Dear Barack, Please E-Mail Us
Primary season letters made us giddy. On the campaign trail, David Plouffe sent frequent calls for help to our inboxes whenever the campaign was on the ropes. Even better, we got video speeches sent directly after the cameras clicked off, and campaign ads that would never land on television. If my e-mail doesn’t see my pupils at least thirty times a day, something’s wrong or I’m on vacation. Demography of the consumerism aside, the reason Barack Obama gained fanatics so quickly was e-mail. Public advocacy and a Harvard pedigree had made him a mainstream media stand-out (Barack made his first national appearance in an article in the New York Times in 1990). His ability to make speeches afforded him more publicity after the 2004’s DNC address aired on national television.
But the true advantage of having an online campaign is the personal connection that Millennial Generation makes to him each time we frantically check our hundred of incoming messages. He has prime mental real estate, ahead of spamming companies, ahead of school newsletters, and (for some of us) ahead of the e-mails from mom checking in.
It never seemed like he was begging either. Most of his e-mail messages never warranted the “Report User” or “Spam” click because they were loaded with information, and the requests for a donation had the language of involvement (i.e. “…because of millions of small donations like yours…) enough to induce the action without being forceful.
If the first of many Obama campaign missions was to solidify the base, he identified his base as a group who could spread their influence beyond their dollars. The Facebook and BarackObama.com users who did not donate were still nearly as useful as those who did because they acted as an organizational arm of his campaign among young voters. Rumors about his religion were just as quickly dispelled on the Facebook side of the digital divide as they were promoted among older e-mail users. In a sense, the media’s vast influence acted as President-elect Obama’s silent marketing campaign, and neutralized some threats from mainstream outlets with louder voices, but less reach.
Thomas Jefferson used newspapers to win the presidency, F.D.R. used radio to change the way he governed, J.F.K. was the first president to understand television, and Howard Dean saw the value of the Web for raising money,” said Ranjit Mathoda, a lawyer and money manager who blogs at Mathoda.com. “But Senator Barack Obama understood that you could use the Web to lower the cost of building a political brand, create a sense of connection and engagement, and dispense with the command and control method of governing to allow people to self-organize to do the work.”
The question remains, however, how Barack Obama could use an inclusive opt-in e-mail network to enact his Presidential agenda. FDR and Dwight Eisenhower’s radio addresses gave them special place in the American household through a new instrument of technology. Obama has the power to tax the country, but has underlined in his victory speech the necessity of remaining openly communicative with the American people saying: “But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree.” Can we then expect an e-mail detailing the position of the United States in Iraq, explaining the advantages and difficulties of a withdrawal? When the economy falters in the coming months, and banks get special consideration for cash payouts, will we be alerted of the interest rates on our tax-based loan to them?
Our cynicism could be temporarily allayed if President Obama found time to send a daily e-mail during the recession era. The White House Press Secretaries under George W. Bush were mostly responsible for ostracizing the public, and holding newspaper corporations at arm’s length while they executed a confused plan. Scott McClellan and Ari Fleischer have each spoken out about their uncomfortable roles as designated liars during the run-up to the Iraq War. The upshot here is that Barack Obama’s facile manipulation of social networking trends might work tenaciously against the same group he hoped to court. Long story short, we were already drinking the Yes We Can Kool-Aid long before our incoming President had to answer for any of his distinct, far-reaching promises.
Whatever problems we face as a nation, we have been convinced of our force to change them in tandem, and that the strength of our government only extends just beyond our pleading voices for change. That may be wishful thinking in a time when the economy’s macro-meltdown illustrates our collective selfishness and inclination to excessive spending on both the consumer and corporate levels. For networks like Blackplanet, Myspace and Facebook to deliver on their potential as more than sounding boards for a disjoined polity, our leaders must make them into more than oversized virtual posters. Their newsletters, constant event updates and fan-page functions are the perfect complement to our broken, secretive federal government. Personally, I could benefit as an informed voter knowing that my President’s most important legislative decisions were there for me to browse at the click of a button. Without turning the stream of government information into a web version of C-Span, Obama’s political goals could move forward with public consensus as their backbone.
And as for the other direction of the e-mail’s two-way street, I view this as an invitation to engage with my political leadership on a more regular basis. Letter-writing has long been a part of the grassroots civic activity that agitates Washington D.C. assemblies. Nevermind that Barack Obama would get millions of e-mails from bored, frustrated, overjoyed and angry critics each day. Having that kind of channel to the Executive branch evokes the creativity among our best armchair politicians, and could breed the sort of proposals that would exist without the specific backing of the federal government. The enthusiasm of the Obama brand will fade for every hour of his public appointment if he doesn’t continuously cultivate the environment of participation that aided his vote.
For the first e-mail, maybe a congratulations is in order. But business of the day should make up the rest of the correspondence. So, Mr. President, I’ve had some thoughts on how to fight off the global oil tragedy… Reply as soon as possible.