Sign o’ the times. The White House has opened a “community moderated virtual town-hall meeting” meaning you can ask questions, as well as vote for the questions that have been submitted by others; the President pledges to answer the most popular questions, in this case on the economy.
I can’t help bragging about a very similar project we are doing in Europe with something called Straight-To (or Direktzu if you prefer Goethe to Shakespeare) coming out of the experience of a bunch of students who wanted to make german Kanzlerin Angela Merkel more accessible to everyday people.
On one hand, some pols are seeing the power of a direct relationship to the voting masses, but at the same time, there are thousands of others who are seeing this as a threat to their role as the intermediaries between popular desires, beliefs and emotions and governments policies: one might say their own destinies depend on being the brokers of this relationship.
But as journalists before them, they are perhaps beginning to realize that this role was really made up of two components:
a) the Gatekeeper
In this role the politician is a person who “provides access” to policy makers, represents a need in front of the appropriate deliberative bodies – in a word s/he acts as the vehicle whereby an issue can (or cannot) travel through the system. Obviously, this role can also function in a negative sense, the gates be locked out and the issue can be prevented from becoming such inside the Palace.
b) the Interpreter / Mediator
In this role, pols are the ears and eye of political power – they are their field personnel, deployed across the country or region as sensors of public opinion and sentiment and have the ability to “translate” them into political action items; they also provide a much needed mediation between the various facets of an issue, designing a path to resolution.
Ultimately it is a question of “adding value” and politicians should consider this an alarm bell inviting them to abandon all hopes for the a) role and instead to invest in honing their skills for the precious b) role. I suspect those who do not will find themselves sidelined.
I almost headed this post “Democracy 2.0” before realizing how passé that would be, now that everyone is adopting the “Social Media” moniker.
Whatever the title, the writing’s on the wall. Opinions?