Netroots 2.0

December 5, 2008 at 6:41 pm | Posted in Barack Obama, U.S. Politics | 1 Comment

In the aftermath of the US election, there was much speculation about what would happen to the supporters who had engaged, organised & evangelised through his official online community. Would the netroots machine his campaign had constructed just be allowed to wither on the vine, with sites like MyDD and DailyKos regaining their lost pre-emminence as the focal point of ‘netroots’ activity, or would he seek to keep those supporters energised by engaging them in a kind of permanent campaign the change?

I think the smart money was always on the latter, and there are signs that this is already beginning to materialise. Via Ezra Klein, the Washington Post reports that the incoming administration is already beginning to draw on the high-tech organising tools which helped him get elected in order to stoke support for an expansion of health care – perhaps the single most important progressive policy of the campaign.

Former senator Thomas A. Daschle, Obama’s point person on health care, launched an effort to create political momentum yesterday in a conference call with 1,000 invited supporters culled from 10,000 who had expressed interest in health issues, promising it would be the first of many opportunities for Americans to weigh in.

The health-care mobilization taking shape before Obama even takes office will include online videos, blogs and e-mail alerts as well as traditional public forums. Already, several thousand people have posted comments on health on the Obama transition Web site.

It is the first attempt by the Obama team to harness its vast and sophisticated grass-roots network to shape public policy. Although the president-elect is a long way from crafting actual legislation, he promised during the campaign to make the twin challenge of controlling health-care costs and expanding coverage a top priority in his first term.

Daschle, who is expected to become the next secretary of health and human services, is waging the outreach campaign by marrying old-fashioned Washington-style lobbying and cutting-edge social-networking technologies.

You should follow the link for some of the more technical details, but this move should prove a valuable resource for enacting Obama’s domestic policy agenda. The more progressive promises he made during the campaign, such as on health care, carbon emissions and green energy, will require more than just Democratic votes to pass through Congress. Iowa, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania & Ohio all went strongly for Obama in the last election, and since each of these states have a Republican Senator up for re-election in 2010, being able to point to an active and vocal support for the measures he’s proposing might be enough to win some of their votes.

One criticism you could make of this development, and it’s one that I think David Semple has made on a couple of occasions, is that what this amounts to is the Obama team leading the netroots, rather than the other way around. I think that’s true to an extent, and I think it would be troubling if the existing organising structures – which, prior to the last election, had some measure of independence –  became servile to the wishes of the White House and DNC.

Personally, I think there’s merit to having two ‘netroots’; one with the institutional influence and ability to engage up to 13 million people, and another with a greater degree of ideological firmness which is able to hold the administration’s feet to the fire when it’s falling short. Either way, it’ll be very interesting to see how it all develops.

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