This past week's controversy over two bloggers who are now staffers on the John Edwards presidential campaign was fascinating on several levels.
First, there's what it tells us about a world of citizen communicators. In any political campaign (or organization) you've got a bunch of people who hold a lot of different views and express themselves in all kinds of way - from polite to throwing firebombs - who come together for a task (get our guy elected, launch our product). To the outside world, most of these people are just parts of the organization, without any history or background.
No more. Now they've got their blogs and web sites and their YouTube videos for everyone to pick through. In politics it's going to be explosive, because who gets involved in political campaigns? People who are passionate about things.
Right now there are young people all over the country tapping away at their keyboards, and someday some of them will be working on campaigns, and someone will dig up those blogs.
In a political culture so focused on finding anything, however trivial, to use to change the conversation from what people care about to what can make your opponent look bad, this is a giant pile of live ammunition just waiting for a spark. What we saw this week will happen again, many times. And somebody's going to have to figure out with a better response to it than what the "lets try to please everybody and make it go away" we heard from the Edwards campaign.
The second aspect of it that was interesting was seeing this through the eyes of someone immersed in the world of free agentry. My initial reaction to the idea that Edwards had to answer for every world a staffer had ever blogged was, "That's really stupid." Those of us who live our lives working on our own or in ad hoc teams understand that we work with people because they have skills and talents that complement ours and fit client needs. And we know they have other skills, talents, and interests that aren't relevant to us at all.
Finally, the controversy raises the whole issue of controlling conversations - something that's very important in politics. I thought one statement from Bill Donohue of the Catholic League was fascinating (and, as a citizen, kind of horrifying):
“We will launch a nationwide public relations blitz that will be conducted on the pages of the New York Times, as well as in Catholic newspapers and periodicals. It will be on-going, breaking like a wave, starting next week and continuing through 2007."
He thinks he's going to control the conversation? Well, he did for a few days this week. I've got news for him, and every other political operative out there; it's something marketers have learned already. Controlling the conversation isn't that easy these days. I doubt that either Edwards or Donohue are going to be the final arbiters of what the national debate is.