Long after presidential aspirant Al Gore "invented" the Internet, we soon will have our first wired president. Barack Obama may lose his BlackBerry after the inauguration, but he will be the first president to have a PC on his desk in the Oval Office, and my guess is that he will use it.
There has been a lot of discussion about how the Obama campaign used the Internet, but there has been little discussion of the role that the new media will play in the Obama White House.
One of the reasons that Barack Obama won is that his campaign dominated the McCain campaign in the high-tech sector. John McCain admitted he didn't even know how to send an E-mail. The Obama campaign's use of the Web as a fundraising and organizing tool to reach a cadre of Obama cybernauts is already legendary, but the campaign also used the Web to broadcast messages to millions of voters via YouTube and the social online networks: One Obama campaign staffer told me that it was hard for him to explain to his parents how he had punched his ticket to the White House on Twitter.
Barack Obama promised America change, and the only way he'll get it is by breaking through the special interest logjam in Washington. The big pool of Obama's young and enthusiastic netroots activists could help in that regard.
In his new biography of Andrew Jackson, Jon Meacham writes, "Jackson believed the country was being controlled by a kind of congressional financial bureaucratic complex in which the needs and concerns of the unconnected were secondary to those on the inside." Obama faces the same problem, but he has the digital tools to connect outsiders into the beltway.
Because the Obama campaign blazed so many high-tech trails in winning the presidency, it follows that his White House will be the first to embrace the new technology to mobilize support for its policy agenda.
The president-elect has already started to broadcast a weekly message on YouTube. Candidate Obama promised to bring a chief technology officer into the White House, and the Obama transition team is already soliciting ideas from the netroots on how to define the job. Last week, Obama's campaign manager asked 3 million Obama E-activists what role they would like to play in support of the new president.
When President Obama starts asking Congress to deal with tough problems like the economy and global warming, the Obama Net activists could play a key role. The Obama campaign has the phone numbers and E-mail addresses of millions of activists the White House can mobilize to put pressure on Congress. Imagine the new president sending out a text message and getting thousands of people to call their representatives in Congress within minutes. Or online activists organizing to campaign against members of Congress who oppose change in Washington and for members who support the president's agenda. The possibilities are endless.
The information highway is a two-way street. The Obama campaign was successful because it did more than use the Web to communicate marching orders—the campaign used the new media to solicit advice from its Web supporters. The new president could do the same thing in putting together an agenda and proposals to deal with problems like healthcare. Real change requires new ideas, and it's more likely that fresh solutions to old problems will come from the wired community than from the usual suspects in Washington.
But the netroots could also pose some problems for the new administration. Obama online activists are pretty liberal, and they may not want their president to compromise with Washington insiders and betray the principles that brought him to the White House.
And Obama may not always like what he hears from the netroots. During the campaign, Obama took a lot of flak from his online supporters when he voted to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. And some Obamatons are already expressing their displeasure with the president-elect for the appointments to the national security cabinet of foreign policy hawks like Hillary Clinton and Bob Gates.
Of course, the mere fact of the new media does not guarantee success. Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts reached the statehouse with the same new-media tools that Barack Obama had, but he has not been able to translate his netroots cadre into a force that he can use to advance his agenda through a recalcitrant state legislature.
What will be the first thing the new president does on his first day in the Oval Office? My guess is he will try to send an E-mail to John McCain and see if it gets through.
Brad Bannon is a Democratic political consultant and pollster.