Monday, June 23, 2008

Beyond Brand Obama

Douglas Rushkoff asked some really salient questions a couple of weeks ago and speaking just for myself, these are questions I've not seen answered yet;
Where the Obama effort has always disturbed me, however, is in how branded it all feels. From the beginning of his candidacy, I felt as if the Obama name and image represented a new way of doing things more than it exemplified it. My own sense of cynicism reached a peak when Oprah Winfrey began campaigning for him. I've watched her similarly enthused by fakers from Tom Cruise to the founders of The Secret. Oprah's "energy," if you will, is that of national branding. Oprah + (insert your product here) = MegaBrand. Using Oprah to push Obama feels a bit like using rock to push religion. But it's not fair to criticize Obama for letting a powerful media celebrity attempt to teach her followers why he'd be good for the country, is it? He needs to get elected, after all.

Then there's Obama's efforts to reach out to new audiences online. And for sure, Obama's Facebook/YouTube/website representation is far beyond anything Howard Dean and his folks did last time out. Where Dean's people inserted their stock candidate into an online fund-raising campaign, Obama's message and media are more organically related to one another. His message is about invigorating bottom-up, grass-roots, community organizing - and the Internet is that, if anything.

Still, a closer look at Obama's online effort reveals many opportunities for work, and few opportunities for what I consider to be intelligent participation. We can sign up to make phone calls, send emails, volunteer in the streets, or become precinct captains. But where's the participatory democracy wiki? Where do we get involved in the conversations that help shape his policy positions? How is he incorporating the massive intelligence of his support network into his philosophy of governance? BarackObama.com is a great example of crowd-sourcing, but it's a far cry from even a fledgling effort at open source democracy.
Where does one get involved in the coversations that bring his policy position around to address the Peak Oil crisis, for example?