Exley praises his shortcomings

· The Power of Many

Christian posted a long quote from the Berkman School living-web wonkfest last week. At that, Kerry online honcho Zach Exley told everyone that Kerry-Edwards focused too much on means and not enough on ends:

The Democrats had no shortage of goatee-chinned web designers, but they were trounced by the Republicans’ superior top-down organization.

“The difference between the approach of the left in general, and the Republicans, is that the left was more interested in just putting cool software up. The idea was to put up the tools and let people use them.”

He derided net evangelists who believed that the answer was ‘let’s come up with new ways of talking!’

“The belief was ‘let’s get 5,000 people out there and they’ll talk to each other. but to put a president in office we need to get people organized and trained.” In the end, he said, a field organization was far more valuable than blog blather.

First, Exley is criticizing others for something that was his responsibility. Second, the article says he credits the Republicans’ top-down system for their field organization; does that make sense? (It might be the reporter’s error rather than Exley’s.) But third and most importantly, this misses two very large boats:

  • There were excellent field organizations on both sides. Evidence so far is that grassroots efforts in get-out-the-vote set new records on both sides. The Republicans won because they transferred “message distribution” more effectively from top to bottom, but doesn’t that just represent their headstart in areas like media control?
  • Political campaigns are brief, but political movements require more time. That online political tools didn’t produce a victory for either side doesn’t seem (to me) to signify that they never will. Now that those tools have been released into the wild, all political “sides” must learn to take advantage of them.

The process of us masses (yes, “the masses” is appropriate here) taking over control of political discourse and decision-making is inexorable. If we could plot “the extent to which the country is driven by a tiny oligarchy” on a graph, the absolute value would still be low; but disintermediation—the living web effect—is increasing the slope representing the rate of change.

(I had scribbled most of this when I saw the quote, then sat on it because of other priorities. When Kos posted, “People like Zach […] never truly understood the power of many“—emphasis obviously added—I decided maybe I wasn’t being unreasonable after all.)