal blogger named Jerome Armstrong. After Pelosi was bashed for not sticking around to answer questions on Daily Kos, Warner’s team helped him avoid making the same mistake: after Warner posted on Daily Kos and left for a trip to Iowa, one of his online staffers, Nate Wilcox, stayed around to respond to questions. (Some people still wanted to hear more from the candidate himself. "The comments were valid criticisms," says Warner. "You’re supposed to interact in real time.") Vilsack has hired Kevin Thurman, a 26-year-old Internet consultant, to help him meet with bloggers on education, an issue the governor is keenly interested in.
I love Thurman, but he is working for another Hillary-lite DLC candidate. To his credit, he arranged for me to have a great conversation with Vilsack where I recommended he fire Al From. But if Vilsack had the balls to pull a move like that he wouldn't be in the DLC to begin with and Vilsack is still head of the DLC and From is still running the show.

There is a reason that Feingold has the netroots support -- he is leading. He doesn't need a netroots bad-ass because his entire staff gets the netroots and his campaign inspires. If you are going the DLC route and your middle name isn't 'Rodham' then you are both losing the netroots and making a fool of your staff.

Yet if you are running for Senate or Congress, I would recommend a netroots coordinator who will maximize your potential.

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