Internet Grass Roots Changing Political Machine The Obama machine is new kind of hybrid of top-down leadership and bottom-up energy. While many of its activities are initiated from above, it is also benefiting from a huge outpouring of voter-to-voter self-organizing. By putting the power in supporters' keyboards, the political machinery of 2008 has differed dramatically from that of previous election years.
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Internet Grass Roots Changing Political Machine

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Internet Grass Roots Changing Political Machine

Internet Grass Roots Changing Political Machine

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ALISON STEWART, host:

No matter who wins the presidential election, there's little doubt that campaigning has been drastically altered. The amounts of money raised and the well-coordinated use of the Internet point to the emergence of a new kind of campaign machine, or so says Micah Sifrey, editor of TechPresident.com, a Web site that tracks the use of the Internet in the presidential elections. Hi, Micah.

Mr. MICAH SIFREY (Editor, TechPresident.com): Good to be here.

STEWART: We also have Chuck DeFeo, vice president of the conservative hub Townhall.com on the line. And you write for Micah's site as well, Chuck? Is that true?

Mr. CHUCK DEFEO (Vice President, Townhall.com): Yes.

STEWART: All right. Welcome to the program.

Mr. DEFEO: Thank you.

STEWART: So, Micah, let me start with you. You wrote - and I'm going to read this - quote, "The Obama machine is a new kind of hybrid of top-down leadership and bottom-up energy," end quote. Why did you use the word machine?

Mr. SIFREY: Well, first of all because people remember that there used to be political machines in American politics, especially in urban areas, that were patronage operations that traded services for votes, in effect. And that's how people were mobilized into politics. Those are mostly gone. But what we're seeing in this election is powered by the Internet, a new kind of machine, if you will. I don't want to put it in a pejorative sense. It's something amazing. We've never seen so many people mobilized and self-mobilizing in so many ways around a presidential election. And I think what we're seeing, in particular around the Obama campaign, is something phenomenal.

STEWART: Chuck, the perception, whether it's reality or not, is that John McCain perhaps isn't as plugged in as perhaps Barack Obama is when it comes to harnessing the Internet. Can you confirm or illuminate us on that a little bit?

Mr. DEFEO: Well, the first Internet candidate really was John McCain for the 2000 presidential primary. He raised $2 million online in one night in 2000 when there was a fraction of the amount of people that are online today. There's two fundamental differences between the demographics. Democrats online tend to skew a little bit younger. Republicans online tend to skew a little bit older. So their habits and how they tend to use the Internet is a little bit different. So executing similar strategies and tactics will yield you different results. And I think you're seeing that when you go look at JohnMcCain.com versus a BarackObama.com. But I do think that that's an inaccurate comparison.

STEWART: This is a question for both of you. Looking beyond the election, what role do you see technology playing in the presidency? Could you conceive of a presidential blog, Micah?

Mr. SIFREY: Oh, I think that's a given. I think either way there's a lot of pent-up interest on the part of the electorate for government to become more open, accountable and engaging, so that we can actually help. You know, we don't only have to subjects of the government. We can also participate in co-creating better government. So I'm optimistic about the future. I think we are going to see government 2.0.

Mr. DEFEO: Just to jump off of that a little bit, the more interesting story isn't necessarily what either one of the campaigns are doing. It's what citizens and individual voters themselves are doing on their own to actually participate and in some instances actually change what the candidates and what the news organizations are having to cover. What is going to happen in 2009 and 2010, whomever the president, when the next crisis or the next major issue happens? How are these individuals going to again self-organize? They're really going to impact what legislation gets passed or what legislation doesn't get passed because the individuals themselves have tapped into something.

Mr. SIFREY: Yeah. When the bailout bill came up, and Nancy Pelosi put the text up on the Web, the interest in the text to that bill crashed Congress's Web servers. People were hungry to know what was in the details of this thing. And then as soon as they got their hands on it, they were taking it apart. So that is going to continue to be a force, a new force, in American politics. And you know, I generally - I think Chuck and I agree - it's a democratizing force. It is better for our Democracy when more people are watching and engaged than less.

STEWART: Chuck DeFeo is vice president of the conservative hub Townhall.com, and Micah Sifrey is the editor of TechPresident.com. Thanks to both of you.

Mr. SIFREY: Thank you.

Mr. DEFEO: It's a pleasure.

STEWART: And while we're on the subject of the Internet, a note that Weekend Edition is now on Twitter. Twitter is a free social networking site that lets users send instant updates. Each message, known as a tweet, is like mini blog post. To find out how to follow our Twitter feed, visit our blog at npr.org/soapbox.

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