Just finished Feld and Wilcox’s Netroots Rising: How a Citizen Army of Bloggers and Online Activists Is Changing American Politics and, I have to say, I think I enjoyed it a lot more than Blog Wars (which I read and blogged about last week). Unlike last week’s book, I was glad to read the account in Feld and Wilcox’s book of the Dean campaign. While the Dean campaign is universally celebrated as the first really and truly Internet campaign, Feld and Wilcox acknowledge some of the potential problems with running a campaign as an “adhocracy.”
This isn’t to say that I’m opposed to campaigns making use of fluid authority structures, but it is to say that people do need direction. Getting 100 people to show up (heck, even getting 10) is great but if they don’t know what to do, have clear direction, and simple goals having all the enthusiasm in the world won’t do you much good. Feld and Wilcox do an excellent job explaining why, even with loads of excitement, you’ve still got to have a field director, a volunteer coordinator, etc. to let people know exactly what is needed.
Part of me can’t wait for the second editions of all these books. The Obama campaign seems to have been able to expertly walk that fine line between top-down organization with everyone in his/her place and an ad-hoc structure with people doing what they can, when they can. Also, unlike the Kerry campaign, Obama’s campaign seems like they’re more willing (or just more able?) to use the Internet and their blog to fight back against the “whisper campaigns” that did in Kerry. Although the claim that Obama is a Muslim hasn’t gained quite as much traction (in my opinion) as the Swift Boat Veterans’ accusations, Obama has been able to distance himself from those accusations while still fighting back– a hard thing to do– by harnessing the power of blogging, high profile supporters, and the low profile grass roots supporters. One NPR reporter said he’s been good at fighting in the trenches while simultaneously staying on Mt. Olympus.
So, this is all to say that I thought Netroots Rising was an excellent history of some of the pitfalls of liberal/progressive use of the Internet, some of the early successes, and a clear indication of what worked and what didn’t. I tend to prefer books like this because, without the relentless optimism and belief that the Internet will save progressive politics all by itself, Feld and Wilcox’s book highlights how important it is to have a plan, a clear vision of what you want to accomplish, AND a little bit of passion and luck. Of course, those seem like they’re important in any campaign (or in life, actually).