The Democratic Party has liked to style themselves as very bottom up, but their ideology is very top down. Now we will have a chance to see what happens when they govern. -Patrick
Today, the Barack Obama transition team launched its new website, www.change.gov, and I think it would be wise for all of us who are interested in building the Next Right to check it out, as well as www.barackobama.com in case the latter is changed substantially. If you want to see how My.BarackObama.com works without joining, watch the tutorial video. It's impressive.
During the campaign, the Obama folks were able to do three remarkable things to build a people-powered online movement.
- Create a nationally visible platform for attracting and building a responsive and interactive community
- Leverage this community to build neighborhood-level teams and provide them with the tools and measurable goals needed to accomplish the task at hand
- Devolve control over execution to neighborhood team leaders and individuals and let them unleash their own individual strengths to get the job done
If you take a really good look at BarackObama.com, the vast majority of it is nothing extraordinary. It has candidate bios and issue positions and looks generally pretty nice. What sets it apart is the ability to submit policy ideas of your own to the campaign for every issue area, MyBarackObama.com (which is explicitly designed to foster local organizing), and their Organizing Resource Center, which provides detailed tutorials and excellent tools for individuals to act on their own for the campaign. The unique aspects of the Obama online operation all fit into the three bullet points above, and created a truly effective campaign operation and allowed a movement to form.
Now, consider the new site, Change.gov. What sets Change.gov apart from any other government website is that it invites users to interact with the website and submit personal stories and ideas for the new administration. This fits into the first item from above, but the other two are noticeably absent. This is important.
The design of Change.gov is important for one reason. Barack Obama ran on a campaign of fundamentally changing the way Washington works, and to some extent, the innovative aspects of his campaign were sold as glimpses of a new, people-powered government under an Obama administration. If we take Change.gov as the government website of the future, we can look forward to plenty of feedback forms but not much more. We'll see how this works out over the long run, but I think it will prove more difficult than expected to carry the campaign model over to government operations.
Now we begin to see the inherent contradiction of the left's netroots organization. They have created a tremendous capacity to organize people to act voluntarily for the accomplishment of the movement's goals. Philosophically, this goal is to win control of the federal government and use it to fix the ills of society. However, in the end, the federal government runs things from the top-down, and bureaucracies by their very nature are slow and unresponsive. Once the left's open, decentralized and local movement infrastructure wins control of the federal government, it hands the keys over to elected officials and its job is simply to keep those folks in office.
In large part, the Obama campaign built itself on the postmodern shift in American society towards self-actualization, meaning, customization and connectedness which has been explored in the literature on design, by political scientists like Ronald Inglehart, and expressed in the new type of business model featured in magazines like Fast Company. 21st century Americans demand more self-actualization in every aspect of their lives and Barack Obama was able to deliver on this politically through his campaign.
However, the federal government idealized by the Left as the solution to every problem simply is not capable of providing everyday citizens with customized services, active involvement, local solutions and most importantly, meaning. It is the job of bureaucracies to treat everyone equally, and what makes government separate from other entities is that it fundamentally acts through coercion rather than through meaningful individual participation. In the end, the biggest promise of the Obama movement cannot be delivered because of its inherent contradictions.
Now imagine what conservatives and libertarians could do to improve society through voluntary action if we developed our own version of My.BarackObama.com. The possibilities for non-governmental solutions are almost limitless. That's real hope for change.