The contribution of new media to the quality of political discourse is vastly over-rated.

I just got an urgent email from David Plouffe, Barack Obama's campaign manager. [There's the first problem … like I care about the campaign manager! You might as well send me a message from the campaign mascot.]

What's it about? Obama's energy plan? How American kids are going to compete with kids from China and India? What a President can do to reduce gun violence? How to exit Iraq while enhancing stability in the Mideast?

Not a chance.

The email tells me I can now sign up to “stay in touch” with the campaign “wherever I go” by receiving text messages.

WOW! GOLLY! OMIGOSH! What an important and informative use of technology!

Now I can be one of the first to get alerted about the next Obamagirl video. I can't wait to read Obama's energy plan on my cellphone.

If the Clinton campaign was this clever, I'd have gotten news of her Celine Dion selection SOOOO much quicker (enabling me to scratch her from my list that much faster).

I fear the biggest “contribution” so far from the Web 2.0, online campaigning, new media etc. politics is that campaigns can now get our money faster and more cost-efficiently.

And the tech-savvy can show support for their favorite candidate in more “modern” (i.e., electronic) fashion than displaying bumper stickers or wearing lapel pins.

But has any of this actually improved political discourse? As for deepening our knowledge of the candidates, their differences, and the issues, you can pretty much forget about it.

[BTW, have you ever actually read the political “dialogue” that occurs in the “Comment” sections of most political blogs? By and large, you just have to hope that most of these folks are not registered voters.]

I keep all my Obama (and other candidate) campaign emails. Going back to May 1, I found one Obama email, on May 31st, on an issue … in this case health care (BTW, I liked what he had to say … I'm not anti-Obama). I couldn't find any in April.

Interestingly, for some reason, when candidates do dive into the issues online, as reported here, they (or their advisors) seem to prefer to distance this content from their “main” websites. It appears as though the issues might be too off-putting or too intellectually demanding to co-exist with all the featured fundraising and “social networking” gimmicks the youngsters have loaded in. So they dump the issue stuff into standalone mini-sites to make room for YouTube, Facebook and MySpace buttons.

So it's a rare treat when I get an email like the one I got last week from Rudy Giuliani outlining his Twelve Commitments. Still pretty fluffy stuff, but enough to remind me how badly I don't want him to be President!

Another rare treat is the email I got from Chris Dodd yesterday inviting me to participate in a live video presentation and Q&A on his national service plan. An actual issue discussion!

All in, I'd say Edwards sends me the most issue stuff.

But maybe I've somehow developed jumbled up expectations about how the new media would enhance public issue dialogue in campaigns.

Maybe it is all about video spoofing and “gotcha” moments.

Judging from reaction to Obamagirl, maybe it is just about boobs. Amazingly, some bloggers have tried through contorted logic to elevate Obamagirl into an affirmation of the valuable contribution the online medium is making to political dialogue.

What next? Maybe an online wet tee-shirt contest. Obama babes against Clinton babes against Edwards babes etc. Any babe can declare for a candidate and submit her YouTube video. Online voting of course. Team with the most votes wins the nomination for their candidate. Real engagement. Something online politicos can be proud of.

But for my old-fashioned issue-oriented sake, could we at least have a Miss Health Care Reform and a Miss Energy Independence?

Tom

P.S. Regular readers know that The Agitator urges all nonprofit marketers to monitor the online exploits of presidential campaigners. Lots of new and different tactical stuff … but be discriminating!

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