The Viral Candidate
Matt Compton crystallizes something I have been thinking about for days:
These are all examples of how the Obama campaign is doing something new: leveraging technology and community organizing to reach people one on one. It is avoiding the traditional and even nontraditional filters -- the conventional media, the leaders of the blogosphere, and the Party establishment -- to speak directly to voters.
One thing that is missing from this analysis, however, is the virulence of the Obama meme. All candidates are using web-based social network technology as a vehicle for their message, but the Obama meme is showing superior potency.
As author Seth Godin, who analyzes consumer trends, explains it, "The key assumption in the analysis of typical field organizers is this: one persuaded equals 1.1 or perhaps 1.5 votes. In other words, the multiplier is very small. That's why you need to run lots of ads and do lots of direct mail. It's not very efficient, it's very expensive, but you can really pile it on. The idea is that if you hit someone ten or twenty or a thousand times, sooner or later you'll get some conversion.
Obama and [Ron] Paul do different math. They assume a multiplier of three or even six. Which means that creating (and living) a story that turns people evangelical is far more efficient than hewing to the middle of the road. They assume that if they can create a passionate, raving fan, they'll be able to translate that into a virus, an idea that spreads and scales over time. When that happens, they end up stoking the fire instead of lighting a lot of matches over and over again."
Sound familiar? Like every single Obamabot troll that has graced our comments recently. Ironically, the story that Obama uses to "turn people evangelical" is in fact "hewing to the middle of the road".
Once it has circumvented the institutional (new and old) filters, the Obama meme virus is cleverly designed to circumvent any personal filters the potential host may posess. By appealing to every conceivable tribal identity, and making very sure not to offend those tribal sensibilities, the Obama meme slips right through those personal defenses as well.
Did you vote for George W. Bush? That's OK, Obama believes in reaching across the aisle to Republicans. Does your faith play a central role in your life? That's OK, Obama is a Committed Christian. Did you have a good time in the 80's? That's OK too, Obama thinks Reagan ushered in a new era of confidence and dynamism....
What the Obama meme is not designed to do, however, is attach itself to the Identity Receptors of traditionally Democratic tribes. No one can accuse the Obama campaign of "pandering" to the GLBT community, reproductive rights groups, environmental groups, internet activists, etc...
There is one simple reason for this, if you think about it strategically: all these people are almost guaranteed to vote for the Democratic candidate in November anyway. So why waste time trying to win them over?
In fact, what the Obama campaign is treating as obstacles and calling "special interests" (like Unions for example), used to be called "core constituencies" for the Democratic party. In Old School campaigning the candidate would have to win these groups over, often by negotiating with the groups' leadership who would, in return, "deliver" the groups' votes.
I'm not saying the Old School way is the ideal political system, not in the least. The pattern I've observed in my lifetime (yes even in the Clinton 90's wonder years) is that the Interest Groups' leadership would get rewarded and the membership would get sold down the river. As hard as these groups worked to get Dems elected, the Party rarely rewarded them with substantial policy that addressed their concerns. Unless, of course, the Special Interest Group represented Megacorporations with Megadollars and uberlobbyists who made damn sure THEY got what they wanted.
The Obama campaign is using a New School strategy, but there is no guarantee at all that it won't have the same Old School results. Some of Obama's biggest donors are Wall Street investment houses and his economic advisors reek of libertarian tendencies (see Subprime Obama).
What worries me is that the Obama campaign refuses to even engage the progressive blogosphere (or other progressive groups) to discuss exactly what policies he will actually pursue if elected. As Barack Obama noticed during his first, and pretty much final, foray into the fever swamps we talk back, we ask questions, and we don't show deference to our leaders. We don't readily accept the Unity Pony [and Cult of Personality - something for another post] virus so we're a waste of time. There are (apparently) plenty of willing hosts out there.