Controlled by Control

Controlled by Control

BY David Weinberger | Thursday, January 25 2007

[Eds. note: The following post was first published by David Weinberger on his site Joho the Blog. We reprint it here with his permission.]

Hillary announces her campaign is a conversation. But her site looks like a re-direct from www.RiskAvoidance.com. It's the site of a front-runner thinking the goal is hers if she just doesn't make any mistakes. Thus, her kick-off conversation ("Let the conversation begin," as if we were waiting for her) is a TV-style interview answering safe questions with safer answers.

Edwards' site is that of a challenger. It reads like a dare. Anyone can blog there, and the conversation on the site shows it. In last night's webcast, Edwards seemed so intent on proving that it was unscripted that it wouldn't have surprised me if he had turned on a sports broadcast to show it was live. And you could see the moment of resolve when he would decide to extend a satisfactory answer onto riskier ground. The devilish little angel on his shoulder kept whispering, "Go for it, John. Sin boldly!"

If Edwards becomes the front-runner and then the nominee, every sane political advisor and every seasoned campaign veteran on his staff will insist that he flick that angel away. Lock in the message, lock down the site. "You're ahead, John. Nothing between you and the White House but a gaffe." And the moment a candidate hears the grinding of the infernal machinery in those tempting voices will be an inflection point.

This isn't about campaign techniques. It's about democracy, because when a candidate controls her campaign, that means she in fact is being controlled. One coin, two sides. To control is to be controlled. The need to be timid in one's views, to vette every comment, to make only tested jokes, to say nothing that will diminish the flow of cash, all these enslave the candidate. These forces can turn an outspoken Vietnam war hero into a tight-lipped, humorless, mealy-mouthed tree stump. Really, it can.

But democracy is about how a brawling nation of passionate, outspoken citizens can nevertheless live together. There are lots of ways a citizenry in disagreement can come to governance, including monarchies and tyrannies. What makes democracy different isn't that it achieves governance but it does so while enabling and encouraging the diversity of thought, behavior and speech.

We all believe that, but you wouldn't know that from how we run our political campaigns. They're better models of TV production than of democracy in action. And they will be until a campaign like Edwards' can move all the way to victory without surrendering to the anti-democratic, fear-based temptation of control.

Before you ask, why do I refer to Sen. Clinton by her first name but to Sen. Edwards by his last? Because "Clinton" is ambiguous in a way that "Edwards" is not.

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