As we kick off today's Personal Democracy Forum, in which political high-rollers from both sides of the aisle will gather in New York to discuss how new media has altered our political process, I'm compelled to revisit the topic of heightened opportunities for bipartisanship or even post-partisanship within the netroots and emerging rightroots. I recently addressed at the #140 Character Conference earlier this month. The conference is being rebroadcast today beginning at 11am EST, and can be viewed here.
Barack Obama promised us the Purple States of America. In his celebrated 2004 address at the Democratic National Convention, he told us we had gay friends in the red states, little league coaches in the blue states, and that we all worship under the same amazing God. His 50-state campaign strategy scribbled over Florida and Ohio like a misguided kindergartener who has ravaged a Crayola box and doesn't understand the need for clearly defined lines. With the exception of Joe the Plumber, "Everyday Americans" bought into the idea of cooperation and optimism, plastering our President's red-and-blue face on their shirts, vehicles and Mac books, an act of allegiance to a seemingly unstoppable momentum that appealed to our highest selves.
This all was, of course, negated as soon as Republicans swatted down the bailout vote, commentators started challenging each other to water boarding contests, Arlen Spector pulled a Lieberman and Ana Marie Cox began giggling like a seventh grader on Rachel Maddow every time she said "tea bagging." Clearly "hope" was lip service.
I'm not so sure about that, though. As we learned in 2007, when the mainstream media was adamant that Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee, if you take talking points with a grain of salt and start watching the grassroots activists operating in the netroots and emerging rightroots, you start to get a very different look at the future of political discourse in this country. Twitter, specifically, is a wealth of insight into a crop of GOP leaders who *gasp!* don't dig Rush Limbaugh. Likewise, the use of hashtags around issues like the Iran election and gay rights legislative battles prove that cross-party collaboration is more than possible.
In the speech below, I ask the audience of tweeting fiends to consider with respect to bipartisanship: Was hope lost, or was a seed planted that will continue to grow into 2010, 2012, 2016?
If your attention span doesn't allow you to watch all 10 minutes of the video, or if you were in attendance and asked me about elaborating beyond the original presentation, the gist of my argument is as follows:
According to conventional political science thought, America's political parties were due for a realignment in 2004, which was very likely disrupted by the Sept. 11 attacks. Coupled with changes in demographics and technology, it's now possible that a present realignment could be a drastic departure from what we're accustomed to historically. (Although, who knows? Perhaps whigs will make a raging comeback!) Consider that:
1. Our Social Contract has changed.
We live in a world where technological transparency holds elected officials more accountable, and individual citizens can quantify their sphere of influence in Facebook friends and Twitter followers. Action has a direct correlation to reach and execution, making it more rewarding to keep up your end of the civic bargain. The present party structures are still reflective Robert Putnam's "Bowling Alone" prognosis of doomsday for American associations, when a model of leadership now should be more reflective of what Clay Shirky discusses in "Here Comes Everybody."
2. Twitter will rival Google in the search battle sure to ensue over the coming decades. It is the natural extension of the organization that happened on My.BarackObama.com, and the #tcot (Top Conservatives on Twitter) hashtag is an early successful entry point for Republicans looking to organize in similar fashion.
Somewhere around 60% of my Twitter followers are conservative, even though I characterize myself as progressive. In the Twitter community, I am able to observe and watch their banter and communications in a way that has helped me understand them much more intricately and consistently. It's as though Republicans and Dems are holding their strategy sessions in the same conference room. Instead of watching an occasional episode of "The Factor" to keep my opinions well-rounded, it's now a lifestyle, and I've build professional repoire with many conservatives around issues we can agree on, especially gay marriage rights and efficiency in government spending.
3. Barack Obama may have run as a Democrat, but he really laid the foundation for our first independent party system.
Whether it was a collective case of Anyone But Bush Syndrome or genuine sincerity, the President enjoyed substantial support from people who consider themselves to be "moderate." In the few months he's governed, we've seen him shift between progressive and conservative principles fluidly, building alliances where individual interests share common ground. Empirically, most individuals cannot characterize their own beliefs dogmatically within one party; most people want to be for the issues they care about - and now they can be. It's possible that equipped with new technology, that they will not have to put up with the political posturing of their representatives when the barrier to grassroots activism and running for office is lowered.
These new alliances may not be obvious now, but they will nurture and grow, much like what happened on the ground in Iowa laid the groundwork for change that many considered unlikely. I'd keep an eye on some of the following tweeps and observe with interest, and remember to check out the #bipart hashtag from @martinschecter.