Obama, Web Entrepreneur

by Hugh

Interesting article in the WSJ, about that scrappy entrepreneur, Barack Obama:

If Barack Obama ran for president by calling for a heavier hand of government, he also won by running one of the most entrepreneurial campaigns in history.

Will he now grasp the lesson his campaign offers as he crafts policies aimed at reigniting the national economy? Amid a recession, two wars, and a global financial crisis, will he come to see that unleashing the entrepreneur is the best way to raise the revenue he needs for his lofty priorities?

Like every entrepreneur, Mr. Obama’s rise was improbable. An unusually-named, African-American first-term senator defeated two of the most powerful incumbent political brands, the Clintons and John McCain. Like many upstarts, he won by changing the rules of the game.

Mr. Obama, following FDR’s mastery of radio and JFK’s success on TV, is the first candidate to fully exploit the Web. The community organizer seemed to realize that new social networking and video technologies were perfect for politics. It didn’t hurt that Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes worked for the campaign. “What ultimately transformed the presidential race,” Joshua Green of The Atlantic wrote in June, “was not the money that poured in from Silicon Valley but the technology and the ethos.”

The results of Mr. Obama’s decentralized Web effort were staggering: 8,000 Web-based affinity groups, 50,000 local events, 1.5 million Web volunteers, and 3.1 million donors who contributed almost $700 million. Republicans, Charlie Cook reported on Nov. 3, believe their large but impersonal centralized databases could not match the tacit knowledge, individual initiative and agility of Mr. Obama’s diffuse social networks.

Such creativity could bubble up because Mr. Obama was stable at the top. Not just anyone could recruit an army of volunteers and let them run free, establishing their own networks, offices and events. Because Mr. McCain lurched from one message and tactic to the next with dramatic frequency, his supporters froze. They spent more time defending or deciphering his shifting policies and tactics than they did organizing and persuading. Mr. Obama’s even temper and relentlessly consistent message, on the other hand, encouraged supporters to take risks without the worry of being blindsided.[more…]

The article goes on to argue for laissez-faire economic policies and deregulation, much of which I don’t agree with. Experience at LibriVox tells me that what leads to success is a clear objective, backed up with carefully designed regulation that clarifies what people can/can’t do, and *then* the widest amount of freedom possible, within set constraints. Obviously LibriVox ain’t the United States, but unleashing individual creativity is still about balancing openness with clear boundaries, and that’s the challenge Obama has, writ not just large, but world-wide.