Archive for October 9th, 2003

Credit where credit is due: Abstract Dynamics


BTW, I can’t begin to tell you how much fun I think this site is!  Abstract Dynamics..Willliam Abraham Blaze!!

The Clark case and the changing structure of politics in America


The Clark imbroglio continues, as Draft Clark has gone on the offensive
with an open letter denouncing Clark’s new campaign team.  Dave is maintaining a good summary of the action. See also Kos and Taegan (thanks to Dave).  

What is the significance of the Clark case?  We are living in a
new “demand environment’ for candidates.  Consider this: much of
what a candidate or a president must do is manage the demands of an
ecosystem people, groups and interests.  This issue is fundamental
in the study of political science.  The demand environment
includes various segments of the general public, as well as the press,
plus what we think of as “special interests” including both advocacy
groups and donors (and often these later are one in the same).

The demand environment can be examined for both content and
structure.  Content includes people’s and groups views on
particular topics, such as the economy, foreign policy and diplomacy,
and social issues.  Structure refers to the relative power,
activation, and activation speed of particular groups.

The blogosphere’s involvement in politics is changing the structure as
well as content of the demand environment of the candidates.  The
Draft Clark movement—blog-enabled—has real power.  It is
self-organizing and internally coherent, it is activated, and it is
capable of very rapid activation speed.  The movement is a critical part of Wesley Clark’s demand environment.  His
new team seems to miss this fact, or hope that by ignoring the
movement, it will fall in line with their agenda.  This is
unlikely to happen.  Power groups that are locked out seldom go
away—rather, they become more aggressive in asking for their place at
the table.  If they do not get their place, they will look for
another table at which they are welcome—or they may go negative and
seek to undermine the power of their former host.

But there are broader structural questions that are fascinating: To
extent are we altering the structure of the demand environment around
candidates and those in office?  Will changes in the structure of
the demand environment improve the wisdom and
responsiveness and adaptability of our political process, and thus our
nation?  Recently InstaPundit Glenn Reynolds wrote very thoughtfully about the structure of politics, referencing one
of my favorite economists, Mancur Olson.  Olson studied how
special interests gain more and more power over time, and eventually
make a government unable to move forward.  Special interests in
this sense are those who can put a great deal of money and time into a
focused issue.  Special interests tend to trump the broader
citizen interests
in democracy; broader issues such as the commons, the
environment, the inclusiveness of society, innovation, etc. 
Special interests can press their narrow views because they are able to
develop concentrated power, high levels of activation,
and fast activation speed.

The highest hope for the emerging role of the blogoshere in politics is
that we can increase the concentrated power, activation and activation
speed of citizen groups with broader, higher minded interests. 
The web allows millions of people to come together easily and
inexpensively. Web discourse on blogs enables the co-evolution of facts
and arguments that results in thousands of people becoming more aware
of the stakes in any given political decision, and thus more activated
to try to be involved.  And the web enables swarms to come
together in minutes rather than days.  Our hope is to improve the
adaptability and openness of
our democracy.

The Clark case is not just a story about a group of Clinton and Gore
advisors who are consolidating power over a campaign.  My sense is
that the professionals who have taken over are attuned to the former
demand environment, but are not appreciating how much the new demand
environment differs from the old.  They are attuned to traditional
Democratic interest and donor groups and power brokers, but are missing
out on the new, more broadly constituted groups that are swarming
across the blogosphere.  The professionals running the Clark
campaign do not understand the new emerging topology of Democratic
politics in America.  Most profoundly, they do not understand that
the leadership of our nation requires that candidates help reshape the
topology of politics—and that the Dean campaign is deeply involved in
that process.

I saw this problem up close and personally in the Gore campaign. I
remember being at the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles, and having
the sinking sense that the Gore campaign was moving farther and farther
away from connecting with the exciting, vibrant, fresh ideas and people
and groups making up the new American polis.  I was not
alone.  Many others at the convention had a similar sense. 
But we were not able to access, much less influence, the small group of
pros who had encircled Al Gore.  These pros were exquisitely
attuned to the traditional interest groups who make up the old
Democratic demand environment.  I remember voicing this concern
personally at the convention to a friend who is a pillar of the
party.  He replied in a very nice way, “Jim, campaigns are best
left to the pros.”

Well, I don’t think campaigns are best left to pros if those pros can’t
understand and accept the reality of the new landscape, and can’t
related to the new people, processes and issues raised by the new
politics.    More importantly, we need to encourage the
evolution of a new political landscape in America, freed of the narrow
interests that tend to define politics of both left and right.  We
need to use the web to bring together large groups, focused on large
issues, who can counterbalance the small, well-funded and more
self-centered players who currently hold the stage.  I believe
this is what the blogosphere is capable of helping to enable, on both
left and right.  This is what I personally want to work toward.

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