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The Limits and Promise of Interactive Politics Online

By Jose Antonio Vargas
Everything moves so fast in the world of online politics -- the new online donors! the new Web videos! the new anti-Obama site or pro-McCain site! -- that introspection is often lacking. Last week, it should be noted, was a memorable one in the short history of our clickocracy. There was the interview that President Bush gave Yahoo! News and Politico on Tuesday, the first ever exclusively delivered to an online audience. Then, later that night, young Democratic superdelegates, after asking for input from their peers on YouTube and Facebook, announced their support for Sen. Barack Obama on YouTube.

Both are instructive in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

President Bush's interview made headlines, especially this nugget: Bush said he gave up golfing as an act of solidarity with families of the dead and wounded soldiers after the assassination of United Nations representative Sergio Vieira de Mello in August 2003. "I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal," Bush told Politico's Mike Allen. Less discussed, however, was the interview's interactive setting. In addition to Allen, the president took questions from online readers. Steve Bailey asked about rising gas prices: "With oil at $126 a barrel, pushing up the price of everything -- even food -- what can your administration do to help people right now?" Bruce Becker, meanwhile, wondered if the president was misled on Iraq.

To be sure, these questions were screened beforehand, and the interview was a controlled environment. There would be no big surprises. Still, the online interaction was a positive precedent to set -- and one that future presidents will likely follow. Obama, for one, has spoken about holding online national town hall meetings and fireside Web chats if elected.

But what must be remembered is that, as seen through the eyes of online congregants, the political Web operates on two basic principles: transparency and accountability. And interactivity doesn't necessarily lead to either. In short, making politics interactive, as Bush did, doesn't always make it more transparent or accountable. Case in point: The Post's own Fact Checker has noted that Bush played golf at least two times after de Mello's death. Type "Bush" and "golfing" on YouTube and more than 350 videos pop up.

For an example of how interactivity has led to greater accountability and transparency, check out the YouTube video posted by Lauren Wolfe and Awais Khaleel asking college students to tell them whom to endorse. As president and vice president of the College Democrats of America, they are among the youngest Democratic superdelegates and tasked, Wolfe said in an interview, "to reflect the views of college voters in the country." Their motive was clear. "As the Democratic Party's two superdelegates who represent college students," Wolfe said in the video, "we want to make sure that our vote belongs to you."

What followed was an intense onslaught of online input: e-mails, YouTube comments, Facebook wall posts, even instant messages. On Wolfe's Facebook wall, friends, classmates and strangers weighed in. Most were Obama supporters, but there were some Clintonites, too. Wrote Matt Feldman: "Being from Michigan, you should understand that our state matters. A vote for Obama is a vote against Michigan. He took his name off the ballot. He did not agree to a private funded revote. He does not want to seat Michigan in Denver. Stand with your state and vote for Hillary." And when Wolfe and Khaleel announced their decision -- they backed Obama -- the reaction was swift and slightly mixed. "I was very saddened by your endorsement, Lauren," wrote Ian Rivera. "I guess College Democrats solely considers talk over action..." But Mark C. Gaffney spoke for most when he wrote: "WOO WOO WOO WOO WOO WOO WOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

To Wolfe, 25, a law student at the University of Detroit-Mercy, the YouTube interaction was only natural. The superdelegate process, she said, has been mysterious. Who are supederlegates accountable to? How transparent is a superdelegate's process in making his/her decision?

Big questions both -- with repercussions in the future.

This is the third in a series of online columns on our growing "clickocracy," in which we are one nation under Google, with e-mail and video for all. Please send suggestions, comments and tips to vargasj-at-washpost-dot-com.

Posted at 6:00 AM ET on May 19, 2008  | Category:  The Clickocracy
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Jake, Nathan,

Including Hillary on Obama's ticket would ensure the ascension of Hillary to the presidency and it would only be a matter of time and circumstance as to how it's done. But it would happen for sure. Hillary would stop at nothing, I mean nothing, to be President. Remember her recent 'Freudian Slip" concerning assassination,.........
The man would be crazy to set himself up in such a way.
I'm all for a Lady to be president someday, but she's no Lady,......

Posted by: Anonymous | May 26, 2008 2:34 PM

check this one out http://www.obamarocks08.com

Posted by: Shirley | May 19, 2008 12:58 PM

Well, I'm not "convinced" either, but I still think it's more likely that McCain offers her the VP spot than Obama offering her it ...

Posted by: JakeD | May 19, 2008 11:46 AM

JakeD:
I know that the change mantra has many connotations, but it is still an opportunistic posture to differentiate yourself from others. I am not convinced that Obama is not going to ask her to be his VP, especially if he looses the large lead he had in Oregon, as the latest polls indicate. The super delegates may not commit themselves to give him a free ride without some commitments from him to unite the party. They don't want the democratic party loose in november.

Posted by: Nathan | May 19, 2008 11:42 AM

Nathan:

Perhaps you missed "the rhetoric" from Obama's side regarding CHANGE specifically from the Bush and Clinton years? What about "the rhetoric" from her side that McCain is MORE qualified than Obama? While I understand just looking at the numbers -- I posed a hypothetical recently as to McCain asking Hillary to be HIS running mate -- I just don't see Obama offering the spot to her either.

Posted by: JakeD | May 19, 2008 11:24 AM

JakeD:
Hillary as a VP is one of the strongest cases to continue the change mantle. For the first time we will have an African American as a presidential candidate, and a credible woman VP candidate. Hillary represents as much change as Obama does. Beyond the rhetoric, the real change in Obama candidacy is represented by the visible reality that the country has truly transcended race differences in the presidential election. Accepting Hillary will even represent a greater achievement that we are ready to transcend gender differences. I have not seen any major policy differences between Obama and Hillary. So it seems to me that the change mantle will only be enhanced by gender inclusiveness. No other female candidate can give the same legitimacy to Obama as Hillary can. If they can't win november, no other team can.

Posted by: Nathan | May 19, 2008 11:15 AM

beccajo:

Make sure you bookmark this one too ; )

http://www.thingsyoungerthanmccain.com/

Posted by: JakeD | May 19, 2008 11:00 AM

Nathan:

How can he offer her the VP spot and still claim the "change" mantle?

Posted by: JakeD | May 19, 2008 10:56 AM

Never in the history of American elections has so much information been available so fast on line. Speeches and events can often appear online faster than newspapers or broadcasters (unless 'live')can feature them in news setions.

This is a two way street for candidates. The savvy one, Senator Obama and his team, seems to have understood and harnessed this better than Team Clinton who seem unable to understand the use of modern technology and how YouTube, FaceBook and MySpace etc have changed the way many young people access or share information.

It can also be costly to the candidate if past experiences can be shown. For example, the infamous lies by Senator Clinton (three or four times no less) about sniper fire in Bosnia. This was soon shown to be false and satirized with devatasting effect as shown by barelypolitical's wicked send up:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHVEDq6RVXc

This has been viewed by over 2,057,000 viewers!

It is clear interactive politics by use of such social websites etc is here to stay and will form a part of how people who use thgem perceive policticians and their policies. Wise indeed will be any future candidate who thoroughly studies and understands this in the 21st century.

Posted by: Geoffrey | May 19, 2008 10:50 AM

Senator Obama has to be seriously concerned about the problem created by the media for him. The one common denominator in the presidential primaries is the undignified manner in which the media played its role. If you keep trumpeting one candidate's virtues and transformational candidacy while constantly harping on the other candidate's persona of falsehoods and deficiencies, the outcome can be stage managed. The Rev.Wright story and the bittergate episode were treated as a plus for Obama, but the Bosnia story as the ultimate character flaw in Hillary. This primary election was not about a fair democratic exercise by the voters; for the first time in my memory a transformational gender-based candidacy was vilified and literally lynched by a media mob while a race-centric transformational candidacy was adored, protected and glorified to alter the outcome to an undemocratic verdict. This was not a fair contest; it was a contest between a female contender for the presidency and the rest of the politicians and the media powerhouses. Even the Fox News was against her until the outcome was more or less clear. They only turned against Obama when his candidacy was all but certain. Their tilt for the Republican party was the driving force for their hard-headed calculations. I am not some feminist who was watching the emerging battle lines, I am a reasonable man who is open to either candidate in a fair outcome. But I can't ignore the glaring reality that the media were stacked against Hillary from day one. It is not easy to forget that the outcome in this primary race was stage managed by the media in a way that gives pause for reasonable people to question how this behavior is any different from that of Putin of Russia or that of Hu of China. Yes, the government does not control the media here, but the outcome is the same nevertheless. The free media besmirched the spirit and cause of a free press. That is why I believe that it is very hard to generate enthusiasm for a transformational candidacy of an African American among those who supported Hillary. The bitter taste of what the media did is going to linger for a long time, I am not sure of whether the Obama candidacy can be a winner because of the gender discrimination brought into play by the media henchmen. I hope he will have the sense to offer the VP spot to Hillary to assuage the bitter supporters of her candidacy.

Posted by: Nathan | May 19, 2008 10:47 AM

I have just added the McCain site to my favorites...thanks for the tip! It is most interesting that he has missed 22 votes on the Iraq war while he has campaigned. How can he be an expert if he doesn't know what is going on?

Posted by: beccajo | May 19, 2008 10:41 AM

I'll believe it when I see "Rock the Vote" actually produce results in the voting booth ...

Posted by: JakeD | May 19, 2008 10:40 AM

This is great! I love the immediacy if the internet. This has been the most interesting campaign of my life, and I am 78! I love that the college age kids are into this election; I love that they care and are planning to go out and vote; I love it that they are working the campaigns for their candidates. This will be an election to remember for years to come.

Posted by: beccajo | May 19, 2008 10:37 AM

Put this in your favorites and refer back frequently. This is just the beginning as we expose this fraud.

http://www.mccainpedia.org/index.php/Main_Page

Posted by: Anonymous | May 19, 2008 10:33 AM

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