Social media, sports and politics

The Democrats took for granted two aspects of American life in 2010 for granted this week — sports and social media.

As I wrote 11 months ago, beyond President Obama, the Democrats have a short bench — no up-and-comers that can excite The Base and also offer anything appealing to Independents, no Rock Stars.

But, as the results of last week’s Senate election in Massachusetts showed us, most of them are also living in an old world of campaigning. Meanwhile, conservative Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers alike used Social Media to their full advantage in resoundingly beating the Democratic candidate in perhaps the most Democratic state in the union.

True, there’s only so much you can do against the forces of the more-Patriotic-than-thou bullies that have shouted their way to the top of the news hour since the day after President Obama took office a year ago.

But we’ve also seen centrist voters coming to their side since the summer. And actually, they’ve been slowly losing this battle since Nixon’s Silent Majority and Lee Atwater’s gutter-bottom tactics in 1988. While President Clinton brought in the blue-collar voters in 1992 and 1996, it’s been hard to bring these voters back since. As Jon Stewart noted, it sure didn’t happen this week, especially if you didn’t know what team Curt Schilling played for in your home state.

(And, no, changing the policies and direction of the Bush-Cheney years does not necessarily mean a hard-turn left — a turn left, to be sure, but moving anywhere away from the policies of 2001–08 is, by definition, a move left. But that doe not mean jamming the dial all the way).

The Wall Street Journal reported on Senator-elect Brown’s vastly more effective use of social media as compared to Martha Coakley’s. The Journal’s numbers, like the final vote tally, weren’t even close. What, was Coakley using a MySpace page? Or, perhaps she was handing out hand-printed flyers in Boston Common to get her message out, Publick Occurrences style?

Obama showed there was a new way, a way to be pragmatic, a way to energize and organize voters through new media. Somehow, the rest of the Democrats didn’t get the message. And, now that he’s in office, the President seems to be unable to use it as effectively, too. Campaigners of all ages on the GOP side did.

Now, true, the virtue of having more Twitter followers does not make you a better campaigner. You have to use those numbers the right way. But you need to build up those numbers in the first place (or, to put it in chicken-or-the-egg terms, if you’re engaging and useful on Social Media while not overdoing it, the numbers of followers and fans will come).

The Message wins elections (yeah, yeah, I know money really wins elections, but follow me here), and to get your message out, you’ve got to be effective. The GOP and the Tea Party-ists made good use of old media tactics in the summer, like Talk Radio, and really, really old media tactics, like shouting really, really loudly.

But they also used Social Media, and it’s clearly working for them. They may not have any alternative ideas except to say “no” to everything, but if the Democrats don’t clearly present their own messages, and do it through Social Messaging mediums, other than by the White House, itself, this battle is lost. My own Congressman hasn’t posted anything on his Facebook page since holding a health care forum in August. You don’t build an audience, or followers that way (and yes, he doesn’t need to be posting campaign-stuff, but just simply posting what’s going on in his office, what bills are being considered, and so on, can build a following.)

Gen X, for the most part, is still trending toward a Conservative-leaning generation, I believe, and with the ongoing shaping of the national conversation by conservative voices and the conservative campus movement, my mind hasn’t changed. Senator-elect Brown was born in 1959, at the tail end of the Boomer generation (or the strangely coined Jones Generation, if you will), so he’s likely to show some cross-over traits as those found among Generation X’ers — he’s only two years younger than the Gen X President himself.  They’re generational cohorts, if obviously not politically the same (though perhaps it will be seen if Sen. Brown is as pragmatic as Obama has been, perhaps to a fault).

Coakley, though only 6 years younger than Brown (she was born in 1953), is closer in age and spirit to that Boomer mentality and remembrances. And though Boomers have been on social media as much as anyone (no, it’s not just for kids; someone please send that message to my place of employment), Coakley clearly missed that boat, among many.

So the President is going to find himself on an Island of One if the Progressive can’t find someone to match his messaging skills. A mixture of old and new media, of shouting in public, talk radio and online, is bound to drown out any message sent by one office.

But in the end, this is a fiasco on the part of the Democratic leadership, who (duh) are just now figuring this out. Let’s see if they’re still figuring it out in November.


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