I apologize in advance for the inside baseball nature of this post, but I think it’s important to shed light on a common problem I see with many Republican Web 2.0 consultants. Many of the folks who do this sort of work on the right have developed a clientele basically by getting themselves mentioned in media outlets (most of which are hostile to conservatives) criticizing the GOP as old, outmoded, and essentially doing the internet wrong.
Exhibit A of this sort of behavior is alleged web 2.0 guru David All. David’s latest offering in this genre is printed in – where else? – the Huffington Post, and purports to show (surprise!) that the great omnipotent Obama machine is doing it right and the GOP is doing it wrong (and stands in danger of losing the message!):
But it’s not enough to just produce the data visualization. There needs to be a coordinated, multi-channel distribution approach that focuses on persuading the audience to not only side with the position being promoted, but also to spread the information to their networks. This is the most effective way to use data visualization to have a real and effective impact on the debate at hand.
This type of approach was recently exemplified by Organizing for America’s (OFA) in its efforts to build up support for President Obama around the one-year anniversary of the $787 billion stimulus.
While Republicans in Congress and conservatives across the country pointed to the nearly 10 percent national unemployment rate as proof that the stimulus had failed to create jobs and stimulate the economy, OFA — an arm of the Democratic National Committee — launched a coordinated campaign to persuade Americans that President Obama’s administration had put the country back on a “Road to Recovery.”
The video convincingly portrayed the nation’s economic situation under President Obama as much improved compared to the economic situation under President Bush. The ultimate point of the video was to convince the American public that small businesses and the unemployed are now receiving help from the government — because of the stimulus package. This, in turn, was successful in stopping even more Americans from losing jobs — in other words, it “saved” these jobs. If the chart itself didn’t do enough to make the case for OFA, the video certainly helped to convince more people of the stance being presented.
Get it? Look how awesome and unstoppable the Democrats’ Web 2.0 messaging efforts are! Well, wait, because the message isn’t complete without comparing it to the shoddy work done by the GOP:
One of the best examples is the House GOP’s Health Care Maze. This graphic illustrated the bureaucratic complexity inherent in the House Democrats’ proposed health care legislation. While this chart effectively portrayed the message that the House Democrat’s health care plan would create a confusing bureaucratic nightmare for America, Organizing for America’s multi-channel execution and deployment of its one-year stimulus anniversary chart took the campaign to the next level. Not only did it succeed in spreading the information in multiple channels, it also succeeded in engaging its supporters to help spread the content even further and show strong support for President Obama.
A few comments about All’s commentary here. First, there is no evidence that OFA’s chart has had any effect on the wider public at all. What we do know about Obama’s overall defense of the stimulus is that it has been an abject failure. According to the most recent CNN poll on the stimulus:
According to another CNN poll released Sunday, 56 percent of the public opposes the stimulus, with 42 percent supportive of the plan. Last March, just weeks after President Obama signed the stimulus bill into law, a CNN survey indicated that 54 percent supported the program, with 44 percent opposed.
Granted, the chart All mentions is relatively new, but I’m not aware of any poll showing a sudden uptick in support for the stimulus in the month or so since the all-powerful Obama online machine released the one-two punch so praised by All in his email. In any event, it is a clear stretch to praise Obama’s messaging defense of the stimulus as any sort of success despite the “cool factor” of a widget and a YouTube video.
More importantly, of course, the very fact of All writing a HuffPo piece praising the OfA graphic rather than attacking it means he’s making it more difficult for the people he putatively works for to communicate their own message, which is almost universally opposed to the stimulus. But I digress.
Second, one can only wonder why All didn’t compare the OfA chart to the true objective comparison: the incredibly simple and effective Heritage Deficit chart.
That Heritage graph ended up everywhere, in a thousand arguments about the stimulus, the deficit, the differences between Democrats and Republicans: it got reproduced by people who had no idea where it came from; and it made a measurable difference in the political debate. The answer, of course, is simple: a) comparing a piece of good work by Obama to a piece of good work by the GOP does not get David All published in the Huffington Post, and b) the Heritage graph was composed and disseminated in such a way that it didn’t earn David All (or anyone else) a consulting fee.
The basic problem I am observing here, from the perspective of someone who has no interest in doing paid political work of any kind (and therefore has no personal financial stake in seeing one set of consultants succeed over another), is that our Republican candidates are not being as well served as they could be by what appears to be a closing circle of Republican web consultants. Unlike the best political operators, who try to avoid making themselves the story at all costs and let their resumes speak for themselves when job hunting, they are too often willing to actually be the story themselves, even when the cost of getting in the story is throwing other conservatives under the bus.