Third Party & Independents Archives

Plogging for President?

In a truly surreal twist, Lawrence Lessig has handed his cyberlaw blog over to presidential candidate Howard Dean for a week . Dean’s motives are not too hard to figure out. Dean’s strong point is his eloquence, (contrast that with Bush’s lack of eloquence, which inspired Mark Crispin Miller to write a book about it ). Clearly he is fond of using technology and alternative methods of reaching voters. If I were plogging for president, what would I plog about?

Dean's comments will probably lack candor or spontaneity, but that's beside the point; it's a way for every reader at work to follow his daily ruminations. An important part of campaigning is being able to tell a good story. One reason (I would argue) that Bill Clinton succeeded so well in 1992 is the incredible biographical video that was shown during the convention and on live national TV. Pure puff and propaganda, of course, but highly effective mythmaking (standing up to his abusive father, shaking JFK's hand, going to Oxford, etc). That video probably cost a few hundred thousand dollars to produce. A blog, on the other hand, costs practically nothing. It lets the candidate tell a story directly to voters, unmediated by the media. Blogs allow the reader/voter to get a sense of how the blogger thinks and feels about the moment. If Dean includes photos of his family or cat on his blog, it gives us a glimpse of the personal relationships that matter in his life. Readers/voters need this. They need a president who is easy to relate to, even if he has the capacity to press a button that could bring this world to armageddon.

Aside from publicity value, isn't blogging a waste of a candidate's time? Several presidents kept diaries, and Churchill certainly didn't let presidential duties interfere with his journals. Some use writing to work out their thought processes. On the other hand, bloggers benefit from the relative anonymity they live in and yes, the lack of accountability. After all, once a post goes into the Archive section, most bloggers can feel confident that nobody--and I mean nobody--will read it. But a public blogger like Dean might find it fatiguing to keep up with the nitpickers and flamers. Inconsistencies or evolving opinions may be perceived as a kind of intellectual weakness.

A suggestion for Howard Dean: Don't write about politics in your weblog. Write about the interesting people you meet every day on the campaign trail. Every day pick a person you met and tell that person's story. A political campaign afford ample opportunities to meet people with all kinds of political perspectives, and it would be nice to share these perspectives with readers.

Finally, it's worth wondering if an established blogger would ever entertain the idea of running for office. Communication skills and wonkishness are important, but so is consensus-building, planning and motivating. Could a good blogger ever be good at all these things?

Posted by rjnagle at July 12, 2003 6:16 PM