Compare John Howard and the ALP’s recent bumbling forays onto the YouTube with the way online approaches are being embraced – by Democrats, at least – in the United States. To date, Australian political activity online has largely been an extension of the methods used in traditional media, and it has largely been done purely to create reporting about the fact that the Internet is being used by a given party or politician (with several notable exceptions, such as Andrew Bartlett). The American experience shows some of the ways this interconnected series of worldwide computer tubes can and, in my view, should be used.
The picture is a snapshot I took early this morning from the YearlyKos Convention in Second Life (YKSL). YearlyKos is an annual convention (now in its third year) that brings together America’s online political community – while it is ostensibly non-partisan, it leans pretty sharply to the left in terms of both its attendees and speakers (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
This year, the convention organized online resources for those who couldn’t make it to Chicago. This has included making use of the Second Life massively multiplayer world to deliver streaming video of sessions, the ability to submit questions to be asked in Chicago, and discussion with other YKSL attendees.
The picture shows Senator Chris Dodd, one of the participants in the Presidential Leadership Forum – a discussion that consisted of most of the Democratic candidates for the 2008 presidential nomination. Not only has a blogosphere-oriented political convention taken off – the leading politicians are actually participating in it (although it should be noted that the Congressional leadership session was canceled because the Senate and House politicians had to remain in Washington.
The Presidential Leadership Forum worked pretty well. Although the moderator, Matt Bai from the New York Times, cracked the whip a fair amount in terms of time constraints (90 seconds for initial responses, 45 for follow-ups), and the top-tier candidates (especially Clinton, Obama and Edwards) were given more time to speak than those who are polling lower (as in the TV debates), there was a decent amount of flexibility and give-and-take, with candidates interjecting to press issues with their counterparts a few times.
Overall, the level of dialogue surpassed a typical TV debate – with questions from political bloggers and with the candidates aware that they should cater to a politically sophisticated audience rather than trying to reach out to a general public and convince them to vote, there was an intelligent debate of foreign and domestic policy, as well as discussion about the role of blogging in political discourse.
This event shows the level of engagement and interaction that I hope political blogging in Australia can achieve. I know there are major differences between the Australian and American political in terms of hierarchy, economics, and the content of the dialogue, but this kind of direct, people-driven involvement is what we need. I’d invite discussion about where Australian politics
Video of the sessions from YearlyKos will be available on Ustream. The closing keynote from Markos Moulitsas Zúniga (kos of Daily Kos) is about to kick off, so I’m done here and heading back into Second Life.