What Erick Said

If you only read one thing this Christmas break, make sure it's Erick Erickson's post on rebuilding the party with technology. At the heart of it is an admonition not to confuse blogging with "technology." As Erick writes:

That a person can run a blog, has a Twitter account, edits and posts video to YouTube, has 1000 friends on Facebook, or can install a Joomla/Drupal/WordPress/MovableType/etc. site and customize the CSS does not make that person a technologist.

This is SO true. I've been in more than a few settings where a politician will want to talk to bloggers first about technology, not unlike how people approach Erick for his advice on tech. Yet all the bloggers would want to talk about when it came time for Q&A was politics not technology. Bloggers tend to be more tech savvy than the average, but what really drives them is politics and policy. Blogging is ultimately about good content not technology, just as a strong party has to be about a good message supported by today's technology.

What Erick is talking about is recruiting the people who build the tools, not just the people who use them, however avidly. When Ev Williams started Blogger and then Twitter, he wasn't thinking about how these tools could be used to revolutionize politics. He was just out to build a cool tool -- and opening up politics was just one of many applications of the technology.

The GOP needs geeks and engineers to build the tools. 115,000 people have just been laid off in the technology sector. There needs to be a concerted effort to identify those who are politically libertarian and conservative and get them to work building tools for the movement. I don't have any illusions that the majority of this group are on our side, but if we are better organized it won't matter. Even if we only have a pool of 10,000 to pick from, that's about 100 times better than what we have today.

But as much as we need people who are focused on the pure tech -- and this means more than just skinning the latest Web 2.0 fetish -- we still need better political operatives who will understand a good idea when it comes to them and won't cut the technology off at the pass. This doesn't mean they personally have to do technology, but they need to appreciate all the ways the Internet upends the traditional playbook.

Mark McKinnon, senior strategist for the last three Republican Presidential campaigns, says that the problem with the GOP is people like him. Kill him off, he says. I disagree. Until the OPOs are the senior strategists on campaigns, we'll still need people like McKinnon as allies.

This is a case in point. I have heard from numerous sources that smart voices within the McCain campaign urged the campaign's leadership to announce its Vice Presidential pick online. The idea of it being done by text message was considered -- months before the Obama campaign announced it would do the same thing. Yet, the idea was shot down by senior staff as undignified.

This wasn't just a campaign failing to be more aggressive online. It cost the campaign where it mattered most, in money and volunteers. By not building online buzz for the Palin announcement before it happened, the McCain campaign left a potential doubling of its e-mail list on the table. Obama netted 3 million e-mail addresses off his VP pick. If the enthusiasm gap meant that we only would have gotten 1 to 1.5 million, it still would have been worth it. A million good e-mail addresses is worth tens of millions of dollars at the height of the campaign. This alone would not have made the difference, but good campaigns are about doing all the little things right. And from where we sit right now, Norm Coleman sure could have used some of that extra money and volunteers.

In this case, we did not lack for tech people proposing good ideas. The problem is that the non-tech people didn't want to hear it. And they were the ones in the drivers' seat.

The kind of cautious, old thinking that holds the campaigns (and movements) are the work of a single leader, tens or hundreds of operatives, and thousands passively send in checks needs to be exploded in every way -- before they learn the hard way that small and networked crowds beat big and atomized institutions every time.

Offline leaders need to understand what's at stake. They don't need to know PHP or Rails, but they need to understand that the ethos of the Internet demands openness, and creates an unprecedented opportunity for millions of people to massively participate at the same time. Those people can organize for you, or organize against you, and what they do is largely up to you.

One thing I hear often from offline people is that they don't understand computers/IT/the Internet, and won't I explain it to them? It's actually puzzling to me why anyone would ask me this. The Web is actually more a culture and a mindset than it is a set of technologies -- and it's a culture you're a part of you've used an e-mail chain to spread a viral video or signed up to receive political e-mails. That culture is actually much easier to understand than old media, because there are fewer practical limitations to what can be done and when -- if one fully embraces the new mindset.

The culture of the Web is about communicating freely and openly, without geographic boundaries, and with theoretically infinite impact. More than old media, a message stands on its own merits, without reference to how many points of TV you put behind it. New media does not require one to figure out the hodgepodge of local papers, TV, and radio stations; the niceties of press embargoes; or how a subject will be lit for the big interview. New media means politics without limits, and infinitely scalable campaigns that let anyone directly participate.

An open system like the Internet is actually a lot easier to understand than a closed one with dozens of internal inefficiencies and countless PR flacks whose job it is to game the system. Any smart person can figure this out. But it does require people to unlearn a lot of bad old habits that cause people to build fortresses around their campaigns / groups, lest someone come in and post a bad comment.

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Comments

Three points

1. Mark McKinnon is right, just not in the way he intended.

2. KarenTumulty was recently able to ID me under a different screen name because I'm the only person commenting over at their site from a non-DailyKos perspective. I thrice tried to get FReepers and once tried to get readers of this site to go sign up for accounts there and begin discrediting their hacks, all without luck. If people can't even be roused to the incredibly easy task of discrediting JoeKlein, perhaps there's a deeper problem.

3. This site continues to have a security issue; I sent an email using the form and this is the third comment mentioning that.

Wikipedia is a crucial venue

Make sure you check the Wikipedia sites of your favorite and less favorite politicians. Remember, that when an average Joe knows nothing about a topic but gets curious, Wikipedia is one of the first places they look.

To that end, keep an eye on posting for candidates you favor. Often near libelous stuff will get added and you'd best wipe the site clean of it and place in the comment box the reason for removal.  Lack of supporting documentation is a good content neutral reason.

Sometimes a lib will add factual information which really shouldn;t be removed but then places it in a context that makes the candidate look clueless, hyperpartisan, or arrogant. Those listings ought to be revised to add appropriate documentation of what the candidate's actual record is.  For instance "Congressman Joe Smith is a strong supporter of President Bush's Iraq War, which is illegal and has cost the lives of 4,000 soldiers"  could be rewritten to remove the lefty spin. i.e.  "Congressman Joe Smith voted for the 2003 Iraq War resolution and has continued to support the military operation in Iraq". 

Needless to say, if a news story appears which documents controversial actions on the part of a liberal, links to that story should be added to the officeholder's wikipedia article. Notice that the Left will eagerly engage in edit wars, and try and remove uncomplimentary information. Well, keep posting and always----keep the verbiage as Jack Webb "just the facts". Obviously, if you add unfavorable information to wikipedia expect someone to try scrubbing it---sometimes to the childish level of claiming a charge had been proved untrue without any documentation to the claim.

Wikipedia can be a great tool for effective bipartisan education; but not if Republicans and conservatives simply give away another valuable part of cyberspace "because it's run by liberals"  

Just one thing

Those 115,000 laid off techies probably do not have much love for the GOP at this moment.

Too Late

Those 115,000 laid off techies probably do not have much love for the GOP at this moment.

Ha. I think the author anticipated your sucker punch:

I don't have any illusions that the majority of this group are on our side, but if we are better organized it won't matter.

Nice try though.

guess turning Congress over to the Democrats worked out well

Ironically, the SF Bay area is probably the strongest D area in the nation---is this like some form of political masochism?  

Has anyone there noticed the heyday of the Valley was in the Gingrich era?

Not to mention

The fact is that layoffs are just a convenient excuse to get rid of marginal engineers.  Those aren't the people you want to attract anyway. 

And for the love of God can someone upgrade this tinymce module?  I'm far too busy to be bothered with spelling.

Ok, a little geek humor there :P

 

 

not this time pal

debt is the cause of layoffs. look next for a deflationary spiral.

Caveat emptor applies to the right too

I am not sure what all the fuss is about here. Due diligence is the name of the game whenever you hire a professional, including code writers.

This business about having to be political, or conservative, is a bunch of nonsense. If you hire professionals, the only thing they are going to have on their minds is achieving the client's objectives, period. They could be the most flaming group of liberals in the world, it wouldn't matter. A job is a job, and doing the job right would be their only goal.

As for investing in good web design, I have always found it to be wise to start small and cheap, and code out to big, complex and expensive, checking your results along the way. What usually happens in politics, however, is that everybody waits until the last minute, throw a lot of cash at you and want you to walk on water.

Good, effective web design isn't achieved quickly, no matter how much money you throw at it. Having said that, we have time to get the job done right. I would say over 90% of the coding necessary to build an effective party web presence is already written. All that is needed is some really good deliberative groupware that will give the membership its voice, allow it to speak and to be heard. Do that, allow party members a voice, allow them to speak and to be accurately heard and we will be light-years ahead of our democratic friends.

ex animo

 

 

 

 

 

davidfarrar 

 

coders

I am a software developer and I am employed...  2 points:

a) I am 100% sure that a lot of very good engineers have been laid off

b) I would probably be willing to help out in a software development effort that could get more Republicans elected.  I don't really think that I am the visionary that was mentioned in the article though.

We can't

We absolutely cannot expect that tech alone will save the day.

The main reason that Obama's tech was so successful is because it was built off the data that the many thousands of volunteers gave them. WITHOUT those vols. the Obama team would not have had such wonderful Internet success.

Tech is extremely important, of course. But just tech isn't a panacea.

A good Internet site with flashy graphics does not vote.

I agree, tech can't do it alone, but ...

...tech and a message can.  The key to political success is motivation. The key to motivation is communication.  Obama has shown how effective the internet can be in communicating the message. But the important thing to remember about Obama's internet success is that it barely scratched the surface when it comes to using the internet effectively to communicate the message.

The key element limiting Obama's internet application was time. What you saw in Obama's success was just how powerful the internet can be in two years. Just think, if applied correctly, how powerful the results will be if applied over four years, or eight. This is the advantage political parties have over candidates, and why we should start now -- should have started ten years ago working with the internet. I know. Ten years ago I was working with the party to do just what we are all talking about doing now. Heck, I even proposed a GOP browser and a GOP IP (Internet Provider) service, not to mention GOP telephony services, all based on affinity marketing. What I learned from that experience is that the party understands the power of the internet full well and is frightened to death of it. They are all afraid of what will happen to them -- how can the status quo be maintained -- should party members ever be given a voice, allow to speak and to be accurately heard.

There has been some suggestions made here that the party is democratic and its 168 RNC members were elected by their peers. Don't believe it for a second. The system is rigged and the principal tool for rigging the selection process is control of communication and knowledge.

Now because of Obama's success perhaps some things have changed, but I really don't see  it, especially if Duncan gets re-elected as our party's chair.

ex animo

davidfarrar

If the GOP wants them they can hire them

How many millions does the GOP have in the bank?  Why should the programmers donate their time?  In exchange for what, exactly?  A party that's acquiring power for the government in ways that the Democrats of 1980 or 1990 could only dream about?

No way.  Conservativism != the GOP.  There's some programming lingo for you, Pat.  It might be worth conservatives working together to do some open source stuff, but the GOP needs to earn this kind of talent.

Earning what you get.  What a concept!

Very good.

Good point. KT Cat. Alternatively, when the GOP demonstrates that its lawyers, accountants, advertising agencies, letter shops and polling organizations are donating their time, then they can issue a call for public-spirited programmers to do the same.

That Campaigns don't get it is clear to me

I'm a hardware administrator.  I know I can be helpful to a politial campaign.  Yet every time I sign up to volunteer, I'm never asked to do anything more then write checks, and I'm only capable of doing that so many times.

So, yeah, I've come to the conclusion that it's not that they don't want my help, or don't need it, it's that they don't know what I can do for them.

Yep....

My one direct experience in '08 was with a House challenger candidate in CT. My friend was hired as the media consultant after Labor Day.  We looked at the web site and it was pretty inadequate. Worst of all, the previous campaign management has vendored out the web design and the site was supposedly virtually impossible to update---or the press secretary could figure out Twitter but not something more useful for his candidate.

There are still a lot of campaign managers out there who know they need a logo and letterhead, but still act like the website is like campaign balloons or bumper stickers. With the rapid decline of local print media, maintaining a strong web site and driving traffic to it is going to be an absolute essential for candidates----you simply will not get earned media in what's going to be left of newspapers by 2012 or 2014.

Pointing pols in the right direction

Patrick,

I get the impression that most pols you and Erick (and other tech savvy guys) talk to are asking a simple question - how?  They know they need to use tech to be more efficient and effective, but they, and some of us, have no clue how to do it.

So, this dialog with the party and candidates has to be a two way street.  The candidates and party need to come up with some crystal clear conservative policy proposals (a la the Contract with America) the base will support, and in turn, the tech side needs to come up with some very solid advice on how to get that message out via twitter, facebook, myspace, wiki, text, e-mail, etc.  Then, we have to come up with a ground game for turning those policy efforts into real volunteers and an effective GOTV efforts. 

It all starts, however, with principled policy.  It's kinda like having a fabulous bass boat wtih no fishing gear.  You can get in and ride all over the lake in style, but when you come back to dock, you're still hungry.  With no message, we're all style and no substance.  That leads to more lost elections.

Libertarian Technologists

It is my experience that many of the very best technologists are libertarians/rationalists/Objectivists/agnostics.  They should be voting Republican and be willing to work for us!

It would be wise of the Right to remember that the heart of conservatism is libertarian according to Ronald Reagan.