Wholesale to retail politics

My session on Election ’08 at BloggerCon had the challenge of running immediately after lunch. After a slowish start, the discussion picked up and was quite interesting.

In my introduction, I made the distinction between retail and wholesale politics. Electoral politics in its origins was retail: the stump speech, the politician going door to door or standing on the back platform of the train as it stopped in every town. But at some point retail politics became wholesale politics. Politicians applied the techniques of mass consumer marketing to politics: television advertising, data mining, direct mail and telemarketing. The Republican party’s mastery of the latter three techniques in particular explains a lot of their dominance over the last several decades.

My hope, perhaps naive, for blogging and other new media, is that it can help create a new retail age of politics. It can allow direct engagement between politicians and their constituents, and crucially allow two-way communication between them. In his session on citizen journalism yesterday, Jay Rosen quoted Dan Gillmor‘s well-known line: “My readers know more than I do.” Why isn’t it conceivable that we’ll find politicians who can say, “My constituents know more than I do.”

Update The mp3 of my session is available here.

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