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Thomas Paine and Web 2.0

Tuesday, January 15th, 2008

Paine

New Media and Web 2.0 are remaking presidential politics, and I have the evidence to prove it: Senator Hillary Clinton, Governor Mike Huckabee, Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama all took first place in early and important presidential contests… after responding to the Why Tuesday? Candidate Challenge.

I am not alone on the Trail. Citizen journalists reporting to America’s young and old across the country are asking questions and filling the disconnect between the news people want and the news traditional media dishes. And most presidential candidates, but not all of them, understand the role us “backseat bloggers” play.

The Candidate Challenge is our group’s effort to make the sorry state of our voting system – 139th of 172 countries in voter turnout despite spending billions on our elections – an issue our politicians cannot avoid. Since September, 13 of the 16 candidates have responded to the Challenge, and the vast majority of them agree the system is broken.

Only three candidates haven’t responded to the Candidate Challenge: Senator Fred Thompson, Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Governor Mitt Romney. Of them, only one candidate has turned down the opportunity to respond on multiple occasions: Governor Romney.

After formal requests to the Governor by mail, by e-mail and by phone, he hadn’t responded. So we brought the Why Tuesday? Candidate Challenge to him. In Iowa and again on the streets of New York City, Romney turned us down. In fact, when I asked if he had a plan for election reform, he uttered only three words to us: “I sure do.”

On New Years Day the New York Times columnist David Brooks, in advance of the Iowa caucuses, explained why his money isn’t on the former Massachusets Governor to become the next president of the United States.

He has spent roughly $80 million, including an estimated $17 million of his own money, hiring consultants, blanketing the airwaves and building an organization that is unmatched on the Republican side.

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And yet as any true conservative can tell you, the sort of rational planning Mitt Romney embodies never works. The world is too complicated and human reason too limited. The PowerPoint mentality always fails to anticipate something. It always yields unintended consequences.

And what Romney failed to anticipate is this: In turning himself into an old-fashioned, orthodox Republican, he has made himself unelectable in the fall.

Old-fashioned or not, it’s curious that any candidate would shy away from talking to voters about increasing citizen participation in what is the world’s most recognized democracy. Romney spokesman Kevin Madden says in the video that election reform is not something that his camp is focusing on “at this point.” Why is it so tough for the Governor to discuss increasing voter participation? And why is it difficult for him to address the questions of nontraditional journalists while out on the Trail?

Thomas Paine – in a stroke of common sense, as it were – believed voting is the right by which all others are protected. I wonder what Paine would think of Web 2.0 and the ability for the tools of the internet to spread the message of open, reliable and accessible democracy (I’m not the first one to wonder, either). Most 2008 presidential candidates agree – from the looks of our Challenge – that it’s a good thing.

This blog post also appears today on the Drum Major Institutes’s DMIBlog.com. Photo of Thomas Paine sculpture in Thetford, Norfolk, England, UK via Leo Reynolds on flickr.

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