Jesse Brown: Obama's no geek


Barack Obama won because of the internet. That’s where he fought the smears, raised the cash, and got out the vote.

Plenty of pundits are citing his superior use of technology as the decisive factor, and they’re right.

But let’s put the point in context: Obama is no geek-wizard. His campaign didn’t code any groundbreaking new tools or conjure up some all-powerful White House-nabbing algorithm. It’s convenient to picture a team of young team-Obama hackers casting a digital spell over America, but to borrow an Obamian phrase - that’s just sloppy thinking.

The truth is, Obama is a great community organizer, and he took those skills online.

He approached an existing network of pissed-off progressives and transformed their anger to something positive. He steered that positivity well, and it went viral. The incredible payoff his campaign enjoyed last night has more to do with disciplined messaging, consistency of tone, and great design than it does with space-age toys.

In rebuilding their party, Republicans may be tempted to blow obscene wads of money on new gear, new sites, and new Silicon Valley hires. But you can’t buy a network like Obama’s. You have to build it, and their Limbaugh-listening, Drudge-reading base is an audience, not a community.

So where to begin? Absorbing Ron Paul’s pissed-off posse would be a good start.

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David Shield

Interesting thoughts on political organizing. Thought it was a bit dismissive of the Republican base, however. I'm guessing the distinction you make between audience and community is action--eg Limbaugh's people listen, but don't actually do anything. However, as you can see from California's gay marriage proposition failure, the right is pretty good at mobilizing. Hell, they ran the country for the past eight years. Am I missing something here?

Posted November 6, 2008 11:33 AM

Jesse Brown


David, I'll argue that the difference between an audience and a community in this context isn't action, but communication.

True, Limbaugh and other influential voices on the Right can motivate their audiences to perform specific, targeted actions. But these audiences can't really talk back, or to each other.

As a result, I think there's a limit on the number of times Limbaugh can push their buttons before his "dittoheads" get weary. By contrast, Obama's network (or Ron Paul's) was able to organize and expand from within.

Posted November 6, 2008 07:33 PM

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