Election tech: Upstarts like 'tea party' have an edge
FDR won support with his radio chats, and Kennedy took to TV. Now 'tea party' groups are tapping Twitter.
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One of the big messages from the success of so many long-shot candidates to the rest of the political establishment: take a high-schooler to lunch and pay close attention to his or her texting, tweeting, and Facebooking skills. And make sure you eavesdrop on the chatty, highly-personal style of chitchat if they should happen to take a cell phone call while you’re out. Because the lesson from this current political season is: it’s not enough to just “have a facebook page.” You gotta work that Twitter or Facebook or blog for all it’s worth.
Outsiders trying to get into the political game know this instinctively, say political observers. That’s why new technology – from the days of Thomas Paine’s pamphleteering through Roosevelt’s radio chats right up to Christine O’Donnell and Ken Buck’s emotional, interactive tweets – favors the challengers, the revolutionaries, and the outsiders.
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“Every generation has seen a dramatic disruption of the political process due to technological change,” says Brooklyn Law School’s Jonathan Askin, who served on the ‘08 Obama tech task force. History has shown, he says, that the disenfranchised with the least to lose and the most to gain by getting a message directly to the people are those who dig into the potential of new technologies and show what else they can do. And so, he points out, “radio promoted FDR’s agenda; TV helped elect Jack Kennedy; pamphleteers fomented the American Revolution and helped to springboard new parties.”
In each of those cases, says "Netroots" author Matt Kerbel, the establishment politicians underestimated and therefore underutilized the potential of the new technology. FDR’s opponents largely viewed radio as a wireless telegraph, good for blasting out speeches and information. “But FDR grasped the intimate nature of the medium and transformed it into a one-to-one conversation between him and the American people, something nobody before him had really done,” he says. John F. Kennedy intuitively mined the power of television to deliver his personal charisma. “He understood it was not just radio with pictures,” says Mr. Kerbel.