One response to “What Next for the Obama Network? Four Critical Questions

  1. This is the first guest post for Social Capital Blog, which we hope to do more of in the future. Thad has some extremely interesting thoughts here.

    I agree that the millions of Obama supporters represent a decision-point for the coming Obama administration. The temptations must be manifold for the Obama administration to use them merely as foot soldiers to press Congress for whatever change the administration wants (health insurance or action on climate change). But few networks stay active and vital when there is little care-and-feeding and the demands all flow from the top to the voters. Howard Dean found that his social network only thrived when all these individuals felt that they had a chance to influence the shaping of policy, not just being his megaphone.

    Moreover, the experience of the Republican Right shows that the reason that, at least for a time, the Republican Right came to be such a potent force on issues like gun-owners rights or right to life or anti-gay rights, was because these networks were given the space to thrive.

    So I think the million dollar question is whether the Obama Administration will set up mechanisms for the 11 million advocates to talk to each other rather than just the Administration to talk to them via text messages. I’m sure none of the potential Cabinet secretaries in the Obama Administration would be looking forward to 11 million citizens providing input on governmental policy.

    Moreover, for sure in the short-term, Obama the politician, like virtually all politicians, must believe that it is safer not to unleash 11 million potential critics of the administration.

    But for the 2008 election to be an inflection point in patterns in civic engagement, the Obama administration has accomplish two things: 1) finding an effective way to let good ideas from these 11 million citizens, and others, filter up to government without overwhelming policy-making; and 2) having Obama put the longer-term interests of the Democratic Party ahead of any short-term interest for controlling these old-time and neo-natal political activists. Let’s hope that Obama the community organizer, and after the 2008 election ‘national organizer’, wins out over Obama the incumbent.

    [Note: Neal Peirce has a column on this arguing that Obama will use these networks not just as a megaphone and directive. See “Using Community Organizing to Run A Country” (11/23/08).

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