Obama 2.0 and the partisan divide – Canadian Government Executive

NEWS

SEARCH

Digital Governance with Jeffrey RoyICT
January 18, 2013

Obama 2.0 and the partisan divide

In 2008, President Obama refashioned American politics for a more digital age, leveraging the Internet to both engage volunteers and raise money in a novel and unprecedented manner. Once in Office, he became the first Commander in Chief to deploy a Blackberry (still a Blackberry?) and his inaugural Open Government Directive spawned groundbreaking and wide-ranging initiatives in online reporting (most notably recovery.gov) and infrastructure refurbishment only now beginning to take root.

Looking ahead, and taking stock of the 2012 campaign, President Obama’s continued digital impetus and the potential consequences of a second term require some distinction between politics and administration. Whereas the latter is managerial and increasingly premised on new working relationships with an evolving set of technology industries, competitive but on the whole supportive of IT renewal, the former involves a citizenry that is arguably more sharply divided than ever, with technology’s role far more opaque.

A divided electorate is an important derivative of President Obama’s first term, standing in contrast to his lofty 2008 aspirations for post-partisan renewal. The President’s 2008 message paradoxically resulted in Democratic control of the Congress for two short-lived years that saw key measures such as stimulus spending and health care reforms pass along ever-deepening partisan lines. The Republicans would thus extract a measure of revenge in 2010, cementing gridlock to the present day and giving rise to the perilous “fiscal cliff.”

It is noteworthy, then, that the successful 2012 re-election effort was characterized more for turning out Democratic-leaning voters than persuading independents or Republicans to join the cause. The potential for gridlock remains, especially when exit polls reveal that more than one half of Americans view government as over-extended.

In a similar vein, the Obama technology effort in 2012 became much more top-down and sophisticated than the 2008 variant, a true 21st century data-mining system now the focus of all partisan operatives the world-over. In such a world, branding and micro-targeting matter far more than detailed policy discussions. Above all else, there is money. President Obama’s 2008 declining of public financing coupled with more recent Supreme Court decisions opened the flood gates to an estimated $6 billion of campaign spending.

Fueled by such seemingly limitless resources, television spending remained predominant. Yet the impacts of new media also sharpened. Whereas television ads were primarily about damaging the other side’s brand, social media became pivotal to identifying and motivating would-be supporters: a source of engagement for partisans but disillusioning for many. Accordingly, fewer Americans voted in 2012 than in the previous two Presidential contests.

With politics already in disrepute, its virtualization may also give rise to more sinister and subversive traits. In a largely favourable review of the President’ digital apparatus, two commentators on TechPresident also caution: “The Obama campaign’s targeting operation may seem to hint at an Orwellian political future where individual citizens are helpless before a class of elite manipulators, pandering to their every stated preference.”

In a campaign dominated by a sluggish domestic economy, then, President Obama successfully targeted the middle class and won just enough of them, especially in a small subset of so-called swing States, to thwart Republican efforts. The awkward result is a more partisan and polarizing President at a time when all pundits agree that compromise is more essential than ever.

The peculiar response by many Obama supporters is that a second term President is now empowered to make deals, no longer concerned with re-election (with their pesky legislature closed and an outgoing Premier making far-reaching deals, Ontarians can relate…). An ironic twist, then, that a more partisan campaign in 2012 may yet yield a more collaborative President of the sort promised in 2008.
 
Gone, however, are lofty aspirations for widened public engagement and institutional renewal. Indeed, in one unusually unscripted moment during the campaign, President Obama offered up his main lesson learned from a bruising first term, namely that you cannot change Washington from the inside…  

Such a stunning admission from the ultimate insider signals pragmatism as the core principle of governing. Yet it also underscores a growing rift between how Americans elect their leaders and their expectations for governance. Such is the over-riding challenge of an Obama second term and further evidence that the digitalization of media and politics is by no means a natural pathway to more inclusive and collaborative democracy.

Jeffrey Roy is professor in the School of Public Administration at Dalhousie University (roy@dal.ca).

About this author

Jeffrey Roy

Jeffrey Roy

Jeffrey Roy is Professor in the School of Public Administration at Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Management. He is a widely published observer and critic of the impacts of digital technologies on government and democracy. He has worked with the United Nations, the OECD, multinational corporations, and all levels of government in Canada. He has produced more than eighty peer-reviewed articles and chapters and his most recent book was published in 2013 by Springer: From Machinery to Mobility: Government and Democracy in a Participative Age. Among other bodies, his research has been funded by the IBM Center for the Business of Government and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. He may be reached at: roy@dal.ca

0 comments

There are no comments for this post yet.

Be the first to comment. Click here.

Digital Governance with Jeffrey Roy
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
The arrival of President Trump in the White House marks a...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
In January, the BBC and BuzzFeed jointly released an exposé on...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
That the new Liberal Government has embraced ‘open government’ is hardly...
 
In 2011, the World Economic Forum presented its vision of a...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
With a seemingly ubiquitous Internet and mobile devices at every turn,...
 
At the end of November, the Council of Europe hosted the...
 
For the casual observer, openness and transparency are terms that can...
 
At stake is the evolving apparatus enjoining Canadians with the information...
 
Faced with the Newtown tragedy, President Obama has sought to make...
 
The now, seemingly distant 2012 holiday season proved to be fertile...
 
In 2008, President Obama refashioned American politics for a more digital...
 
As governments seek transformational change to shift from austerity to agility,...
 
In recent months, Apple and Samsung have been clobbering one another...
 
During the month of October tens of millions of viewers will...
 
For Egyptians and Mexicans, this past summer showcased the imperfections of...
 
With the federal public service in a state of budgetary retrenchment,...
 
Do we read books anymore? Travel on airplanes or trains these...
 
In February, President Obama and Prime Minister Harper announced the formation...
 
Is there reason to hope? Once again, the federal government has...
 
Au moment où s’amorce la présidence d’Obama, les spéculations vont bon...
 
As the Obama Presidency begins, there is much speculation as to...
 
A strange paradox has emerged in the quest for Gov 2.0....
 
One of the peculiarities of the 21st century is the correlation...
 
When President Barack Obama campaigns during the coming months for re-election,...
 
As the iCloud takes hold – along with numerous other private,...
 
A new year is a good time to reflect on the...
 
If only it were so. While Shared Services Canada promises simplicity...
 
The securing of a much-coveted majority by Stephen Harper’s Conservatives surely...
 
The federal election campaign has not been particularly kind to cities...
 
Despite the occasional ministerial tweet and public banter about the federal...
 
More than a decade ago, some enterprising folks at Industry Canada...
 
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are one of Canada’s most critical...
 
Toronto’s new mayor, Rob Ford, has pledged to cut city council...
 
As BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion negotiates with many governments around the...
 
To start with a timeless question: what do woman want? Presumably,...
 
One important consequence of climate change is rising ocean levels. The...
 
Shortly after the Quebec referendum of October 1995 that brought the...
 
As this column goes to print (literally or online as the...
 
Full disclosure – the Conservative government has serious problems with the...
 
Students of public administration struggle with an important contradiction of Westminster...
 
L’opération de promotion à laquelle l’Alberta s’est récemment livrée souligne les...
 
Alberta’s recent branding exercise underscores the tensions and risks inherent in...
 
La plupart des organismes se voient affecter des « directeurs des...
 
With Parliament once again open and a new federal budget in...
 
Two important global events are garnering much attention: the upcoming Winter...
 
The recent scandals plaguing Ontario’s e-health agency carry important lessons for...
 
The Obama administration is appointing “Directors of New Media” for most...
 
Y a-t-il de l’espoir? Une fois de plus, le gouvernement fédéral...
 
Dans le numéro de janvier, Ruth Hubbard et David Zussman nous...
 
In the January issue, Ruth Hubbard and David Zussman discussed the...
 
The past decade has given rise to tremendous experimentation in public...
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...

Member Login

Forgot Password?

Join Us

Password Reset
Please enter your e-mail address. You will receive a new password via e-mail.