The Day After: Got Democracy?

Confetti is still being swept up from the halls of Democratic victory parties across the country. In Massachusetts, the celebration has been a long time in coming. The election of Deval Patrick as governor — a first of several important kinds — is a shot in the arm to those tired of a state managed by Republican governors since Michael Dukakis left office a decade and a half ago. And the US House, now to be run by US Rep. Nancy Pelosi, it seems.

So: did the use of the Internet have much to do with the process or the outcome of the 2006 election cycle?

John Bracken replies to my question of yesterday about the changing (?) nature of politics in the era of the Internet(s): “Two years later, is there evidence that we are more energized, are there signs of semiotic democracy? Certainly, the war, Katrina and corruption scandals may have energized liberal voters, but I don’t attribute much of that energy to the internet. I suspect that the election news junkies among us would be just as junkified, with or without the Internets. I am reminded by frequent exhortations by a non-blogging, a labor organizer friend that shoe leather on-the-ground is more important than bloggers and bits. I’ve argued this over with him several times, but some of tonight’s results may bear him out. (As of this writing, certain bloggers are notably quiet on Lamont’s apparent loss– or saying such claims are merely an “MSM” thing.) But what does the research bear out? Yes, we can use information ourselves when we can access it and there are some cool tools for covering the poltical process and actual voting. But has our ability to maintain ‘a more active relationship with information’ changed the way our governments do their work and deliver services? Not yet, not from where I sit.”

I’m inclined to agree with John (admittedly, I ordinarily do). His argument is well-framed. But a few things I see slightly differently:

– The main addendum I’d make is to point to the use of Internet as empowering the grassroots not just to chatter and to provide information to voters, but also to organize itself and to be trusted to carry the campaign’s water effectively. There’s no doubt that the extraordinarily energetic, well-run Deval Patrick campaign was the most effective of any campaign for governor at using Internet for organizing, productivity-enhancement, fundraising, and messaging of any of the candidates in the race, start to finish. The back-end tools that were provided to volunteer organizers were terrific. The campaign was highly decentralized. The leadership of the campaign is to be congratulated for trusting the base — the grassroots — that got the campaign through the rough primary and powered the overwhelming victory in the general election over Kerry Healey. You might in fact think of many of the bloggers on the left as volunteers working independently of the campaign. Massachusetts has Blue Mass Group, with 3 leaders and 2000+ members, as well as a range of locally-focused bloggers who kept up the conversation in remarkable fashion over the past two years. They provided an authentic set of voices telling, by and large, the pro-Patrick story throughout the primary and the general. Better to have the online crowd on your side than not, at a minimum.

– I’d add to this productivity point also the fundraising power of the Net to raise small contributions — key, I think, in the primary here in Massachusetts, where Gov.-elect Patrick’s opponents were better funded from the start and small contributions kept him on the air and in the mix — and also the ability of certain bloggers to amplify the positive messages of the campaign and to draw voters into the process.

– The last particularly cool thing I’d note about the Patrick campaign was the use of When I first saw his convention ad, with an amazingly powerful soundtrack, I was pretty certain he’d be the next governor. I’d be interested to know how many people saw that video — on the web as well as on the campaign trail, at the convention, at the inspiring Boston Common rally during the general election — and what impact the campaign thought it had. If you are wondering why he won, just click here and play the ad.

– All that said: I suspect that the strongest reasons for the overwhelming Patrick victory were the charisma, leadership, and energy of the candidate himself; a serious shoe-leather campaign throughout the state to talk to people face-to-face, make what’s thought to be a record number of GOTV calls; and a well-run classical campaign.

The bottom-line answer to Bracken’s comment still hangs in the balance. Will the way our leaders govern be any different? It seems to me possibly more important what happens next. I have every faith that Mr. Patrick will trust the same grassroots — those he celebrated and led to victory last night — as governor, just as he did as a candidate. How that makes him a better governor, and Rep. Pelosi a better speaker, and so forth, seems to me the primary open issue.

(A side note: the Healey campaign has got to go down in history as one of the nastiest, race-baiting, Willie Horton-invoking campaigns in our state’s modern history. It was awful. Someone should preserve her TV ads as a prime example of going way, way over all manner of lines of decency, taste, tact, and citizenship. I am not sorry to see those ads off the air forever.)

Bravo to everyone who took advantage of the cool new tools to post, comment, and otherwise get their hands dirty in the citizen’s conversation during election 2006!

4 thoughts on “The Day After: Got Democracy?

  1. […] The skepticism I expressed earlier about the role of the internet in the political sphere (as well as many of my other political attitudes, I’m sure) derives from the fact that I’ve spent much of my life in Chicago. John Palfrey’s thoughtful post-Election Day piece describes a political ethos unseen here in Cook County. The famous line by19th century Chicago journalist Finley Peter Dunne’s Mr. Dooley character still holds true: “politics ain’t beanbag.” […]

  2. Now that Obama will be in power, I think we might see some great long term changes. However, he’s got a huge uphill battle to fight with getting through the recession first. Googl luck to him!

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