Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Blogger Amanda Marcotte Resigns from Edwards Campaign...

John Edwards is running for president, and as he has positioned himself further to the left, he has decided to hire bloggers to work for his campaign - to write about his virtues, and attack his critics. Then last week, a firestorm erupted because two of his bloggers made inflammatory remarks referring to Christian conservatives as "Christofascists" and "used vulgar language to characterize religious conservatives and Roman Catholic teachings on birth control, homosexuality and the virgin birth".

As politicians seek to harness the power of the internet, and Web 2.0 specifically, they are bound to encounter the law of unintended consequences. Edwards was faced with a choice: fire the two bloggers for their insulting remarks and incur the wrath of the political left (aka - the Democrats' base), or else keep them on staff and be forced to defend them, incurring the wrath of the religious right.

This is what happens when political campaigns, which like to have obsessive control over their message, engage in activities that are not conducive to control - namely, the internet and blogosphere. Politicians must realize that the fiercely independent and chaotic nature of the blogosphere is not an environment suited to a narrowly-tailored message. If they're going to participate in online discussions (and they should), then they must be prepared to deal with the consequences. John Edwards should be held accountable for his decision to keep those two bloggers on staff.

From this perspective, it's a shame that Amanda Marcotte - one of the two bloggers who created the controversy - submitted her resignation yesterday. It would have been instructive for American democracy to see a politician actually engage in meaningful debate and be accountable for his decisions, rather than fire anyone who goes "off message".

The blogosphere is valuable particularly because it is chaotic and independent of traditional political institutions. Being outside the confines of tightly controlled debates and public forums allows for all points of view to be considered. A true "marketplace of ideas". What politicians who seek to harness this power need to understand is that in this environment the best ideas will win.


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