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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Lobbying for the people

I've always been a firm believer that the only people who don't have a voice in government are the voters. Lobbyists have access to the corridors of power, and so do campaign contributors (often one in the same). But John and Jane Doe are frequently left with their noses against the window panes.

So it's refreshing to see someone try to do something about that -- and the consternation it is causing in some quarters.

The launch of Devalpatrick.com got attention in both the Globe and Herald (and of course Blue Mass. Group, the spiritual base for Patrick's call for more civic engagement). Yet I was struck by a suggestion from Dan Kennedy over at Media Nation that the site really is nothing more than a permanent online campaign.

In one sense, he is 100 percent correct -- especially with the "contribute" button placed so prominently on the front door. But let's leave aside that obviously self-serving design issue and look at the site.

While there is obviously no mention of Cadillacs, helicopters and drapes there are a number of issues featured on the home page and more still on the My Issues page. OK, "dirt bikes in our state parks" isn't at the top of my issues list, but it's important to one person who has now gone on the record.

I was first somewhat concerned about needing to "create an account" to offer thoughts. But when I realized the database draws from registered voters, some of that reticence faded. (Still, it's probably not a good idea to do that on the same site that contains a prominent contribute button -- because if you really want to start a dialog, you need to hear from non-supporters.)

Dan asks a good question: why not just use mass.gov, the official state site which has become more user-friendly since Mitt officially blew town.

Simple answer: the taxpayer-funded site is not an appropriate place to have what we hope will be a civil discussion about issues. Patrick's official home page is everything you would expect there: the official PR viewpoint (although there is a "Tell Us Your Story") page too.

It was inevitable the Globe would characterize the unveiling of the site as a town hall meeting cum political rally. There certainly was that element to the gathering. But the message he delivered was hardly all self-congratulatory.
"Governing is about power," Patrick said. "And my power has never come from the insiders with connections and the powerful special interests. My power comes from you. Own it."
The web remains an underutilized resource for learning about what goes on at the Statehouse and City Hall -- particularly among our city's leading media outlets. Instead of fighting Web 2.0, -- and offering endless stories about Britney and Anna Nicole -- why not join it?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is getting hard to decide: Post comment here or on Dan's site! Since he cited you, you win!

Blogging is not governing. However, it is a great way to get input, although it is subject to manipulation by both supporters and detractors. It is also a good way to get early signals from the grass roots about issues of concern. (The MBTA could certainly use a hand in that regard, for example.)

The hardest lesson for the Governor's grass roots supporters (i.e., the ones on Blue Mass Group) wil be to evaluate the political compromises Governor Patrick will have to make to be successful on Beacon Hill. Thus far, many in the BMG crowd are naive in their understanding of a republican form of government -- and in the degree of influence they will have on the process. How will the Governor maintain his crediblity with these iconoclasts as he actually governs? Political compromises cannot be explained in great detail on a blog because they are too subtle and reveal things that are often truly best left unsaid.

Yes, best unsaid even in the brave new world of blogs -- because the folks on the Hill need to maintain some personal confidences that create trust and so enable the next compromise to be reached. After all, this is their full time job, which is not the case for web surfers.

March 25, 2007 10:31 AM  
Blogger Outraged Liberal said...

Thanks -- maybe I should cross-post this response to Dan! (I will respond here that actually the fund-raising link makes me more than just a "little" queasy.)

You are correct that one of the hardest things to explain to the good folks who are trying to engage civicly is there is indeed a difference between compromise for a desired good end and compromise that results in abandoning your principles.

If he does the first he will be successful. If he does the second, Ill be all over him too.

March 25, 2007 10:39 AM  
Anonymous Lynne said...

"Political compromises cannot be explained in great detail on a blog because they are too subtle and reveal things that are often truly best left unsaid."

I can't emphasize enough how wrong this is. Totally and demonstrably wrong.

First, anything can be addressed on a blog. A blog is whatever the writer makes of it. If the writer decides to explain how he thinks a compromise is or isn't a good choice that's well within the realm of possibility.

Obviously you are not familiar with the national blog scene, where in the last few weeks, the blogs have been exploding with controvercy and hand-wringing over the Democratic party's internal compromise on the withdrawal timeline and other restrictions in the Iraq appropriations bill. Most bloggers thought it didn't go far enough and advocated for the leadership to stand firm and have a backbone.

However, after the vote was all over, and the compromise allowed it to pass in the House (we'll see about the Senate), bloggers came together to evaluate that compromise and found it a good, albeit imperfect, first step. They recognized the historic and important victory that represented, and that Pelosi's leadership on it was strong. Read some of the front pagers at Dkos and MyDD and Americablog if you want to see how blogs can very well handle, explain, and accept compromises that a "republic" often requires while still fighting for the best principles they care about.

March 25, 2007 12:53 PM  
Blogger Jon Garfunkel said...

I posted on Dan's site, but he hasn't approved it yet.

I've studied this sort of software for many years now. And I was amazed at how under-designed Patrick's "MyIssue" site is. If history is any guide, it will run into the same problems. read more

(It's also easy to impersonate someone else on the site, and it's not clear whether the punishment is anything worse than breaking the ToS).

In short, we need better software for doing issues dialogues. This is the sort of research that was being done in the pre-2001 Al Gore era-- after which point, most interested parties threw their energies almost exclusively into campaign & advocacy projects.

March 25, 2007 1:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry lynne, I read those blogs but never confuse their commentary with what actually goes on behind the scenes on Capitol Hill. They are interesting and thoughtful observations, for sure, but they do not and can not get to the level of deep discussion of the legislative process that reflects the multitude of cross-currents and constituencies. And, the ones you mention are much more sophisticated -- thus far -- than what we see on Boston-based blogs about goings-on on Beacon Hill.

March 25, 2007 4:32 PM  

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