peer production

Onward and Upward: Building a Sustainable Majority

This week has been a great one for conservatives across the nation. Scott Brown’s victory proved that, in the words of the increasingly vulnerable Barbara Boxer, “Every state is now in play.” His victory also demonstrated that Republicans can achieve many of the successes that led to Barack Obama becoming the 44th President of the United States — dominating the Internet; raising unbelievable sums of money, especially online; building a massive base of small donors; and having a victory driven by a massive coalition of grassroots activists. With Brown’s victory came the ever-increasing likelihood that the Democrat’s health care bill would be stalled indefinitely. Then came the demise of Air America. All of these events have inspired a new-found confidence among those to the right of center, while liberals and Democrats have pushed the panic button. One of my favorite political minds, Jay Cost, asks, “What Does Obama Do Now?” For those of us on the right, I think conservatives must ask themselves an equally critical question: What do Republicans do now?

I admit that I believe that the GOP is on the verge of a 2010 blowout. As for the magnitude of said blowout, I think it’s too early to say, but in my mind there’s a real chance that Republicans could retake one of the chambers of Congress. However, as I’ve previously cautioned, I don’t believe that a blowout this year will mean things are better for the Republican Party. Winning back seats is great, but as Mindy Finn writes, those on the right must “stop gloating” — and start thinking about building a sustainable majority. A major victory this year will not be the product of a new-found love for the Republican Party; instead, it will be the product of voter disgust and discontent with the status quo, namely with President Obama and Democrats in Congress. The Republican Party is still enormously unpopular itself, and a midterm election blowout due to the aforementioned reasons is not exactly how a sustainable majority is built.

On the other hand, converting what are traditionally considered to be safe blue seats in places like Massachusetts and California (I’m looking at you, Barbara Boxer) to red ones — and finding ways to hold onto those seats — is certainly a step toward a sustainable majority. The same is true of fielding candidates in all 435 Congressional districts every cycle. Embracing transparency and continuing to authentically fight to limit government is another building block in a sustainable majority. Effectively using technology while embracing today’s Age of Participation through peer production is another step. Offering substantial and real policy options that differ from those of the White House and the Democrats is similarly critical.

To the contrary, getting sucked back into the ways of Washington by growing government and increasing spending is a sure way to cede momentum right back to the Democrats. Failing to broaden the base with different demographics, like young voters, Hispanics, or African Americans is another way to likely guarantee that 2010 will be a one-and-done year for Republicans. And of course, growing content with success at any point will inevitably lead right back to defeat.

Like your favorite sports game, momentum is critical in politics. Republicans clearly have the momentum, and barring a dramatic change in the political wind, this momentum will significantly change the composition of the Congress this November. When that happens, the ball will be in the GOP’s court. The crucial question will then be: What will they do with it?

"New Media" Must Become "Media"

Let’s take a glimpse at the evolution of the role of technology and so-called “new media” in politics. In the early years, there were “Web” departments — for example, my colleague Patrick Ruffini served as the “webmaster” for Bush-Cheney ‘04. The new jargon for this role has become “new media,” which typically serves as an umbrella for all forms of “new” communication, such as the Internet and mobile technology. The problem lies in the fact that we are still using the adjective new, which inherently distinguishes it from other forms of traditional media (i.e. TV, radio, and so forth). Accordingly, the people who oversee new media are called “New Media Directors” and work in “New Media,” while the people who oversee traditional media are given the title of “Communications Director” and work in “Communications” or something along those lines. The bottom line is that not only is “new” media no longer new, but even more importantly, “new” media is rapidly replacing “traditional” media. If the right is going to become the side on the cutting edge, then right-of-center campaigns and organizations must ensure that the separation of traditional and new media comes to an end.

The decline of traditional media becomes clear when you look at recent polling trends. For example, a substantially increasing percentage of Americans turn to the Internet for their news. Moreover, a poll taken in 2008 indicates that nearly 70% of Americans consider traditional journalism to be “out of touch,” and as a result the plethora of respondents use the Internet as their primary source of news and information. Twice as many Americans said they “regularly learn[ed] something about the [2008] campaign from the internet” as they did in 2004. And of course, millennial voters almost universally turned to the Internet as their primary source for 2008 election news.

In addition, there were two Presidential campaigns whose profoud impacts demonstrate the importance of integrating all forms of media. It goes without saying that President Obama ran an incredible web-based campaign, raising two-thirds of its money online and peer-producing 200,000 offline events, 400,000 blog posts, and 3 million phone calls. Likewise, Ron Paul’s campaign was almost entirely organized and built around the Internet, using existing tools like Meetup.com to build an incredible yet extremely low-cost national infrastructure. What was the differentiator between these two campaigns and most of the others from the past cycle? They didn’t separate “new media” from their other operations; instead, they allowed it to serve as a sort of circulatory system that fed and empowered every other part of their organization. “New media” wasn’t a part of their campaign; it was their campaign.

The line between traditional and new media is disintegrating, and therefore, separating the two puts the right at a disadvantage. So let’s embrace this change. “New media” must become “media,” and must be embraced as the heart and soul of our campaigns and organizations.

Crossposted at NextGenGOP.

RNC Tech Summit = Peer Production

Yesterday, I expressed concern about the fact that newly elected RNC Chairman Michael Steele has yet to make “any significant new effort to win over millennials.” Today, however, I want to recognize Steele for something he has done exceedingly well.

Peer Production and the Future of the Republican Party: An Open Letter to the Next RNC Chairman

This letter was written as a follow-up to some points I raised about idea creation for the GOP in an earlier blog post.

To the future chairman of the Republican National Committee,

We face a tough road over the coming days, months, and years as we work to transform the Republican Party into the party of the future so that we can recover from this year’s devastating losses in the House, Senate, and ultimately, White House. The path ahead will be a challenging one, but I am convinced that we are up to the challenge and that ultimately we will prevail.

In order to do this, however, we must recognize as a party that many of the ways of the past are no longer the way of the future. For example, Barack Obama has proven that new media and the Internet are essential to winning elections. Similarly, we now see that we must be able to raise a large percentage of money and build a powerful infrastructure online.

Following this logic, we also need to realize that peer production is the way of the future – not just in politics or business, but in all walks of life. At a macro level, this means that we must democratize the Republican Party by opening it to mass collaboration. If the Republican Party wants to be the party of the future, it must adopt this sort of collaboration driven, peer production based model.

Indeed, peer production has proven enormously and unequivocally successful as a business model. Corporations are scrambling to replicate the impeccable successes of companies like Goldcorp, Inc., who in 1999 was on the verge of bankruptcy because it was unable to locate sources of gold on its property. Out of desperation, CEO Rob McEwen issued the “Goldcorp Challenge,” inviting anyone and everyone to help the company locate gold on its campus. The success was astounding: due to peer production, Goldcorp went from being an underperforming $100 million company to a $9 billion juggernaut. Many other leading companies, including IBM, Boeing, and Procter & Gamble have adopted peer production as a central component of their business model to similarly resounding success. Although political trends tend to lag behind business trends, peer production is clearly one trend in which we cannot afford to fall behind.

In fact, Barack Obama’s electoral success was not really due to his use of the Internet. Rather, the Internet only served as the medium through which Obama’s volunteers and supporters could peer produce. In the end, it was the Obama campaign’s understanding of the necessity of utilizing peer production and its ability to do so that fueled his victory. MyBarackObama.com was immensely successful in doing this, resulting in his supporters peer producing 200,000 offline events, 400,000 blog posts, 3 million phone calls, and $500 million. Everything at MyBarackObama made it unambiguously clear: “This campaign is about you.”

Democrats, following in the footsteps of countless successful corporations, are going to continue to use this model in 2010 and beyond because it is a proven winner. Accordingly, this begs the question: are we going to do the same? Please, Mr. Chairman, let the answer be an unmistakable, “Yes!”

Forget the Ideas Czar or Network: We Must Create Ideas Through Peer Production

(promoted by Soren)

Patrick Ruffini recently wrote a piece arguing that the GOP needs an “ideas czar”, while Soren Dayton disagrees, insisting that, “The beltway is the disease not the cure.” Regardless of where you stand on this argument, both Patrick and Soren raise a critical, underlying point: the Republican Party needs a way to bring new, innovative ideas to the table if it wants to find its identity and ultimately achieve electoral success.

Ruffini founded the site RebuildTheParty.com, which specifically states that the Internet must be our #1 priority over the next four years. I fully agree with this, and in this vein I think we need to utilize the Internet – and specifically, the concept of peer production, which “describes what happens when masses of people … collaborate openly to drive innovation and growth” – to accomplish our goal. Peer production is what creates content for Wikipedia and empowers websites like Digg.

Indeed, in today’s new Age of Participation, having an elite person or group of people making policy decisions and generating new ideas is a recipe for death. Although I have an enormous amount of respect for Patrick, his idea of establishing a GOP ideas czar is tantamount to maintaining the status quo in that our ideas will continue to come from the party’s established elite. An institution consisting of “politicians, academics, business leaders, think tankers, and interest groups” as Soren describes is slightly better, but ultimately it is still an exclusive group of elites.

Instead, we need to establish an open forum in which all ideas from all walks of life are welcome and taken into consideration. Everyone’s opinion is valuable as we fight to rebuild the Republican Party. Patrick has taken the first step toward this with ideas.rebuildtheparty.com, where anyone can make suggestions to enhance the RebuildTheParty.com platform, but unfortunately it’s only a baby step. In the end, the be all and end all of the Republican Party – the Republican National Committee – is not reviewing, considering, and responding to this feedback.

If we really want to create new ideas and transform the Republican Party, we cannot continue to allow a small, elite group to be the source of our ideas and policy. If we continue to do so, we risk digging a hole so deep that we may never be able to climb out. Instead, we must permanently open the Republican Party’s ideas and platforms to mass collaboration. In doing so, we can truly become the party of the people, and in turn we can take a huge step toward becoming the party of the future.

Crossposted at NextGenGOP.

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