Outlining and the presidential campaign

We’re about to roll into another U.S. Presidential campaign.  The mass media tends to cover such events in an “issue of the week” style.  Thus one can read a newspaper and learn a candidate’s position on the current hot issue but it is very difficult to form a comprehensive picture of what a politician has said and done on the campaign trail (note the avoidance of the phrase “what the politician stands for” because this presumably shifts with opinion poll results).

Could the Internet be usefully applied to the challenge of informing voters?

Idea 1 (not mine):  every resident of New Hampshire sets up a blog and, if he or she encounters a Presidential candidate, writes down what happened.  Aggregation tools enable those of us who don’t live in New Hampshire, and whose vote is not therefore worth personal attention, to get glimpses of the real men and women running for office (imagine if Gennifer Flowers and Paula Jones had been running blogs back when Bill Clinton was on the campaign trail; that would have been all-too-real :-)).

This idea, powerful though it might be, would not seem to help voters grapple with the challenge of forming a comprehensive picture of any one candidate.

Idea 2:  Build a dynamic outline of all the political issues that are on citizens’ minds in 2004.  Have people in New Hampshire and other campaign-heavy states augment this outline with real-time reports of personal interactions with politicians.  By November 2004 this outline should be filled with information, presented in a way that is useful for making decisions, all stuff that voters could never get from the mass media.

What would it take to make this happen?  A bit of database programming for a Web server and a small team of part-time editors whose job would be to remove/suppress duplicate reports and off-topic postings, i.e., ones that go beyond a factual report of “Jane Candidate said X on Date Y”.

14 thoughts on “Outlining and the presidential campaign

  1. no offense , Phil , but wwoOAAAHHHH-up, here!

    every resident of New Hampshire sets up a blog and. . . Hell; never mind the and , we’re already out of the park , here .

    Build a dynamic outline of all the political issues that are on citizens’

    OK; I got a better idea and its a HELL of a lot easier :

    We build a spaceship and get the phuc offa this planet and go to another solar system where we start our own thing.

    Course , the pity is that our progeny would probably wind up in the same place , eventually.

  2. but would all running candidates be included? lyndon larouche has raised record funds in
    in his new grassroots campaign, beating even lieberman, but of course the media is not allowed to fairly comment on him. even despite the million dollar campaign
    to falsely smear him as an “anti-semite” and “kook” he still serves up all his pages. as he has
    been repeatedly saying, usa today is more and more like nazi germany 1930s.
    will these views be linked to and read, or just gawked at by a million blogs: “oh, he’s a kook, don’t read anything he has to say! {insert GIF animation of USA flag here}”

  3. Check this out:

    Weboutliner from Broadband Mechanics. It’s an on-line outliner, OPML, attach graphics, swf, RSS, web links to any node.

    Drag and drop – works on ALL browsers. We’re going to open source it – and get lots of innovative developers using it for new kids of structure editors.


  4. Idea 2 needs a plan, with goals and strategies; at some point, it will be successful, in that it will catch the public imagination, be widely watched as a better indicator than TV can produce of what’s on people’s minds, and recruit broad participation. Or it will be a flash-in-the-pan, a lightweight attempt that hasn’t attracted enough coordinated effort to attain critical mass.

    Idea 1 is different; it presents an obviously unreachable goal, but every step toward that goal – every weblog launched and maintained by a New Hampshire citizen – adds incrementally to the good effects the idea was conceived to generate. Idea 1 can clearly proceed in parallel, with Idea 2, feeding it articulated positions for discussion and stimulating participation.

    There’s lots of good software out there that could be adopted to either or both ideas. What each idea needs is a network of people who have committed time and talent to the effort, and whose participation os well-coordinated by a few especially committed individuals. I’ll commit some substantial hunk of time to making Idea 2 work – as planner, editor, software configurator, tutorial writer, whatever. It’s the kind of idea that could change things. (They need that.)

  5. Both 1 and 2 are great ideas, plus Idea 3: each candidate should have a blog, or better, allow a blogger to follow his/her campaign as a member of the press, but perhaps paid and hired by a non-profit, non-partisan electoral research group, like Project Vote Smart, for example.

    If you’re going to work on implementing idea 2, you might drop a line to someone at Vote Smart — their goal is to provide voters with as much trustworthy and non-paritsan information as possible so that we can all make informed voting decisions. They may not have much $$ to contribute to your effort, but they may have resources that you could draw on.

  6. No new technology is needed to achieve an informed electorate. Less old technology is needed, in particular, televsion. Studies of public knowledge of the first Gulf War, conducted in 1991, found that the more televsion people watched, the less they were able to answer basic questions about the war (“Where is Iraq?”, “Has the United Nations condemned Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait?”). This held true even when the people questioned watched fairly large amounts of television news.

    There is something fundamentally difficult about getting information across on a television. I’ve noticed it myself when I watch ESPN Sportscenter – I never get a sense of a how the game went, only what the final score was.

    As long as people continue to watch large amounts of televsion, they will remain poorly informed. If, by magic, people stopped watching television and started reading newspapers then we would have a well-informed electorate. And newspaper is easier on the eyes than a computer screen, a fact which becomes more and more important for people as they get past age 40.

  7. I’m skeptical. Sounds like it would be a cross between CB radio and AM radio, tho’ dynamically outlined and edited.

    What about IDEA #2 and applied to a blog-like system for public notice and comment in administrative law-making?

  8. I like what you propose–sounds like a campaign-focused version of “Plastic.” One problem with editors is that their own prejudices influence what gets thrown out. Slashdot tries to overcome this by have both “moderators” and “meta-moderators”–the latter grade the former on fairness. But who will meta-meta-moderate the meta-moderators…?

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