12:06 pm - November 6th 2008
Barack Obama has built enormous levels of goodwill in the manner of his emphatic election victory and claimed in the opening stanzas of his victory speech that it represented a triumph of hope over cynicism (“It’s the answer that led those who’ve been told for so long by so many to be cynical and fearful and doubtful about what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.”)
In the enthusiasm of the moment, some commentators (among them the BBC’s own Matt Frei) went so far as to claim his victory has overturned a political consensus held for a generation: that negative campaigning is the only way to win – the lunatic assassination plot against Obama can be cited as one extreme example of the nature of reactions that may be inadvertently encouraged by negativity, and this may in fact be the best argument against negativism.
Yet in the midst of so much euphoria created by the high turnout and real choices on offer we forget that McCain still polled more than 56m votes, many of who WERE motivated by fear and cynicism about Obama. Call it what you want, but negativity or cynicism is still a highly potent part of the political mix and will remain so even while Obama resides in the White House.
By now we are all familiar with the credit given to Obama’s campaign for linking netroots organisations together and transforming them into agents of practical activity with a ground force of volunteers who could mobilise the vote. While this victory can be seen as the culmination of a process, it also forms the foundation of a new citizen base with whom politicians can engage in a more direct manner than ever before. But Obamafans should be warned that this represents both an opportunity and a risk to his political fortune.
As bloggers become ever more influential and vocal, our slice of society can quickly turn against him, should a sense of betrayal be allowed to grow. If this happens the window of opportunity opened by his rhetoric of hope will be thoroughly smashed and we will all feel a chilling backlash.
So where could it all go wrong?
For starters Obama shot to prominence on the back of his opposition to the ‘dumb war’ perpetrated in Iraq, even while many in the Democratic party supported it. He skilfully built a base among the anti-war camp, yet he also quickly answered the accusation that he is a pacifist by shifting the focus of the ‘war on terror’ to the conflict in Afghanistan – if this is just a two-step of moving US forces from one ‘un-winnable war’ to another then he will face economic as well as moral opposition.
Additionally he cleverly positioned himself as the change candidate. He has come to embody the symbolic changes required to move on from George W. Bush’s tenure, and yet he supports Bush’s bank bail-out – if he doesn’t resign his senatorial seat before being called to vote on its enactment, he will undermine himself even before his inauguration.
In either of these cases, just as in all other possible scenarios, the primary and most immediate scrutiny will come from the blogging community of professional and citizen journalists. But it will be the over-opinionated latter group (ie us) who will serve as the litmus test of his policy direction.
So what pre-emptive counter-cynicism initiatives can be adopted?
In this country the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 was supported in Parliament by a cross-party team of MPs (lead by David Drew, Nick Hurd and Julia Goldsworthy), and regulations came into effect on 3 November 2008 requiring local authorities to formalise consultation processes with the express aim of improving civic participation and avoiding the decline into apathy and ignorance. It is the hope that greater participation and more effective communication between citizens, politicians and the civil service will lead to greater awareness of the choices involved and that this will moderate any cynicism in the public debate.
In re-announcing the government white paper Hazel Blears has been widely reported by The Telegraph and The Guardian, among others, as being critical of online culture and the way in which reactionary opinion fosters cynicism and breeds apathy. She also claims there is a class bias in blogging and told the Hansard Society yesterday that bloggers are generally written by “people with disdain for the political system and politicians” – all this from a government minister who blogs herself, and who promoted the idea of entry into a prize draw for people who can be bothered to go out and vote!
While there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that we Brits enjoy complaining, it is also true we often prefer it if we don’t actually have to get off our own behinds to do so – perhaps we really do want our democracy to be given the Simon Cowell make-over treatment!
The SCA is actually a very positive step to assist activism which is supported by a wide range of groups, such as Unlock Democracy, through the local works coalition. So perhaps before rushing to condemn Blears for a single controversial statement (taken out of context), we should take the time to listen to the proposals which are designed to assist local activism and support the practical efforts which must complement blogging, if we are able to cross the divide between ideas and action.
Surely Barack Obama would approve. And just as surely, this is an awareness raising campaign which LC should be fully supporting as we head into our second year.
Thomas is an independent-minded community activist and regular commenter at Liberal Conspiracy. We don't seem to be able to get rid of him, so we thought it probably best to let him write for us.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,E-democracy ,Local Government ,Media ,United States
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