American politicians launch blogging campaign

Article published on Nov. 6, 2006
From the magazine
Article published on Nov. 6, 2006
North American politicians and their advisers launch an electoral campaign on the blogosphere

Democrat Howard Dean and his consultant Joe Trippi used the Net to achieve an extraordinary level of visibility during the previous presidential elections, but even so they failed to win the elections. The Internet is not yet powerful enough. Yet the effort is surely worth it: as the run-up to US mid-term elections on November 7 has shown, blogs could have been made-to-measure for election campaigning. Many of the candidates now have their own. Perhaps in the not too distant future, all campaign debates will happen online.

Joe Lieberman: Loud and clear

Although written by one of his collaborators and financed by his friends, Lieberman’s blog is still one of the most interesting in terms of design and contents. It has a video introduction, a photo album link to the popular webpage Flickr and the usual links and features of a blog. Its best feature is that the blog is a distinct part of the website. Its one major drawback is that readers can’t leave their comments... Creating a community of readers is a key function of political blogs and this is certainly a big mistake. Political blogs should express but also encourage discussion. Another function is fundraising: a banner on Lieberman’s home website invites readers to contribute.

Rick Santorum: Above all, the community

Rick Santorum, Republican Senator for Pennsylvania, is one of the stalwarts of his party and is standing for re-election. “Running with Nick” is the slogan he uses for his blog, which appears in both English and Spanish in order to create a community of users. Readers can register for access to more features, and there are direct links to the online shop where you can buy electoral merchandise. Also linked are friends’ blogs and the option of readers’ comments for those who have registered (an attempt to avoid criticism). What’s more, Santorum contributes his own texts.

Dennis Hastert: The Personal Approach

Republican Dennis Hastert’s case is an unusual one: Speaker of the House of Representatives, he is standing for re-election even as he is embroiled in the Foley scandal. Nevertheless, his victory in District 14 in Illinois seems assured. It’s probably for a combination of these reasons that his blog is such a personal affair and hardly appears to be an election tool – no fundraising or readers’ comments here - but rather a place for personal reflection within an official website, where Hastert posts his own thoughts on current issues. Truly a rare species of blog among US politicians.

Obama: Banking on podcasts

Democrat Barack Obama’s website is also a curious one. Rather than the usual blog, Balack goes further and podcasts his readings (audio versions of written blogs). The essential function of this blog, however, is the same as for the other candidates: a means of disseminating ideas and election promises. It displays the candidate’s political agenda, provides the opportunity to contribute and to register for e-mail updates. However, the podcasts shows that he or his advisers are familiar enough with the Internet to exploit it instead of fearing it.

Europe: from the reflections of Wallström to tension in Spain

In Europe, political blogging is still rare. True, some of Europe’s major players have begun to use these tools, such as German President Angela Merkel and British Conservative leader David Cameron. However, few European politicians use blogs as part of their electoral armoury and even fewer dare to write their own blogs. Appearing in front of the camera, as they have done all their lives, is still the more comfortable option.

That said, there are exceptions. The blog of Margot Wallström, Commissioner for Institutional Relations and Communication, is one such exception. She has conquered her fear of blogging by writing one. It may not be as up-to-date as it could be, but at least it appears more like a blog than a politician’s soapbox in terms of contents and style. It has been online for almost two years already, and this shows. What’s more, without ignoring current issues, it avoids getting into hot waters. It’s just a shame that this example has not been followed throughout Europe’s great institutions.

Spain is one of Europe’s biggest blogger, with 1.080.000 blogs in 2005. Despite this, the majority of Spanish politicians still haven’t woken up to the potential worth of the blogosphere, even though many MP’s have one of their own. The downside of political blogging is that many are badly executed, or are used only for propaganda and not to fuel debate and reflection. Pepe Blanco, Secretary of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) has attempted to avoid such traps, though he occasionally takes a swipe at former President Aznar and contributes to the climate of political backstabbing. Who knows, perhaps our politicians will finally learn something about the Net, even if it’s the hard way.

photos: Micro: Farlane/Flickr; Howard Dean: Nick Davis/Flickr; Joe Lieberman: Dbking/Flickr; Rick Santorum: Michael Righi/Flickr; Dennis hastert: Bistrosavage/Flickr; Barak Obama: Sister72/Flickr; Margot Walström: