When Alan talks about consumers of the digital communities space, or memberships of social networks, or audiences of new media, or subscribers of mobile telecoms, he explains about human nature, that we are not a "me species" but rather a "we species". Human beings are designed to want to collaborate, to behave as "us" and "we" rather than "I" and "me". This is obviously at the very foundation of the spirit of this blog and was the thinking that right from the start, drew me to follow Alan's thinking, even before we started to collaborate on our book.
We also have many cases of individual instances of "we" behaviour in politics such as the overthrow of the Estrada government in the Philippines that we chronicle in the book etc. And individual stories throughout this blog and n our presentations ranging from politicians setting up social networking pages (that we first reported out of South Korea inside Cyworld) to the Estonian Prime Minister sending his cabinet meeting agenda out on SMS text messaging early in this decade.
But so far, of the main political leaders in the world, we haven't seen a head of state embrace the "communities dominate" philosophy so far. We noticed for example, that when my fifth book, Digital Korea, was released, the UK newspaper the Guardian recommended that prime minister Gordon Brown should read the book, but so far, we don't see the governments of any major power embrace social networking and digital communities to their gains. It has more been haphazard and non-systematic.
Well that is about to change now with Barack H Obama, shortly to become the 44th President of the USA. Our congratulations to the President-Elect, and his campaign, and indeed all of the USA. This is a big step in that nation in healing deep wounds in social injustice over more than two centuries, and obviously from the unprecedented celebrations across America and the world, it is seen as an exceptional victory for a truly pluralistic society, and yes, restoring the USA once again as a beacon for the rest of the world. This is the flower of democracy, truly a moment of hope and inpiration for all on the planet.
But yeah-yeah-yeah, 80% of the world outside of the USA was for Obama to begin with, so our blog? No big news that we celebrate, eh?
COMMUNITIES DOMINATE PRESIDENTS
Lets get back to our main theme. Communities Dominate. This is now the first true "we president", for a leading "we nation" and a leader for the whole "we species" (yes we can).
So what do I mean "we president"? Think first of the clear parallels that the American pundits make of Obama and past presidents. Yes, there is a lot of Bill Clinton in this young and inexperienced "outsider" Democratic president-elect. And his ability to inspire is also very much compared to John F Kennedy. But that is not really the comparisons they most make. They compare Obama to Ronald Reagan, a very conservative ie right-wing Republican president, while Obama is clearly a left-wing liberal Democrat. Reagan was the oldest president ever elected, and Obama one of the youngest. Why the comparison? Because Reagan was known as the Great Communicator.
George W Bush (and also his father George HW Bush) is a very poor communicator. He has trouble pronouncing regular words and likes to make jokes about his bad command of the English language and mangles words and invents words. For eight years the current President has been the butt of jokes and the biggest part of those have been about his bad speaking skills. Considering how much he and his administration have given to the nightly comedians, from hurricane relief to the Iraq war to his Vice President shooting someone in the face, that his poor speaking skills trump all this, is a testament to how bad Bush the Second truly is in communicating. He is diametrically opposite of Reagan, in his ability to communicate to the nation.
THE GREATER COMMUNICATOR
Now we get President Barack H Obama. His speeches are powerful, brilliantly composed, with patterns, themes interwoven into a tapestry of emotions and human stories. Like in his victory speech, when he told the story of the past 100 years of America through the eyes of a 106 year old black female voter in Georgia. President-Elect Obama is a magnificent orator - something the world political stage surely can use. It is half a century since we lost the previous world master in Winston Churchill. And it is decades since we last heard Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher deliver eloquent (if not often harsh and aggressive) speeches. Tony Blair was a milder version as was Bill Clinton, not in the classes of Reagan and Thatcher but in their best days they could inspire and uplift.
The ability communicate so well, will go a very long way to build his base of support beyond those who voted for him this time. And it will serve his remarkably well, that his predecessor (Bush 2), his immediate rival (McCain), his primary rival (Hillary Clinton) and his current peers on the world stage (such as Prime Minister Gordon Brown) are NOT known for brilliant speeches. The contrast could not be more obvious.
(This will bode well for any debate coaches and speech professors at colleges ha-ha, a new dawn in appreciating great oratory..)
7 MILLION OBAMANIACS
Now lets marry that with social networking. CNN in its election follow-up said that Obama's campaign has about 7 million names on its lists. These are email addresses, mobile phone numbers, Facebook and MySpace pages, etc. 7 Million names. He received approx 64 million votes. So his campaign had managed to secure 11% of the total support base as direct contacts. That is supreme power indeed. The Obama presidency can continue to engage with this active part of his core supporters, return to them at the re-election bid, and even use this support base to help in the elections of his successor in 2016 (assuming Obama is re-elected in 2012)
Obama was not the first presidential candidate to use the internet or mobile phones in his campaign, but his was certainly one of the most creative and comprehensive in its use. He raised hundreds of millions of dollars in small donations from his support base, through the internet. His campaign used SMS text messages from the very first state-wide organizational meetings on, where in the first meetings, volunteers were asked to send SMS text messages to friends to recruit them right then-and-there, as the first meeting was ongoing, to collect more interested Obama supporters into the campaign. His campaign saw the use of social networking sites, in particular Facebook and MySpace to connect with supporters. The campaign used YouTube and video sharing sites, and even mobile phone social networking service, Twitter. Obama himself Twittered from the campaign trail. We saw him regularly use his Blackberry to send text messages and emails from the road.
OPEN AND TRANSPARENT
This brings many impacts to this new presidency. First, it means that the whole campaign - and thus many who will end up in the Obama Administration - are already "veterans" of "communities dominate". They know you have to be honest and transparent with digital communities. You heard it in Obama's victory speech - he said that we may not always agree with his decision, and the road may be very rough ahead, but he will be honest with the people. This is again one area where he is (or at least now, before he takes office claims to be) in stack contrast with the current administration, where VP Cheney has helped Bush 2 create the most secretive and misleading Presidency since Richard Nixon - and the Americans certainly did not appreciate it, they have ranked Bush 2 the most unloved President of all time - worse than Nixon when he resigned - and Cheney's approval ratings are even below the President's.
Obama promises openness and honesty. There is no reason to doubt that. And as he and his campaign is so familiar with social networking, they will also know from first hand, that in the connected age, it is impossible to hide facts and to distort them (in the long run, obviously the US President has incredible powers to mislead in the short run as we have seen with Weapons of Mass Destruction etc..)
A PRESIDENT FOR THE CONNECTED AGE
Again, the contrast could not be stronger with the past. We argued here at this blog, that the Republican candidate John McCain was severely unqualified to be a modern president since he did not use digital communication methods like email. We also observe that the current President Bush does not use email - not because he does not know how to use it, but rather, because he does not want to leave evidence of his communications !!! There have been countless mishaps about emails relating to his administration.
Now we get the first US President that is truly connected in 21st century tools and methods. That will make the Obama administartion inherently more efficient than any previous ones. The big benefits that the US economy has drawn from the computer age and the internet in the past two decades, will finally arrive in the White House. In this time of two ongoing wars, the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression and an abitious agenda for the young President, it is a very good sign, that he brings with him the most modern methods to communicate effectively, both within his administration, and with the US public (and the world at large).
I AM QUALIFIED OR WE TOGETHER
But even there, it goes beyond the technology. I was so struck by the echoes of Alan's We Species and the Barack Obama's victory speech in Chicago. I am reminded of the whole campagin. In Hillary Clinton, Obama faced a powerful rival, who spoke of her competence, her achievements ("I have the scars to prove it") and later in the campaign, often referred to her core constituency, women. Yes, she also wanted the support of men, but in America, more women vote than men, and men tend to support the Republican party while women support the Democratic party, so she often appealed to women supporters. Not the whole nation, but her supporters. She also seemed petty at times, towards the end, and seemed to take it personally. She was hurt. Hillary Clinton spoke mostly of herself, or of her supporters. And obviously much along the campaign, she also argued that Obama was not qualified, etc.
In McCain we heard time and again, that he was a hero and prisoner of war. That all his life he had sacrificed for America. That is all fine and well, but it was all about him. McCain. Then he started is attacks on Obama, and for a long while we heard almost nothing of his own goals or plans, just that Obama is a celebrity, or an elitist, or pals with terrorists or is a socialst, etc. And then it was back to McCain, he is the maverick, he even picked a maverick Vice Presidential candidate. And when talking to the electorate, it was often framed in "them and us" themes, he wants to redistribute your wealth, he is not like Joe the Plumber, the Democrats do not love teh country, are not patriotic, they do not support the "real America" or "real Virginia" etc. Divide the country, split it into small parcels, get just over 50% to support you (or to hate the other guy) and that gets you elected. It is classic Karl Rove tactics that got George W Bush elected twice with the thinnest of margins.
YES WE CAN
But before he ever announced his candidacy, Barack Obama was known for the keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, where he spoke of the USA moving beyond the split between "red states" and "blue states". This was at the core of his candidacy. Moving past the pettiness of divide and hate. He spoke at all his major speeches in this campaign season - including his acceptance speech at his Convention and his victory speech in Chicago last night - about the need be connect, to reach out, to work together.
Obama's campaign was always framed in "we". The "Yes we can" theme (that apparently was developed by his campaign director of strategy, David Axelrod, and something Obama did not like) that was such a powerful combining theme early in the campaign. For those who followed his campaign closely, it was obvious that Yes We Can was nowhere in his speeches for the past 6 months and resurfaced only now, in the victory speech, and here, in a muted way. But yes, it is how this campaign will always be remembered. When Hillary Clinton finally conceded, she echoed Yes We Can. The Spanish supporters said the same in Spanish, etc. This will be always thought of as the Yes We Can campaign (and my congratulations to Axelrod for this vehicle, and how brilliantly it was interwoven into the early campaign in so many ways including the songs on YouTube etc)
But it does come to the core of the Obama movement. It is not a "me" campaign. Yes, there is a cult of Obama, obviously, but it would be so easy for a McCain to think its his heroism, or for a Hillary Clinton to think its her supporters with her, but no, with Obama it is "we". And all along, from the start, it was never his "core" supporters. The "we" was never meant to be "them and us" or the we being only black supporters. Nor was it intended to be only young supporters. It was not meant to be only Democratic supporters. Early on he said he was inviting independents and Republicans to join him. And then when we heard him give his outdoor speech in Berlin, it was clear, that Obama's concept of "we" extends certainly to beyond just the USA, he sees an activist and interactive role for the USA with the rest of the world.
IN CRISIS WE SEE THE REAL PERSON
We have also seen in this campaign how the real person reacts, when there is a true crisis. We saw it in John McCain when the economy "cratered" and it started to sink his campaign. He reacted like the fighter pilot he was - with impulsive, radical and often contradictory moves, one after another, to try to personally end this crisis to his campaign - to the degree of the statement he'd suspend his campaign and go to Washington to fix the problem. It was about "me" in the utmost instance. McCain was not part of any of the committees involved, was not invited to participate in the delicate negotiations, and after his announcement, many parties expressed the opinion that he was not welcomed. But this was McCain in true general Alexander Haig style "I am in charge" -inserting himself into the crisis and very literally making it all about himself.
Obama was tested on his biggest crisis, which was the Reverend Jeremiah Wright situation in the primaries. He first tried to remain loyal to his long-term pastor, even where he did not agree with all Wright had said. But when the Wright situation started to jeopardize his campaign, and some severely hateful statements by the Reverend came to light, Barack Obama made a speech.
It could have been a press conference to denounce the Reverend and to distance himself from the statements. About Obama and his political future. The typical answer almost any politician would have done, and no doubt most of his advisors had suggested. But no, this was not a "me" President, it was a "we" President. He gave what many consider his greatest speech of this political season - about moving past racial injustice in America, helping people understand where that sentiment was coming from, understanding it, but not condoning it, and showing how Obama was driving the thinking into a modern age, beyond the old emotions of division. A "we President" addressing a "us versus them" mindset.
Obama could have ended the matter by simply renouncing Reverend Wright. This would have been the "me" way of solving the problem. But no. Obama took the time to compose a very deep, insightful and indeed hope-ful speech - a speech - to help heal some of the lingering anger in the racial divide. How elegant. How unselfish. This is a real example of how the "We President" prioritizes matters. Even when his own political career was at stake, he veered to his natural instincts - make it about we, not about me.
This again could not be a more stark contrast from his rivals and predecessors.
I do not mean to suggest I'm ga-ga over the latest US President. Yes, there will be a honeymoon period, and yes, we will find he is not the messiah, and he is only human, and will make errors and bad judgements in his administration, that is inevitable. It is also possible that in his heart he does not hold these views, that this "we business" is only pretend, that in his heart, he's as selfish and egotistical and ambitious as anyone who ever got to be President of the USA.
But - do consider the track record so far. Obama informed his staff that they will remain employed until the end of the month, and will have health coverage to the end of the year. His campaign sent "personal" (ie mass-mailed) thank-you notes via email to all kinds of volunteers hours after the victory was announced. He is practicing what we preaches.
Even if he was not truly "converted" and did this only as a gimmick - we here at Communities Dominate know that social networking is the most efficient means of spreading your messages, whether commercial messages (vs traditional advertising) or any others including those in politics. He does not have to truly believe in this, as long as he uses it, and finds it useful. He will be converted soon enough..
ACTUALLY DOES NOT MATTER IF OBAMA IS ONBOARD
And its not strictly Obama that needs to be convinced. It is his team. He has already engaged with the youngest campaign staff of any of his rivals, so he's in tune with how they work. Many of these will now follow Obama to the White House and bring their more efficient methods with them. This is not forgotten. No doubt Axelrod and David Plouffe (Obama's campaign manager) already are converts, that this is the most efficient way to manage teams and embrace social networks of overlapping interests.
It will mean that a far more wide range of American citizens will have direct contact with the White House than ever before. Expect those 7 million on their mailing lists, to submit some ideas or contributions or support at some point (as well as the occasional disagreement, obviously). But because the campaign was already able to engage with them, this will not overwhelm the Obama White House, as it would have a Bush or Bill Clinton administration.
That brings the Obama administration the power of collaboration at an unprecedented scale. Like Alan says, nobody is as clever as everybody. Now rather than just a dozen advisors, the Obama campaign has seven million advisors - and most importantly - an established way to engage with them. This is a power that has never been provided to the White House. But it does hark back to Ronald Reagan. He had his grassroots supporters, who would take any suggestion from President Reagan, and then write letters to editors and make calls to congressmen, and give Reagan an army of support. That was "communities dominate" in an analogue age. Now we have a turbo-charged Reagan for the digital age, in President Barack H Obama. It will be very interesting to follow this young, innovative, intelligent and ambitious new President on his career. Yes we can.