The White House announced a packed engagement schedule in the lead up to and after Tuesday’s State of the Union Address, including a full week of “Office Hours” with senior officials, a White House TweetUp, and a Google+ hangout with President Barack Obama (on Monday, January 30th). This type of full court press may be new to American politics, but it’s standard for Obama, who made a name for himself as a trailblazer of citizen engagement by using social media. Amidst Republican concerns that the president does not uphold traditional American values, his campaign team would be well-served to highlight his signature contribution of taking the decision-making processes back to the people.
The Obama team wrote the book on social media in politics. Many analysts credit his victory to a skillful use of digital platforms – YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter — which attracted a relatively younger grassroots constituency and led to 66.8 million votes and $500 million in just online donations. To be clear, Obama’s campaign team was not the first to employ social media — Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) raised $1 million online in 2000, and Howard Dean mobilized online support through Meetup groups in 2004 — but it was the first to effectively convert online engagement into actual votes. Compared to McCain, Obama’s social media hits in the 2008 election season were four times higher on YouTube and five times higher on Facebook.
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But, it’s not just about the numbers. Obama activated a social movement of passionate supporters dedicated to influencing the political decision-making process. Soon after the election, he created “Organizing for America” to maintain his community level engagement by utilizing constituents’ views on key policy issues including health care, the budget, and education reform. In addition, he signed an unprecedented Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government (also known as Gov 2.0), and launched Challenge.gov, a crowdsourcing platform for federal agencies to post challenges to which citizens can respond to with solutions and receive cash prizes.
Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra describes Gov 2.0 as 'a fundamental shift in power.' “This engages the American people to be co-creators to solve some of the toughest problems America faces,” he said. The cumulative effect of such engagement efforts are tectonic; they are leading government out of the dark age of broadcast democracy — where democracy is a top-down transmittal from elected officials to citizens — into a place where we can perhaps see the light of true collaboration between citizens and the few that govern.
Imprints of Obama’s community organizing bias are visible in his campaigns and the government he runs. In this election year, it’s important for Obama to remind voters of the gated policymaking process of his Republic predecessors, and how he, against several odds, started a movement towards co-ownership of the decision-making processes. This is a vital point to highlight in a political season known more for bi-partisan gridlock than accountability to constituents. Ultimately, it is an improvement to the political system that Americans can enjoy regardless of their party affiliation, one we would continue to depend on during a second term.
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